I'm sure you all have read the news about the restructuring, so I'll put things as plainly and straight-forwardly as possible to clear up any confusion or speculation. I also apologize for the delay on this month's letter, but it was necessary due to the announced restructuring process.
The fact is Funcom will be consolidating offices, and as a result production on all of the three large-scale MMOs will be moved to our existing office in Raleigh, North Carolina. The move means that the developers will be in the same studio with the customer service and billing teams which previously have been external to us. This means less red-tape when resources are required from a different department (and one currently located in a different office), so some categories of delays on feature delivery should be completely eliminated.
As part of the restructuring there will be one Live Team in the NC offices which will support the three MMOs. And as one chapter will close on AO's development, a new one will open. The new Live Team will include coders, designers, and artists from all the games. There are a lot of developers at Funcom across all projects who also happen to be extremely passionate AO players (and will be on the shared Live Team), so AO should be able to get the attention it deserves. And this is one of the rationales for having a shared pool of developers -- that developers can more easily shift between projects.
Obviously, not everyone is going to Raleigh. The move isn't immediate, and people will continue working in Montreal for up to a couple of months. Our immediate focus will be finishing as much of what we started as possible to make a seamless transition to the new Live Team. Before the move, we will release 18.6 to Live (Server Migration), and plan to get the New Player Experience to TestLive.
I'll give you a state of the "big 3" initiatives we've worked on for the last year:
This is out on TestLive now, and we're pushing for the Live date as soon as all the issues are sorted out. Want to thank everyone in the community for helping us with the dry-runs on TestLive.
New Player Experience
This is close to done. As I mentioned, we plan get it to TestLive before production moves to the Durham offices, because it's a whole new playfield, there is a lot of content, and it seriously and vastly improves the beginning of the game. It's not just for new players, it's for new characters. It also has some of the necessary groundwork for the profession changes.
I've been playing this internally, as I've mentioned before. Playing the new client hadn't been possible until I started posting screenshots -- I refuse to post screenshots that aren't from a build I am running on my "manager" machine which doesn't have Visual Studio or any tools installed. Macrosun and Vhab have done a tremendous job over the last year to make the engine a reality -- we were just matching the Dreamworld mesh grass to the different ground tiles when the studio news was announced. Unfortunately, the engine exists in our 18.7 branch, so it requires 18.7 to be patched before you guys can play it. This will not be able to happen over the next couple of months given the restructuring process, so what happens with the new engine and the timeframe will depend on the priorities of that team.
The details of the restructuring are still being hammered out, and this will impact the production schedule. This means I can't talk about what's next after the NPE gets to TestLive, since that's the furthest milestone we'll be able to hit before the new Live Team is up and running in the new location. But I will be spending the next couple of months working on the transition, and when we know more I will keep the AO community in the loop.