Captain's Log: Arc Q&A with Perfect World's Noel Holmes

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A week or two ago, I came across a dev blog about the new portal called Arc on the Star Trek Online website that seemed to raise more questions than provide answers. Not unlike most passionate gamers, I reacted emotionally and admittedly with some unfounded anger. I realized very quickly that if I was having that kind of reaction, then there were likely many others who were having similar reactions.

So I did the only thing that I could: I contacted the representatives of Perfect World to gain some clarification to the blog and hopefully ease my concerns. Instead of a shoving a palm to my face, Perfect World made available Noel Holmes in the hopes he would be able to clarify not only my concerns but also concerns borne by other Star Trek Online players as well.


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Massively: What is Arc and what is its intended purpose? Why does PWE need an umbrella program for all of its games?

Noel Holmes: This is an excerpt from our first blog, but I feel it best describes the direction and its purpose, so I haven't made any changes to it. It should cover both questions:
"Back in 2008, we started the company with only one game: Perfect World International. Naturally, as gamers and fans of online games our initial success with Perfect World enabled us to license and develop new titles which eventually resulted in new launchers, new websites, and new internal tools to manage in-game communications.

"​Looking at where we are today, we're proud to say that we've grown to manage over 15 concurrent titles, tons of active and loyal players, and to be fully transparent, a bafflingly complex array of disconnected technology.

"Over the past several months, we've met a ton of amazing developers of great games that we'd love to partner with. However, if we want to deliver these games to our players using our current processes, the task stands before us to create new infrastructure and tools for each game we want to support.

And that is why we are creating Arc, a platform to make it possible for us to deliver a high volume of quality games to our players with a consistent, reliable user experience. Our goal is to create this web-based platform to allow our players to download our games, find information, and engage in community features within a single umbrella of technology."

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Many gamers avoid installing excess game software, concerned as they are about malware. How would you justify Arc to these players? How is it not malware?

We've implemented several key design goals to ensure that Arc meets the needs of enthusiast gamers:
  • Arc is installed only when a user initiates the download-and-install process.
  • Arc does not use any torrent functionality.
  • Arc does not collect or upload any performance data unless a user chooses to opt-in to our anonymous usage stats feature.
  • Arc will only do the things you ask it to do -- no secret stuff in the background and no surprise browser toolbars.
  • Arc will have customizable settings for managing your notification preferences, so you'll see only what you want to see, when you want to see it.
Arc is designed to be pure gaming software. From the ground up, the entire platform is designed to act as an efficient, performance-oriented application. It's worth noting that we support players across a diverse range of hardware, so ensuring that Arc does not affect the experience of our gamers on lower-end machines is a priority for us.

When testing Arc internally, we found that Arc had no measurable impact on game benchmarks in regard to FPS and network usage, though it's anticipated that new issues could be discovered when we roll out the client to a more diverse userbase, so we'll be actively working with players to aggregate and address any performance-related feedback.

Through ongoing communication, we're excited to work with our enthusiast-level players to tune the client toward optimal performance. Our encouragement to players who are interested in contributing to this effort is to try out the client and post any performance data they have that can help us meet this goal.

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What are the advantages of Arc on the player's end? What does it provide to STO players for example that they don't currently have (and would want)?

Our current development focus is basic functionality. At present, we've intentionally avoided adding any overhead so that the entire focus of player feedback can be on performance.

We've got long-term plans to look into adding features for convenience, social interaction, and fun factor. We'd like to develop these updates in collaboration with our community, so we're hoping to start taking suggestions and ideas as soon as everyone's had the chance to get familiar with the platform and we've worked out the inevitable kinks with rolling out a brand-new version of an application to a global audience. I'd describe the order of our goals as follows:
  • Create a lightweight, reliable application for downloading games and hosting game news.
  • Work with our community to optimize performance and hardware compatibility.
  • Implement suggestions and ideas based on community requests.
For the short term, I would say that the main draw of checking out the client is to provide feedback and influence its development. If you're the type that would prefer to wait for compelling features to be added before checking out Arc, that's totally fine, too. There's no pressure to check out this early development version if you're happy with your current setup.

Will players be able to turn off Arc while playing? If not, how will players' privacy be protected while they are playing PWE games?

