Just this morning I was sitting with a member of a PR agency trying to explain that video games are more than just a series of pixels on the screen. The stories we share are more than just a way to pass time and the players that log into Tyria are not just part of a simple stand-alone environment. Really, those other models on the screen have their own lives, in their own front rooms. They are part of a series of interconnected communities. Now, the media doesn't always get that. Sometimes we’re all painted as drug-addicted teenagers with serious attachment issues with our PCs. As it turns out that’s clearly not true and yesterday’s Gamescom was the proof I needed.
ArenaNet’s latest expansion is not long out the door and with no sign of us jumping into a new expansion pack quite yet, they didn’t bring a floor presence to this year’s event. What they did do, however, was continue a process they have been slowly chasing for the last year, of attending in a way that allows fans to come together. From the Griffon that landed outside SDCC to last night’s community party, these events are incredibly important.
While bombastic booths and insane light shows are great for grabbing headlines, last night’s community party was almost more important. Events like Gamescom are a rare opportunity for us to log out, shutdown and see the people behind each character. Whether you are a Yordle, a Scourge or larp as a Skritt, events like Gamescom solidify that community and amaze me every time I attend. They allow us to make new friends, find faces that we never thought we’d meet, and cut across the language barrier with a common bond that binds us together.
Each year at Gamescom, ArenaNet brings together a bunch of people speaking different languages sharing unique experiences with a commonality this seems to bind them wherever they are from Every year the demands for tickets to this event only increases and each year the event seems to reach capacity. No matter how hard I try, I always meet new faces at this event. Players that I should really have already said hello to mingle with brand new Tyrians while the developers eagerly encourage us all to jump into another Fractal. It’s the sort of direct interaction that many companies avoid but it’s vitally important on many levels. Byron Miller, Design Team Lead at ArenaNet, described one of these reasons.
“It's really important for me to remember who I'm making the game for. I might think about what I'm doing and what I need to be making but I can come to an event like this and I can see why. I can see people talking about the stuff that I built and laughing and having fun with their friends. I see them celebrate their experiences and the friendships they’ve made and it might just be partly because of something I have helped build. It helps reminds us why we do what we do and it reminds us that we have both a responsibility and relationship with a bunch of really wonderful people.”
It’s not just a celebration, however. It is an important exercise. In fact, they are also an opportunity for developers to meet the fans to talk and share experiences to really help build and certify that community to explain why things are done and to take me back they might not otherwise get these are some of the most valuable pieces of insight that ArenaNet can gather. By circumventing Reddit and logging off the forum, face to face events can allow for nuanced discussion and reasoned debate that doesn’t involve shouting the loudest. I first realized this when I found Mike Zadorojny sat in a corner, surrounded by eight fans. He was deep in thought as they talked at him. He challenged their assumptions and took time to discuss some of the reasons things occur. It was clear that this is the type of qualitative feedback that the forum discussion tries to achieve, but is never going to really replicate. It helps to educate both developers on how the fans really feel and explain to some of the more ardent individuals why things are how they are. It’s really far more than a PR exercise. Clayton Kisko, Game Designer at ArenaNet, described the party as an especially good time to “not just take some feedback but also just to give fans time to ask questions”.
So yes, trips across the Atlantic might seem frivolous. Landing a Griffon at SDCC might seem pointless at first but it’s about being there for the community. Yes, ArenaNet has had problems recently, but they’re not retreating from their players, they’re embracing and open to talk. What are your own experiences of the team, have you had the chance to attend a community event. Let us know below