Black Ops: Missive from the Field
Here’s a braindump about what we have going on right now and our beta plans – this mirrors some of what I’ve been talking about with our beta “mandatory voluntary” testers.
We’ve hit several first-ever milestones in Wildstar:
The whole team did a huge cheer as we watched the first closed beta tester set foot on Nexus last Tuesday night.
Nexus discovered by breakfast pastry: Actual photo of our first beta tester, Aurin Esper “Poptart,” setting foot on Nexus for the first time.
Oh, our lawyers have insisted we protect the NDA by not revealing the identities of beta testers, so here’s an amended picture of Poptart:
If this was a viral marketing campaign by Kellogg’s, it was effective – our art director bought 200 poptarts the next day and gave them out around the office.
Another key milestone for every game: our combat team got destroyed by players last night in 3v3 arena matches at our current level cap (level 22 for the first deployment). Appropriate teasing has ensued.
We had the first User Interface Addon created by a fan for the game within 24 hours of opening the world up. Oh, and we didn’t provide documentation, so tester Packetdancer made their friend-finder UI in that timeframe just by digging through the code for our own UI (we’ll provide documentation eventually, we swear – but we haven’t yet).
We’ve started tracking the deadliest creatures on Nexus so far. Here’s a sneak preview:
|Coldwater Gulch||Irradiated Snoglug||
|Coldwater Gulch||Yeti Mauler||
|Skeech Cave||Skeech Frostlord||
|Skeech Camp||Skeech Scratcher||
As you can probably tell, we now have thousands of Nexites (is that the proper term?) running around, exploring, killing, screaming, whooping it up, and otherwise causing a ruckus – and there are tons more to come.
So what are the overall goals for Carbine with the beta?
Well, we’re tracking almost everything that goes on in the game. Combat timings, level timings, movement, you name it. The players’ actions matter to us. Betas aren’t always fun per se (there’s often a big difference between “playing” and “testing”) – so we’ve tried hard to make sure the game is actually fun even in this, our very first round of external testing. Hopefully we do well most of the time at having a good experience – sometimes we won’t – and we need to know where!
Actually there’s a good distinction to make: “Testing” and “Playing” are really often two different things.
You ask a lot from testers, and most folks don’t want to test – they want to play. And of course, it’s a game for heaven’s sake, they should be wanting to play, not test.
So making sure your beta is high enough quality to compete for gamers’ playing time against already launched, totally polished games is quite a challenge as a dev. And if your game was 100% polished etc to compete you wouldn’t call it “phase 1 of CBT” you’d call it “launch and buy a new island HQ for the studio with all the cash”.
Or I guess if you’re Notch you do both 😉
So where’s the feedback go? We’ve set up RRT: our Rapid Response Team. Every Monday, we gather together devs, producers, customer support folks, the community guys, and Mike Donatelli (affectionately known as our “Beta Pope” as he is the arbiter of what makes it into beta or not. Pope-a-telli for short). Together this team goes through the feedback: major threads on the boards, single posts that stand out as being particularly meaningful, data we’re gathering from beta, top CS issues, and more.
We sort the feedback together, prioritize it, and act on it: we flag some items to be fixed immediately (ideally to be patched in even before the end of that week). Some things go into our next beta deployment (every 5 weeks we want to have a Big New Deployment unlocking new content/features, but it’ll be based on when things are ready and the feedback we address). Some bigger scale or lower priority issues will go in the queue as needing to be fixed for launch (which will be on the first day of When It’s Ready).
We’re going to try to handle some quality-of-life fixes as well as critical bugs in close to real time; we’ll see how well we do. We think it’s important to make beta engaging for players by letting them see changes happen quickly, especially since it’s how we want to run the game when it’s live. The frequent updates and regular tweaks are an experiment in parts to see how well we can do it without ADDING instability by the frequent changes – something we’ll figure out together.
But we can’t feed that feedback engine efficiently without knowing the issues, so what we ask of testers in return for the early access is for them to let us know when things are great, when things suck, or when things are “meh”. (Spoiler alert: highlighting suck is easy, but you’ll find it hardest to pinpoint when things are “meh” – but great games improve those things too, not just the parts that suck, so take a shot at describing it if/when you see it).
And even if someone never gives feedback, they’re helping us out by providing stats on all the numbers and data we’re tracking… of course talking to us is more directly helpful. We try to be pretty responsive on the forums, but even if we lag sometimes, at least it’s fueling our rapid response meetings.
It’s exciting for us all. We’ve got quite literally the first explorers setting foot on a big ol’ world. We’re showing off things that are sometimes the result of years of work, and sometimes what we did last Tuesday. The process (subject to change in whatever ways make it better): Level cap today is 22, and next round of beta we’ll raise that and provide access to Dominion content.
After a round of feedback on that, we’ll re-release the Exile content (with modifications and improvements based on the feedback from round 1) and we’ll keep iterating forward. If we’re getting negative feedback, we’ll slow things down and make big changes. Where folks love stuff we’ll try not to muck with it too much and deliver more. We’ll do annoying things like wipe characters sometimes (which is one of the crappiest parts of beta as a player, especially when all the great stuff you got from an exploit goes away) – but it’s needed when we change fundamental systems and need to see the results.
We won’t promise perfection. One player actually found that some taxi drivers in a fit of generosity would give you money for flying to your destination instead of taking it and spent four hours riding back and forth. We left him with 50 copper of the 14 gold he farmed as thanks for making us laugh.
I will, however, in as non-bullshit-as-possible fashion, promise that we’ll work our asses off to make the game better month after month, with the help of our players.
And because user Doomgrin75 on our subreddit was concerned that we’d slow down our pace of reveals during beta, in addition to the above info/reveals, here is the first ever screenshot of one of our dungeons: Stormtalon’s Lair. The fans at Arkship EU this week are getting to be the first players of the dungeon who will be free to talk about it publicly, so you can look forward to their feedback on it after the event!-jg