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Colin Johanson Interview: Looking Ahead

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July 18, 2013 - 4:50pm -- Lewis B
Guild Wars 2

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to snag 30 minutes of Colin Johanson's time to discuss the content of his latest blog post. Having been given a preview of the blog post several days prior and conscious of the fact 30 minutes isn't nearly enough, I chose questions I hoped would be a little away from the 'norm'. 

Lewis: Hey Colin!

Colin: How are you?

Lewis: I'm really well! It's absolutely boiling in the United Kingdom. It's 33 degrees in my office so I'm currently melting.

Colin: *laughs* It's cloudy and overcast here, I'm sorry!

Lewis: It's great weather for sitting indoors and playing Guild Wars 2. 

Colin: *laughs* That's what we like to hear! I'll keep my introduction quick as you know all this stuff already. We're at the point with our living world strategy where for the second half of the year we're up to having four living World Teams from the one team we started with. We're taking advantage of that to do a lot bigger updates and more importantly doing updates that have more meaningful changes and more meaningful updates to the world. A greater sense of permanent impact on the world. The vote next Tuesday is the beginning of what you're going to see from that as the year progresses, as these four teams really get the chance to build out their content and rotate with one another and do bigger and more impactful things for the game. For our living world direction, that's a really big part of where we want to go: to have this sense of an ever changing, ever evolving world and having those releases every 2 week be impactful so that they make a difference.

The blog post goes into a lot of detail about what those other teams are working on over the next 6 months and although we have some longer term projects some teams are working on the background, that we're not going into detail about yet, we want people to know that new regions and dragons are all things we plan to do but its not something we'll be releasing this year. 

Lewis: We've seen a couple of this big blog posts from you now. In some respects the community seems to be waiting for them. How do you feel they come across? What you hope to do; that it will all make its appearance in the future; to entice people back in the hopes that these additions land or to keep communication open?

Above all else it's about keeping channels of communication open.

Colin: Above all else it's about keeping channels of communication open. To understand where we are taking the game and to have a clear sense of transparency and where we're taking the game. All the things we've covered in the blog post are things we're going to be implementing in the next six months. In the early parts of that six months and not the very end. We did one of these blog posts six months ago and we couldn't go into a ton of detail. We just had high level ideas; we talked about things such as improving guilds - we talked about Guild Missions - but we didn't have enough information. We talked about leader boards and we added those. We talked about reward systems but again didn't have enough information.

We're at the point now where we've figured out most of those details so we really want to sit down and let players know where the game is going and what they can expect to see from us. The hope would be that if lapsed users see that they might come back and check it out and if new users read that and think "wow that's really cool I want to play that" that's cool. Predominantly though it's about targeting our existing fans so they have clarity on what we want to do in the next six months of the game. 

Lewis: A cornerstone of what ArenaNet was 'about' was iteration. With the multitude of teams you've got working on teams at the minute, how has it impacted on that process? Two to three weeks on content turn around is so quick and to deliver such a high level of quality and polish it's surely hard to iterate?

Colin: It's an incredible challenge. I would say if you looked back at the year inparticular, the content that was in the Living World releases, we really only had one team producing that for most of the year which left little time to iterate. It was a case of build it, get a little feedback, adjust it and ship it because we have another update coming. That was every month we were rolling stuff out. We were able to get a second team in to get the Southsun Cove content made, but even then that second team was the same group of people that build Guild Missions. They had very little time to transition over and start building what we did in May. I can't understate the importance of the four team structure we are transitioning to with our Living World projects. It's intended to allow those teams enough time to develop and iterate and really polish their content before it goes live. What it means is that future releases will have more impact and be bigger, but we'll have more time to get them right and really polish them before they go live. We feel the last few releases have shown that. That's really important to us. We recognize that's an area we needed to improve and have a little bit more time to play content before it goes live. We've built this new structure to allow that.

There are quite a few things we haven't covered in the blog post that people will see in the second half of the year that we weren't ready to talk about

Our teams that aren't living world teams can ship whenever they have something ready, so for all those teams nothing has changed. They continue to develop on the iterative process we've also had. We iterate on it, play it and test on it until we love it; then we go out and talk about it. A lot of the things in the blog post are things we've talked about for months, that we're now comfortable to talk about. We've iterated enough to know it's the direction we're going to go and so we talk about them. There are quite a few things we haven't covered in that blog post that people will see in the second half of the year that we weren't yet ready to talk about because we haven't iterated enough to understand if we're comfortable enough with them. 

Lewis: One of the first things you talk about (and on the topic of iteration) is the addition of new skills and traits. We've just received a patch that tried to amend many skills and traits - I'd say for the better. How are you feeling about the fact there are still many skills and traits in need of tender loving care and then implementing more skills that might upset the meta and balance of the game?

