Upcoming F2P MMOARPG, Path of Exile has certainly made a big impression on a lot of gamers during its open beta period and has over 3 Million registered users already. Now, as the game prepares for its full launch on October 23rd Grinding Gears Games are showing off some the games new features, including a new character class (The Scion) and committing to a 4 month release plan for special leagues and a 2-week turnaround for patches. We sat down with Grinding Gears’ Managing Director, Chris Wilson to find out what we can expect post-launch and what the process was like for his team balancing the title.
Blake: Path of Exile’s release is just around the corner and you guys are updating it with a ton of content. You mentioned to me earlier that you guys tried doing a “one gem a week” update system that didn’t quite work out. What other forms of trial and error did you go through when trying to figure out the right balance for updates?
Chris: So, the one week gem thing you mentioned: Initially when we entered open beta we looked at the capabilities of the studio and said “We can do a new gem a week!” And we carried that on for quite a while. It was successful in that we got the gems out. We found that it was very erroneous to do this though. It kind of paralyzed our studio in that everyone was working to get the gems polished on time. We created a pipeline and it was very fulfilling to work on, but at the same time it wasn’t really sustainable. We also ran out of good gem ideas after doing this back to back for a few months. We had to take a break while planning new ones. Thankfully we have a lot planned now.
To answer your questions about what other stuff we found by trial and error; An example is the length of time an economy can run for before you want to encourage users to play on a fresh server and get a fresh start. And we found that roughly 4 months works from the point of view that it’s enough time for the users to see the rise of the economy and get everything established and then prices begin to take form, what things are worth in that economy, see who’s coming out on top of that ladder, before wanting a fresh start.
While only 50% of players get really, really excited about fresh starts and the other half prefer to play in existing leagues. We found that 4 months is about the right period of time there too. Which also, thankfully, works from the point of view of preparing large content updates every 4 months, like this release here. So that kind of means we’re able to push one of the fresh start leagues. The fact that there’s a bunch more content that you can try out while you’re there. It kind of helps fit the life cycle of the game to not be something players play until they’re bored, but they get reinvigorated every few months with new content.
Blake: How far down the line are you with your ideas for your 4 month updates?
Chris: We have some really cool stuff coming up. I’m actually really excited about what we have coming up for February. I really looking forward to getting a chance to start working on that content. The ones that we’re launching for release here, I’m really proud of. The Domination and Nemesis leagues as we’ve called them have a lot of cool twists and we’ve put a lot more effort into them than our last two leagues. So we have good ideas for the future ones, certainly several years worth. And by the time we get up to those of course we’ll have even better ideas.
Blake: If the 4 month cycle isn’t working are you willing to adapt it?
I mean there’s very little locked in place. If we say after 4 months, “The next one’s 3 or 5.” it’s not a big problem. We don’t have any particular launch dates we’re working towards, other than making sure there’s sufficient changes to the game to keep things interesting for players. So I’m happy to change the cycle as needed.
I suspect the two patches to be the one that’s more likely to become shorter or longer. It depends on our QA pipeline. As we get the right people involved it may mean we can deploy the patches more quickly. Or maybe we’ll need to make them a higher quality now that we’re released and can’t afford to make mistakes, maybe we’ll make them a bit longer.
We got a look at your new character class today, the Scion. Your character classes are already very dynamic malleable. What made you decide to make a new class and will this be the last class you create or are you open to creating more?
When we initially designed the game back in 2006 we found there to be 7 classes. It was only later when we found out how much work they were to create that we decided to restrict the set down to 6. This is partially because the Scion is definitely the most complicated class. As a generalist it takes some planning to make sure she’s as good as she can be. While we were iterating and learning how to design the passive skill tree we weren’t ready to drop in the center area as a new character class. Until now.
She’s distinctive because she has the ability to specialize in versatility. She can get things on different parts of the tree. She can benefit from skills that are both spells and weapon attacks. And, to some extent, she is the 7th character class we can add, and potentially the last in this form.
Because characters have strength, dexterity and intelligence we’ve now covered all the combos: Pure strength, pure dexterity, pure intelligence and all the hybrids of two, and now the hybrid of three. So we couldn’t add another character class that has a distinct combo of those, but we certainly have some ideas for the future on twists for the existing ones.
Blake: Path of Exile is already doing great with over 3 million registered users. Did you expect it to get this level before you were even out of Beta?
Chris: This has exceeded our expectations, but that’s really awesome. It’s meant that we’ve had to scramble to adapt and scale the company to the right size and learn an awful lot about running one of these games. But it’s really, really cool to see it get that large and it bodes really well for the future as well. Especially once we actually release this finished and continue to adapt content in the future.
Blake: What’s the one thing you’re hoping players will take away from Path of Exile at its launch?
Chris: What I’m hoping players will see is that the fact that the launch version has been radically changed from the open beta version. Quite a lot is different ranging from subtle balance things that really mix up the current top builds all the way through. The implications of the new trigger gems, for example, dramatically change how anyone should be building characters. So it’s a very different game and people who think they know how Path of Exile should be played certainly still have some learning to do. And also, any new players will hopefully find a game that’s a fair amount deeper than the one that was previously out there.