How Piranha Games met player demand for MechWarrior 5 crossplay

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When time and resources were tight, Piranha Games chose to outsource a bespoke crossplay solution to IMS, so the studio could focus on what it does best - and put players first.

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, by Piranha Games, launched on the Epic Games Store in December 2019 as a one-year exclusive. After that period ended, the studio wanted to launch the game on other PC stores – and consoles. “We’d built up a significant customer base on the Epic Games Store and expended lots of effort on tuning the game across all platforms,” recalls Kerry Whalen, Head of Production at Piranha Games, “but we had no plans to support co-op crossplay”.

Player demand regarding that aspect of the game became apparent once the title went into alpha testing. “It kept coming up. ‘We assume this is going to be crossplay, right?’ But from the beginning, we never intended the game to have any kind of server,” says Kerry. “The architecture just wasn’t set up for crossplay.” A decision was made to meet player demands, but this posed a problem. Piranha Games had too much to do within a short space of time. “We were strapped for resources,” recalls Neema Teymory, Principal Software Engineer at Piranha Games. “Without a partner, we’d have pushed the timeline out too far to be acceptable. So we started evaluating different options, to find a partner that could just jump on it and get things done.”

Studio size 80+Game title MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries
Game genre BattleTech actionPlatform PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S

Making the right decisions

Piranha Games set up a meeting with IMS. “Our aim was to fully understand the problem and get a sense of how we could help as multiplayer and crossplay specialists,” recalls IMS Software Engineer Patrick Hansell. “We weren’t prescriptive, instead outlining several options that would meet the requirements Piranha Games had. Our view is we should never force a particular solution, and it’s vital for companies we work with to leverage existing relationships and retain commercial control.”

Neema remembers this being one of the things he really liked about IMS’s approach: “Once IMS understood what we wanted, a bunch of different options were laid out for us. There were different ways to solve the problem with varying trade-offs – and this meant we could make the right decision for us. It also showed IMS understood the problem and could deliver any kind of solution we were looking for.”

These positive sentiments continued once the project was underway. Neema says working with IMS was “like dropping new members right into our team”. They had access to the codebase and were already familiar with JIRA, Perforce and Unreal Engine, so “there was literally zero ramp-up time – the IMS engineers were ready to go, just like that”.

There was literally zero ramp-up time – the IMS engineers were ready to go, just like that.
Neema Teymory, Principal Software Engineer, Piranha Games
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Working together to solve new challenges

The solution itself was based around Epic Online Services, in part because Piranha Games already had a good relationship with Epic and EOS is free to use. This meant the studio could reduce costs compared to using paid alternatives. Additionally, EOS is built to support crossplay and had most of the features required for the project, and so it was the best fit.

However, Patrick notes Piranha Games didn’t want to directly use Epic Account Services: “It was considered suboptimal to have players sign into multiple systems, and so we built a custom solution: a contacts service where a player on any platform could communicate with any other, using a unique ID.” To further streamline the player experience, a platform’s ‘native’ friends list was imported by default.

According to Piranha Games, IMS’s experience and technical acumen came to bear multiple times during development. “The IMS team was familiar with all the fiddly little traps when dealing with things like authentication on Xbox Server and details with Sony we weren’t aware of. It made those pitfalls immediately obvious,” says Neema. “We valued the experience and knowledge of the people at IMS we worked with,” affirms Kerry. “They knew what to do and saved us a lot of trial and error. They were great at helping us navigate uncharted territory.”

The people at IMS were great at helping us navigate unchartered territory.
Kerry Whalen, Head of Production, Piranha Games
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A positive partnership

Given such positivity from Piranha Games, it’s perhaps surprising to discover this was the first time the studio had entered into such a partnership. “We were fiercely independent up to this point,” admits Kerry. “This was the first time we explored getting external help, because we knew we just could not do what we needed in the time available.” He adds that he’d also heard many horror stories about these kinds of relationships, and that the recommendation was to start simple, do tiny things and slowly build the partnership up. “But in this case, we had a big, important thing – and IMS stepped in. We were extremely pleased.”

Even specific practical concerns quickly faded away, says Neema: “IMS is headquartered in the UK, whose day ends when ours begins. So I was thinking communication would be an issue – and it totally wasn’t. The IMS team was available at all hours.” Patrick elaborates: “We know how important it is to provide local time zone support – it’s why we have global teams that give people we work with 24/7 access and do everything we can to be accommodating.”

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The perfect fit: a tailored, integrated solution

For Patrick, the MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries project is a good example of IMS’s broad approach to working with partners: “Piranha Games came to us with a problem, and we didn’t just point the studio towards ‘off the shelf’ technology – we provided a tailored end-to-end solution that we integrated into the game. And because we have a wide pool of developers, we could tailor the team to suit each challenge that arose, providing relevant experience to complete the job without eating into the Piranha Games team’s time and resources.”

This sits in stark contrast to using an off-the-shelf equivalent, or working with a company “that’s just an online services provider”, says Patrick, which would have left Piranha Games “having to bolt everything together and do all the integration to the client – which is a significant amount of work”. Instead, this was a partnership that sped up a process, making sure the studio could meet its goals.

“It was an interesting project – a last-minute decision to go for crossplay, and IMS was for us a jigsaw puzzle piece that fit right into the slot,” says Kerry. “It was a very convergent thing: IMS was the right piece at the right time, fitting right in. It was a great relationship. We have nothing but good things to say.”

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Check out MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries at mw5mercs.com

Benefits for Piranha Games

  • Working with IMS enabled Piranha Games to support crossplay in MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries within a timeframe the studio otherwise wouldn’t have been able to meet

  • A tailored end-to-end solution was fully integrated into the game and resulted in a better player experience, along with leveraging the studio’s existing relationships

  • Throughout the project, Piranha Games received experience and knowledge from IMS personnel that helped the studio quickly deal with issues it was unfamiliar with

  • Lack of ramp-up at the beginning of the partnership and flexibility throughout ensured resources were used efficiently – and that the team at Piranha Games could focus on the things it does best

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