Launching a multiplayer mode is less about shipping an additional game component and more about managing an ongoing service, Mass Effect 3 live producer Scylla Costa said in a panel at the 2013 Game Developers Conference today.
"Going from a product to a service is a chansge of mentality. It's a 180 degree turn for many people," he said, noting developers can't just "ship and forget" their product after pushing a multiplayer service live. "You have to continue to add value."
Mass Effect 3's Galaxy At War feature forms the backbone of the multiplayer service, Costa said. The system, which is optional, allows players to manage Commander Shepard's resources and which directly affects the outcome of the Mass Effect 3 single-player campaign. The Mass Effect 3 Datapad app, which allows players to dig deeper into the game's storyline and relationships, and the Mass Effect: Infiltrator iOS and Android game, also feed into the game's campaigns and offer additional ways to micromanage playtime outside of the full game.
Costa said public reaction to BioWare's announcement for multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 was largely negative, which was "hard because we were playing it, and we were having fun." BioWare released a multiplayer demo before launch, giving the team a chance to collect player feedback and identify bugs, that was received positively.
Weekend missions, or Operations, and additional multiplayer DLC raised player engagement. Adding more content brought players back to the game post-launch, he said. Based on what players spent the most time on, the team crafted new maps to encourage their return to the service.
Costa said developers should use "the strength of their IP" to make good proposals for multiplayer services long before the game ships. The approach the company took with Galaxy At War won't work for everyone, he noted, but Mass Effect fans' investment in the series' story made these companion apps possible.
The producer reaffirmed that a strong multiplayer proposal that is consistent in quality with a game's single-player campaign and a well-organized, communicative development team is recipe for a successful multiplayer mode. BioWare's inclusion of multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 was to create an ongoing service outside of the storyline that players could continue to enjoy after completing the game. Costa feels the company has delivered a "quality experience" that has done, and will continue to do, just that.