PAX East 2013: Don’t Starve interview details continued support and collaborative development

Klei Entertainment’s wilderness survival game Don’t Starve may be available to buy, but as an evolving game still in beta form, Klei has a lot more to say about its progress. At PAX East 2013, I had a chance to play the game’s latest build and speak with Community Manager Corey Rollins about Don’t Starve’s collaborative development and on-going update plans. If you bought the game and want to know how it’ll progress past release, read on…

GZ: You’ve said that Klei is committing to regular updates every two weeks with Don’t Starve, how has that been going so far?

Corey Rollins: Honestly it’s been great. We’ve hit our two week schedule every single time since we launched the game and committed to it. One of the things we get asked regularly regarding updates is…well, the game is coming out at the end of April, what’s going to happen to the game?

We’ve already committed to six months, minimum, of continued update development. If we want to keep doing it and it’s economically feasible, we would love to just keep dishing out content. We’re still pretty sure it’s going to be the two week schedule, depending on what happens when the game launches, but we’ll probably announce another post-launch roadmap.

Don't Starve

GZ: This seems to have been a very collaborative process developing Don’t Starve

Corey Rollins: Oh yeah, this was a huge experiment for us, right from day one. I’m the community manager, so I was basically brought on board specifically to foster this kind of environment around our games.

Don’t Starve, right from the get-go… you know a lot of companies say, “oh we’re doing a beta,” and you’re in the beta. You can find all these bugs and complain but that doesn’t mean anything. It just means you can play the game early. We seriously wanted to do a real beta. If you find a bug, we have a bug tracker system, we can get feedback and respond to it and solve it. Then when we have that new build every two weeks we take the biggest problems that we had and push out a fix. Players can test it and usually over the next two or three days we release minor hotfixes for balancing issues.


GZ: Is that an approach that, as a company, you’ll continue with?

Corey Rollins: I don’t know if that’s exactly going to happen, but we’re so much more open to experiment. To reach out to our community, try it, if it doesn’t work then we won’t do it again or we’ll change some stuff, but we’re in a way better position and mindset now to do stuff with our community and actively respond to it.


GZ: Has Don’t Starve taken any unexpected directions as a result of community feedback?

Corey Rollins: It wasn’t like massive changes, but there’s definitely been tuning and balancing issues that are so community driven. One of the best examples of that is food spoilage. When we first started developing it, we thought it would be really cool if your food spoiled. That’s frustrating when you’re surviving, that’s a real thing that would happen. Your food goes bad, so how would you preserve it?

So we didn’t really know how to do it without making it seem super grindy. That’s something we wanted to avoid. Through a bunch of community feedback before we even wanted to do the feature they were like, “Hey, what if food did this, what if food did that?” They started a big thread about it, and eventually it got so interesting that we started jumping in on the thread. Eventually, we released a build that was a food spoilage demo. After another release and a couple hotfixes, we have what you see in the game now.

Don't Starve

GZ: One of the interesting things I noticed was a thread in your forums outlining why Don’t Starve won’t have multiplayer. You were really honest about it.

Corey Rollins: Yeah we purposely did that, stickied at the top of our general announcements. We wanted to be honest about it because we didn’t want people to think we thought multiplayer was stupid or something. It was a matter of us promising a kickass single-player game. It’s a game about being lonely and lost. We thought about it really hard and it just wasn’t a good fit for the game. We wanted to focus on those two week updates and building this world with the community. But yeah, we just wanted to be really open and transparent with it.

We get asked about multiplayer a lot and we direct people to the thread. After that, the response is always like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.”


GZ: Perhaps in a sequel? Something like Don’t Eat Each Other?

Corey Rollins: (Laughs) Yeah, I was always joking around about it because we introduced the insanity feature. If we ever did have more than one person in it, I wanted them to start looking like food and you could eat them if you were hungry and insane at the same time.

But yeah, it’s so early to say. If it makes sense to do a sequel we would love to do one. Obviously we’re not saying no to multiplayer ever, but it doesn’t make sense right now, it doesn’t make sense with the franchise right now. But with any sequel, we won’t do any sequel for a game unless we feel like there’s more to tell. Whether it’s like amazing new features or amazing new story. We don’t want to pump out sequels.


GZ: Where do you see Don’t Starve six months after release?

Corey Rollins: I imagine after the six months, at least I’m hoping we're looking at more platforms. We are looking at tablets and mobile phones. We have to make sure the game plays well and runs well. As long as the platform allows us to, if you buy the game, we’d like to just give it to you on different platforms. That’s all up in the air, though.


GZ: That sounds fair to me. Thanks for chatting!

Corey Rollins: Thank you!

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