Having launched only days ago, Conan Exiles is now officially out of its incubation period. With it already breaking into the top ten on Steam with over 45,000 concurrent players, we felt it was a good time to chat to Funcom Creative Director, Joel Bylos.
Ten Ton Hammer: How’s the studio feeling about the launch? You’ve made some enormous changes to almost all systems. Is that considered a risk?
Joel: We're all in the eye of the sandstorm at the moment, so it is really hard to judge the general mood. Obviously we're really happy with the progress Conan Exiles has made over the last year, but there is always more we want to do.
As for making enormous changes, I feel like that is an integral part of the iterative development process. I think if we hadn't spent the time to overhaul our systems based on player feedback during Early Access…we wouldn't have been doing it right.
Now is it a risk? Sure, some people will always be resistant to change. But our community feedback has been overwhelmingly positive to the changes we have made, and we're hoping that any new players will be just as happy with the game they are getting at launch.
Ten Ton Hammer: The gaming landscape has changed a great deal since Conan Exiles was released, with Battle Royale - rather than survival - at the forefront of developer affections. Has anything changed for the studio in regards to how you now approach marketing Conan Exiles in the face of stiff competition?
Joel: I think the strongest points of Conan Exiles are still as appealing today as they were when we launched Early Access. A brutal, lore-filled world, a robust building system, an in-depth melee combat system and the ability to customize the sandbox as you see fit. We'll keep marketing Conan Exiles on the strength of those mechanics.
Battle Royale is a very different genre to Survival, and I think there is more than enough room for both types of game to grow and prosper.
Ten Ton Hammer: Many might be confused about the fact Conan Exiles has a launch date (despite being available to play for some time). How are the studio attempting to get the message across that, actually, here’s the “launch” product after a lengthy beta period?
Joel: I think we're attacking this from several angles.
We had a huge content update coming with the actual launch date. This is the swamp region and the volcano, which include a couple of dungeons, brand new factions and new resources for creating new types of weapon and armor. This significantly increases the size of the world for launch.
We're treating the launch seriously from the marketing perspective. A lot of games just kind of trickle into launch without raising too much awareness. We're working with our retail partners to raise awareness, we've been having a lot of fun making new trailers and live action spots and, of course, we're actually launching for the first time on the PlayStation 4.
All of these things will hopefully combine to help cut through any confusion and let people know that Conan Exiles is out of Early Access and into full launch!
Ten Ton Hammer: How’s the studio attempting to encourage those who dipped their toes into the Conan Exiles waters early on, to return and try all that the new update has to offer?
Joel: I believe that the measures I listed above will raise awareness, and we have been spending time addressing specific reviews and concerns from Early Access on the Steam store. Hopefully people will take the opportunity to come back and see all of the things that have changed.
Increased server activity has a way of snowballing as well, with players jumping into the games that their friends are playing and enjoying. We are seeing extremely high player numbers on Steam now, with the number of concurrent players almost reaching 50,000 this weekend.
Ten Ton Hammer: I’ve spent a long time chatting to the community, reading through Steam reviews, and generally putting the feelers out on social media. The consensus is that Conan Exiles is an amazing game, but there’s still a lot of bugs. I appreciate that’s a constant battle, but is there any approach being taken to minimize the misery they cause? How can you reassure new and existing players that they’re being squashed and focused on?
Joel: We've prioritized stability and exploits as major concerns from the technical side, as well as hunting down the most irritating of content bugs.
Stability matters the most, because if the game crashes then people cannot even experience the rest of the game and content. We've spent months hunting down and eliminating crashes, both client and server side, and crushing bugs.
If anything creeps through launch, we will be prioritizing those type of fixes in patches and hotfixes.
Ten Ton Hammer: As someone relatively new to Conan Exiles, it has server caps of around 40 players. The land mass is huge, and this figure doesn’t seem a lot to fill a server. What’s the reasoning behind this limit, and is it capable of being higher?
Joel: 40 is the stable number right now. There are more optimizations and changes to the client we can do to make that number higher, possibly, but 40 is where we are certain that we can give a good experience right now.
In the future, if we see that it is possible to pump it up to 50, 60, 70 or 100, we will do so. But this is about maintaining a quality experience for our players right now.
Ten Ton Hammer: On the subject of server caps, when a server is full and if your main character is on it, you can’t enter. It’s also fairly common for players to remain on their server full time, without ever logging out, to ensure they can always play. This seems problematic long-term, as players - potentially - could get frustrated at being unable to play when they need to. Is there a solution?
