Gathering the right feedback for pre-launch games with Fred Gill

Interview with Fred Gill

With over 40 years of game development experience including key roles making hit games like Apex Legends and Titanfall, Fred Gill knows what it takes to launch a successful game. We’ve talked to him previously about prioritization and key tech considerations during all pre-launch phases of game development (you can find that blog post here), and now we’re sitting down with him again to discuss how to effectively gather the right data and feedback prior to launch. 

GGWP: Fred, thanks for speaking with us again. To start, what kind of data logging systems do you implement during the testing phases?

FG: Different parts of the infrastructure and game have different logging requirements – there’s a cost associated with each (dollars and focus), so you are trying to ensure you are logging enough that you can answer key questions from different parts of the team in a timely manner. “Timely” is a function of how quickly the team can respond to the data they are seeing – if it’s days, then maybe a 24hr lag on the data is acceptable?

For key backend systems we needed real-time visibility in case of issues – data, graphs and alerting that gave an indication of the health of the infrastructure, i.e. how many active requests for servers being spun up, how long players are taking to matchmake, how many transactions per second going to the store servers, etc.

GGWP: How do you determine what data you’ll log for marketing or other purposes?

FG: EA, as I expect all publishers, has a telemetry taxonomy that captures key metrics in each game; the major publishing functions contributed to that taxonomy, i.e. hours played, where players struggle (die, stop progressing), etc.

GGWP: How do you ensure that data handling is compliant with relevant regulation?

FG: EA has a multi-discipline data compliance team that ensures all games are compliant with worldwide legislation – it is a rightly onerous process to justify data collection and associated retention policy for each game.

GGWP: How do you evaluate alpha and other early stage data?

FG: If this is internal-only data, or data on a subset of the intended audience, you have to be careful – does it extrapolate, is the audience self-selecting-hardcore-fans, etc?

GGWP: How does pre-launch data influence your adjustments and improvements?

FG: We’re continually looking at stability, memory and performance characteristics across the full stack (client, backend and servers) – stability is critical, whilst better performance leads to lower latency, which is better for players.

GGWP: How do you incorporate user feedback into development during the pre-launch phase?

FG: Respawn, as with many great developers I’ve been lucky to work with, have regular internal playtests for their own games. On a game like Titanfall or Apex Legends, this is several times per week, and the team is encouraged to fix bugs or create bug reports, and to send all positive and negative feedback on the latest features, which is distilled into a “fix list”. Critically, the positive and negative feedback has “the why” – why did it feel janky, or why as a player didn’t I understand the feature, or why was it an amazing experience.

GGWP: What role does community building play in your pre-launch strategy?

FG: I think it has become more important over the last 10 years as digital sales have overtaken in-store sales. Word-of-mouth, whether friends or Influencers, can have a dramatic impact on the performance of a game.

GGWP: How do you use early access, beta testing, or demo versions to gauge player engagement and gather feedback?

FG: Historically, I’ve not been part of a team that does that. For Titanfall 2 we had the Technical Test to ensure the infrastructure would scale – that wasn’t a focus on gameplay / engagement. For other titles, EA has a User eXperience (UX) group that runs focused tests with different cohorts, usually to answer specific questions around a game or feature, i.e. “is the user interface clear when the player is fighting,” or “do players that like single-player story-driven games like X or Y,” or “do players that have lapsed in X like this new feature Y, and will it bring them back.” Most, if not all publishers have them, and run them throughout the development phases.

GGWP: What challenges have you faced in promoting your game pre-launch, and how have you overcome them?

FG: On Apex Legends, Drew McCoy (Executive Producer) said “we cannot talk about Apex Legends until players have it in their hands. If we talk about Apex Legends before we ship it, we’ll lose the narrative as every news story will be ‘why isn’t Respawn making Titanfall 3?’” EA Marketing understood that sentiment, and so worked closely with the development team on the launch strategy. Pre-launch we had several NDA’d playtests with a few hundred Influencers to help ensure that 1) the game we had was as good as the team thought it was, and 2) on launch day, they’d be ready and primed to play. The feedback from the influencers was critical, impacting the launch content and launch date.

GGWP: Fred, thank you for your time. 

FG: Thank you. 


Make sure to check out our previous interview with Fred Gill here, where he discusses priorities and tech considerations in pre-launch game development. 

About Fred Gill

Fred Gill – LinkedIn

Fred has been a professional in the video games industry for over 40 years. His journey began at the age of 17 when he sold his first game. After graduating in 1988, Fred co-founded a games company with four friends, leading it to grow to a team of 100 people over the next 15 years. The company was eventually acquired in 1997. When the parent company collapsed in 2002, Fred founded another small development studio, this time as CEO. However, he found that being a CEO wasn’t enjoyable, so he transitioned back to technical direction  within an EA studio. The team was responsible for creating the single player campaign (complementing Dice’s multiplayer) in Battlefield: Modern Combat in 11 months.

Fred later moved to Swordfish Studios in 2006, returning to EA to join a small division called EA Partners. In this role, he collaborated with independent studios to bring their products to market with EA as the publisher. Some of the titles he shipped include Crysis 2, Syndicate, Crysis 3, A Way Out, Unravel, Titanfall, and Titanfall 2 (among others). After EA acquired Respawn in 2017, Fred joined Respawn in 2018 as Studio Technical Director, eventually becoming VP and Head of Technology. His contributions included helping ship Apex Legends and being the Franchise Technical Director until Season #18. Fred retired in August 2023, returning to his roots by creating games for himself, with no expectation they will be commercially successful. Fred is also helping two charities, one of which he founded (Antidote Gamers) to help combat toxicity in video gaming.