Interview: Bohemia on multiplayer sandbox Ylands’ Switch release, Steam development, and games as a service

    
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A few weeks back, we caught wind of a big change for Bohemia Interactive’s cutesy multiplayer pirate sandbox Ylands: It’s launching on Switch, but the Switch version will be a buy-once offline version instead of the wide-ranging multiplayer title that it is on Steam.

Now, this game is not brand-new – it’s been around for years – and yet I had somehow never heard of it. It’s really cute, cute enough that after I got this announcement written up, I even spent a weekend playing it – and came away wondering why this super polished and surprisingly deep survival title isn’t already much more high-profile, especially given that it’s run by Bohemia. Plus, I wanted to know what Bohemia is really up to with the Switch version – should I even get involved with a multiplayer title that has eliminated multiplayer on Switch?

So we fired off some questions to the Bohemia team, and Project Lead Aleš Ulm has kindly obliged us. Read on for more insight into Bohemia’s philosophy, the intended audience for the game (spoilers: It’s probably my kids, not me), the game’s “somewhat turbulent development,” and the sea change in the broader games industry when it comes to long-term games. In fact, the only thing I forgot to ask was how the heck to pronounce Ylands!

MassivelyOP: First, is Bohemia’s main goal with Ylands’ solo mode to futureproof a version of the game, to navigate Nintendo’s twisty platform rules, or to seal off a kid-friendly edition aimed at parents looking for safe Switch games? What’s the philosophy here vs. the pragmatic reasoning?

Ylands Project Lead Aleš Ulm: All three of those aspects came into play when making the decision. We have adapted the game to fit the specifics of the platform, among others, its on-the-go nature, where we wanted to ensure a consistently smooth gaming experience. With multiplayer being much more demanding technically, we could not confidently promise such an experience.

Another aspect, which is no less important, is the younger audience of the game and our goal to provide them with a safe space, avoiding microtransactions and lowering the grind.

Related to that first question: Some of the studios that are going this route – offering offline versions of a formerly multiplayer game – are doing it as sort of a last-ditch effort to save the game or at least ensure it is still buyable and playable into the future if the studio has to stop fully supporting it. So while we’d always rather have the game stick around in solo mode than watch it die, we can’t help but wonder how much faith the studio still has in the game when it chooses this option. What is Bohemia’s thinking on this – is the game going to continue to see development? How much juice is left on future updates?

If you look at Bohemia Interactive’s portfolio, long-term game support is engrained in our DNA. Currently, 10 years after its release, DayZ is seeing the largest player base, which would not be possible without Bohemia’s continued support. Much like Arma 3, which is still going strong and performing very well. We are not the kind of studio that would release a new game every year, hoping it will stick and then abandon it two years later.

So we can say that it will be the same in case of Ylands: Nintendo Switch TM Edition, which has already gained a smooth experience of a very complex game from many optimizations to the mobile version of Ylands, which served as a base for the Switch Edition. Despite the somewhat turbulent development and looking for its identity, we believe we finally got it. We’ve learnt from our mistakes and will continue applying those lessons to all future development, which we hope all players will see and appreciate.

If it’s a lot of juice (:D), what can players look forward to, in broad strokes, over the next year? Is the PC or mobile version also going to get a solo mode? (I noticed a lot of people asking for it in the Steam reviews!)

The Ylands team is already working on the next update, which will bring a lot of new interesting content. I can’t really say much more than that, but what I can say is that we have learnt to listen to our players so our more long-term plans will largely depend on the reception of the Switch Edition.

The game population appears super small on Steam – way smaller than it deserves. Are most players on mobile? Is the game supporting itself in terms of DLC and revenues? Is Bohemia committed to keeping [the Steam version] going?

It is true that we get the “why isn’t this game more talked about” reaction a lot, which we take as a good sign! We can also see that more and more players are gradually (re)discovering the game. So we can only hope that this trend will keep going upwards with the release of the Switch Edition and/or thanks to our educational platform Ylands EDU.

What sort of changes did Bohemia have to make to the Switch version to make it function without co-op? Obviously, there’s no more PvP – what else needed revision for this launch? Does the team think that younger players will get a taste of the game on Switch and eventually graduate to co-op on other platforms?

As I mentioned, the Switch Edition is based on the mobile version of Ylands, as both the console and mobile devices pose technical challenges that do not allow for terrain modification. Other than that, the versions are very similar, so we are not trying to hide that we would like to see people discover the game on Switch and then also enjoy the multiplayer experience on PC. This is also the easier route, since the game is free to play on PC.

Why does Bohemia think so many game devs have been reluctant to go this route? Is it about a lack of will or a lack of way? Do you think we’re at the start of a trend away from games-as-a-service that don’t need to be online?

I think that the game as a service market is fairly saturated at the moment. So seeing a game’s cost upfront might make it easier for players to decide whether to invest in the game or not, since the F2P model also needs to make money but can be a bit less clear in terms of how much would a player need to spend to get the experience they want.

So for us it made sense to go the premium route so that players can buy the game once without having to deal with other payments and take full advantage of the on-the-go nature of the console.

Thanks so much to Aleš Ulm for chatting with us! The offline version of Ylands hits Switch on June 20th for $24.99, or you can try it out free-to-play on Steam right now – maybe you’ll spot me and my backwards raft when you do.
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