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Colin Johanson on the Live Teams & the Future

William Murphy Posted:
Interviews 0

MMORPG.com:  Congrats on such a successful launch, Colin.  Before we get to the "future plans" for Guild Wars 2, can you share with us what the team sees as the biggest current pressing issue in the live game, and what are you all doing to remedy it?

Colin Johanson: Thank you very much! It has been incredible and humbling to see so many people pour into the game, and how positive the reviews and feedback on the game have been so far. Of course with an MMO, once the game ships is when your work has really only begun, which leads me to the answer to your question….

At the time that I wrote this blog post, I think the absolute most pressing issue in the game (bugs aside) is providing enough varied content for players to do after playing the game for hundreds of hours. Depending on what type of gamer you are, GW2 provides a pretty extensive depth of content and features to explore across all the levels, including once you reach the max level. However, we’ve seen a lot of feedback that people want even more to do, and our goal is to give everyone exactly that. Depending on what part of the game you’re interested in, and hopefully you want to do a bit of everything, there is different aspects we’re working on to expand the range of things for a player to do.

For PvP players, we have a lot of great casual PvP for them to play, rewards to earn, and new ranks to continue to build towards. However, we lack a number of the features to support truly competitive and ranked play for the more skilled PvP players. As Jonathan Sharp noted in his recent blog post, this is an area we’re focusing on very heavily, and we’ll have more to share about our progress soon.

For WvW players, we simply have more people trying to play WvW than the game can currently support. We’re working on finding ways to get more people in playing WvW, so everyone can take part in the epic battles going on across the mists and not spend time in queues.

For PvE players, we’re adding more content and new types of content to the game so people have both a larger range of stuff to do in existing locations, as well as new places to explore and new features to see to give them even more to do. Some of this content we’ll be sharing ahead of time, but other parts we will leave for you players to discover. We also want to better reward players for doing a number of the things in the game that currently aren’t rewarding enough, and add new features and things to do that expand the range of content a player can experience.

For folks interested in any and all of the above, we’re also adding world events, festivals, new rewards, and greater over-all depth to the game to build towards offering the richest experience we possibly can. We realize that when you release an MMO, you need to very early on show a commitment to your customers that you’re going to support the heck out of your game. The fruits of these labors will be appearing in GW2 VERY soon, and you’ll start seeing new additions come in rapid succession as we continue supporting our live game.

MMORPG.com:  Now, let's focus on the live teams each a little bit.  How goes the fight against the spammers and bots with the live security team?  (If this isn't answered in question one.)

Colin Johanson: The battle is going extremely well currently! We’ve hired a number of new support staff to work with our security team to identify and nuke numerous bots and hackers, and we’re continuing to refine our detection methods to get more of them every day. Last week more than 4800 bots and hackers were banned from the game permanently. Our customer service team has improved its ticket response time down so it now takes ¼ the amount of time it used to when we launched. We’re continuing to improve in all of these areas, and shooting for making the game as bot and hacker free as we possibly can.

Each day that goes by, our response team gets faster and our ability to detect them better. We know we still have work to do, we need to get even better at finding and removing them, but we’ve come an incredibly long way in a very short time since launch and have put more people on this problem to solve it.

MMORPG.com:  How about the balance team? I love Guardians... but I think we can all agree that certain builds of that profession might be a little bit imba.

Colin Johanson: Our folks working on balance are cranking away every day to make the game more balanced across all the professions. We’ve extremely proud of the relative state of balance of the game on launch, it’s very rare for an MMO to launch in a state where there aren’t constant massive tweaks required balance wise, which helps make our job easier. Of course, as we progress forward and the meta game continues to develop, we will continue to work and keep the game as balanced as possible!

MMORPG.com:  The living world team seems to have the most exciting job, expanding the map and adding to current zones.  What exactly is their day to day like, and are there any hints to what they're working on now?

Colin Johanson: They certainly do have an exciting job, I think that team has had an awful lot of fun so far putting together all the new content they’ll be adding to the world. Day to day, a big part of what they do is trying to define what parts of the world are light on content, and then determining what new stuff they want to add to those locations. Will it be a new mini-dungeon? A new event or chain of events? A new jumping puzzle? You’ll just have to wait and see, but you’ll be hearing from this team VERY soon!

MMORPG.com:  I know you might not want to steal Jon Sharp's thunder, but can you lay out some of the plans to help make PUGs and organized teams a bit more separated in the sPVP?

