In the middle of development between Guild Wars 2 The Lost Shore and Wintersday, ArenaNet’s Isaiah “Izzy” Cartwright took some time to answer a few questions I had about using data for design. (Be sure to also check out the recently publicized video of a GDC talk by Cameron Dunn also discussing data and design for Guild Wars 2 on a more technical aspect.) Read on for Izzy’s thoughts on designing content around the economy, player activity, and other surprises in the data.
During one of the early beta events Community Manager Martin Kerstein tweeted a heat map of player activity in Queensdale. Are there other similar systems in place that makes available a large amount of information for developers?
Izzy: Yes, we collect all manner of data from observing the economy, gameplay, and sever load. We use this data in a number of ways. For instance, we can see where players die the most so we can start adjusting content that is too hard at early levels. As for the economy, we’re always watching how different items drop, from where, and how often. This lets us really see the ins and outs of our economy and how things like monthly events or weekends play a role in our ever changing economy.
Since iteration is a cornerstone to ArenaNet, has statistic or heuristic data from a beta weekend or live play has caused an iteration on open world content?
Izzy: Yes, during the beta weekends we would collect a lot of data and then analyze it for days. A lot of our default values for the live game were based on the data we saw during the beta weekend events. We even made big changes to the starting areas based on how our scaling worked on our open world events. We found when too many people got in one area it was a lot harder to play, so we made a bunch of new events that would pull the large clumps of people apart, such as two escort events that chain after one event and go in opposite directions, or an event blocking a bridge that would naturally split up players. We made these events trigger when large numbers of players are in an area.
For the live game, some of the more interesting data that we reacted to was how people flow throughout the game. At the start we had a lot of overflow servers for many of the low level maps, but as players got higher level they would spread out more and the overflow maps would go away. Now we are always working on new content and updates and we use the knowledge we gained from this data to maximize our systems and gameplay. We found we can do large events that spike people into one area because of our overflow technology and this gives us a large range of fun activities and gameplay we can do that many other games cannot.
Assuming that some of the five or so years of content plans is already being sketched out, has any of the data pushed the initial design one way or the other?
Izzy: I would say yes, one of the big things we are always looking at with our new content is how to keep making the current world more alive and more interesting. As we see players enjoying one type of content or zones more or less, we can adapt our new content for those areas.
For example, we added a large number of events during our Halloween release. Some of these events were in areas we found players needing a bit more content or level adjustment so we were able to pull that data which helped us direct where our content should be. As the community and the game settles, we can really see where players are and what they are doing and this allows us to continually create content that players are really interested in. Another example is as we see what players do once they hit level 80 and start map-completing, we can start gearing our updates to make sure we give all players of all levels and play styles new and engaging things to do.
Have there been any surprises coming from bulk player activity that are now evident from the data?
Izzy: There are always surprises with that many players, absolutely. I think one thing that always blows me away is no matter how rare you make something, with that many players in-game, it’s just not that rare. The economy of the game is always filled with interesting data for us to mine and see how our changes and our content are affecting the economy. We make sure things don’t get too cheap, which robs players of a feeling of accomplishment, just as we makes sure things don’t get too expensive, which makes it difficult for new players to buy things. The economy is always fun to watch and it’s something everyone here at ArenaNet keeps an eye on and talks about.
I would also say one surprise I had during the beta weekend events that has continued on to the live game is how much players enjoy helping each other. People will go out of the way to help a downed or defeated ally they don’t know, and it’s just surprising to hear so many players work together.
BONUS: If you were omniscient with regard to all corollary Guild Wars 2 data (including player emotion, all chat including voice chat, current snacks eaten, etc.), what crazy thing would you most like to know?
Izzy: I think I would want to have a better measure of what every player wants. One of the interesting challenges when dealing with this many players is balancing and creating content for a spectrum of players. No content, update, or challenge can be directed at any one group of players or playstyle without alienating other players. If I had some omniscient abilities or data, I would want to better understand what each player wanted every second while they were playing the game so we could make all of our content as enjoyable as possible for all players of all playstyles all the time.
Until such ability or tech emerges, we’ll continue to create as much content as we can to keep players with an endless stress of fun an interesting ways to enjoy Tyria and look forward to hearing from everyone on our forums and in-game.