[GW2] Interview with Izzy on Data and Design

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.

Thanks, Izzy!

19 thoughts on “[GW2] Interview with Izzy on Data and Design”

  1. “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.”

    It always troubles me when designers say things like this. It’s basic probability under high re-sampling.

  2. Keep Upgrade option for ‘Starbucks.’

    Asura as catapult ammo.

    More landmarks on PvP maps. A dead tree. A well. At least give the poor sentries names!

  3. Most gameplay data systems primarily report on what players ARE doing. However, a key issue for live game design is what drives a player “away.” It may be that a player tries PvP once or twice, then never again. It may be that a player tries a certain type of zone or raid once or twice, then never again. If a lot of player characters are “bouncing off” content and gameplay like this, good designers want to know when and where its happening.

    This kind of “negative info” typically requires a higher level of data analysis than simply following what players doing, because you’re tracking what proportion of the players are dropping away from the expected path, and then backtracking to see what they did just before they dropped away.

    In the interview, I see some rudiments of this (such as where players die), ultimately they are measuring concrete events, not those pesky but oh-so-revealing “expected but missing events.”

    1. That sounds like the kind of thing you’d need to do qualitative interviews to really get at, unless you surveyed people immediately after they did something as was done in beta (but that would be highly irritating in the current live game). Of course, as an anthropology student studying MMOs I’d be more than happy to run some interviews for them… lol.

    2. inherent problem of a player telling a story that is a trajectory through a content world. metric mining reveals the intersection of player trajectory and world content wave form, reveals the where, when, how, what

      metric pinging only generalizes player why, players need better ways to ping back, tools to set their trajectory

      the more content Tyria gets, the more difficult it will be for Tyrians’s to maintain course

      The ocean always helps but the sailor needs to know how to rig sails

  4. Agreed. Similarly, I was shocked when they said they were surprised at how fast people were playing fractals and how quickly the player base got fractured by difficulty level. How can that possibly be surprising?

  5. not sure if I like this:

    They think that it is a good idea to do really big events like the Karka-Invasion in one place (like it was in LA), because they have the overflow system… Personally I think the overflow system should be a rarely used system and people shouldn’t clump in one area at a time. I had massively lag during the LA-Invasion and the game wasn’t playable at all for me and my guildies.

    about the zones and more to do:

    I think it would be a good idea to make older zones more interesting by implementing a kind of monthly achievement for each of the zones, which resets after a month. People should find a lot of events in a map or defeat a number of champions etc. (I suggested the idea in the official forums: https://forum-en.guildwars2.com/forum/game/suggestions/how-to-make-old-zones-more-interesting-again/first#post921927 ). The rewards would be cosmetic armorsets, something which is a long-term goal and makes those “lowie-zones” interesting again. Focus shouldn’t be farming, but exploring. It would make the big number of events (some hidden, some in never seen locations) more appreciated since map-completion can be done in a day.

    just my 2 cents

    1. Not to mention the Karka invasion (and final boss event) was broken beyond belief for many people despite the overflow servers …

  6. Very worrying that they think they can tell what players like from data.

    Data can only tell you what people are doing, not what they *like* doing…

    I’m sure that this over-reliance on “data” has led to the awful decision to add Ascended gear into the game, which everyone hates. Somehow, “data” told them it was needed…

  7. One-time events do not help in making the world feel more alive, if anything it makes it feel more crowded. And the problem is that people abhore the traveling sistem. You do not have any options. You either walk, which gets really boring after awhile or take a waypoint that gets only costier by the level (Not counting the portal pvp trick). Cities have their own chat channels, making the game feel even more separate.

    They rely too much on the data and not enaugh on the complaints from the players. The DE are far from dynamic. They are cyclical, and when players find the formula, this comes even more to expression. And the events after a time lose their selling point, making you feel like a hero. When you save that same village from the bandits for the n-th time there is no heroism any longer, just a dissatisfaction knowing you will never really win. And Hearts are bad consolation for that.

    1. But the problem is, that You can’t really rely on players complains, because players always complain… on everything. Take me for instance. I always complain on PvP, because I don’t like PvP. And the fact that there is sPvP daily and even monthly (damn 3 tournament wins -_-) is a starting point for my complaints. Is the PvP bad? No! Is the option to give PvP players their daily achievemnts bad? Hell no! But I’ll still complain, because I personaly hate PvP and at the same time, I love to have all daily and monthly achievements done (still didn’t miss any). Try it, ask people – You’ll find complaints on everything. GW2 is too hard/easy, Legendary weapons are gay/not colourfull enough. There are too many/not enough legendary greatswords. There is not enough underwater content (rangers…)/there is too much of this damn underwater content (belive me, I know what I’m talking about – I’m elementalist ;) ).
      You could say – we need to ask right people for complaints. Show me who’s the right people and how we find them (or cut it short – show me how to find perfect girl ;) ). And if we even had any mechanic to find perfect people for this job, I have two “but”. First – but what if the “perfect people” are minority and still, their complaints (even good) will spoil fun to majority? Second is – but why they need to complain, when new ideas are more constructive than critic?

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