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New World Interactive has a lot to be thankful for in 2019. Its multiplayer game, Insurgency: Sandstorm, has had over 1 million players jump into the fray since releasing late last year. And while New World plans to keep supporting it for a long time to come, it’s also in the middle of a major company-wide transformation.

Insurgency: Sandstorm is the latest in a line of military first-person shooters from New World. Set in a fictional conflict in the Middle East, Sandstorm lets players fight for either the government-led Security forces or the Insurgents across a variety of different modes. Its minimal HUD, realistic gunplay, and focus on teamwork helps it stand out in an otherwise crowded genre.

Since releasing Sandstorm for PC in 2018, New World has been hard at work responding to players’ feedback and adding new content to the game. It released five major updates this year, which among other features, added a total of three new maps, four multiplayer modes, 10 weapons, and a bunch of cosmetic options for customizing your character.

Sandstorm’s thriving community clearly appreciates all that work. On Steam, the game currently has a “very positive” rating based on more than 29,000 fan reviews.

“A million players in your first year is really good, and that’s PC only,” said New World marketing director Jon Higgins. “We’ve got the console version coming out in spring of next year on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as continued support. So we expect to see these player numbers grow substantially into next year.”

Creating a better player experience

While a lot of those 1 million players come to Sandstorm for its realism, Higgins said that other types of players — those that have a more casual multiplayer shooter background — are joining in as well. New World tried to encourage that this year by coming up with new ways to play. One major addition was Domination, which has much quicker respawns than in Sandstorm’s traditional modes, making it ideal for people who are still learning the game.

Another recent favorite is Frenzy, a twist on the Checkpoint cooperative mode where players must work together to fight wave after wave of zombie-like enemies.

“For us, it’s important that we stay true to what Insurgency is: a hardcore first-person shooter. And all of our core, permanent game modes are geared around those kinds of mechanics,” said Higgins. “But we realize that sometimes, you just want to hop into a game and have a bit of fun and not have to think too much.”

This year, New World also started tackling various optimization issues for Sandstorm, a process that’ll continue well into 2020. The studio wants to make sure that all players, including those with lower-end PCs, have a smoother experience overall. And one important partner in that endeavor is Intel. Previously, the company helped New World in the run-up to Sandstorm’s launch when it provided one of its engineers to help optimize the game.

“We’re a relatively small team. So having someone who was an Unreal Engine 4-based programmer who specialized in CPU optimization available to our team, especially from a brand like Intel, was hugely beneficial to us,” said Higgins.

Intel also gave the developer a variety of low- and high-end machines to test Sandstorm on. Having that kind of access to the latest hardware is a huge advantage because it allows the studio to better anticipate the future of PC gaming, both with Sandstorm and other projects.

Moving up North

As part of its future preparations, New World made some big changes this year when it opened up a new office — dubbed New World North — in Calgary, Canada. Prior to this, the company was mainly based in Amsterdam and Denver, Colorado, with other employees scattered around the world. While that worked for a while, Higgins said the time differences made it difficult to coordinate. At one point, the dev team was split across nine different time zones.

So in an effort to consolidate and keep everyone relatively close to each other, New World closed down the Amsterdam location and moved the staff to Calgary, which shares the same time zone as Denver. In addition to working on Sandstorm, New World North also has a small team doing R&D on a new IP.

“We learned a lot through Sandstorm about where our gaps in development were. And with this new office, we’ve been hiring a whole bunch of new people to fill in those gaps and expand our team so that with our next title, we can really make the best product possible,” said Higgins.

Unlike fellow Canadian cities Vancouver and Montreal, Calgary has a small footprint in the industry, with only a few gaming companies calling it home. According to Higgins, the Calgary government is eager to keep that community growing with more investment. But for the time being, New World North is the largest developer in the city with a 25-person team made up of both veterans and local talent.

Between Sandstorm’s ongoing success, its upcoming console release, and the promise of new games, there’s never been a better time to be at New World.

“There’s a great vibe in the office at the moment. … It really makes us a lot more efficient and, as far as bringing in a lot of new people, it adds a lot of new energy into the company as well. And everyone’s very excited for the direction that we’re going, the way that we’re growing, and some of the new, bigger projects we’re going to start embarking on in the future,” said Higgins.

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