Guild Wars 2’s Mike Zadorojny Talks Launch Plans, eSport And The Future
Can you tell us about how many fans have pre-purchased the game and how that’s informed your plans for launch?
Mike Zadorojny: Unfortunately, I can’t talk about numbers. I can say that we were obviously extremely surprised and happy with the turnout from the players and the fans. We have been doing a lot of internal stress tests and trying to just make sure that when we launch it’s going to be as smooth as possible. The three beta weekend events we had really helped us get to the point where we were comfortable with the original structure we had in place in making sure that this game will hopefully have an extremely smooth launch.
After the launch problems Diablo 3 had a few months back, did you have any extra concerns over launching such a hugely-anticipated game reliant on servers?
MZ: One thing about our development system is it’s highly iterative. We have anywhere between 20,30, 40 builds a day in our dev environment, so if there is a problem it’s really easy for us to just make a quick patch and throw it up – anywhere between five and 15 minutes, we can get something uploading on the servers. For us, it’s just making sure that we’re agile enough so that if something comes up that we hadn’t foreseen, that didn’t show up in any of our tests, that we can get that fix in place really quick.
We’ve also seen post-launch issues with Star Wars: The Old Republic, whereby some players were vocal about low server populations – do you have contingency plans for those types of issues that arise in the weeks and months after launch?
MZ: We do have contingency plans, obviously. But because the system scales so well, even if we have a ton of players on a server versus not as many, the system itself will balance itself out.
Forbes recently cited Guild Wars 2 as a huge potential threat to World of Warcraft – is that something you think about at ArenaNet, or is it just one of those labels the industry likes to attribute?
MZ: I don’t think it was an actual decision early on to say ‘look, we want to make a game that’s going to topple WoW’, we just wanted to make a really good game. When we initially started work on the project we were looking at the industry as a whole, seeing what we liked, what we didn’t, what hadn’t really changed over the last five years, and it was a chance to really start from scratch, go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make a really engaging game, a persistent game, a very visceral game, keep the importance of the story for the player – and do all this, and try and do it well. They were our big goals when we started out and if we’ve managed to do all that, everything else will just fall into place.
Guild Wars 2’s coming to the end of a five-year development journey – what aspect of the game is the development team proudest of?
MZ: One of the things I’m proudest of is the level-adjustment system that we added, where like you’re a high-level character and you go back to starting zones, it will actually level you down, so the content isn’t extremely trivial. Sure, you’re more powerful and you have your extra traits and extra skill slots, but the idea is, as you’re levelling up, that what we’re doing is unlocking more places for you to play – we’re not funnelling you into like, a couple of zones. It allows you to really have that sense of exploration. We tried to pack each of the maps in with a lot of different content to appeal to very different styles of players. Sure, if you people really enjoy combat, there’s combat to do, but there’s also tons of exploration, jumping puzzles, vistas, hidden treasure chests in little dungeons in the world – we just tried to add as much content in, and give the breadth of experience that players can find as they’re going through the game.
eSport is a big focus for Guild Wars 2’s PvP and World vs. World multiplayer modes – what are the big hopes for the multiplayer modes post-launch?
MZ: Well, obviously it’s been a big focus for us from the very beginning. We wanted to make a super-competitive game that was easy to learn, but very difficult to master; to have that levelling curve there for experienced players. We’re really just getting started. I can’t really go into too many details of what we’re looking at post-launch, but with the release of the game – this is a service. We’re creating something for players and from there we’re going to be making sure that we can support eSports , we can push it, and that players who are competitive about it feel like this is something they want to spend their time on.
Were there any difficulties in creating a compelling, narrative-based fantasy MMORPG while also thinking about competitive multiplayer modes? Do you consider them as separate?
MZ: It is a little separate. We do have two different teams that are focused on that. The big thing on eSports is that we just want to make it very accessible; any character that’s just started the game, they can just jump over at level two to the PvP area and we just unlock everything for your character, we put you at true [level] 80 while you’re in PvP, and we give you all the items, all the skills, traits – you have the full toolkit when you’re making your builds. That was super-important to us. So that allows us to have a level of separation where we can focus on the PvP side of the game, while knowing that any player can go and compete at that hyper-competitive level.
What were the biggest tweaks that came out of the Guild Wars 2 beta weekends?
MZ: Balance has always been a hot one for us. We want to make sure everyone’s going to have a fun experience, a challenging experience and they’re going through the world and it’s not too easy or super-challenging. The other thing was the starting areas. We had to make some adjustments because at the very beginning of the game if we were scaling up the monsters too difficult they were just destroying players and it became less fun for the general populous. So we had to look at those and see what we could do – in the early levels we were scaling the monsters’ health, not their power. So additional players could still get in [to the beta] and still participate, getting a kill, experiencing loot, taking part in events. We also went back and added some events in all the starting areas, so on day one when there’s a ton of people, there’s enough content to go around
The Secret World recently launched with a planned schedule of monthly content updates to combat players getting to the end game and feeling like they’ve finished all the content – has ArenaNet considered the same issues?
MZ: This is a service industry. Once the game launches our support of it is really just beginning, so we are going to have a substantial live team rolling out as soon as the game launches and then we’re going to start adding additional content, whether it’s adding events to zones that are already there, for when players come back to play with their friends. But there’s a chance they’ll see entirely new situations and stories unfolding. We’re also going to be adding festivals and holidays and things like that, so the sky’s the limit on what these guys can do.
Guild Wars 2 officially launches on 28 August – look out for NowGamer’s review soon after release.