ArenaNet on Guild Wars 2’s living story, Heart of Thorns vs. Path of Fire, security, and momentum

    
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Though ArenaNet was technically at E3 this year, the group representing Guild Wars 2 was chiefly a marketing and business one, so they carted our interview questions back to team members more suited to answer. ArenaNet Brand Manager (and former Massively columnist) Lis Cardy, Design Manager Crystal Reid, Systems Team Lead Irenio Calmon-Huang, and Game Director Mike Zadorojny weigh in on the living story, security, gaining “momentum,” and more, just in time for the launch of the next episode later today. Let’s dig in.

The ever-living story

While I haven’t personally played much GW2 since the arc about the fall Lion’s Arch, I’ve liked the concept of an ever-evolving story. It’s actually what got me into MMOs thanks to the Asheron’s Call series’ monthly updates. When I asked how the ArenaNet team felt players were reacting to the current living story, especially in terms of pacing, Mike Zadorojny said the studio has “seen players become more engaged with the releases.” Apparently, they’re happy to see the connections players making to the stories and characters they’ve developed and especially with the discussions across Reddit and the forums.

There have been delays to this particularly update, so I asked what the “benefits” of the new living world logistics changes will bring to players that Zadorojny briefly mentioned to the community. He put it this way:

“With each living world episode we’ve continued to internally raise the bar of what we build: our content, our cinematics, our story, etc. Each iteration has also increased the amount of time it takes to create each release. A lot of the focus recently has been about streamlining our processes better, increasing communication between teams and empowering developers to do their work faster and with less bottlenecks. While all of this is invisible to the players, it is our goal to better manage the time between living world episode releases.”

Source: http://global.ncsoft.com/global/ir/earnings.aspx

Given some of the financial numbers NCSoft released around Heart of Thorns’ launch and Path of Fire’s entry, I asked that is the difference between how HOT and POF were marketed from an internal perspective, what the team learned, and how it’ll affect future approaches. Lis Cardy said that the announcement and marketing of Heart of Thorns had “a lot of heavy lifting to do,” as the team was “defining what expansions looked like for Guild Wars 2.” That meant introducing new (to GW2) mechanics and features, “like elite specializations, the mastery system, guild halls and progression, and more.”

The team felt it was a lot of new stuff for fans to process, so it slowly released information, especially at public displays like PAX South, to give people “a general idea of what was coming,” but then “went into deeper detail later in mediums that were better suited to explanations of systems.”

With Path of Fire though, the team could do things differently. Cardy, consciously channeling Mike O’Brien’s original announcement, said POF was “less about adding new systems to the game and much more about content.” The team had already introduced masteries in HOT, so while mounts are a new type of mastery, ArenaNet didn’t have to re-explain what a mastery is. Elite specialization were already established, so the developers didn’t have to repeat themselves on that.

Since they were working with more established systems, the devs could focus more on giving people hands-on time and to put out a shorter campaign that “relied on providing a lot of information up-front.” As Cardy put it, “People came away from the announcement livestream with a thorough understanding of what content was coming in the expansion.”

Wandering the Path of Fire

Despite the fact that I played the game in 2014, the early addition of Fractals was something that initially turned me off to GW2. I like living worlds, but instanced dungeons and farming in them is something I’ve never really enjoyed about MMOs. However, in POF, we saw certain endgame content like Fractals receive less and less attention. While that probably sounds like a bad idea on paper, I know some MOP staffers mentioned their renewed enjoyment of the game because there’s less of a traditional endgame grind now. When I asked how the team felt its greater community was receiving the change, Crystal Reid mentioned that, at POF’s launch, ArenaNet “really wanted the focus to be around the content of the Crystal Desert and the new Elite Specializations [which] freed up the Fractal and Raids teams to put all of their attention into the quality of their work and not be tied to the same release date.”

In choosing that route, the team was able to “put out a Fractal in the final episode before the expansion, and both a Fractal and Raid with episode 1,” Reid says. “Each of the teams continue to work on the next iteration of their respective game types, with a new Fractal aiming to be released on Tuesday with Episode 3.”

Like some of you, I was baffled about the sudden announcement of changes to underwater combat this past spring. When I asked how the team felt the changes were working out, Irenio Calmon-Huang said that the team believes “the majority of the changes have improved flow of combat underwater quite significantly.”

“We’re seeing much smoother kill times and even requests for more underwater content,” he told me. “That said, we’re going to keep tweaking and re-working underwater abilities as they come to our attention.”

