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