Interview with ArenaNet’s Linsey Murdock

Linsey Murdock is the game designer for the Guild Wars® Live Team. She works exclusively on Guild Wars Live issues, bugs, added content, and general maintenance. The latest big addition to Guild Wars was an update to rebalance how players acquire some of the titles in game, and Linsey graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about this major update.

What change in this update are you most proud of?

It’s hard to pick one thing from such a large build, but I suppose it would have to be the Storybooks. Condensing the entire storyline of the game into single-paragraph segments was pretty tough, but I think we pulled it off. Plus, I think bringing the book system into the other three games will really help revitalize those areas and reward players for repeating that content, much in the same way that the introduction of Hard Mode did.

Were any of the changes hard to implement or suggest because of the fact that prior design choices were going to be overwritten?

Not really. We are all interested in the game being as good as it can be, and so we recognize that as the game grows, previous design decisions may no longer be practical and/or could stand to be updated.

What change are you most curious as to how players will respond or change their play-styles in lieu of that change?

I am hoping that the reward updates to Challenge Missions and Jade Quarry/Fort Aspenwood will be enough to bring players back into those areas.

Were any of the changes made with Guild Wars 2 “achievement systems” in mind?

No, my work on Guild Wars® is completely independent of Guild Wars 2.

Was there a change that required major out-of-the-box thinking where ideas were pulled from really weird places?

We mostly just looked at each title we wanted to address and assessed the areas in which it could be improved. We didn’t borrow from other MMOs…I also don’t feel the changes we made were necessarily “out of the box.” They seemed much more like common sense to me.

With much of ArenaNet working on the upcoming Guild Wars 2, how much interest do those employees take in the Guild Wars Live Team, especially with this update?

Though they’re focused on GW2, there are still tons of people at ArenaNet who are extremely passionate about Guild Wars. We even have folks who stay late to put in overtime on Guild Wars after a full shift at their “day job” working on GW2.

Can you give us a short walkthrough of the design process you took for changing one of the titles?

We started with the Luxon/Kurzick title tracks, as we felt those were in the most dire need of adjustment. I took a look at the ways in which players currently gain faction, particularly the FFF (fast faction farming), and calculated a per-hour faction gain number to use as a base. I outlined my first impressions of how we should adjust the existing ways of gaining faction to bring them in line with the FFF, as well as how we should fix the issue of botting. I then ran my outline past a few people for feedback.

That initial assessment got the ball rolling, so from there I started doing detailed research on all the ways that players currently gain faction, as well as all the ways we felt they should be gaining faction. I went back and played through many areas of the game that we felt needed better rewards, in order to get a fresh picture in my head of how they played. I put together a number of spreadsheets to crunch the numbers and find the right balance.

I ran my ideas past a few different people to see if we were on the mark, and then tweaked the numbers according to their feedback. I built a design document with all the changes we wanted to make, and then sent it out to even more people for feedback—I particularly wanted to hear from Joe Kimmes, who would actually be programming the changes. Then I sent the design document to James Phinney for final approval. Once he signed off on the changes, I sent it to the rest of the designers to make absolutely sure that there weren’t any remaining issues.

Next I handed the document off to Joe for implementation while I went to work writing text for all of the Storybooks and designing a reward structure for them. Joe began implementation, and I continued to review the changes being made to make sure there weren’t any holes. We also added a few things here and there, and when implementation was complete we moved into the testing phase to make sure it all worked as intended. We kept on making tweaks and bug fixes as we got closer to build day.

Once everything was integrated over to our staging servers, another round of testing and bug-fixing began. After QA signed off on that, we were free to push it all up to the Live servers and run the build. And that’s pretty much it.

23 thoughts on “Interview with ArenaNet’s Linsey Murdock”

  1. It was done via email with the help of the Community Manager, Regina B. Linsey is a great game designer, and is really communicative with Guild Wars fans via her wiki talk page. I couldn’t believe that I was able to do this, but I figured it was worth a try. =)

  2. I would hardly call anything she has done thus far as great. As a matter of fact she WAS removed from GW2 and put onto GW. lol..If she was such an asset why would they put her on a “dead” game. Me thinks someone is in the way. Anyhow interesting interview.

