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The Bi-Weekly Future of Tyria

Blake Morse Posted:
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For nearly a year now Guild Wars 2 has made a name for itself as one of the most popular, fastest growing MMO’s on the market. Now, on the cusp of their one year anniversary, they’re getting ready to up the ante even further. To that extent, starting with their next update, ArenaNet is committing to a 2 week update for their popular title. They’ve broken into 4 teams that will each be tasked with working in a sixteen week cycle to keep content fresh.

It’s all part of their overall goal to keep the world of GW2 as progressive as possible and giving it an overall feel of a world that’s alive and always evolving. With that in mind starting on July 9th with their next major event, Bazaar of the Four Winds, players will start to see the new 2 week cycle (though the argument could be made that it's already been hitting a two week cycle for the past two months).

While they were not ready to reveal too many details about their next update during my one-on-one visit with ArenaNet’s Chris Whiteside, I did find out that there will be an awesome Mario Kart-inspired racing mini-game that will have you leaping across giant landscapes and more than likely have you battling some more Sky Pirates. While Chris didn’t want to spoil too many of Bazaar of the Four Wind’s surprises, he did take the time to answer some questions about Guild Wars 2’s past and ponder what the future holds for the game and the players who populate it.

MMORPG: The two week turnaround on your updates is a pretty lofty goal. What do you think will be the biggest hindrances in making this happen and what have you done to prepare yourselves?

Chris: The biggest hindrances come from two areas: One is the technology and the second is the health of the team under high velocity cadence. The reason we didn’t announce what we were doing with the two week cycle is we wanted to get those things ironed out. So the technology side has taken time and required pipeline evolutions. In terms of from a team perspective I think a lot of the issues we had we’ve worked through. Moving forward nothing’s ever going to be perfect so we’ll continue to work those out. I think in terms of the actual phase one of the area we’re working in, a living world, I think we’ve done a really good job.

Now we can basically focus on balance development and really take the engine that we’ve built and continue to evolve it with the community to really bring out the very best and show what a true living world can be in an online environment. So I think any challenges that come up are going to be challenges that the community sets up for up us and that we set up for ourselves. What’s the next barrier we want to break through? What’s the next evolution we want to do? We have a plan of exactly what we want to do, but we also want to continue to build on our systems and our features and really knock it out of the park as far as what it means to be a living world. Challenges are opportunities and we’re really excited about them.

MMORPG: Let’s say I’m a player and I don’t go online for a month and my favorite spot has changed. Are you worried at all that people might lose that sense of familiarity and that might cause them some disdain?

Chris: For the moment in terms of the actual architecture and hubs in the world and in terms of player interactions and systems, we aren’t going too heavy on that currently, because we want to develop and build worlds in this game with the community. So we want to see bit by bit as we increase the volume on certain aspects of the living world what the reaction is. I think the core of the game and the expected, and already embedded systems and locations, while they have changed in some cases, like there were some changes in Lion’s Arch, they’re not things that take away from the core experience for the player. That said, moving forward we already know and we’ve identified a lot of really cool ways of how the living world could work in a really positive manner that just continues to push forward our strategy. Unfortunately, I’m a little cagey about talking about it. I get excited talking about the game, but at the same time, it’s all about under promising and over-delivering. I don’t really want to talk about things that are still baking. We’ve just opened the gates on all of this.

MMORPG: It’s been nearly a year since GW2 launched. In that time how has the teams approach to the game changed and do you feel like the end goal for it is different from a year ago?

Chris: I’ll answer the last part first. The end goal, that interesting. We have a plan of exactly what we want to do. And we have ideas of how we can innovate and continue to change the playing field as far as what “living world” means to an online game. So in terms of end goal, the thing is with living world having an end goal is kind of paradoxical in some ways. Especially in terms of us working with the community. Our overall goal is to create a truly evolving persistent world. So if it’s constantly evolving and we’re working with the community in regard to it and we’re super passionate about being innovative and pioneering then really we have an ongoing goal, but no end goal of “what is this going to look like when we finish?” because with every new evolution we make the components of that add variables which exponentially increase the possibilities of what we can do with the world. I can go into more detail about it, but I don’t think it’s appropriate at the moment because we’re concentrating on getting the living world up and running, but it doesn’t take much to think about how far we can go with it.

As for the approach of the team, nothing’s changed. Our ultimate goal from a team point of view is to create the best possible experience for our players. And we are accountable to no one apart from our customers and our community. And so that’s our overriding goal in that regard. The way that we develop has certainly changed I think for the better, but our approach to the world of Tyria and Guild Wars 2 and what we want to do with it and the lore and the synergy between gameplay and the narrative has stayed the same, it’s just a different method of developing in order to create a living world.

MMORPG: Do you think that the success of GW2 was helped at all by Diablo III’s sort of failure to launch?

Chris: I have no idea, honestly. We had our own set of issues when we launched and we worked very hard to mitigate those. Our studio head, Mike O’Brien made the decision -and this again shows the quality and care for our community- ArenaNet basically shut down sales on the game for a whole week while we made sure that players in the game, which was obviously a huge amount of people, were enjoying what we were doing.

That’s a good question, but honestly I don’t know. I played Diablo III and they had their huge challenges as well, but I don’t know if it necessarily transferred. It certainly made us go over things with a fine toothed comb.

We’ve got a lot of respect for the team at Blizzard Entertainment and the games they make. They’re really good and it must’ve been a very difficult time for them. Like all of us, we learn from situations we find ourselves in. And I’m a big believer in more transparency between companies and collaboration, so I’m really glad to see that everything got worked out and they’re still kicking ass.

MMORPG: Have you guys thought about consoles or next-gen consoles at all?

Chris: At the moment we’re concentrating definitely on PC. In the current framework that we’re aware of, for the living world strategy to pay off, this is definitely the best platform for us. I think that moving forward -essentially a platform is a canvas and it indicates the size of the canvas and the material you can add to it- nothing’s ruled out. I think it depends on what we want to do and what our community is interested in.

MMORPG: Have you guys checked out the Oculus Rift at all and have you thought about integration?

Chris: Yes, we have checked out the Oculus Rift. We’ve definitely checked it out. We have a kit in the office. We’re very excited about that kind of thing. Personally, I’m very excited about immersion and how players could get full immersion through that type of technology. So, yeah more of that please! It’s really cool. 

MMORPG: Where do you think Guild Wars 2 will be in another year?

Chris: I have my opinion on it. I think the correct answer to that is, “Who knows?” in terms of we’ve created this canvas and platform with the living world, technology and a development plan where really, if you think about, the world is our oyster and we can do whatever we want. This is definitely an evolution in terms of approach to online gaming and what you can do with that. With that in mind my personal opinion is that I think we’re truly on a path to a persistent, evolving world. Somewhere where everything matters. Whether it’s the narrative in the gameplay, or the landmass or players caring about specifically the geography of the world itself and so on. I think that it’s opened the door to the holy grail of online worlds, which is honestly, and I mean this honestly, creating true worlds with true world dynamics. The community will take short steps to build this and see where it goes. But who knows? Because like the real world, the best way to develop this is almost through chaos theory in that we listen to what the community says, we build worlds with them and that takes us places we don’t necessarily know we’re going to be.

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Blake Morse