Colin: I think it's a careful line we walk. It's something where traditionally we would have added a giant pile of skills and traits to the game with each expansion. We don't know if we'll do expansions or not, but we know we want to have a really compelling rewarding progression system where you feel like your character is growing. We feel skills and traits is a really strong way to do that alongside our other reward systems so we want to be able to constantly add those to the game, to grow the things your characters can do. That doesn't mean that we can just put those out and have them really unbalanced. We want to make sure we're happy with them and ensure they fit into the balance of the game we already have and we also need to make sure that we don't have a bunch of skills that aren't good enough. That was a big part of our last update to get a lot of our skills to the point where they had uses and that a lot more builds were available, both in PvE, WvW and PvP. Different skills have different uses in some of those places.

One thing that will benefit from the new skills and traits we're adding is the ability to work off and combo with new existing abilities

One thing that will benefit from the new skills and traits we're adding is the ability to work off and combo with existing abilities; it might make those existing skills more useful. The hope would be that they'll open up more builds and more choices for players to pick from. It's very important for us to keep balance. If for example we're in a competitive PvP season we might not have the new skills turns on until that season is complete and then all of them would become available. In PvE and WvW we'll add them to the game on a regular basis that players can go out and learn. 

Lewis: If I can ask, how many skills do you want to add by the end of the year and by profession and could you give us a sneak peak?

Colin: *laughs* A lot of that is being built at the moment and in the pipeline to help us understand the answer to that question. We need to be careful not to add too many, or else the game spirals out of control where we cant maintain a strong sense of balance. We did the math and there's a reasonable rate we can do where we can keep adding skills on a regular basis for the next ten years and we wouldn't come anywhere close to the skill combinations that Guild Wars 1 had. By the end that was almost impossible for us to balance. We can't go too crazy with it or we'll get to the point where we can't keep track of all the options. If we're regularly adding a skill to each profession and a trait to each profession, as well as a weapon they can't currently use and making those available for those professions or even new weapons entirely, all of those add into the mix of creating diverse gameplay while adding a lot of options to players. As for a new skill, I'm not going to throw any out yet as the skill team would kill me! But they will share stuff when they're close to getting that content out there. 

Lewis: I want to jump down the blog post a little to the last paragraph on dungeons. It talks about encouraging players participating in wider content, restricting gold rewards for multiple runs. That'll have a massive impact on Citadel of Flame farming. Are you prepared for the community response to that, good and bad?

It's just a matter of fact we didn't want to destroy the CoF experience at a cost of not fixing all other dungeons

Colin: *laughs* Yes we are. Absolutely it will have an impact on that. Honestly, it's something I wish we could have implemented sooner, it's just a matter of the fact we didn't want to destroy the CoF experience at a cost of not fixing all the other dungeons and trying to make those more rewarding. It's part of the reason why its taken us quite a while to do this to get a system in place to reward every dungeon equally. We want to ensure every dungeon is just as rewarding if we're to push people out of CoF. That is the intent - we've put a lot of thought into it. I really wish we could have done this a couple of months ago. We're expecting a few people who love doing CoF constantly - I don't imagine they love running CoF a thousand times constantly - we expect a few of them will be upset about that. In the grand scheme of things it's much better for the game and the players. To diversify content and be reward for it. 

Lewis: From a player perspective it's great and with a mesmer main and having farmed CoF plenty of times, the gold return is great. Do you feel the new system is comparable as you push people to other dungeons? The primary reason people farm CoF is because of the gold return - they don't feel they can earn that level of money elsewhere in the entire game besides using the Trading Post. Could they find other paths to replicate the money earned? 

Colin: Looking at the dungeon reward system in isolation is not taking into account everything we want to accomplish. If you look at everything covered in the blog post as a whole - it and all the systems we've rolled out this year: laurels, achievements, rotating dailies and monthlies and world versus world reward systems. All of these things combined are intended to create a sense that you can play the game how you want and be rewarded for it. Rewards that you care about. You can't play the same thing over and over again but you can find a wide array of things to do and be rewarded for your time. That's the most important thing we're trying to get out of this, our goal across all of these systems. There's a lot of things in our game that reward you really well and a lot of things that don't reward you at all or well enough.

The hope would be that we have a diverse list of content that people can do, that they are rewarded for.

The new Champion loot bag is going to go a long way to make those feel more rewarding and where events can scale up and create champions in Orr or Southsun, suddenly they become a lot more interesting. Players can make the choice and say "Hey, today I'm going to play in Orr and farm some champions to get a load of rare crafting materials and skill points, new unique skins and karma." Tomorrow they might go and play some dungeons and make more gold in any other part of the game and then bounce around and go to do mini dungeons and jumping puzzles to obtain rare crafting materials to make ascended gear in the future. The hope would be that we have a diverse list of content that people can do, that they are rewarded for. I will say that the exact rate of CoF currently versus the new dungeon changes is a little bit lower, but we want dungeons to feel more rewarding. This is going to mean all the other dungeons will be brought up reward wise, with CoF brought down to their level. I think that's a good thing as it's so far out of balance with everything else we have. All the Champions in dungeons also have the new rewards on them as well. 

Part two of our Colin Johanson Interview: Looking Ahead, can be found by clicking on the Waypoint below!