The following is a guest post from New World game director Scot Lane.
There is a saying that live games are owned by the development team until launch, and then at launch they become the players’ game. I couldn’t agree more. Over the past year, we’ve had great success and made some mistakes. We learned a lot and are excited to apply those learnings going forward.
Before we launched New World a year ago, we did extensive alpha and beta testing in a live environment with tens of thousands of players and drew heavily from data and their feedback to help shape the game. Those early days saw New World’s transition from a survival/crafting game into a full-fledged PvPvE MMO — an evolution that was guided in large part by what we heard from players.
Of course, running a game at scale is an entirely different beast, and when millions of players poured into New World at launch last fall, we learned a lot. That learning has continued during our first 12 months as a live game, as we’ve observed player behavior and listened to feedback. We’ve made many changes to New World during its first year, and while some of those are new content like expeditions and quests, many are quality of life changes that are directly based on what we’ve observed and what players have asked for along the way. Things like easier leveling, accessing inventory while running, removing orbs (keys), low-cost fast travel, increased run speed and many more have all come about based on player feedback.
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We use some simple rules to keep us on the right development track. Here are some of them and how we apply them.
Listen to the player
When we started development on New World, it was a survival crafting game. There was some love for that style of gameplay, but players told us they wanted more. And by the time we got to launch, New World had become an MMO. We learned early that listening to our players was the path to building a great game, even when they asked for large changes.
Identifying the right channels to learn what players really want — and how they actually behave in the game — is key. We watch in-game chat for mentions of issues, concerns as well as what folks like so we can lean into them. We also take sentiment analysis from various sources including our official forums, in-game feedback and Reddit, where we have vibrant communities that will tell us when we’re slipping up or when we’re getting it right.
Sometimes when I’m working, I will have the game running but keep only the chat window visible. Narrowing in on just the chat window makes it easier for me to focus on what players are saying, both positive and negative, as they play. By watching the broader public commentary scroll by, I get a sense of what everyone is thinking without having to guess.
When you’re in the middle of an update with countless team members focused across many features and content additions, it can be easy to lose sight of the player’s voice. In light of that, it’s important to build sampling player feedback into your daily work.
Play your game/be a player
You have to play the game! I love to play our game and think it’s critical for anyone making a game to play it (a lot). I can’t stress the importance enough of playing your game. It’s difficult to make informed decisions without a deep understanding of the player experience which can only be gained by time in the world.
I follow the discussions on social media, but I also try to play daily, even more when we’re about to release a new update. Because I’m a huge fan of the MMO space, I play like players play with no special treatment. It’s important to understanding their complaints and preferences, even down to the details of terminology used in game, and doing so allows me to form my own opinions as a player.
Strong communities are a primary goal of any multiplayer game, and one aspect to build community is to create a group of internal testers and players, and more importantly, outside players who love the game and will draw in other players. The key words in that sentence are “player” and “game.” All the hype in the world is useless if the game itself is a no fun or if the players, upon launch, find the game unwieldy or worse, boring. The more the team plays and engages with the community, the better their decisions will be which should translate into more fun.
Measure game health
We built telemetry into every portion of the game which was super helpful during launch. When we had bugs that broke gameplay or worse led to exploits, we were able to use data collected to correct the vast majority of them. At launch, many of these systems were brand new along with their telemetry and often required a person to painstakingly go through the data to not only identify the mistake but to correct it (correcting the bug as well as adjusting data, for instance removing duplicated items). Since then, we’ve built automation around many of these systems so now, when a mistake pops up, we often know about it before the player. This means we can now see problems before they’ve become wide spread.
It kills me seeing a game I’m on being called out for being unfair or buggy. I want New World to be something that that people are excited to play and be completely immersed in. These problems will distract from that goal, and that’s why we have telemetry and put alarms on anomalous behavior. It’s hard, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Measurement also helps us make sure we’re making decisions based on actual player behavior. Sometimes what the community asks for doesn’t align with how they act in the game, and it’s important to look at both so you can identify the proper course of action.
Adapt and Improve
Even when following all these rules, even when you truly listen, you can still mess up. When we launched New World, we received feedback that the in-game architecture was too monotonous. We focused on Tudor style houses, big beams and plaster, as a style for the island. But that feedback kept bothering me. This is a massive world. Why did all the towns look like a picturesque British village?
Over time, we made improvements as you’d see in Reekwater and Ebonscale Reach. More recently with the Brimstone Sands release, we created cities made of brick and stone. We built a massive castle where King Arthur landed. Now we’re still listening by adding new lands — swamps, mountains, deserts — and a new weapon with a heavily request playstyle, the Greatsword.
Listening is fun. Listening makes people happy because they know they’ve been heard. Listening works. And listening makes you successful.
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