SNOW is a game which was originally launched on Early Access October 10th, 2013. It recently transited to a F2P model and entered a beta state. If you’re not familiar with the game, here’s something to whet your appetite:
The CEO and Game Director for SNOW, Alexander Bergendahl, was kind enough to answer these questions via email. A quick shout-out to Alexander for taking the time to provide such in-depth answers.
1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in Poppermost Productions?
Alexander Bergendahl: I am the CEO and Game Director at Poppermost. As a CEO I manage the day-to-day of the company, hiring, meeting with our shareholders and partners and anything else that falls on my plate. As Game Director I work with all teams to maintain a unified vision in the game as well as manage the production of the game itself. I also try and take part in as much testing and community conversations as possible.
2. How did you come up with the name Poppermost?
AB: Poppermost is a very subtle Beatles reference. The best way to explain it is with a YouTube link:
3. Did the team go through a number of game ideas, or did you always plan to release a SNOW-esque game?
AB: We formed Poppermost with the goal of creating SNOW. The three co-founders are all skiers and snowboarders and really wanted to see a return of this forgotten genre.
4. Did you try other engines, or was it always CREYENGINE?
AB: We didn’t need to spend much time looking at other engines, it was clear that CRYENGINE would suit our needs.
5. Why was CRYENGINE chosen?
AB: CRYENGINE’s ability to render massive open-worlds easily made it the perfect choice for us. No other engine could handle our vision while providing us with so many great tools right out of the box. It’s also great for prototyping and allowed us to get up and running extremely quickly.
6. Can you please explain why snowboards have not been introduced yet, and how sure are you they will be released during the first half of 2016?
AB: Snowboarding is not a hugely complicated feature to implement, but we didn’t want to release it until we felt that our game’s mechanics (namely the physics) were solid enough. There have been many snowboarding games in the past and we didn’t want to disappoint new users who join the game when snowboarding has been released. Our skiing community has been very patient as we continue iterating and fleshing out gameplay. It has taken longer than expected, but I can officially say now that we have started working on snowboarding and we expect to release it before the summer.
7. How much work did the team have to put into the switch to the Free 2 Play model, and has the inevitable stress and chaos of a major game release now settled down?
AB: Adding the free-to-play elements was a huge undertaking. Between hiring a dedicated backend developer to having to completely redesign the UI to manage purchasing, we had our hands full for a good 6 months leading up to the Closed Beta. Now that the Open Beta is live we have taken a bit of time to rest and discuss the next steps. Unfortunately we still have a lot to do so we weren’t able to rest for long. We want to continue maintaining and improving the Open Beta and launch on PlayStation 4 as soon as possible.
8. How happy are you with the number of people playing SNOW after the switch to F2P?
AB: We are thrilled with the response from the community. Our Closed Beta was oversubscribed by nearly four times as many people as we expected, and our Open Beta launch has been extremely impressive. We’re so proud to see so many happy player riding around the mountain together.
9. Running a full time team is an expensive business. With the initial results post-switch to F2P, how confident are you SNOW will have enough revenue to support it?
AB: Our Closed Beta metrics hit or surpassed our estimates, so we’re confident going into the Open Beta that the business model works and the value proposition is compelling enough for users to stick around and hopefully spend some money in the game.
10. Did you ever consider a Kickstarter campaign for SNOW, and if so what were your reasons for not going ahead?
AB: We did consider crowdfunding early on but decided against it once Early Access was launched (which in itself is a form of crowdfunding). We felt that for a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to work we would either need to have a much lower goal than we actually need or be a well-known studio. Since we were definitely not the latter, we didn’t want to take the risk of raising less money than we actually needed to finance the prototype’s development.
11. Kiara and Desmond – actual dogs, or just shy individuals?
AB: Actual dogs! Kiara is my co-founder Filip’s husky and spends every day at the office with us. Desmond is my dog, but unfortunately he passed away last fall. After he died we made a small memorial for him in the game’s mountain. I’m not sure if anyone has found it yet.
12. The team has 9 members at the moment. Are you planning on adding more to the team? If so, in which areas?
AB: We’re actually 10 now (we haven’t updated the website for a while). We would like to grow, but at the moment don’t have the resources to expand the team that much more. As usual, having more programmers would make development a bit faster, but we would also like a full time tester to make sure our releases are a bit more stable. As you noted in your video, our major updates are usually followed by a few patches to fix the issues we didn’t catch during our pre-release testing.
13. Are you working on any new partnerships (events, brands, athletes etc.), and if so will we see any announced soon?
AB: We are always talking to potential partners that could bring something special to the game. We hopefully can announce a new partnership that we’ve been working on over the last months very soon.
14. When you are planning sprints, how far into the future do you plan?
AB: We follow the agile workflow at Poppermost. We’re not following it perfectly, but it does help us plan our updates and stay reasonably on track. We try and think a good three months ahead and then have smaller meetings for each sprint that lasts two weeks. Leading up to the Open Beta we were launching new minor updates every 6 weeks and major updates every 3-4 months.
15. Would you say the team is good at estimating task lengths?
AB: Every feature is different and has its hidden challenges, but overall I think we’re pretty good at estimating how long something will take to build. This also comes down to how much time we have to plan and discuss the feature so that all the possible questions have been answered before development begins.
16. Who has the final say in terms of what will be in an update, and when that update will be released?
AB: We have a pretty flat hierarchy at Poppermost so we like to think that everyone has a say in what we should be focusing on. Obviously there is a roadmap with key features we want to implement, but there’s always space in an update for some smaller things and that’s where the entire team (and community) can have their influence. To keep things moving we like try to plan a release every 6 weeks, so we try and fit as much into that as possible (and save a few weeks for testing and fixing).
17. Do you work on a single branch in your SVN, or do you have multiple branches?
AB: Each feature, new mountain area, level or set of bug fixes has its own branch. We try and keep our main branch as stable as possible, so we all work in separate branches and then use pull requests as a chance to vet the additions and changes before they’re merged in.
18. How are community relations handled? Can any member of the team jump in the forums and answer questions, or is it left up to specific people?
AB: We try to be as open and approachable as possible. I encourage the entire team to spend some time every week on the forums, twitter, facebook, Instagram, reddit and youtube and answer questions or have conversations with our community. Many of us have maxed out our Steam friend lists since our community likes to add us on Steam and chat with us during the day. It’s really nice having such a close relationship with our players and I think the community overall appreciates it.
19. Who handles tech support?
AB: A few of us share the responsibility. I manage the incoming emails to our bugs email address and can usually deal with most issues that come my way (or pass them on to someone who can help). Otherwise on the forums and other social media platforms, we all try and help people with their
20. Do you have a cadre of community testers, or is all testing in-house?
AB: We do most testing in-house but before a release we try and update our “SNOW Test” app that a few thousand of our early supporters have access to. We’re looking into ways of improving our testing now that the game is so big and hope to include the community even more in the future.
21. Are you planning to allow the community access to beta builds of updates?
AB: We’d like to, we just need to find the best way of doing so. Giving everyone test builds might swamp us with emails/replies if something is seriously broken, so we have to be careful.
22. Is there anything else you would like to share?
AB: Not really! The interview questions were really great and a break from the typical questions, so I enjoyed answering them. People often forget how challenging building a company and game can be so it’s nice to have the chance to talk about it sometime and hopefully help people understand why things can be slow or not work perfectly all the time.
I did a Developer Review of Poppermost Productions, the studio creating SNOW, a few weeks ago. If you’ve not see the video, here it is again: