[GW2] PAX East Dev Asides

I talked to so many ArenaNet developers at PAX East. Sadly there were a few I did not get to, but the ones I did talk to were more than happy to discuss their job. I would like to thank all the developers again. Anyway, this post is dedicated to all those discussions I had. There will be two other posts regarding lore and specific mechanics, but this one is for all the other tidbits. Fair warning: I don’t have anything exclusive, mind-blowing, I-can’t-believe-you-got-a-dev-to-say-that, but these tidbits are interesting enough for me. I hope you enjoy.

One of the first developers I had a chat with was Randall Price, who has the lengthy job title of Senior Vice President Global Business, which tells most people that he’s a big dog and that’s about it. We had a quick consigliori discussion, and I learned that Price had been with ArenaNet from the start. Originally he had worked for the law firm that helped ArenaNet get started, but this man might as well be a hidden founder of ArenaNet for what he has done. In other words, when he speaks, listen.

I talked to him mostly about the business aspect of things. With the servers, transfers, and launch day crush they want people to be ready to play on the first day, but they aren’t ready to discuss server technology. I hope they will soon because I think the constant side-stepping is making people nervous. We briefly talked about the need to correctly monetize Guild Wars 2 since it followed the buy-the-box business model. He said that they would have to be very smart about monetization, especially given that ArenaNet was a bigger (read: more costly) studio. However, he believes strongly that they will stick to their “don’t be evil” internal philosophy on microtransactions. Furthermore , he said that the Guild Wars microtransactions were way more successful than most fans even believe, which was something to consider.

I talked with Price and Brian Porter, Global Brand Manager and Minion of Chris Lye, about the cost of adding significant voice to Guild Wars 2. I was mostly worried that they were painting themselves in an expensive corner for later content additions. They said that having discrete voice sessions were going to be expensive, and they had to be smart about planning. If a voice actor was booked for four hours, they needed to maximize that time, instead of getting in a wasteful ten minutes of recorded voice. Simple things like planning ahead and compressing the booked actor’s time will make the cost of voice much more reasonable.

I spoke with a content designer Justin Biller about designing dynamic events. I asked him how hard it was to get away from strong quest-niches in events, such as attack/defend, kill ten rats, or escort events. Surprisingly, he said it was the opposite. They are so bored with those niches, and hate them, that to QA’s displeasure they start the opposite and make crazy, intricate events. He said they are constantly asking for new tools from the engineers based on an event design, and they drive quality assurance batty by putting in 20 event triggers, etc. Obviously, they are still constrained in their infinite imagination, but he seemed really excited about what they were going to be able to deliver.

Jeff Grubb hinted a little bit about the third book in the Guild Wars series. He wouldn’t give any significant information, even about the time period. He did say he felt that Edge of Destiny was their “Empire Strikes Back” in terms of story and feel. I am not sure whether he meant, in context, that the third book might be their “Return of the Jedi” or what. I have another whole post dedicated to my chat with Grubb.

I talked with the two crazy Jons… Jon Peters and Jonathan Sharp. Both of these guys work with Izzy Cartwright on defining and refining professions and skills. Like Grubb, they have another post dedicated to my talks with them on mechanics and crafting, but I did want to drop one thing here. I was telling Jon Peters how I was in love with the thief, and that it was possibly my favorite Guild Wars 2 profession. He told me ‘no, there’s another.’ Then he clamped up. I gained no further hints from either Peters or Sharp to get information on the last two professions despite many veiled attempts, including talking about “missing” Guild Wars mechanics, like the ritualist’s turrets. So take for what it’s worth because it confused me as much as likely any reader here (especially given my love for Guild Wars necromancers). Still, with the two final professions going to be the craziest in terms of mechanics, I can’t wait to see.

Mike Zadorojny turned the tables on me and Guru-fan, Obie, when he asked what was the thing we were most looking forward to and what was the thing we were most afraid of. Interestingly enough, Obie stuck more to the gameplay aspects, and my answers were more on the business model side. I remember my answers specifically were that the thing I was most looking forward to was an amazing MMO game with a buy-the-box business model, and my biggest fear was that they would give fans a sour taste by over-monetizing the game with microtransactions (something perhaps seen right now in another big freemium MMO).

Finally, I talked to the fully charismatic, true GWAMM-developer, Colin Johanson. Right after the demo, I told him how the biggest adjustment for me was trying to not constantly position myself based on red dots on the mini-map (as there are no red dots in Guild Wars 2). My eyes were drawn to the mini-map like a moth to the flame even though the demo’s mini-map was in a completely different corner than where I put mine for Guild Wars. He said they were trying to get player’s attention focused as much on the center of the screen as possible. For example, they were thinking of having the guardian’s aegis grow on his shield so that players would have a visual cue to know when their Virtue of Courage was ready to block an attack. I also explained to him that while the health-globe in between the skills was “artistic,” it was really hard to figure out the fraction of my health on the fly. Of course, like the mini-map I was conditioned to health bars to figure out percentage of health left very quickly. Like every dev I talked to about the demo, he seemed very attentive to any feedback. (I did forget to mention to him how fun it was to target chickens with my crit-heavy thief. Big, big numbers.)

The developers were all amazing to talk to, and even the non-game related chats I had with Martin Kerstein and Regina Buenaobra were great. Putting a face to a name still simply has no substitution. Thanks again to all those that took the time to talk with me, and I still have at least two more PAX-related posts to go. At over 1000 words each, I am glad I don’t go to conventions often. It would kill me.

–Ravious

33 thoughts on “[GW2] PAX East Dev Asides”

  1. Great post! I admit that GW2 hasn’t really been on my radar…basically at all…but after talking with people this weekend who had played it, it certainly sounds like a different experience then anything we’ve ever seen. Hearing more “casual”, less “scripted” answers from developers and business people is always great, as I’m sure there’s a TON of things they are biting back, but want to just spill XD

  2. I don’t doubt the micro transactions in GW1 were successful… I hope they mind your words for GW2!

    What I spent in LOTRO and GW is no longer micro. The latest Mercenary pack for sure wasn’t.

    I’m looking forward to your other reports!

    1. Yeah, the mercs were even more overpriced then the costumes. Well, but they weren’t known for reasonable pricing (a costume pack for 1/5th of a whole new game? wtf?) before, so no surprise on that end.
      Also, in my opinion they overstepped a boundary since it affects gameplay. Sure, you certainly don’t need them, but if you have them you can play stuff (like full bunnyways, necways or whatever) that others are unable to.

      I really do hope they take your words to heart Ravious.

      And now on to the Mesmer and the Gunner class! :D

      1. It does affect gameplay, on an objective level, but really it is such a “win-more” option that I feel that it really is little different from buying a PvP pack, which also “affects gameplay.” Compare this to buying a potion that has no peer for end-game dungeons, and I think they are still in a good spot.

        1. Nah, PvP-Packs are just shortcuts. Mercs are, other then PvP-Packs, not obtainable through the game. Quite some difference, I think. It’s not just optics either.

          They are affecting gameplay with the shop, which is something that they claimed to avoid earlier. With me it is not fine as long as the shop is not essential – not if they want to stick to their principles. This definitely is something I’d never want to see in the GW2 ingamestore, although I think it will be even more influential.

          1. It affects gameplay on a solo level, in a way that only the uber crazy will take advantage of. I do not want to roll that many necros, ritualists, etc. I have one of each profession and that’s good enough for me. You will have to go way out of your way to have this affect your solo (or group PVE play in rare instances). I actually see the prices for costumes and the mercs as easily justified, but that’s because I’m excited to one day buy them, even though they are purely vanity items.

            I don’t think the GW Live team saw this as anything other than what they intended it to be, a vanity bonus for those of us who have put a lot of effort into rolling and maxing out a bunch of alts. They are just your alt skins on heroes, nothing more.

            I never expected them to do anything like this, and was pleasantly surprised when it happened, but it seems to me people are making a much bigger deal over this than it really is, or at least was intended to be.

            1. You can easily create seven PvP-Necromancers, input them as mercs and delete them – the heroes will still be there. If you’ve got some nice PvP skins or costumes at your disposal they won’t even look that bad. So nothing like being an altoholic is needed for a full team of whatever class you want.

              And the price for costumes is justified in your eyes? How so? Remember, we are talking about just four pieces of clothing (older costumes, just as expensive), nothing more, and are supposed to pay as much as a fith of what a normal new game would cost. Comparing how much work each of it is there is no doubt that considering time invested these costumes are not even 1/XXX of that of a normal game.
              Another example would be the BMP. Costs as much as a pack of costumes, but contains four missions and four (beautiful) complete weapon sets.

              Sure, everyone’s gotta decide on his own what any feature is worth to him, but objectively speaking, the proportions of work involved and pricing is ridiculous.

