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Some really interesting facts have popped up in an article about one of the divisions of Ubisoft a lot of people probably didn't even know existed. It's called the User Data Research Group, and they're a division of Ubisoft that specifically tracks user feedback and establishes data acquisition based on in-game choices made by the player.
Game Informer did a thorough breakdown of how the User Data Research Group works and how it affected the means of traversal in Ubisoft's latest Far Cry Primal.
It turns out that when they had actual gamers come in and playtest Far Cry Primal during the early stages of development, they found out that getting around the map took too long. At the higher levels gamers were getting frustrated trying to get from one end of the map to other or from one mission segment to the other, in between fast travel.
Considering that Far Cry Primal takes place in the Mesolithic era, it meant that vehicles, wingsuits, gliders and helicopters were out of the question. So how did they solve the problem with allowing players to travel around the map faster? Well, they had to implement beast riding, even though it wasn't even going to be in the game.
The solution was borne out of the need to give players some way to quickly get around the map, and traveling around on foot wasn't cutting it.
Since they already had Beast Taming in Far Cry Primal the next logical step was simply to add Beast Riding. So certain animals were giving the ability to carry the player around at quick speeds so that they could traverse Oros quickly and efficiently.
According to the Game Informer article, Ubisoft is using this method of playtesting with actual gamers to their advantage. They don't consider it focus group testing since it has nothing to do with how the game is being marketed, and it's not quality assurance testing since they don't care about bugs or glitches. The idea is to get feedback on what actual gamers think about the game and how they can work to improve the gameplay experience and make it more streamlined to be... fun.
The highlight of this method isn't just that Ubisoft is getting direct feedback on their upcoming games, but it's that the developers are made aware of the choices they can make for improving the game. According to the article the User Data Research division does not mandate that the developers implement whatever data they gather from the playtesters...the data is simply there as an option for developers to explore in developing the game.
This method of adapting the game to player feedback has been applied to titles like The Division, where they modified how skills and information is displayed to better help inform gamers; or The Crew where mobile upgrades and customization was made possible instead of constantly having to head back to the headquarters to make changes to the vehicles.
It's an interesting approach to making AAA games, and Ubisoft definitely isn't shy about experimenting. In the case of Far Cry Primal the user feedback experiment actually paid off and the travel-by-beast feature turned out to be one of the game's highlights. Now if only they can scale back on the microtransactions and the rushed releases, they just might win back a lot of favoritism with the general gaming community.