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Our talk with Warhammer Online's Carrie Gouskos

Eliot Lefebvre

It's been a tumultuous time for Warhammer Online of late, but the new executive producer Carrie Gouskos seems to be well-suited to weathering the storm. She's been overseeing the development of the game since February, and under her direction it's moved more and more steadily into an RvR focus. We recently were lucky enough to get a chance to talk with Ms. Gouskos about her involvement with the game, her opinion on the game's state, and what she could let us know about its future.

Massively: In the simplest terms possible, what is Warhammer Online's development focus at the moment?

Carrie Gouskos: Now that we've gotten through the 1.3.5 patch -- and this is about to surface for the players, but obviously, for the developers, we're always kind of looking at least a little bit ahead, sometimes very far ahead -- our next big thing is sort of twofold. One, I kind of made a renewed commitment to some of the more major bugs that I really want to address. But really, our major one is open RvR, and addressing some of the issues that our players have brought up to us.

Fixing a bug can do a lot of things that make a game feel a lot better, and that's always good. On RvR, the concern that players have is that because we've spent a lot of time focusing on the cities, they want to just hurry up and get to the cities. Their fear is that players will just run right by them and go do the objective and get the cities, and not bother having these massive, epic battles in the middle of the field. On the one hand, it's very difficult for us to control player behavior, but of course, our whole job is to incentivize players to do the things we'd like them to do. That's really the key -- find the ways to incentivize.

That also resolves what they may consider to be another issue -- the quickness with which the campaign flips. I think they want to feel more epic -- it used to take a very long time to get to the city, and now it doesn't, and so I think they want that to feel a little more epic. And, of course, we agree with them, so we're working on tackling that.

One of the complaints in the past is keeps not feeling very dynamic or unique. Will you be revisiting the keeps?

I would say anything is game right now. If you take a look at what we did to the cities, we completely changed the cities. That's a really dangerous game to play in MMOs, you're always walking this line -- players always want new stuff to do, they always want improvements, they always want to feel like they're getting everything they want, but if you change anything out from under them, there's a chance that half of them will quit in furious rage. You have to balance it.

Unfortunately, in a lot of systems, there isn't always a silver bullet, a "this is the one thing that's going to fix it and make everyone happy." In fact, in MMOs, I don't think there's ever a silver bullet, with very rare exceptions.

There's nothing off the table. I think we took a rather risky move with the city changes. However, from the response we've received so far, that has really been paying off. We made a really massive change and players are responding really well to it, in an almost universal fashion. That may change as we go live, but we're pretty hopeful about it.

I don't know what the answer is yet, but nothing is safe from our eyes. Keeps, forts, we'll tackle it.

How have the Weekend Warfronts been working out overall?

I'm really happy with what we've done with the Weekend Warfronts. You know, scenario gameplay, lot of people prefer scenarios, lots of people prefer open RvR -- if we could do for open RvR what we did for scenarios and cities, I would be very happy. The Weekend Warfronts have had great response from the players. We've seen a lot more concentrations of players, a lot more positive results in scenarios, a lot more of them popping, it feels very active.

We've been playing around with the rulesets, so as we reintroduce a scenario for the weekend, we'll tend to tweak the rules one way or another, just play around with it. The first one was had was a 6v6, just something we hadn't had before. We tried a scenario where we removed player kills from the count for scenario score. We're just trying lots of different things - we had one where only player kills counted. We're doing all that, and then what we do is we record the metrics on it, we take a look at that, and we're just measuring how people respond literally by how much they play one scenario versus another, how many people are playing, et cetera.

One of the things we've been focusing on is making more use of our "in development" threads, so we have one up now about the Weekend Warfronts, asking "what do you like, what don't you like." Metrics tell you a piece of the picture, but they don't tell you what players think they like. Sometimes people don't know what they like, or sometimes they play a scenario a whole lot, but they don't really like it. So we want to get that kind of response, too, so we can say 'this is what they say they like, and this is what they're actually doing," and then take both pieces of information. So we have a thread where players are being asked what they think, and generally I think that's all been going very well.

The hard part is when they contradict each other - when people say "I hate this scenario," and we look and it's popped more than any other scenario. Why do you do this thing that you hate?

With the Dwarves, Greenskins, High Elves, and Dark Elves being taken off the "normal" leveling paths, are there any plans to do anything with those areas?

At the moment, no, just because -- in the starting area, in the Tier 1, we've concentrated players into Empire vs. Chaos. But you can get back to the old areas.

But you're right, they're taken off the normal path. At the moment, no, just because they're primarily PvE areas and dealing with lower-level stuff, and our focus is a lot more on RvR and higher-level stuff. Anything's on the table, and we might for example decide to make them full RvR zones or something -- but they're not our focus right now.

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