"I stood in line for two hours on Saturday to play the game. Every demo station had two computers side by side and one ArenaNet employee. So the whole time you were waiting in line to play there was a developer you could talk about the game with. It was crazy. I am just some random guy and I got at least 40 minutes of face time with a Guild Wars 2 dev. And if that was not cool enough, once I was done talking with them I still got to play the game for 40 minutes."
This reader comment summed up the PAX experience so well that I had to borrow it. I also heard a few comments from people who were of the opinion that the mass of developers would be better off back in the studio working on the game. What I don't think those people understand is that the developers at PAX were working on the game.
Those developers weren't just hanging out chatting because they didn't feel like going to work that day; they were essentially collecting data. Granted, all of those employees probably enjoyed themselves immensely -- can you imagine the fun of finally being able to show off this project you've had under wraps for so long? However, talking one on one with the players as they waited in line and played Guild Wars 2 is the best source of player feedback that a team could hope for. I don't know how many people went through those lines in those three days, but I know it was a pretty big number, and I imagine every single one of them had something to say to a developer.
Think of it like a closed beta test in which you get to give your report face-to-face. What a valuable resource for ArenaNet!
The company took things a big step further with the Designing Dynamic Events panel. The panel not only was a ton of fun for attendees and developers alike, but brought a really personal touch to the game. As you might recall, ArenaNet did something very similar almost a year ago for heart transplant patient Emily. The devs seem to be saying, "This is your game. Tell us and show us what you want," and if it keeps working as well as it has until now, ArenaNet is going to have something pretty spectacular on its hands at launch time.
When it's ready
You might be sick of hearing that phrase, but you have to admit that it seems to be working well so far. I've seen so many people clamoring for new information on a regular and frequent basis, threatening to lose interest if the developers don't get a move on, but ArenaNet's not working like that.
We're so used to the status quo of game development: We see games earlier and earlier these days, all the way from their alpha stages. We start playing and testing them when they're broken, buggy, and completely unplayable in some cases. We weather the crashes, the quests that can't be completed, and all the frustrating things that come with a game that's not ready.
ArenaNet seems to have completely broken out of that mold, and if past experience is any indicator, you're not going to see any part of the game until it's launch-ready, so to speak. If you played the demo in Cologne or Seattle, you know that what the team has shown us is completely polished and ready to go. I may be well off the mark here -- I certainly don't know what the devs are plotting in those offices -- but the demo was nearly flawless in every aspect: combat, animation, events, and graphics. I had nearly two hours of hands-on time and watched at least two hours more from the sidelines, and I saw exactly one issue. In my home instance, an exterior plant was clipping through a wall into an interior room.
How many MMOs can boast that level of completion when they've not even reached the stage at which they're discussing beta testing? I know that there are many parts of Guild Wars 2
that we've not seen yet that still need to be developed, and I understand the frustration of waiting through the silence. This time a year ago I was pretty frustrated and negative myself, half-convinced that ArenaNet was shooting itself in the foot by being so coy and silent.
I think I get it now. The developers are breaking the mold of the public side of the development cycle, and they're not willing to present their fans something broken and half-baked. We deserve better, and we're getting it.
"When it's ready" is the motto for every step of development, and when you see something from Anet, you can be assured that you're seeing an honest-to-goodness finished product, rather than something that may or may not be in the game and only works part of the time.
It's an unusual approach that requires patience on our part, and some of us (me) have had a harder time learning that than others, but now that the demo is out there I think you'll all agree it's a lesson well-learned in this case.
I can't wait to see the next thing that's ready.