For Honor was massive before launching this time last year. It had a successful beta, an appearance on Conan O'Brien's Clueless Gamer, and even a Super Bowl party. But afterward? "It was a big hangover," said For Honor creative director Roman Campos Oriola.
In a GDC postmortem, Oriola and co-director Damien Kieken broke down For Honor's post-launch period, which was so tumultous that players went so far as to plan a boycott. "We didn't know what it meant to ship a platform and also support it afterward. We learned it the hard way."
As Oriola and Kieken described it, For Honor was an example of carefully laid plans running fully into the buzzsaw of real-life. Multiple betas were not enough to account for the realities of being life for the general public.
"What was built in two years was over in a month," Kieken said. "Everything went bad in just a few days."
For Honor was famously infected with connectivity issues and other problems at launch. Player counts tanked and press coverage turned sour.
This was due to any number of factors, Kieken said. The "meshed" peer-to-peer system the team chose to lower latency was hurt by the weakest link infected everyone else. The challenge of balancing the separate needs of 4v4 and 1v1 became overwhelming, angering For Honor's core base.
The result was constant emergencies as the team balanced developing new content with putting out fire. The team had to contend with more milestones, and morale went down. For Honor saw more than 100 fixes in the first month alone.
As the For Honor team discovered, community feedback during open beta wasn't enough. "The feedback you receive is mostly focused on novelty and discovery and not what is wrong," Kieken explained. "After launch, the context changes and your fans become your customers."
Ubisoft subsequently found itself playing catch-up through a good chunk of 2017. The team setup community workshops, invited key players on-site to Ubisoft Montreal, and created a private Discord server with top players. What followed was constant daily balancing sessions as the team strove to address community complaints.
The past year was a rush of updates to the game, including four seasons worth of new maps, heroes, and items. Ahead of this year's fifth season, For Honor jumped from 12 heroes to 18 heroes, 12 maps to 16 maps, and added the new 4v4 Tribute game mode. Ubisoft offered the first major tournament series for the game, the For Honor Hero Series, which taught the studio a lot about community expectations and competitive balancing.
For Honor has subsequently managed to recover some of its standing with the community. "We're back on track, the amusement park is working again. But to do that, it took us almost a year," Kieken said.
He went on to list some of the keys to maintaining a healthy online game, including establishing routine updates, surprising players with events, and having fun with emotes, skins and other content. In January, Ubisoft detailed Season 5, which brought with it dedicated servers and other improvements when it launched the following month.
Despite all that, Mike recently wrote that For Honor is still finding itself a year later, suggesting that it still has a ways to go as it deals with the repercussions of a difficult launch.