Creating a living world, four teams at a time.
The Guild Wars 2 community is very important to the fantasy MMO's developer, ArenaNet. So much so, that the development team went silent for a few months and secretly hammered out the plans for an innovative new content release schedule promising substantial amounts of free new content every two weeks. I recently got the chance to sit down with ArenaNet's own Studio Design Director, Chris Whiteside, to discuss how the studio plans on accomplishing this daunting task, and what ArenaNet needs to do to make GW2 feel like a living world.
Since its inception, ArenaNet always wanted Guild Wars 2 to feel like a living world. To that end they created dynamic events that change the world based on player interaction. In addition, they've constantly been releasing content for the game since early this year to supplement everything else that's going on. With a world that's evolving in almost real-time, people will want to come back for more to check in on the latest content.
The world of Guild Wars 2 is filled with thousands of dynamic events that constantly change based on the actions of players like you. Fast-paced, action-oriented combat lets you attack on the move, dodge and roll away from enemy blows, team up with other players, and take advantage of environmental weapons to dominate the battlefield! Competitive play in Guild Wars 2 is easy to learn, but offers challenges for new players and hardcore PvPers alike. Guild Wars 2 is your story - your choices determine how your personal story evolves, and with thousands of possible variations, no two players will have the exact same experience.
These content releases vary in features, sometimes revealing a new dungeon or PvP systems, but always offering a unique story and rewards. With staggered releases focusing on both hardcore and casual players, the team had to come up with a way to push the content out very quickly in order to appease fans who love to churn through it.
"At launch, we realized the studio wasn't set up to release content on a two-week basis," said Whiteside. "The idea of one massive team trying to do this was impossible, and also our technology wasn't sophisticated enough."
To solve the problem, Chris explains that they split the one big team of developers in to four smaller teams and developed new technology that would allow them all to work independently of each other. Thanks to the new tech, one team could balance and debug content while the other continued working on new stuff.
"Each team is made up of members from every developmental discipline, including art, tech, design, writing, QA, production, and a coordinator, and they're basically a full team," explained Whiteside. Once the teams are set up, they're given a theme and then it's up to them to come up with the content. "There's brainstorming and then there's risk assessment, then scheduling to make sure it's doable in the amount of time we need."
In addition to the four teams, there's also members of the development team who work in a base camp area. Their job is to keep everyone coordinated. "They basically service all the teams together. So if there are questions on implementation, these guys and girls are always on call to go in and ensure that we're all always moving in the same direction, that the quality level is always increasing, and it's working out really well."
The teams don't compete with one another, either. It's a very collaborative environment, and if one team happens to knock it out of the park with their update, they teach the other teams what they did and how they did it. As a group, everyone will then understand what makes a good boss, dungeon, or feature, so that the content is always getting better.
Learning from past content is very important, explains Whiteside. "At the most obvious level, balancing challenges, creature mechanics and boss mechanics are all things that we have tuned and evolved since launch. And then regarding other areas, we're now synergizing narrative and gameplay a lot more. Now you actually play the story yourself."
The team has also learned how to give out better rewards, which activities players like doing the most, when they need to release content, and better bug fixing systems. "Every two weeks is an opportunity to get feedback on every core element of the game," said Whiteside. "It's very important to use that information to continue to improve."