How not to release a game: the truth behind Fray’s catastrophic launch
Fray was an objective lesson in how not to release a game.
Brain Candy originally issued their isometric tactical squad shooter back in June 2012. The release was plagued with problems, from technical bugs to user interface woes and a lack of any single player tutorials. That was if you could even get online to play the game at all, as the servers suffered regular and catastrophic failures leaving many unable to log in.
As a result, players took to message boards on Steam and the official site to complain that they had unwittingly purchased a project still in Alpha testing. The critical response was just as fierce, leaving Fray with a damning metacritic rating of 27% (my own 5/10 review seems somewhat generous in context; in part because I reviewed the release build before the servers collapsed, so I was at least able to get in and play).
Five months and several patches later, Brain Candy is releasing a further, free update entitled Fray: Reloaded Edition. I asked the developers what changes this updated edition will contain, and how the game’s original launch went so horribly wrong.
IncGamers: Really, the most immediate and crucial question is this: how did the original launch of the game go so catastrophically wrong for you?
Brain Candy: A combination of many different elements made this release go as bad as it did. Low staff, financial pressure, lack of player base, planning issues, engine issues…
When we released Fray back in June 2012, we knew the game was still rough, but we did not expect it to be as rough as it turned out to be. Although we knew the game would still need a few months of work, seeing our financial situation at the time, we had no choice but to release the game as is, and we expected that a few small patches would fix the game. In retrospect should we have done this? No, of course not…
Since then, we have been working around the clock on a game we believe to be truly fun and original, pouring all our heart and soul into making this the experience players deserve. This is our first game and we made terrible mistakes, but we have learned and grown from this. We know this is a good game and that you will enjoy what we have been creating.
IG: Can you explain why there were so many problems with the initial release, from server issues to UI problems to more general bugs?
BC: The main reasons were the lack of feedback from players during Beta, the small size of our team, and certain design decisions. The server hadn’t been tested with so many players simultaneously (our open beta had had a very small success compared to the numbers we had at release) and some of the issues players were experiencing weren’t reproducible at our office.
IG: Were you aware just how extensive the problems were when releasing the game?
BC: We knew of some of the issues, others we had no idea. We believed that we could have corrected most of the problems in a few patches, but that overall the game experience was solid enough to enjoy.
Saying that this was a bad call is an understatement…
When the game hit, we were overwhelmed with issues on so many different planes… We know that at its core, Fray is a great game, and most players and reviewers really enjoyed the game mechanics, but the technical issues were just too overwhelming.
We went into fixing mode and discovered that some of the issues lied deep within the game programming and the game design. We fixed the most important issues with the first few patches, and then started planning on a huge update and Fray: Reloaded Edition.
IG: Was there any financial pressure on you to get the title out there before it was ready?
BC: This was the main reason why Fray was released in that state. Our funds were running very low, we were faced with the dilemma of either releasing Fray as is, or shutting down the company and possibly never releasing the game. We had looked for other financial solutions, allowing us to polish the game for a few more months, but they backfired and our hand was forced.
IG: To clear up any confusion, would I be right in saying Fray: Reloaded Edition is just your name for the latest (major) patch for the game; nobody who bought it first time around is having to pay anything more?
BC: Absolutely! Fray: Reloaded Edition is a huge quality pass on the original game, adding all sorts of nifty bells and whistles that were requested by players and reviewers. This update will be available free for players who bought the game and will replace Fray as the main game on Steam. We decided to give it a specific name because it changes and improves upon so many things. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the original.
IG: What’s new and what’s changed in this Reloaded version?
BC: With Fray: Reloaded Edition, our goal was to build upon what worked in Fray and add numerous functionalities and improvements to the game in response to community and review feedback. It is the result of thousands of hours of hard work, and we never lost our motivation to bring players a great game.
As a small indie team, we put everything we had into making this update, because we truly believe that Fray is a fun game and our goal was to release a deep, competitive, and entertaining title.
We have changed the user interface completely, making it much more readable and interactive. We added a training map as well as some small missions for solo play. We also rebalanced the classes and weapons, to allow low-level players to compete against higher levels and give the game more tactical depth. We added matchmaking, new special effects for all the weapons and equipment. We changed the server software to make matches much more stable and polished the game as best as we could to deliver the experience we promised initially.
IG: Can you talk a little bit more about the new solo play feature. Will this be a full single player mode, or more of a training/tutorial tool?
BC: The solo maps are more akin to training modes, but with more meat on the bones. The first map is your typical training map that will allow players to try out their weapons and tactics on static and moving targets, with different areas that open different tactical possibilities.
The second one however is built completely differently and could be defined as reverse tower defense. Your team moves across a specially designed map with hidden turrets armed with special firing modes. Players will have to adapt and improvise to survive the many traps we have laid out.
We are not claiming to have created a vast single player experience with these solo modes, as the game remains a multiplayer TBS at its core, but we guarantee that they are entertaining and will allow players to familiarize themselves with the game mechanics before entering the fray!
IG: Will you be giving away any extras with Reloaded Edition to thank players for being so patient with the title?
BC: With the update, we will be sending out a free Steam CD key to anyone who already purchased the game, so that they can get back into the game with a friend. We are also adding the game’s soundtrack, composed by the talented French electro band “Sound Washed”.
IG: Do you think it’s acceptable that a game some players may have purchased in June is only just now ‘relaunching’ in a more playable state?
BC: I wish there was an easy answer to this question… We deeply regret releasing Fray in the state it was back in June, and if we could go back in time and smack ourselves in our collective faces, we would, armed with shovels. It was wrong, and we are truly sorry for putting players in such a position.
We are not a faceless corporation, releasing shovelware, trying to entrap people into buying our game. We are an indie company, we believe in creating something original. We are truly invested in this game and never wanted to deceive people.
With Fray: Reloaded Edition, we hope that players will enjoy a fun game the way it was meant, with improvements coming directly from their feedback. We know it doesn’t make up for everything we put them through, but we still hope some of them will find it in their hearts to forgive us our mistakes and give this version a chance, as it is an amazing game now.
IG: What is your message to people who spent money on the original release; why should they return to Fray now with so many other fully-functioning games out there for them to play?
BC: We have just made our official statement to players who have purchased the game on our website, which you can read here.
We believe players should return to Fray because what players hoped for and were originally promised by Fray has become reality with Fray: Reloaded Edition.
Fray: Reloaded Edition will be released on 12 November. Steam users should receive an automatic update for their game.