Your privacy is always protected while using Arc. If you choose to opt-in to the program to submit performance data, those data are submitted anonymously. If you do not choose to opt-in to this program, then no data about your machine or usage are collected or submitted.

Currently, the application does not need to run after a game is launched, though in the future if the game is updated to utilize functionality from Arc, it may be required to keep the Arc application open in order for the game to function 100% properly.

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Can we assume PWE doesn't plan to broadcast players' in-game actions publicly without opt-outs or without the players' knowledge?

Since we have published several online games, all with their own unique social features, enabling users to configure privacy and security settings is something we believe in and have become quite accustomed to.

Arc allows players to opt-in or out to specific social features based on their preferences. This is also something that we will tune and tweak based on player feedback to ensure that we are meeting our goal of allowing everyone to meet his or her individual comfort level in regard to online social interactions.

Though it claims to be "lightweight," Arc appears to run constantly in the background during gameplay, leading to concerns that it will needlessly utilize memory and impair game performance. So what exactly will Arc be doing on our computers while we play a game?

Arc should not negatively impact your game performance in any way, even while running in the background. While it's understandable to expect that having an application running in the background would have such an effect, currently we haven't seen any objective data that would allude to this occurring. I would say that if any players have found that using Arc while playing a game negatively impacts their performance, let us know so that we can address the issue accordingly. While we currently don't have any global performance issues, it's reasonable to expect that some players might run into unique issues due to unanticipated hardware compatibility or software conflicts.

In regard to the specific things Arc does in the background, currently it does very little. In the future, you'll have social/convenience features that you'll be able to call up from within the game, though the current, minimal version is being released only to help test downloading, news reading, performance, etc., all of which are primarily done while the application is in the foreground.

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Arc also appears to continue running after players have logged out of game. What exactly will it be doing and why? Will any information be collected while the program runs? Will Arc close completely if a player has opted out of data-sharing, since it will logically have no other reason to run?

Yes, you can close the application if you're not actively using it. Also, Arc only collects performance data if you've opted in to that program, so if it's running and you haven't opted into the program, it won't be submitting any performance data to us.

Will PWE be collecting data on how Arc's built-in custom browser is used by players? If so, who will have access to those data and how will those data be utilized by PWE? How will PWE protect players from hacking via that custom browser?

Yes, if a player opts-in to submit performance data, then we'll be gathering information on how fast pages load, etc., though this is only to track performance and only if you as a user wish to partake in the program. Currently, these data aren't saved in a human-readable form, but if this is a feature players want to see, we can definitely look into implementing that in the future.

In regard to browser security, we have tested the browser extensively to ensure that it is safe and secure. We take security extremely seriously, so even though we've done as much internal testing as we can, we will still be monitoring for user reports very closely in case anything is discovered that needs quick resolution.

In regard to collecting data, we understand that not all players are interested in submitting anonymous performance data from their machines, and that's totally OK. There is no requirement to opt-in to this feature in any way, and nothing is "gated" for users who do not elect to participate.

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Will free players and subscribers to PWE's games see ads for games while playing?

There are no advertisements while playing. We do have a notification system to alert players of important events, and this system is entirely configurable such that each individual can configure the alert types (maintenance, news, sales, patch, etc.,) they would like to receive and for which games.

Will the Gateway, mobile device access, and game forums be affected by the implementation of Arc?

Gateway should not be affected at all. In regard to the game forums, they will continue to exist in their current form, though with some design/art changes that will provide a more consistent user experience across our entire website network. Mobile device access will be improved greatly in terms of reading game news, since Arcgames.com will be mobile-friendly.

Teri: Since my questions were sent to Mr. Holmes, an additional dev blog has been published to address additional concerns. I wish to thank Noel Holmes, PWE, and Cryptic for answering our questions. Arc is not yet required to play any Cryptic game, let alone Star Trek Online, but it is something that's forthcoming. The more information we get, and the more information that PWE can obtain, the better the software can be for everyone.

Next week look forward to some personal opinions on the new Season Eight content. I might even roll a new toon to check out the updated Starfleet tutorial. Until then, live long and prosper.

Incoming communique from Starfleet Headquarters: Captain's Log is now transmitting direct from Terilynn Shull every Monday, providing news, rumors, and dev interviews about Star Trek Online. Beam communications to terilynn@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.