            2. Like you say, to each their own. Costumes may be high priced in your opinion, but not in mine. I may purchase some, I may not, but the cost doesn’t really bother me. It’s a vanity item, so for those who have the money to burn and love them, let them have their cake. Because they are vanity items and have no real value save what you are willing to pay for it, I would say comparisons between vanity items and items like the Bonus Missions are a moot point. One is extra content, the other is fluff. The extra content is reasonably priced, the fluff is reasonable or not so reasonable based on your desire for such an item. If a player absolutely must own every piece of Guild Wars, even if it has no bearing on the gameplay, that price is more than likely reasonable to them.

              While I forgot about PVP only characters, it doesn’t really change my point or my opinion. So you can make some super powerful meta builds for soloing. Most people probably won’t. Some undoubtedly will. Does it affect my enjoyment of the game, that someone else might be running a team of 8 minion masters or whatever they choose? No. Neither do I think they have an advantage over me. I can make a really powerful team of 7 heroes just like they can, I just won’t have access to Soul Reaping on every character, but most professions have a way to manage energy.

              I will concede that you have a valid point about a store bought item having an effect on gameplay, but it’s so slight and for the vast majority of players, will not affect their enjoyment in any way. I still think the intention was one of purely fan service. I love the idea of having all of my characters running around together and I’m glad they offer it.

    2. I was with EQ2 since they started their microtransactions, and it’s FAR worse there. I’m not interested in the merc pack for GW, but I bought some costumes and stuff. EQ2’s prices for things are ridiculous and they bring stuff out every few weeks so they have tons more than the GW shop. It’s ridiculous since it’s a pay to play game to begin with. So personally, I think GW is better about microtransactions.

      I’ve been so impressed by ANet that I actually feel happy to throw some money at them for a costume every once in a while.

      1. Please don’t get me wrong, I did not want to say that these guys run the most unfair business model out there. In fact it is still probably the most fair one.

        It is just that their pricing is kinda not understandable considering how much work something is and what it costs. Also, in my opinion, they strayed from the path they set himselves with the mercs.

        Nothing more, nothing less.

        1. Tell me, what do you buy where the pricing is directly equivalent to the “work?” French fries? Brand-name blue jeans? Angry Birds?

          To use it as a personal benchmark of worth is fine, but to say that it is an “objective” truth is stepping in the wrong direction.

          1. It is objectively observable that pricing and the “what do I get for it?” is very incoherent, even if you just look at ArenaNets products.
            That has nothing to do with any personal values.

            1. Will you finally understand that I’m not talking about personal worth but invested resources, which is an objective factor?

  3. I vote with my wallet in the commercial marketplace. When they overloaded with costumes by providing too many in a short time, I didn’t buy. When they stretch it out to a reasonable time, I have a much easier time thinking of it as a contribution and show of interest for GW2. When the storage went on sale and got reasonable, I bought.

    I know these transactions have shown profit and that’s why they threw on so many costumes in a short time. Now they just have to balance their greed. We bought costumes, they tweaked pre and did 7-hero parties. I can live with that- within reason.

  4. Nice article. Just to note- when there is a trilogy, often the middle (book, movie, comic) will have a much darker tone. Characters will be ready to do something epic, but tragedy will strike and the “Dark Side” will feel like it is winning. The third in the series will often be more uplifting, where the heroes have refueled and come back swinging to prevail against the evil. That is what he meant by saying that EoD is the Empire Strikes Back of the series. In the Empire Strikes Back, Luke gives in and leaves Yoda even when advised not to, loses his hand, his best friend is capture and frozen (painfully) in carbonite, and Luke finds out his dark origins. Similarly, EoD ends with (SPOILERS!) the central figure of the group being killed because Luke… I mean Logan gives in and leaves before the time is right. The group suffers a huge setback, and a large wedge is driven between them.

    It seems highly likely that the third novel, while unlikely to be about killing a dragon, will be more uplifting, restoring some measure of hope to the heroes of the story.

    1. Star Wars Spoilers?? Man, I made it till today by avoiding any SW websites and now I get spoiled here? Just my freaking luck… Don’t tell me Leia is Luke’s sister in law?

  5. Personally I think the third book will be detailing one or more of the three player factions (Order of Whispers/Durmand Priory/Vigil). Possibly dealing with Almerra’s (sp? the charr that leads the Vigil) journey after losing her warband to Kralkatorrick and her forming the Vigil.

    These books are supposed to set up and explain some of the back story leading up to our characters involvement once GW2 releases. The first book was a general introduction and explanation as to why the humans and charr would be working together. The second book detailed the stories of the Iconics (Logan, Eir, etc.) we will meet and help in game. To me that leaves just the factions that we as players can join. Of course this is all just my speculation but it makes sense to me.

