Company of Heroes 3 is coming next year, Relic announced today, but the studio's latest World War 2 RTS has already been played by some members of the community, who first got their hands on it years ago.
One of the benefits of Relic being a Sega studio these days is the opportunities to borrow stuff from the publisher's other strategy teams. This means that Relic's been able to take advantage of Amplitude's Games2Gether programme, initially set up for the Endless series, through which the community will be able to play various builds, offer feedback and get updates.
This collaboration with the community, however, goes way back, to the formation of a community council three years ago. "We've had a 70-player council for three years now," executive producer David Littman tells me. "And they've been playing the game for three years." He recalls that, during the very earliest days of the game, players were brought in almost straight away. During the first couple of days it was just Littman, then some team members joined him, and then ten of the top players from around the world—modders, map makers, competitive players—were invited to sit down with Relic. The studio used them to help come up with the foundations of what would become Company of Heroes 3, right down to the setting.
"When we brought in our ten players, and sat them down, we put on the board: "Hey, what theatre would you guys want?" And we all agreed that we wanted a new theatre, we didn't want to revisit the Western Front or the Eastern Front. So really, the only two things left were the Mediterranean and Pacific. We put them both on the board, and it was just 10-0. Mediterranean over Pacific."
Since that initial meeting, the council has grown, and members have been able to playtest the game throughout development, putting the factions through their paces. These are people thoroughly embedded within the community, so you can expect them to have a good handle on what makes a fun Company of Heroes. Beyond the council, Relic also sent out lots of surveys and got tens of thousands of responses, so that's a lot of feedback to pore over.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, everyone else is going to be able to take a look and provide their own feedback. Through Games2Gether, an alpha demo is already available, playable until August 3, and more slices will be released while we wait for the game's launch in 2022.