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Pre-Launch Interview with Dallas Dickinson

By Michael Bitton on December 08, 2011 | Interviews | Comments

Pre-Launch Interview with Dallas Dickinson

Let's kick things off by talking a bit about Game Testing. The last few weekend tests have seen a huge amount of players hitting the servers. What can you tell us about what you've learned from having so many users hitting your service? Were there any surprises or revelations in terms of what the service will be able to handle?

Dallas Dickinson:

There were actually, there were mostly positive surprises. There were way fewer surprises than we were bracing for. The servers actually did really, really well. Those who participated in the testing found the experience was relatively smooth. I think, the first night, we had some pretty big queues and we had some queuing technology that we just wanted to tweak, and so we got that working really well. We had a little bit of instability, but nothing resembling what we were expecting. So, actually, the service stood up really, really well, with hundreds of thousands of players. So, it actually braced us quite well for launch.


So, metrics are fun! Has there been a consistent ratio of Empire vs. Republic populations on test servers? Same for Force users vs. Non-force using classes? Can you talk about what you've seen along those lines?

Dallas Dickinson:

Without giving exact numbers, I can tell you that it is as we expected. We skew slightly more with Empire players; I think that’s at least partially due to the fact that the players that have been in the testing program are a little bit more hardcore, maybe a bit more into PvP. That’s just my own crazy theory as to why that is. It’s not a huge skew, it’s like a 50 to 55% as opposed to anything broader than that.

And then in terms of class choice, it’s also, we’re a little more than half of people choose one of the four force-wielding classes. So, I think it’s closer to 60%-ish, but again, I’m estimating a little bit. But that’s as expected, it really goes in terms of, you could probably, without having asked me the question listed the order of popularity, what you think the popularity of the classes would be, and you’d be probably right. The expectation is that people are going to first jump in, go straight to a force-user, unless they have a specific, “I really want to be a bounty hunter” kind of mentality, and they’re going to play that. But we’re seeing a whole lot of sampling. So, what people do, is they immediately choose one of those classes, they play for five or ten levels, then they choose another class, and we get pretty broad sampling across the board. I think a lot of players are playing up to four of five of the classes up to level 10 before they choose the one they’re going to ride.

Will Game Testers or long-time Game Testers be receiving anything to show off in the live game?

Dallas Dickinson:

I don’t think we have any official notation for them, but for the most part, these are going to be the first people into the game. We’ve announced previously that our Early Access program is going to favor those who burned codes early, and that’s a pretty 1:1 mapping of people who were in the Game Testing program, so I think that’s the primary way we’re going to be rewarding those folks. Also, these are also the people who know exactly where they want to go and who they want to play when they start.

Continuing on Early Access, some gamers have noted they may not receive their games on the exact day of launch, but perhaps a day or two later. Will you be offering a grace period for those who have redeemed pre-order codes? If so, how long is the grace period?

Dallas Dickinson:

The quick answer is there will be announcements related to that in the next day or two, but I can’t actually tell you that. So, you’ll have to see that when the e-mail comes to your inbox, sometime this afternoon, or whenever it comes.

Will server names be released ahead of launch? The pre-launch guild registration system wasn't able to facilitate the RP-PvP crowd and I imagine this group of players would definitely appreciate being able to plan ahead of the chaos of launch day.

Dallas Dickinson:

Certainly we’re going to be announcing them during Early Access, but I think we’re going to announce them slightly before Early Access, so people will be able to have some dea of where they want to go. I can’t tell you the exact timing, as that was actually up for debate as of this morning, when we would fully announce at least the opening list of server names. We’re not going to announce all the server names; we’re probably going to only announce the ones we’ll be running during Early Access, and then we’ll announce more as we ramp them up.

As far as post launch content goes, I know you guys have been fairly locked down on features for launch for quite some time, but I'm sure that hasn't stopped you all from brainstorming or even sitting on tons of things you want to get in post launch. Can you talk about a few of your highest priority features or additions you are looking to add post-launch? How soon can we expect some of these?

Dallas Dickinson:

What I can say, and I think there’s going to be an announcement to this effect by our very own James Ohlen in the next few days, but most of what we have planned for post-launch is direct feedback we got from our testers. Kind of going on a year in our testing program, it’s really been all about hearing what the players have to say. We have our own huge list of the stuff we think would be awesome to add to the game, but we’re making sure we prioritize based on the feedback we’re actually getting.

So, some of the things I know people have mentioned are, “Hey. When are we going to see more end game content?” Well, we’re absolutely going to be rolling that out and we’re going to be rolling that out relatively quickly and on a schedule people can count on. So the people know that when they really want to be doing cool Flashpoints and even Warzones, they’re going to be getting those on a regular basis.

In terms of features, one of the areas I know people have asked for more features is in our support of guilds. I can’t tell you specifically the extra guild features we’re going to be rolling out, but that’s another place that, again, it’s entirely based on, we also want these features, but getting the feedback from the players and saying, “Hey. You guys have been giving great feedback on the game that is there, and we’re trying to make sure that’s the best it can be, but what are the top five things you as users would really like to see in the first three months, six months, nine months of the game that makes you feel that this is a game that understands you as a user and supports you as a long term player of the game?”

It's pretty obvious given how much you guys have said about how massive the project is, and how long the game has been in development, that producing (and polishing) the kind of cinematic story content with full voice-overs, cinematic camera angles, and the like is a fairly labor intensive and lengthy task. How are you reconciling this with the speed with which MMO gamers typically consume content? Is this sort of content something you see as sustainable to produce in a timely manner with a live game?

Dallas Dickinson:

Yeah, I think the, the commitment that we have is that we want to, not just for launch, but to continue to support the best story-driven MMO out there, and a huge part of that is the cinematic storytelling that really differentiates and really makes it feel like a BioWare game. Much of our development time has been spent developing the tools such that our writers, our cinematic designers, our world designers can create that kind of content rapidly and high quality. We’re now in a position, if you asked the tools users, they’d have 20 more things that they’d like, but for production side, I at least have a predictable pace, so that we can say, “Hey. Yeah, this is what we can deliver on a reasonable update basis,” and so we’re planning based on that, and it’s absolutely so that we can make sure that players are still getting that awesome BioWare storytelling that they expect from the game.

Finally, with just a few days until Early Access begins, do you want to share any final thoughts with fans looking forward to the game?

Dallas Dickinson:

Really, really, I’m just ridiculously excited. I think your first question was the biggest and most important one to me, in terms of, if you’d asked me a month ago how I felt? I would say, “Well, we haven’t done our really, really big scale testing. There are going to be some things that come out of the woodwork.” And, knock wood, we’ve found most of them, and they were not as scary impactful. So, now I’m just excited to see how players enjoy the game, because we know we have a good game and a fun game, and it’s really a question of whether our service will withstand it, and I think we will!

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined as the site's Community Manager.
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