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The Gaffer Speaks - Part 1

Jean Prior Posted:
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Over the weekend at PAX East, we at MMORPG.com managed to snag an interview with one of the busiest people on the show floor, Carbine Studios' head honcho Jeremy Gaffney, aka the Gaffer.  Given that a number of WildStar's biggest fans were unable to attend the convention, I thought it would be cool to reach out to them and other fans who were present to gather up some questions for the Gaffer, to truly make it more of a community interview rather than a standard press interview.  As expected, the WildStar community inundated me with things they wanted to know, and I regret we didn't have time to cover everything they asked. 

We started off with one of my questions, something I'd been wondering since we all found out that the game would be segregated into North American and European regions due to legal reasons, the same sort of reasons why players can't transfer across servers from EU to NA servers in other games such as World of Warcraft or Star Wars: the Old Republic.

MMORPG.com:  WildStar has made a point of marketing to as many playstyles as possible, the raiders, the sandbox folks, the PVPers, and even the roleplayers.  Considering the strong ties between the EU roleplayers and the NA ones and the known restrictions on playing on servers based on where a copy of the game was purchased, the community pretty much chose to coordinate their purchases amongst themselves so they could roll on the same servers in the same region.  So, if the majority of the EU roleplayers are going to be rocking NA accounts, how does that affect the business plan for the EU servers?

Gaffer:  That's a good question.  What we want to do is let people play the way they want to play.  There's an issue playing across from North America to Europe no matter what, because you're going to have to be on one server or the other, so technically that means you're putting up with extra lag.  You know what, the speed of light is something that we've attempted to fix, but we can't.  We play pretty well, the feedback from Europe has been 'hey, things are pretty good.'  They're playing pretty decent on the beta, but they really want their own servers because it would help a lot for PVP and that kind of stuff, because you want every edge you can have, and so that gives them a wrinkle no matter what.  But anything we can do from a business standpoint that will make our players happy, we obviously want to do it. 

Not just because we try not to be jerks, it's also up on our wall plaque under the 'no bullsh*t' line.  But also, it makes business sense too.  And so, anything that we can legally do to help out, we're willing to do, but it's non-trivial. We're worried about, we want to make sure we're betaing in Europe pre-launch, but we need to make sure that localization is good, we don't want it to be crappy localization if we can avoid it, and so you need time to make sure that's right.  Then you also get an issue too and now people have to abandon characters that they spent a long time playing in the US beta and so we'd love to give people have access to their characters, but that is technically challenging too, so what can we do around that?  It's very non-trivial. 

I wish I had an easy answer for that, but I don't.  The short form on it, today our policy on that is: hey what we can do is say we do listen, there's multiple times I think we've done some pretty big stuff by listening to the community.  If people have good ideas that we can practically pull off, that make legal sense, you know, we damned well ought to embrace it because we don't want to piss our players off.  That's not even good business, nor is it being a good partner.  Especially for our beta players, they've been our partners!  People have been giving us their gaming time instead of playing launched games that are presumably more fun and polished since they've launched, and so we owe them.  We couldn't have made the game literally without people in there, both with the data they give us and the feedback they give us, so whatever we can do to help them, we'll do our best.

MMORPG.com:  Our very own Gareth Harmer wanted to know about the possibility of a CarbiCon, and so I asked: Given we've seen other large games doing their own cons (Blizzcon, SOE Live, etc.), if the game is a huge success (by an appropriate definition of huge), would something like a Carbine Con or a full-on public Arkship two or three-day event be something that Carbine would consider running in a couple of years or so?

Gaffer: Yeah, even closer than a couple of years, what we'd like to do is, Arkships have always been fun events where some of our best and most devoted fans have come.  We show them stuff that's under works, often under NDA, we're like 'hey, here's something we're working on for a year from now'.  We try to do them as often as we can, so we'll definitely do that.  I think what really dictates that is the scale of launch, no matter what, the small ones can and should go on.  As many of them as can happen worldwide is good.  You wouldn't want to have them travel over from Europe to here and vice versa, and so I'd rather do a series of small ones rather than one ginormous one.  But with scale, maybe we'll do both.