Colin Johanson: The initial features we’re ready to talk about can all now be found on Jonathan’s blog post on our main GW2 website. Some of the big features include paid tournaments where players can earn entry into more competitive matches, and custom arenas where teams can practice, setup their own PvP rules, and host their own tournaments. Overall, we’ve looked at the timelines that other major games have taken to get all their big competitive features up and running, and most of them are 6+ months to a year after launch until they are fully featured. We want to get the core backbone out faster than that so our competitive players can start proving who is the best, and then continue to add features that improve on that experience going forward. You’ll see us rolling out features and news soon to support this very important community.

MMORPG.com:  Halloween!  Let's talk ghouls and ghosts... what's coming next week? Are there any chances at non-holiday events as a part of this team's focus?  Just world events that stir up the usual day to day? Sort of like what we saw at the end of the beta events?

Colin Johanson: News on Halloween will be coming shortly! And if your readers are planning ahead, they should make sure in particular to save Sunday, October 28th on their calendar in particular for a very special mid-day (Pacific Time) event. More details to come, in game, as the date approaches…

After our release in October, we’ve got some very special plans in store for everyone in November as well. You’ll have to keep an eye on our website, where we’ll start revealing more information about our November plans pretty soon here.

MMORPG.com:  In regards to the Bonus Teams... I assume they might have something to do with the mobile app. When, oh when are we going to hear more about it?

Colin Johanson: Many people have asked, “Didn’t you have a mobile app in development? Where is it?” the only answer to that I can give is we have grander ideas than what our original scope entailed. We’ve got some really big plans in this area, but until they are finalized and we know we can pull them off for sure, we’re not quite ready to talk about it. We’ll have a not yet revealed team that discusses this in more detail as we get closer to the end of the year.

MMORPG.com:  I'm looking forward to seeing what sorts of things get added to the Gem Store over time.  I personally find it easy to drop some money on Gems, but then not need them all.  So I end up with these shiny pieces of virtual cash burning a hole in my pocket.  What sorts of things can we look forward to?

Colin Johanson: Well the folks in the Commerce team have been very busy as of late, and you’re going to start seeing the fruit of their labors extremely soon! Maybe even as early as by the time this interview gets published. The breadth of items in the store is set to expand a great deal over the remaining months of this year, and we think you’re going to enjoy the new stuff they have to offer. I don’t want to spoil anything, I’ll just say a number of the highly requested features and additions are coming in the near future.

MMORPG.com:  Lastly, where you do see Guild Wars 2 in 2013?  At the beginning of the year, and towards the end? What does the team wish to accomplish in that time?

Colin Johanson: This is a fantastic question, and one of the big things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as we look towards our planning for the remainder of 2012, and look ahead into 2013. If you identify the one common trend between the most successful MMO’s that have launched across the history of our genre, it’s that after they launched they settled into a good solid player base concurrency wise. Then, with each month that goes forward after launching that base concurrency they operate from slowly grows going forward as new updates are added to the game. The community becomes more active, the developer/community relationship becomes a tighter bond and the trust level between the two continues to grow, and the breadth of available things grows to the point that a player feels like there is always something fun they can do when they login.

My hope would be over the next few months we build and strengthen that bond and relationship with our player base. We need to show to our players that our plans for live development for Guild Wars 2 aren’t just words. We live up to the promise of what a truly supported live MMO can be, and we want people to look back at our initial blog post on what our live teams will be doing and say, “They are doing everything they said they would do, I trust them to keep their word.” If we can strengthen and build that level of trust in the live game world, show our dedication to massively increasing the depth and breadth of things to do in GW2 for all players I believe we’ll be a great place to start 2013.

From there, I would hope we can build on that trust and continue to expand the game, adding new features and more adventures for players to go on. Defining new ways for them to adventure in Tyria, and create a new way to view the way live game development can be seen for an MMO. The power of our dynamic event system is extraordinary in our ability to deliver true world events and a dynamically changing world as we continue to expand. I’d like to think by the end of 2013 our players have incredible stories to tell about one-time events that happened in the game that become the backbone of the living story of Guild Wars 2. I hope they feel like the promise of dynamic events expands even further, so the world truly feels like you can experience something unique or new around every corner every time you login.

If we can accomplish everything above while being transparent and honest with our player base we can grow the game to become even larger than it is today. We can be one of the rare games in the MMO genre that continues to see its core every-day player base grow as time goes on, and by the end of 2013 my hope would be we’ve seen that happen and we’re still continuing to grow. The most exciting thing for me looking forward is that despite how proud of GW2 we were at launch, the promise of what GW2 can be in the future is something all of us at ArenaNet cannot wait to see realized. We have the tools to do something very special with this game as we go forward, and we want our players to be able to look back by the end of 2013 and realize the game has come further than anyone realized it ever could.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.