Joel: I mean, from my years of MMO experience there is no simple solution. If you create an AFK tracker, it becomes an arms race against pre-programmed macros. We are looking into solutions, but as I say, it is not entirely simple to solve.
Of course, the servers are restarted every day, so while that is not a perfect solution, it does prevent players from being permanently logged in.
Ten Ton Hammer: Balance is always going to be a hot topic in any game with PvP, and Conan Exiles is no exception. Archery is considered weak and armor variances don’t offer enough differences (everyone seemingly lumps for heavy because there’s no real drawbacks). What’s your thoughts on both? What are the main balance concerns for the team right now?
Joel: I think we disagree about archery. The problem here is that Exiles is a classless game, and people keep asking us for the ability to be full-time archers. Which is viable, but only if you invest fully in accuracy and getting the best bows and prepping ammo. It's a possible route, but one that requires sacrificing viability in other areas.
We're also looking at heavy armor. Some of the formulas were not working as intended, so expect changes there.
In general, balance is less of a problem in a game like this compared to say, a class based MMO, as everybody has access to everything. We just need to keep an eye on the meta and see where and how we need to make small tweaks.
Ten Ton Hammer: The server infrastructure is interesting in Conan Exiles, because there are official and private. Do you think this is confusing to new players, and perhaps doesn’t breed a sense of server pride that, say, a traditional MMO might have? Are there concerns private servers could provide a wrong impression of the game for new players? (such as rogue admins).
Joel: Conan Exiles is a sandbox in the truest sense – do what you want in the game, but do whatever you want with the servers as well. We've done our best to give people obvious choices when choosing servers (including our little PvE vs PvP window in the start), but of course, I do expect people will need to make good choices regarding where they end up.
I think server pride comes more from server admins who are fair and equitable and who cultivate great communities. We have many good examples in Exiles, and I think finding your feet with a good server is a part of the experience.
The downside, of course, is rogue admins, but that is why our completely neutral official servers exist. People can play there with the assurance that no admin will interfere. We try to give as many options as possible to people.
Ten Ton Hammer: A lot of players have messaged me about buildings, and how a players ability to damage them has changed, with higher tiers once requiring explosives (which is now no longer the case). The result now is a need to build “ugly and high” to prevent any player destroying your structure. Is it intended that any weapon should be able to damage a base - regardless of Tier - or are there greater plans afoot to remedy this?
Weapons do 1pt of damage (regardless of weapon strength) to buildings. So yes, it is possible to take down a base by hacking at it for hours on end…and some people will do that. Tier 3 buildings have 100,000hps. So that's going to take a while.
Ultimately, the change was made so The Purge can damage buildings correctly. Not everybody will be happy about it, but one of the core mechanics of the game requires it, so we went ahead with the change.
Ten Ton Hammer: There’s a lot of focus right now in the industry on developers getting tough on cheaters, and those who exploit (regardless of genre). While every developer will always say they’re anti-cheat and take it seriously, to a player it’s important to feel that something is being done. That’s hard to quantify, and hard for any developer to reassure that actions are being taken. Do you have any method on how to approach this and how you’re going about minimizing the impact such players have on others?
At the end of the day, we have implemented 3rd-party software (Battleeye) to help combat external exploits. Internal exploits, such as design flaws, are things that we as developers need to fix. And then some things people call exploits are not exploits at all, and those are calls that we as developers make.
Cheating only hurts the game, and all developers try to prevent it. But it is an arms race, and people always look for ways to gain the advantage. Our best shot is to be proactive and on top of it and patch them out as soon as possible.
The 100% guaranteed way to prevent ever meeting a cheater in Conan Exiles is to have a private server locked with a password that is shared only with trusted people. Which is not for everyone, of course, but we do provide that option.
Ten Ton Hammer: What’s your plans for Conan Exiles post-launch? You’ve stated in the post that any content that was cut before launch would be added as free DLC, but will there be free content updates with new things we haven't seen/heard of before, such as new weapons, mechanics or biomes?
Joel: I'm not really allowed to discuss it in detail yet, but there are plans in place and parts of the team are already hard at work on new stuff.
Ten Ton Hammer: As a final question, is there any intention to implement sorcery or necromancy into Conan Exiles? It was once mooted but put on the back burner. Is it still in development?
Joel: My design and prototype are still valid (and work with a couple of basic spells) but the feature requires code time, which we are hesitant to commit beyond crash and bug fixing at the moment.
I hope so, in other words, but it is too early to say.
Thanks for the chat!
Ten Ton Hammer would like to thank Joel Bylos for taking the time out of his very busy launch schedule to talk to us. Conan Exiles is available now on Steam.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Conan Exiles Game Page.