MMORPG.com:  Speaking of the community, you've seen fans out there such as Anhrez or Sarcan making things like knitting a hat here, making little badges there, all of these real-life crafting things.  (Gaffer interjection: Which is awesome, by the way.) Where is the line drawn between fans making a few items for their friends or giveaways and someone turning it into a showcase for their Etsy store or going on some full-on production scale here?

Gaffer:  It's complex.  Most interesting things I guess are complex, because you've got to protect your IP.  What you don't want to have happen is, if there's enough, if somebody's making money off of it, you know, we're not completely evil moneygrubbing bastards.  We try to be fairly good money-grubbing bastards.  There's a little Protostar in there.  Protostar can occasionally be a little self-referential.  But, what we don't want to have happen is have such a culture come up where you have not gone out there and said 'hey, look, make sure this is ours,' and now companies trying to come up and wholesale selling your stuff for profit and all that. 

You need to do the right things legally, make sure the game doesn't get into the hands of, you know, evil people who are not us.  But we want to support all the good people who are not us.  And so that's a line to walk.  My preference is, if people aren't making money off it, then I'm going to support that as much as possible.  People who are making money off it, but it's for a legitimate craft that they're doing, come talk to us.  If we can work out a deal with it so that it's legit, like licensing, maybe we can do the right things in terms of doing what the lawyers need in terms of IP protection. We don't want to min-max every dollar we can squeeze out in terms of 'oh now it's time to bring out the full-body Protostar suit' or whatever, we don't want to be that company anyway.  So we like fans doing that out of love, but the danger part is when love turns into money.

MMORPG.com:  Currently, it's not hard to find the devs in-game on certain accounts, which is unusual for a game of this size and prominence. Most other games have their employees adhere to strict 'play incognito' rules of course to avoid the appearance of favoritism or guilds getting under the table perks. The rapport that Carbine has generated with the fans is almost unprecedented amongst AAA games.  When the game goes live, will the CRBs go into hiding like pretty much everyone else has their employees do or will players be able to find the same level of open interaction in the game?

Gaffer:  I've been talking to David [Bass, Community Manager] about this.  There's a balance to walk there.  What you want to do there is you want to be as open as possible.  I think we're in a new era now.  Another company that's doing it well is Riot.  As soon as you go into League of Legends and you're playing against a dev, and it's all 'ahh! I'm playing against a dev!'  There's a lack of persistence there where you don't have those worries where oh, okay if one guild is succeeding and they're doing world-firsts and there's a Carbine dev in there, and you've got to wonder, are we feeding them information?  Are we giving them extra benefits or 'here, go do this technique'.  And so, we don't want people to have to worry about that, you know what I mean?  There's the limit.  We want to make sure that Carbine is in there playing the game, but we also don't want people to have to stress about it.  So, the policy is if we catch any of our devs doing that kind of stuff, guess what?  They can go do that at one of our competitors. 

We're at the level of they get in there and play because it's good to be in there, but a lot of it is people can choose.  They can play under a CRB account, do they want to play under a private account and just not tell anyone about it, so they can just have fun and not worry.  I mean, your XP per hour does drop dramatically when CRB is in front of your name.  People tend to have a few questions or want to show you the bug that's been pissing them off.  [Or if you're on a PVP server, kick your ass. -  Jean] Yes, it's likely to be a giant red flag saying 'gank me', especially if it's CRB_Pappy, then it's like 'oh, free XP!'  (laughter) [The fact that he got his butt kicked by Scooter, come on! - Jean]

It's better than Lynch, man.  Lynch got his butt kicked by a thirteen-year-old yesterday.  And the thirteen-year-old came up to him and said 'I'm going to do a stun, then I'm going to go behind you and do this tactic, do this tactic, and this tactic, follow up with this, then my cooldown will be on this, and then I'm going to kill you with this'.  And then he did that.  I've never seen a more clean way of calling your shot into the stands as Babe Ruth than doing that to, say, the Lead Combat Designer.  Jen might have been able to hold her own on that as the Lead PVP Designer.  Class designers are difficult to get in their own classes, but if you can get them to play someone else's class, then they turn into mortals.

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Jean Prior