While I’m not a player, I’ve heard some people feel that the Scourge spec is over-represented in PvP, but potential fixes seem to be a threat to its PvE power. Calmon-Huang agreed that Scourge is “quite potent in competitive game modes” and is the key specialization the team is “looking to tune down a bit in both PvP and WvW.” The team’s internal discussions involve figuring out how it wants to see various specializations act in different game modes and how the team “can get there without impacting other modes” with minimal impact – which basically means the team will keep on splitting changes between game modes, as it did with the Sand Savant trait.

Calmon-Huang also added that, beyond the Scourge and competitive game modes, the team has been “investigating more counter-play options to heavily played specializations/professions and aiming to tune those counters up.”

I also had to ask about the special event removal of the downed state in WvW PvP. Calmon-Huang said that a few players aren’t happy, but overall, the team thinks the “majority enjoy the event for shaking up the gameplay meta and encouraging more people to get into WvW.” ArenaNet apparently plans to try “more temporary events like this in the future that force you to rethink your strategy against competing worlds.” When I asked how the idea came about, Calmon-Huang said there were three ideas involved:

“1. Removing downed state is something we’d wanted to try for a while and was a good test of our event system. 2. This shake-up has been discussed significantly on the forums by players intrigued by how it would change one of their favorite modes. 3. Running the event allowed us to get some hard evidence on how the game mode adjusts when something as core as the downed state is gone, inspiring other possible change-ups.”

Current events

For those who don’t know, in April, players discovered that the March 27th client update had installed spyware to detect potential programs on player computers, and a lot of gamers took issue with how it was done. So I asked if ArenaNet’s decision-making process related to security changed as a result of this. Lis Cardy told me that ArenaNet has “nothing specific to share at this time” but that it will “continue to evaluate the best ways to prevent cheating” in its games, placing an “important emphasis” on maintaining and ensuring the integrity of players’ experience.

I also ribbed the company about its recent well-timed GW2 sale during a competitor’s troubled times; Cardy notes that many “marketing initiatives are about creating momentum” – things that get the product into the limelight.

“Sometimes, though, we get an opportunity to see things that are happening and react in such a way as to build on momentum that’s coming from within the community. In the case of the coupon code, we saw that we had recently gotten some wonderful word-of-mouth from content creators – influencers both from within the ArenaNet Partner Program and without – and a bump in the number of free players entering the game, and we wanted to find a way to contribute to the general welcome.”

Finally, I did ask the team about managing leaks, and I asked it to comment on how Crystin Cox’s infamous claim that lootboxes help players rather than developers fits in with the current, ongoing government and player backlash against the microtransaction practice, but we received no response to those questions.

Still, we’d like to thank those who did respond to our questions for taking time out of their schedules to chat with us during and after E3.

Get caught up on all of our E3 2018 coverage and awards from the show this year, and stay tuned for more Guild Wars 2 news later today when the new episode goes live!
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Bryan Turner

Can some one explain why my comment was moved near the top, is this a glitch or something because it was a reply? I asked before but for some odd reason a mod deleted my question?

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

It was a reply to a post that was moderated, a reply submitted after the post was modded (but on your screen, it was still there, so it let you post). If you had hit submit before I hit delete, your post would’ve disappeared entirely under his thread; instead, it converts your reply into a new thread. Just quirks of the system.

Reader
Bryan Turner

Oh, here I was wondering if I was a featured comment lol.

Staff
Tina Lauro Pollock

Just jumping in to echo what has already been said really. I did have input into the questions Andrew asked, as did Bree, and I was really happy with the final list. As a reminder (or point of fact if ya don’t know) I live in Northern Ireland… I simply can’t get out to many events to ask questions myself due to my location, and nor should MOP feel the need to send the columnist for each game to an event just to prove the interviews are informed or valid. That just isn’t at all realistic, frankly, and I’m surprised it has come up. Andrew did his homework, involved everyone he should have in the drafting process, and came out with an interview that coherently reflects the answers provided. As frustrating as it is when questions go unasked or unanswered, we do our utmost to make the best use of the time we get.

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Bryan Turner

These guys are a small Independent outlet funded by donations and a trickle of ad revenue, just be glad they exist and that they’re small enough to not be soulless corporate puppets.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

Thank you. We did an honest, no-softball interview on the same day ArenaNet literally paid a rival publication to run a sponsored shill post. And yet people are up in our grill and not theirs. The many ironies of the bizarrely isolated and weirdly prioritized Reddit GW2 community are not lost on me.

