The Art of LiveOps

ArenaNet: Linsey Murdock

December 19, 2019 James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox Season 1 Episode 14
The Art of LiveOps
ArenaNet: Linsey Murdock
Show Notes Transcript

Linsey Murdock joins us today from ArenaNet where she is the Lead Game Designer for Living World working on the Guild Wars franchise.  As a LiveOps veteran Linsey brings a unique perspective and discusses how game narratives meet live games. 

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James Gwertzman (00:05):

Hello, I'm James Gwertzman.

Crystin Cox (00:06):

I'm Crystin Cox. Welcome to the Art of LiveOps podcast.

James Gwertzman (00:15):

Hey, Crystin.

Crystin Cox (00:15):

Hey, James.

James Gwertzman (00:16):

Who are we talking to right now?

Crystin Cox (00:18):

So today we're going to interview Linsey Murdock. And so Linsey Murdock is at ArenaNet. They make Guild Wars 2, and Linsey is the head of what they call the living world. So that's all of their episodic story content, all of the new content that they put into the game. Linsey and I worked together for many years.

James Gwertzman (00:34):

You worked at ArenaNet.

Crystin Cox (00:35):

Yes, and I worked on Guild Wars 2.

Linsey Murdock (00:36):

I've worked on the Guild Wars franchise for the past 13 years, much of that doing live ops. We first started doing live ops in 2006, started adding content to the live game and it was very bare bones at the time. It was like one guy is going to add some cool stuff for Halloween, right? And it was sort of like, "We think this would be fun for players" and wanted to get a little bit more engagement on live. It wasn't until 2007 that we really invested in live ops.

Crystin Cox (01:07):

Linsey is an incredible designer. She's very sort of narrative focus, but she's also spent her whole career doing live games. So she's really going to bring, I think, an interesting perspective on where narrative meets live games.

James Gwertzman (01:20):

Awesome. I can't wait for that. That sounds cool.

Crystin Cox (01:22):

Let's get into it. You've been working on Guild Wars, the franchise, for a really long time. How have you seen that approach, just even in that one game, that one series of games really, change as live ops has become more sophisticated?

Linsey Murdock (01:42):

When most of the team was going to go start working on Guild Wars 2, I took over a small team of folks who were going to be supporting the live Guild Wars 1 game. And at the time there wasn't much as far as live ops in the industry.

James Gwertzman (01:59):

Linsey, what did you call it? But you didn't call it live ops at the time.

Linsey Murdock (02:03):

No, no. It was just our live team. Yeah, yeah. For a long time, it was our live team, this one guy.

James Gwertzman (02:07):

The live [crosstalk 00:02:09].

Linsey Murdock (02:13):

Yeah. And so, yeah, we just called it the live team. And at first, we were mostly focused on balance patches. It was support, it was quality of life support, fixing bugs, skill balance patches. Right? And we didn't start doing content until a little bit farther down the line, like maybe about a year of more systems type updates before we delved into actual storytelling. And that was mostly because I started out as a content designer. I'm sort of fundamentally a storyteller and I missed doing it. I love working on systems as well. I do both, but I missed storytelling. So I was like, "I would feel very fulfilled if we could do some content now. It was great that we did all this stuff to help drive engagement and get a good sort of flash mobbing around older content and whatnot. But I miss doing storytelling. So I would love to do this."

Linsey Murdock (03:11):

And we started doing this sort of episodic storytelling or emergent storytelling with little updates to sort of tease out what we were doing. And I think Telltale was just being formed around then. Right? And they did a lot of sort of pioneering episodic storytelling through game releases, but it really wasn't a big thing in the industry at the time. So I definitely learned a lot of lessons as both a young developer and sort of getting into really meaty live ops updating for a game.

Crystin Cox (03:48):

A lot of the people that we ended up talking to on this show, they have been involved in live ops coming either from like maybe a mobile place or a social gaming place, or even if they're coming from MMOs, it's very systems heavy. And there can be this idea that live ops is all about these progression loops. And it's really just about like, "How do I make session links go up?" It's very numbers based so much of what you've done with Guild Wars, from Guild Wars 1 to Guild Wars 2 has been really narratively focused. How has that been different for you? Even as the rest of the industry comes up and understands live ops, you're kind of doing this very specific type of live ops.

Linsey Murdock (04:34):

Yeah. There haven't been a lot of examples in the industry for me to follow in this. Most of the time I've been sort of forging my own path and like I said, as a young developer for Guild Wars 1, I've made a lot of mistakes generally around scope and just destroying myself because I wanted to see all this amazing stuff happen. And so I just put in the hours, I made it work. I really was passionate about it. We've gotten a lot better about that as it's become more formalized and it's less like this one person with a program or in a couple of QA is doing this thing over here in the corner.

James Gwertzman (05:11):

The power of one programmer and a few [crosstalk 00:05:15] change destiny.

Linsey Murdock (05:14):

Yeah. Yeah. And we did a lot with such a small team and now Guild Wars 2 has a huge development team doing live ops updates and storytelling, really narrative focused storytelling. And it's become much more formalized. We have a lot more process around it to help us both not kill ourselves for being too passionate, but also to make sure that it runs smoothly. And we're not always having to make the same kind of decisions in the moment that we always do. It's like, "Well, we know this works. Let's do that."

James Gwertzman (05:46):

I'd love to talk about scheduling. And how do you kind of schedule out your updates, both how you used to do it and maybe how now that you've gone more process heavy, how it's evolved? I mean...

