May 2023- Dev Diary

Dev Diary – May 2023

Hello everyone.

We’re nearing the mid-way point of TALES FROM THE FAR TERRITORY, our paid expansion pass campaign for Survival Mode, and this seems like a good time to talk about how things have gone so far.

In my opinion, they haven’t gone that well. 

Certainly not how we want them to go. Certainly not how *I* want them to go.

When we originally discussed the idea of doing an expansion pass for THE LONG DARK, we did so recognizing that in the years we’ve been working on getting the WINTERMUTE Episodes out, we’d naturally had less time to focus on Survival. We wanted to give Survival some love, but also wanted to see if we could do so in a more financially sustainable way, that might set a path for the future.

You see, Hinterland is an independent studio, and THE LONG DARK is a self-funded, self-published project. This means we get to keep our revenue and don’t have to share it with a publisher, and we can work without external interference. But it also means that we carry all the cost and risk for the project ourselves. 

This is how we like it, and our independence is paramount to who we are and what we make. But for a large and complex game like THE LONG DARK, one we’ve been updating for years without asking for any more money from our players, we wanted to experiment with the idea of creating a new revenue stream that would help us continue updating the game well into the future, in a financially sustainable fashion. 

To a large degree, the ongoing financial health of THE LONG DARK, which we’ve built an entire company around, also determines what we can make in the future. So while this is a passionate endeavour for us, it’s also a business, and we’re focused on running it ethically and sustainably, and taking good care of our people. That means finding the right way to generate revenue from it, one that is fair to our players that doesn’t burn out the team. We believed TALES would be one way to do that.

Because we knew that charging for updates would come with greater expectations than when people were getting them “for free”, we wanted to provide some assurances of what you would get, and when, so that we weren’t just saying, “hey, here’s a thing, give us some money even though most of it isn’t made yet”. That’s maybe fine for Early Access, but we graduated from Early Access in 2017, and we felt that we needed to do better for this. 

And in wanting that, I made some decisions that led us to the present challenges around the Expansion:

Why did we do this? Well, honestly, I felt that despite being able to hit this release cadence years ago in Early Access, we’d lost some of that muscle memory over the years. We’d also lost a bit of that excitement that comes from frequent game releases, and I wanted to find a way to get some of that back. Also, the COVID years of 2020-2022 had been such a struggle. I hoped that this ambitious project would be healthy for the team, and give them some exciting new features to work on, to see the game refreshed and the community excited. So, after plenty of internal discussions and everyone signing on to deliver this, we rolled up our sleeves and jumped in. We launched Part One in December.

And we ran into issues almost immediately. You’ve experienced some of these yourselves, and some have been behind the scenes. But the reality is that, we’ve failed to hit the 8-10 week release target for any of the Parts so far, and we’re not going to be able to achieve it for Part Three either. 

With each Part release, there have been issues that have forced the team into a hotfixing cycle which has taken away from the progress around the next Part. That’s created pressure that has led to mistakes being made, that then force more hotfixes, and the cycle continues. This has been a cascading issue for the past six months or so, since the December release of Part One. It’s put an enormous amount of pressure on the team, not just the development team working on THE LONG DARK, but the other teams in the studio that support our launches: test, releasing, marketing, community, and so on.

This is my studio and my responsibility. I stepped away from the project to focus on new things, and the issues around timing, delivery, quality…these all roll up to me. 

I’m sorry I’ve let you down.

I can’t change the past but I can try to fix the future. I’m painfully aware that you’ve heard some of this from me before, with the early WINTERMUTE episodes. I’m painfully aware that there are people out there, reading these words right now, feeling gleeful that we failed to deliver. I know there are a lot of “I told you they couldn’t hit this cadence” posts about to hit our forums and other channels. Those comments are entirely deserved. I take them on myself.

We won’t be able to hit the 8-10 week cadence for the Expansion Part releases. I’m not going to provide a new number, even though we have an internal one, because ultimately we need to focus on quality and team health, and build the timeline around that. There’s no sense in shipping Parts on a schedule if the experience you get when you play is disappointing. There’s no sense in shipping on a schedule if it burns out the team. There’s no point in promising dates that we fail to hit. Yes, we already knew this going in. We’ve faced these constraints before. I should have known better. I applaud the teams out there that are able to put out significant updates to their games every 8 weeks or so. We don’t seem able to do it.

We’re still going to deliver the full roadmap we’ve promised. We probably won’t get it all done before the end of this year, but we’ll still deliver the six Parts, and we’ll get them in your hands as soon as we can.

The team is going to catch their breath, get Part Three done and out the door, and my hope is that with a little bit of extra time now, we’ll be able to get you a better quality update that doesn’t require so many fixes after the fact. After that, we’ll dig in to Part Four and continue the work.

The 60FPS fix that the team has been working on for the past few weeks will also now be delayed so that we can release it along with Part Three. This will save us from doing an additional release in between now and Part Three, allowing the team to focus on getting that content finished and tested. (Remember, every time we release an update — no matter how small — it comes with an amount of overhead for testing and releasing.) So the 60FPS fixes for Xbox and PlayStation should be part of the Part Three launch.

Many of you have asked about the status of the Switch version of TALES. As you know, we had originally planned to have this out earlier this year. When both the Xbox and PlayStation versions came in late, this pushed out the work on the Switch as well. I can’t promise you a date for Switch yet. There’s a fair amount of work we need to get done before we can ship it, and I’m not sure how we will fit it in on top of the other work we are doing for the Parts. We’re looking into some options, including bringing on some more dev help to get that done. At this point I would say we’ll do our best to get TALES up and running for the end of the year, and if we can get it done sooner, we will. I’m really sorry about that delay. It absolutely sucks if you are a Switch TLD player right now.

I completely understand if any of you feel burned by this situation and want to have TALES refunded. We can’t issue refunds ourselves, but you can request them from the platform you purchased the game on. We hope you won’t do that, but again, I understand if you feel that you’ve had enough. My hope is that by the time the Expansion is finished, you’ll choose to come back and give it another chance.

In addition to giving the team more time and breathing room to get the Parts out, I’m also going to be stepping back in to focus the TLD team and get development back on track. I’m going to dive back in to the design as well and make sure the systems we’re delivering to you are as good as they can be. I’ll be there “in the trenches” with the team, so to speak, to guide them through this. That’s my promise to you.

My goal now is to make sure that when you look back at the end of this campaign, and see all that we’ve added to both TALES (paid) and THE LONG DARK (free updates), you’ll find that on the whole it’s been a great addition to the game and really refreshed the sandbox. I’m excited about the new features we’re adding in Part Three, and in the rest of the roadmap.

Regarding Episode Five. A lot of you have been asking about it. As mentioned several times, but I’ll say it again here, we won’t be saying anything about Episode Five release dates until we’re close to shipping it, which won’t be this year. I do promise some kind of update with some non-spoilery details around what to expect in Episode Five later this year, so you won’t go the whole year without hearing any news. But for now, we don’t have anything more to say, except that there are a lot of story threads to tie up in Episode Five, and it’s going to be a big one.

The last six months have been tough on the team, and we appreciate your ongoing support and patience. Thanks for reading, and I hope to have better news for you next time you hear from me. 

– Raphael