  3. Good interview, but nothing should bring players back to the Jade Quarry. Terrible on my eyes.

    hobo jones: To my knowledge she wasn’t REMOVED from GW2. I think she was promoted from a team member to a team leader. That sounds like a promotion, no? And even if the game is dead doesn’t mean they are going to abandon it. Or wait, is that how you would run your business model? Tell any player still interested in the game ‘we don’t care’? That will really help the sales of GW2!

  4. Yes she WAS removed from GW2 according to the GW main website. You will also see the article referencing her move to GW doesn’t say anything about a promotion.Going from the big project as a lead dev and moved to a “finished”project sounds like a demotion to me. Perhaps you’re to young to understand career advancement Pustulio. And yes, they will eventually abandon it..there comes a time when it simply costs too much in server maintenance and dev upkeep to make it profitable. Pustulio you need some business 101 coursework before you flap your lips.

  5. @hobo jones: It was a promotion. She actually had to apply for the position. It wasn’t just “you are now on GW1.” In the Guild Wars Wiki archives there should be a post she wrote about her transition. Resume 101, I would much rather have the title lead designer along with the challenges/accomplishments for a “finished yet updated” project than “game designer” among the 10-20 others.

    Furthermore, it’s not “dead.” It is likely losing daily/weekly players faster than it is gaining new accounts, but plenty of people are still playing it. Tabula Rasa is “dead.” Guild Wars is still gaining small amounts of content (golem quests), balance updates, and the festivals still draw plenty of people back.

  6. @hobo jones: First of all, assuming I’m to young to understand career advancement is a terrible assumption. The position change sounds like an increase in responsibility and an increase in company trust. Moving from a position where your work is checked by a superior to a position where you are the superior checking the work is often a promotion.

    An example of her move would be going from a lead welder on a multi-million dollar pipeline to a foreman of small hundred thousand dollar pipeline. By your logic he or she was demoted due to the size of the project. But that is not true. The lead welder was not ‘in the way’.

    I believe it is you that needs to understand career advancement, no matter your age.

    Second, if they were to abandon GW1 (Which I still don’t see them doing for a long time) it would behoove them to do it after the release of GW2, not before.

  7. Yea to say dead is not the best term…. maybe he should just say decomposing?…..I also think being removed from a primary project to a lesser , decomposing project is a demotion. There are only 3 others who are “stuck” with GW updates and maintenance. Its like saying..”oh yea?…well I’m a Mayor”….of a town of 200…. or that you sit on the city council of New York City.Which is more important..which is going to add substance to your resume, which requires more responsibility and talent? /vote demoted

  8. Having dealt with Lindsey via the wiki, I would have to agree with both Ravious and Pustulio that this was not a demotion. A lead position on a game that is in only considered dead by those whose favorite shortcuts have been done away with is still a lead position and one she did actively pursue. She is one of the few Anet staff who really does interact with the community as her schedule allows. She is passionate about Guild Wars and doing as much as she can to fix things that are broken and give us new things to entertain ourselves with.

    Great interview btw, and thanks for taking the time to do it!

  9. I have to agree with Wyn on this one.

    Also added to this, player retention from GW1 to GW2 is a major consideration and responsibility and one which falls firmly now within Lynseys remit and shows a great deal of trust from anet into her abilities. That is deffinately a promotion as far as im concerned.

  10. demote

    • verb reduce to a lower rank or less senior position.

    so she goes from little known GW/GW2 programmer to a position where every GW player is looking at her, kicking, screaming, demanding things. Either that’s an intricate form of torture, or not a demotion at all.

    GW is also not dead, it’s a game that still sells more copies per quarter than the average 360 title in their lifetime. Again, do you hand over responsibility for such a franchise to a demoted, possibly disgruntled, programmer? Hell no, because once GW2 hits you have a realistic chance of turning the new GW2 players into buyers of GW1. After all, no monthly fees, no excuse not to play the back catalog. This is where Linsey comes in, giving the game more and more polish. Just look at the changes she made so far, those are not there to please the grindcore. She is putting GW on its best behavior so new people get a more attractive product upon purchase; not upon hour 5001.

  11. That is definitely true, askoxford. A lot of people really overlook Guild Wars’ “long tail.” This past year there has been very little content updates for Guild Wars in comparison to the years they had added whole campaigns or expansions. Yet, Guild Wars still is making (read:grossing)millions of dollars per quarter.

