How Giant Interactive Scales Game Development With Better Backlog Management & Faster Version Control
Agile teams at Giant Interactive deliver massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) with great success. With Hansoft and Helix Core as integral elements of their game development process, they’re managing backlogs with precision and versioning files quickly — even large binaries. The combination is helping them go from idea to done without delays.
Why Hansoft & Helix Core?
Managers go from idea to done.
Data informs real-time progress.
Version Files Fast
Less waiting. More doing.
Looking at the results so far, I’m confident we made the right decision.”
Solving Massive Growth Challenges
Giant Interactive, based in Shanghai, China, is known for MMORPGs, such as ZT Online, Elsword, and Allods Online. They shipped their very first game in 2001. Today, they’re one of China’s biggest online game companies, with tens of millions of players.
But growth like that brings challenges to any modern game studio.
“If it’s not actively managed, studio size can become an issue. Since our studios develop large MMORPGs, there can be as many as 100-200 people per team,” says Eddie Zhang, who was hired as the lead project manager and tasked with streamlining the project management process at the studio’s Shanghai headquarters.
Keeping all those team members on track demands more than great planning, says Zhang.
“Without a proper tool, team collaboration could be a nightmare,” he says. “Development proficiency would be hindered dramatically. Even with a detailed project plan, it would be extremely difficult for us to execute it.”
“Giant Interactive wanted to make some changes to existing processes and to help streamline game development. Naturally, tooling was the first thing I started with. Hansoft was an obvious choice and has been a great help. The company is more than satisfied with what we’ve achieved; our studios have very good performance.”
Managing the Backlog Collaboratively
Teams at Giant Interactive take backlog management seriously. From structure to planning to management, here’s how they manage and prioritize work with Hansoft.
Secure Team Collaboration
The backlog at Giant is structured at the highest level by project. Each project is managed by its own producer and divided by work type: technical, programming, art, etc. Their team makeup, along with project scope and complexity, differ greatly — something Hansoft supports.
“Hansoft is extremely flexible, supporting all mainstream methodologies. You can easily adopt Hansoft in different teams where they can choose the workflow that suits best, regardless of size.”
Various teams at Giant collaborate on the backlog. They’re able to maximize input and collaboration (without turning the backlog into a mess) by providing different permissions for different roles. For example, the planning team can add any new items to the backlog in Hansoft. Technical leads can add new items to the backlog as well, though they’re able to set restrictions on team member access.
Simple Backlog Prioritization
Zhang and his teams are able to collaborate and manage progress through regular prioritization meetings. Every two weeks, producers and technical leads discuss what needs to be completed in the next two-week sprint.
With Hansoft in their meeting, they can quickly move items from the backlog to the development plan for the next iteration. Then, technical leads make estimates and assign tasks, so everyone has a clear picture of what needs to be completed in the sprint.
Then, at the end of each sprint, teams identify any problems they encountered and the causes of delay. Such iteration gives them better control of time spent and allows teams to reach their planned goals.
Transforming Feedback Into Features
The team at Giant interactive believes constant player feedback is a critical element to their game development. In fact, they actively seek that feedback and hold regular meetings with players. The results of which are placed directly into Hansoft, where that player feedback gradually matures into bug fixes and features.
“Every two weeks we invite a group of active players to come on site and show them what we’ve developed so far. If, say, they are stuck somewhere in the game longer than we expected, then we will go back to our design and make some changes. We will also discuss some general thoughts with them to see if they like them or not, and if they have any suggestions.”
This customer feedback is added to the backlog, where it’s prioritized accordingly. “Ultimately, all new requirements or features are added to the dedicated product backlog in Hansoft,” says Zhang.
Meeting Milestones With Real Data
At Giant, they’re using Hansoft to track progress with precision. But they’re remaining Agile in their delivery — setting rough milestones and flexing to ship just-in-time.
Tracking Progress With Precision
Data captured in Hansoft is used by Giant to understand and evaluate both team and individual performance. Zhang and his teams review KPIs at the team level every 6 months, with more analytical data for daily work.
“The data from Hansoft allows us to take a closer look to the progress — and performance — of each project.”
Zhang has also developed a KPI system for daily work that provides insights into daily performance — not just project-level progress. They use Hansoft to track, measure, and report on hours spent on a task, completion rate for each task, and its level of difficulty. In turn, the data helps correct any potential issues, and provides insight to make future work plans more accurate.
Planning for Change
While Zhang and his high-performance teams have been shipping content at an impressive pace, they’re doing so with a very Agile philosophy. Rather than setting fixed milestones, they keep deadlines flexible.
“We set a rough milestone date for any critical features,” says Zhang. “That way we can adapt to constantly changing requirements. During the two-week iteration, the level of completion keeps changing. And we also receive feedback from players. We, therefore, have to make many changes as we go. A fixed milestone date is not very realistic. We set the plan and make small tweaks along the way.”
Versioning Massive Assets
At Giant Interactive in Shanghai, they’re also speeding up game development with help from another Perforce solution: Helix Core version control system (VCS).
After years of using free tools, teams at Giant Interactive needed a VCS that didn’t slow them down — particularly for binary files. So, they switched to the high-performance Helix Core server to better manage and version binary files.
Switching version control can be met with resistance as users have to change processes and re-learn fundamental tasks. Not with Helix Core. “We were expecting some learning curve for our staff, but they got on Helix Core pretty fast,” says Zheng.
“We used to have difficulties transferring big binary files. It was a huge waste of time. Also, our branching can be complicated. So free tools, such as Git and SVN, became more of a hindrance than help. With Helix Core as our single source of truth, implementing our versioning system is like a breeze.”
Repo management has also simplified since switching to Helix Core. They’re able to streamline their process by using a single repository. All code and non-code assets, including binaries and large graphics files, are managed in a centralized repository — with nothing stored on local computers.
Adds Zheng, “Helix Core is extremely crucial for our workflow and asset management. Helix Core is much more reliable — and faster.”
Enhancing the Tooling Ecosystem
At Giant Interactive, they’re incorporating Perforce solutions into their broader tooling ecosystem. They’re able to integrate their Perforce products not only with each other (connecting each submit in Helix Core with its corresponding task in Hansoft) but also with other popular game development tools.
More than that, they’re already simplifying the development process (and reducing waste) by using Helix Core’s plugins for AutoDesk Maya, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft Visual Studio. Developers and designers can checkout and lock files from within their favorite application.
What’s Next at Giant?
If the past is any indicator, Eddie Zhang and his teams at Giant Interactive will keep iterating from success to success. With Hansoft and Helix Core, they have a strong foundation for future progress. Not one to hide his secrets, Zhang has been proud to share his solution with other teams and studios in the company.
“I personally enjoy using Hansoft very much and find it very helpful to our projects. In fact, I’ve introduced it to other teams and studios. They’re interested in Hansoft. Our results are convincing!”
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