News

Realm Works: Player Edition and Beyond

–an update from the Lead Developer of Realm Works

During the Realm Works Kickstarter, I wrote a number of “developer blog” entries that provided some insights into what we were working on, the obstacles and setbacks we encountered, and how we were navigating those obstacles. In that same vein, I felt that now would be a good time for a similar update, since, like our Kickstarter backers before, you’ve become (or are considering becoming) a partner with us in the evolution and ultimate success of Realm Works.

We’re thrilled by the overall reaction from users in the two short months since Realm Works debuted as a commercial product. However, we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s a huge list of capabilities still to be added, and there’s plenty of opportunity for new obstacles to present themselves along the way – in fact, one already has. I’ll do my best to shed some light on our current status below, including this latest development. I’ll also outline our priorities that will influence how the product evolves this year. However, to best achieve that, I first want to provide a brief look back at the past year or so.

Road to Release

It was last January when we launched the Kickstarter to raise the funds allowing us to hire new developers for the Realm Works team. At that point, the team consisted of 2.5 developers – two full-time developers and myself, with my responsibilities split across lots of company duties beyond development. After the Kickstarter, we hired new developers, each with expertise in specific areas that would help us achieve our vision for Realm Works. They all joined us last April and we began the process of getting them up to speed on everything.

Our original plan had us releasing Realm Works last summer, yet it took us till March this year. So, what went wrong? Lots of little things slowed us down along the way, including reworking aspects of the product to make it even better in response to feedback from our Beta team and Kickstarter backers. Heck, the Kickstarter itself and the subsequent hiring process were much more demanding than we had envisioned. However, these were small compared to the two biggest contributors to the delay.

A major factor in our missed targets this past year centered on me badly misjudging how long it would take to get the new team members up to speed. Realm Works is a very complex beast – far more complex than I realized – and there are a vast array of pieces that all have to work together just right, which means they all needed to be well-understood before they could be constructed appropriately. Due to that complexity, it took many months before the new team members began making substantial contributions to the product. It also took significantly more time from the original team to get the new members up to speed, so it slowed us down both ways.

A second big factor was me again misjudging how long it would take to get things done. This was a direct result of not realizing the true complexity of Realm Works. It was further compounded by a major downside of working on a project no one has tackled before: you don’t have a good reference for assessing how much effort will be required.

These factors combined to slow our progress significantly, which resulted in the Realm Works release being delayed until March.

Post-Release and Immediate Plan

Once the big release went out, things were looking good. The few hiccups we encountered with the release were able to be worked through in the following weeks, and we began making progress on the next major milestones, including Player Edition. That’s when our latest setback occurred.

At the end of April, one of our developers sadly gave notice that they were leaving the company. Since then, we’ve spent the past few weeks focused on (a) transferring this team member’s knowledge of specific areas of the code to other team members and (b) figuring out how best to proceed from here. We’re wrapping up the knowledge transfer now and have had a chance to assess our various options, so we believe we now have a good handle on the situation now. The rest of this update should provide some insight into the implications of this setback and our resulting game plan.

So what are we doing in response to this? The obvious option would be to replace the team member with a new developer that has a similar skill set. However, that skill set is rather specialized, so it would take a while to find a replacement, and it would take many additional months to get that person up to speed – a lesson we learned last year. Meanwhile, the remaining team has to continue working on the departing developer’s code in order to release the Player Edition and other important upcoming features, which means they’ll be proficient in the code long before we can get a replacement up to speed. So this obvious approach is actually a poor one, as it will result in significantly longer overall delays.

Instead, we’re going to hire someone with a different skillset. It’s a skillset that (a) is less specialized so more readily available and (b) requires less of a learning curve before being able to make significant contributions. We’re essentially going to shift responsibilities around internally. An existing team member was slated to serve in the position we’ll be hiring, but that developer will instead assume different duties as we adjust to cover all the work of the departing team member.

The Months Ahead

So the big question is: What will the impact of all this actually be? We’ve lost the past three weeks due to focusing on knowledge transfer, and that’s coming to close this week. Our limited familiarity with portions of the code that the departing developer created will also result in slower progress in those areas while we become more familiar with it. The net result will be weeks of delay in getting Player Edition out the door.

Our new target is to get a Beta release of Player Edition out to the Beta team in mid-June, which is a month later than we previously projected. The original plan was that we’d have a couple weeks in Beta testing before public release, and we’re still hopeful that can be achieved, but the team is still getting familiar with parts of the code, so it could take longer. Regardless of the exact timeframe, the six-month clock on cloud support won’t begin until Player Edition is has been officially release.

Overall, we’re unfortunately down a team member for the next few months (a big deal for a team as small as ours), which will result in a slowdown of our progress. Until we get a new team member hired and up to speed, we’ll also be spending a portion of our time focused on the hiring and training process, which will slow us down a bit further. We’ll be working as hard as we can to get things done as quickly as possible, but it will unfortunately be at a slower pace than we’d originally anticipated.

This slowdown necessitates that we adjust our focus a bit in the months ahead. We won’t be able to effectively work on as many tasks at the same time, so we’ll be narrowing our attention to specific objectives. Our primary focus will initially be Player Edition, after which we’ll focus on bringing web-based player access online. Aside from the initial delays caused by recent events, we expect those two tasks to stay largely on track from here on out. The true impact will largely center on major feature enhancements to the desktop version. We’ll continue working on smaller enhancements and refinements to the desktop version in parallel with player support, but some of the bigger features will be delayed due to the shift in responsibilities that will take existing team members off those tasks.

Thanks for the Support

We realize this is not the news you were hoping to hear, and we recognize that this will likely be frustrating for some of you. However, you are or may become a partner with us and we want to keep you informed. As I mentioned at the start, we want to continue being open about what’s going on behind the scenes here, just as we did during the Kickstarter.

We’ve thought long and hard about how best to minimize the impact of this latest setback, and we’re instituting a plan that will get us back up to speed as quickly as practical without jeopardizing the integrity or stability of the product. This plan will also allow us to keep getting important functionality into place on a steady basis.

Please keep your eyes open for a job posting in the near future that outlines the skillset we’ll be looking to hire. If you know anybody with these skills that would love the chance to help transform the tabletop RPG industry, please send them our way.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. If you have any questions, please ask them on our forums. We hope you’ll continue to support us as we work through this obstacle, and we definitely appreciate all your support thus far!

May the dice be with you!

 

Rob Bowes, President and Lead Developer of Realm Works

(On behalf of the entire Realm Works team)

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