    Also, swizzle stix, your analogy is pretty extreme. A more fair analogy might be she was part of the design team for Toyota’s fuel cell and hybrid cars, which would be the next big thing, and then moved to be in charge of the Camry line. It may not be as glamorous, but she has a lot more responsibility (and power to help or harm Guild Wars).

  12. Whether you agree or disagree with Linsey’s move from one among many working on GW2 to top dog working on GW1 as a good career move, she’s indicated over and over that it’s exactly what she wanted, so the suggestion that she was forcibly removed is pretty ridiculous.

    As for whether or not it is a good career move, consider that governor of a state is generally considered a better stepping stone to the US presidency than being a US senator or congressman. Does no one remember the election that just ended a month ago where one of the major points raised against Obama over and over since the primaries was his lack of executive experience, that he was never a governor or even a mayor? He did still win, but then his opponent lacked the same.

    So yes, this is going to look plenty good on her resume, not that I think she’ll need to be updating it anytime soon. You really think Anet is going to let Linsey go when GW1 does finally close up? There are always more projects.

  13. For posterity’s sake, Linsey writes this on her wiki journal (http://wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/User:Linsey_Murdock/Journal):

    “I did a little interview with Kill Ten Rats to talk about the title build recently. I liked doing the interview and having the chance to explain in a little more detail, the process of putting together parts of that build but I’ve got to say that the couple of comments suggesting that I was “demoted” to or “stuck” on the Guild Wars Live Team have irked me just a bit. I very much consider this job to have been a rare opportunity for me to do exactly what I had daydreamed about doing for years and not only that, but truly grow as a designer and as a team leader. I eagerly sought this position from the moment I first heard about it and there is nothing that I would rather be doing. It’s a dream job. Hard work, no doubt, but as far as I am concerned there isn’t anything cooler or more fun than this. AND I actually get paid for it. So, don’t you guys ever think that I don’t want to be right where I am, or that I was in any way forced into it. Say what you will about the work I have done, or disagree with my decisions, but please don’t say I was demoted. Makes me sad /pout.”

  14. A demotion or advancement can be debated forever. Of course we want her to excel in her position and to smooth the many rough edges yet to be dealt with…(since beta. To say the game isn’t dying is plain denial of known facts, such as public sales info, player retention, general mood of the players.. ect. ect. decomposing is hilarious and probably most appropriate to describe the current state of GW…. It would be sweet to see if Linsy can get GW on life support,even more impressive is to see her raise the dead. I do think its funny how the posts here went from 10 within a 8 days..and then 7 in one day 70% increase within 2 hours….is the Linsey Brigade in action. Some PR blitz/ damage control?..lol..anyhow..gl girlfriend we pullin for ya

  15. Simple fact, she posted the link to her interview on her wiki journal last night, thus the increase in traffic.

  16. @Dandee Lion
    I don’t know about the general mood of the players, but that is not my mood. I still find GW so entertaining as 1, 2, 3 years ago. Hell, I still have so much things to do, I know I’ll be playing GW after purchasing GW2. And I do think Lindsey did a great job with title rebalancing.

  17. I have been around since beta logged almost 10,000 Hours and I have to say that the “Evalution” That GW1 Has Taken Has always been in the players favor… Feel Free To Flame And Talk About The Huge “NERF BAT” Then go home QQ some more and remember the game is made to bring in “NEW” players and to keep “VETERAN/Hardcore Fans” Having the same fun As if they just bought the game… In Business This Concept Is Known As Shiny Toy Syndrom. When the Shiny Toy Is no Longer Shiny You Go Get A new Toy. As Far as the game being dead IMHO its Far from it There is not as many P.U.G.S. As there use to be however this is due to the implication of Heros and the like… there is still a very large player base that plays regularly they just dont pug because “N*WB” (I hate that word) Players do not have the knoledge as the vets… With the title rebalance I have found myself Pugging daily sometimes the players that i pug with are lvl 15 or below I feel that if more players Pugged rather than QQ that the game is dead the game would become fun again… For All. And For those Select few That Think That Linsey Got DEMOTED you are so WRONG and im pretty sure the people QQ over who understands business better I say This “Fighting on a keyboard is like old people having sex Its Slow,Sloppy and no ever gets off”

    END RANT

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