Need For Speed World's developers talk big about their second anniversary
It seems like only a scant few months have passed since we covered the launch of Need for Speed World, EA's street racing MMO. But NFSW celebrates its second anniversary today, kicking it off with a double XP boost for everyone as well as a free Chevy Camaro ZL1 for all registered players.

In honor of the occasion, the dev team invited us to a group interview session culminating in a race-off during which we got to show just how hot (or not) our racing skills were. Lead Producer Marc de Vellis and Lead Designer Melvin Teo were on hand to answer our questions and talk about how the game has grown over the past two years. They enthusiastically discussed the ways they've developed NFSW as a result of community feedback, both in terms of game features and in terms of community interaction. Read on for a look at what changes they've made to keep their virtual drivers coming back for another lap.

Changes over the past years

"It's all about the cars," de Vellis is fond of saying. Earlier iterations of Need for Speed World were more driver-focused, but the developers have shifted to a more car-focused presentation based on community feedback. "We found that a lot of people were just using one driver profile for everything," he went on. "We really wanted to put a lot of customization in the car aspect to allow players to express themselves."

Car customization in Need for Speed World is almost a necessity; players can now add custom vinyl decals, paint, and rims to their machines to create a truly individual look. Artists are regularly celebrated by their community team as well, with the team's favorite screenshots going into public albums for the community to view (along with some sweet prizes like cars and cash shop currency). "We give people the option of giving tutorials, too, so they can show just how they made their creations," de Vellis explained.

One of the features the NFSW team has pushed for the second anniversary celebration is the ability to detatch the camera from the car, enabling users to get that perfect screenshot showing off the car in one of the game's exotic locales.

Customization doesn't extend to just the visual elements of a car, however. The game's skill system, which originally was fixed on the driver, now has slots for every car in a player's garage. Now, players can customize a car to fit a particular role, such as sprint racing, high-speed police pursuits, or team pursuits.

Part customization also allows players to squeeze out that extra performance out of a given vehicle; low- and mid-level parts can be purchased with in-game money, while higher-level parts can be won in races or in random "card packs" that can be purchased in the cash shop.

Teo and de Vellis also talked about the challenges in implementing new cars. "Every time we make a new car," de Vellis explained, "we have to submit models to the manufacturers and get the OK from them. If there's even a millimeter of height difference on the bumper, that can impact whether a car gets put into the game, so our art team has to focus on really re-creating the cars perfectly." He went on to say, "Some manufacturers really give us a lot of freedom with our Elite car models. We take a car and give it new bodywork and a new interior, and the manufacturers actually compliment us on how well we represent their brand with our designs. It's really encouraging."

When we asked about upcoming features, the devs were a bit tight-lipped, but they did clue us in to one feature, drag racing, which has been requested by fans since the game's release. "It's a challenge to make [drag racing] in a way that emphasizes skill," Teo told us. "We want to keep the arcade-style feel of the game intact."

Need For Speed World's developers talk big about their second anniversary
The cash shop and paying to win

There's a fine line in F2P games between using cash-shop money to have an unfair advantage and making meaningful cash-shop purchases. NFSW does a remarkably good job in this endeavor, although some people would consider it "paying to win." Players can purchase cars with identical performance to those in the cash shop using the in-game store, and then they can unlock parts and skills through play. It takes quite a bit of time to work one's way up to this level through normal play.

The alternative is to spend money in the cash shop to skip some of the grind. If a player has real money but not a lot of time to grind, he can unlock cars and parts with that cash and immediately be able to play in a higher vehicle tier on a competitive level. While some would view this as paying to win, it would be more correct to say that it's paying to skip the grind. This approach might not appeal to everyone, of course, but it's important to remember that a fast car won't replace skill and that racing with a better car will also change your matchmaking such that you race against people with comparable machines. In the end, if a player skips the grind to get a fast car, she will still need the driving skills to win the race.

Need For Speed World's developers talk big about their second anniversary
Racing with the devs

Before the session with the devs, I spent a bit of time driving some of the vehicles in the lower tiers (both tier 1 and 2) to get an idea of what the game felt like at each level. Because I'm not an ace driver, I found that the lower-tier cars actually felt more fun to drive; the faster, higher-performance cars are also much harder to control due to their high speeds, and the lower speeds at tier 1 were much more forgiving of little mistakes.

It was our race with the devs that really showed how important skills are compared to car performance. Several players in the group, including the devs and yours truly, had spent some time with the game and knew how to use the special powerups (consumables that give big boosts or interfere with other drivers) effectively. One player had also unlocked a superior car to the cars we were driving. In the end, though, it was not our aggressive powerup spam or a faster car that won the day but rather another reviewer who consistently outdrove everyone in our two races. The difference between first and second place was not even close, even though the winner never used powerups at all.

While you might argue that unlocking better cars or using consumables might help, it's really the driver's skills that matter in NFSW.

As Need for Speed World continues into its third year, we'll be looking forward to continued changes based on community feedback.

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This article was originally published on Massively.