Reader
Bryan Turner

Between their Secret Police Forum Moderators under Fuher Gaile, and the Toxic Downvote Avengers on GW2 Reddit you’d be surprised that community is so nice in game.

Who did the shill article, I love reading a feel good piece that blows smoke up my ass and a game I love ;)

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

I agree. On the whole, the people who actually play GW2 are pretty damn great! :) Thank you for reminding me Reddit represents only Reddit. Some days I need that nudge.

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Bryan Turner

Surprisingly I’m not on the hate wagon here, sending some one to E3 is probably expensive and they had multiple properties to cover while being at the mercy of companies scheduling. I second another comment below where I’d like to see the actual interview as opposed to this article which seems heavily edited.

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Bryan Turner

I don’t get what all the outrage is about, personally I was more offended by half of the recaps of Westworld’s season finale (felt like I was reading stupid people complaining about a show they were too stupid to appreciate let alone recap.).

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

Whether we run an interview – or in this case, a collection of email questions – verbatim depends on a lot of factors, like time, space, whether the answers are particularly contentious or quotable, even whether we think the studio is dissembling or using a lot of words to get out of answering a question or make it seem as if it’s answering something fully when it’s not. Generally, interviews like this one, particularly with multiple people providing the answers, read better as long-form pieces rather than a checklist.

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Bryan Turner

I’m defending you guys, just to be clear.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

I know! I just wanted to explain why we did it this way this time. :D I should’ve included a smiley face or something, sorry.

kalamari_
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kalamari_

((Nah. Thx tho.))

Reader
meltwithyou

TL/DR

The strange community over at Reddit you’re referring to seems to think that a person who hasn’t played the game in while has no business writing about it…I’ve seen plenty, its pathetic. Grow up.

Reader
Dystopiq

That is correct. If you haven’t played it in along time what business do you have writing about it? What could they possibly offer?

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

Because he’s the only person MOP sent to E3. Because you don’t need to be an active player to be able to ask some solid/interesting questions, especially if you work on them beforehand with folks who do play. Because having the person who asked them post the article rather than pretending someone else did the interview is unprofessional and kinda shitty.

Reader
meltwithyou

An unbiased or critical opinion. So no, its not correct…at least not in the real world.

Does every article need to have an expert to massage your confirmation bias? Does Andrews ‘opinion’ hurt you in any way? Tarnish the reputation of ANET or GW2? Why does this bother you and others so much?

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

ITT: A bunch of people who have never worked covering a convention before. You can’t guarantee that everyone you send to the show will be intimately familiar with every game they’re going to see/play/talk about, especially for smaller sites that can only manage to send 1-2 people.

I’m all for getting folks familiar with games to do interviews/cover the games whenever possible, but that’s not always possible. Also, people complaining about “open access” to devs? There’s no such thing in an interview setting : P

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

Thanks, GD and Melt. This basically sums it up. No need to really say more – these folks just don’t understand how conventions work.

lemony800
Reader
lemony800

I don’t understand why your interviews here are so weirdly a mishmash of quotes and summary. Just post your questions and their answers verbatim. Easier to read and follow. Also seems kind of odd not to have your GW2 columnist decide on the questions? These are pretty nonspecific to GW2 as it currently stands.

Reader
Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

Seconded.

Godnaz
Reader
Godnaz

((Deleted by mod. Please review the commenting code.))

Reader
Brother Maynard

No one on Massively OP staff plays GW2 aside Tina P.

That’s demonstrably wrong just by reading a couple of WRUP articles.

In the end, who cares – apart from a bunch of hardcore GW2 redditors? Some of the questions had to be general (spyware, gambleboxes), others were deliberately general to give a high-level view of how Anet people see their game (HoT / PoF reception and lessons learned)…

So apart from the elitists over at GW2 subreddit who probably wanted to ask a bunch of pointless technicalities or lobby for whatever change they want to see in the game – who among the general GW2 playerbase cares that the questions where not 100% to reddit’s liking?

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

Additionally, both Tina and I helped Andrew prepare questions. As you guys can see, they didn’t answer everything we asked.

Reader
McGuffn

I thought the questions were fine. Do they sound like a hit list of some recent “headline worthy” events in the game? Sure. But that’s also a valid and important topic for an interview.

The one I’d quibble with is the necro question, which may or may not take into account the recent nerf, but I suspect it doesn’t.