  6. There is an easy fix to the health “circle” problem & I hope they realize it in time. Just make it a health “pie.” As you lose health the Pie will lose a fraction of itself in a clockwise fashion: thus making it easy to tell if you are at 25%, 50%, or 75% health.

  7. They’re certainly being more teasing about hidden professions, I just hope we don’t have to wait til the next big convention – GamesCom – to see it.

    Similar to thief but more crazy complex and rule-breaking, appealing to one such as yourself? Hmm…

    Thanks for all this information :)

  8. Super-duper-uber-extra-pooper-looper Jelly, Ravious.

    Btw – did you have a bet how many Star Wars references you could get into this post? Empire, Return of the Jedi, “there is another”!

    Also, if Ghosts of Ascalon was a New Hope, I really hope that Edge of Destiny wasn’t Empire (the best film in the series) as in my opinion, it didn’t quite live up to the first. It was more of a Phantom Menace – a good idea for a story, just a little rushed.

  9. Quite the good overview, glad to see my name ;)

    I was so happy they are changing the combat system from the stand and press button MMO to more like the single player RPG Bauldar’s Gate. Many people might not like it at first because it is a new system, but they might come around if the game is high enough quality to make it worth their time.

    Which lead to my biggest concern, the polish. One of the dev’s said that comes from the ‘heart'(I can’t recall who said that). I agree that ‘heart’ comes through the game’s quality, but it also requires time. Time for design, time for multiple implementation iterations, time for bug fixes, time for those little enhancements that make the game shine. If the game gets the basics down(combat,community,storytelling), but is rough around the edges many players may forsake it for other polished games. I think the game should be beyond finished at release, it should be as polished as other games normally get 6+ months after release. This also leads to my love of a long beta period that GW1 had, which I mentioned to Randy.

    I’m really unconcerned about micro-transactions taking over, you mentioned the t-stones fiasco. Which is true, that was handled poorly and got an awful reaction from the community. As long as Anet is up-front about what they are selling, like Valve is about TF2, I don’t think they will drive many people away. Buying power isn’t a problem for some people, there are a few people that even like buying power instead of spending the time playing low level content. I am on the same page with you about the unattainable power that some MMO cash shops offer, and after talking with them I know Anet is smart enough not to get caught up in that.

    I do enjoy your buy-once strength, but I see some people still asking to pay a subscription so that they can get more content to grind out. Its painting the game into the same niche corner that GW1 found itself in; less end-game content that other comparable games. They are sticking with the casual and average gamers that won’t blow through the content and get bored. I’m glad that I don’t fall into the category of the hardcore MMO player, and I think the lack of hardcore MMO players in Guild Wars helped the community.

    I had a great time talking with you, and I added you on Steam :)

    1. A lack of hardcore MMO players in Guild Wars? Over 6 million copies sold is a niche? Less end-game content when the max level is 20 and there were entirely new campaigns every 6 months (or would have been if they hadn’t decided to redo everything and make that glorious piece of heaven that is shaping up to be Guild Wars 2)?

      I’m just picking at you, man. I know what you’re trying to say. ;)

  10. Micro transactions for Guild Wars 2 don’t concern me. I think that they will handle their decision not to overproduce and overprice them. It seems like they learned from the first game what they can and can’t do with the micro transactions. I personally wouldn’t go for the costumes but more along the lines of content or character depth. If they had more of these kinds of micro transactions I would be satisfied greatly.

    I will admit that I never bought any micro transactions in the first game and it is something I hope not to do in Guild Wars 2. If the content is cool enough then I will for sure. I guess now since I have a job I got money floating around :P

  11. Reading some of the first comments about the “overpriced transactions” i think about the game ‘league of legends’ (like DoTA but without a required payment) where if you want one of your many champions to look different you could be paying over $20

  12. I gotta say, I’m not sure that ‘Don’t be evil’ squares well with $45 for 8 merc unlocks in GW1, or $10 for a single additional character slot or additional bank pane. I’m not really burned up about them, but, damn, that’s some expensive functionality….

  13. GW micro-transactions are about the most harmless I’ve experienced in any mmo. And the price for an extra character slot or name change/etc, seems quite fair. It is not for the sake it is called extra, which is to say you don’t necessarily need it.
    And if GW2 keeps with GW M-T style, then I don’t mind, now if it went into the direction of practically all other mmo’s at the moment, then I would see reason to worry.
    till then, no need to fuzz about it

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