Linsey Murdock (05:55):

Well, I think the fact that we've gone more process heavy has allowed us to do more narrative driven long-tail storytelling, long arcs, season wide arcs, whereas before it was much more piecemeal, right? It was, "Okay, the team is spinning up for the next episode. What do you want to do?" And we were kind of figuring it out as we went along and that meant some teams were more interested in building big bosses or doing dungeon updates or open world events and less of a linear storyline. And over time, we've gotten a lot better at knowing how we can do real season wide arcs. And it does take an immense amount of pre-planning. So we're about to kick off our fifth season for Living World in Guild Wars 2 and planning for season five was a year long endeavor for me, where I was investigating storylines that we could do, stuff that we hadn't finished in our previous storytelling, where we wanted to take the game, what kind of stuff we wanted to provide for players and what we felt player expectation was moving forward.

Linsey Murdock (07:03):

So it was a lot of investigation, a lot of sort of proposing things, working with the narrative team really closely, working with our producers as well, to figure out how we can make this work. If you're going to do that kind of, it's going to take two years for you to release this whole story. It just takes such meaty planning upfront and you really need to dedicate some people to that. That is definitely been a lesson I learned. For a long time, I was sort of trying to do it on the side or in the background. Right? And it's going to take a long time. It's going to take a long time, no matter what. So you might as well try to keep it on a good pace. It's really good to have regular sort of check-ins and milestones almost for that pre-planning, even though it does need to sort of brew in the background, it's still really good to make sure that it's moving forward on a regular basis. Otherwise, it can be easy to get caught up in all the stuff you're doing that's going to ship soon. Right?

Linsey Murdock (07:56):

We have three teams that run in tandem so that we can ship every three to four months a new chunk of content with a new map. So that takes a lot of coordination, especially from the leadership level, because for the leads, we're working on all three teams at once, and we're always shipping, we're always about to ship something. So it takes a lot of coordination and communication at that level.

James Gwertzman (08:22):

In between those big kind of quarterly updates, do you have a variety of events you're doing on a continual basis in between them? And if so, how do you think about the mix of event types? As you mentioned, the open world event versus content dungeon events, I mean, how do you think about, or do you sort of consciously have almost budgets of like, "Okay, this percentage should be this kind of events versus this kinds of events"?

Linsey Murdock (08:42):

We've settled into a bit of a formula now, because again, when you're having to decide every time you're working on an update, what it's going to be, it's going to make you slower. And if we want to be putting out these episodes on a regular basis, we need to be a little bit more agile. So we have content releases that happen every three to four months that are big meaty storytelling driving the golden path story forward. But we also do commerce updates every two weeks where we're adding new stuff to our MTX store. We also started threading in smaller content drops that we called current events and they were little open world storylines and events that drove you around the world and all the existing content. So those really helped a lot. One of the things about a business model like this, or a release model like this is players are expecting the next thing. And you kind of have to be giving it to them on a regular basis.

Linsey Murdock (09:42):

And the longer you take in between those things, the more likely you are to lose people and have them not hear about the next big update or not find their way back. So having smaller updates in between those big meaty ones felt really important to us. We've been doing that for a while. We also thread in festivals, so holiday events and our goal has been sort of to get a festival or holiday event every couple of months to happen. And those are automated. So we do Halloween, we do a winter's day celebration. We do a summer festival. We do a lunar new year festival. So we also have been beefing up those to provide other forms of content that are in between that big meaty sort of golden path storytelling.

James Gwertzman (10:26):

And one more question on this whole event piece, how do you measure success of these? I mean, do you have KPIs you're tracking to? Is it participation? Is it drive engagement or Mao or revenue? How do you think about whether these are successes?

Linsey Murdock (10:40):

We track a lot of data actually, and we monitor player engagement. Lately, actually, in the last six months we've been doing big investigation, deep dive investigations into what exactly players are engaging in most. What is the most sticky to players? Where are they spending most of their time and assessing that both from paying user perspective and the non-paying user perspective. So we do look at both and we do look at what are the things that players who are the most engaged and are also paying users, what are they spending money on? What are they most engaged in? But we care about our entire play base including free-to-play players. So we look at all of it and that helps us inform what we're going to do. And we've been really trying in these past six months to assess the way that we build content for the game and whether or not it's truly working for our players and doing that in part through metrics that we've been, data that we've been logging.

Crystin Cox (11:42):

Yeah. I mean, I know Guild Wars 2 is going to turn seven. Yeah. Guild Wars 2 going to turn seven this year in August. And it's interesting. I experienced this several times when I was on the team. We would do those kinds of deep dive investigations and we would learn a lot of things about the players. Then you have to go back to it because the community changes. Over time, even if they're the same people, their relationship to the game changes, and you have to kind of keep coming back. How do you guys deal with that? You don't really ever get to a place where you're like, "Now we know everything."

Linsey Murdock (12:18):

No, we don't. I mean, we do retrospectives after every release and talk about what worked and what didn't. And part of that is from a development standpoint, what things were too expensive for their worth, or where do we invest too much time where it could have been better spent elsewhere, but also looking at well, how many players started the episode versus how many finished and where did they drop off and all that kind of stuff. So we're constantly doing those check-ins and assessing where we're being successful and where we're not. So it's just sort of part of our process. But I think this year was one of those we'd gotten into a very formulaic place where we were just sort of making the same types of things in our episodes pretty consistently. And we liked that level of consistency. We thought it actually was helpful to players so that they knew what to expect because early on in our seasons, every episode was vastly different.

Linsey Murdock (13:15):

And so if you were a dungeon player, you'd log in and it's like, "Oh, well, there's nothing in this episode for me. Next episode, is it going to be dungeons? No. Okay." Or if you're really into big bosses or whatever. Right? And so we switched so much, they didn't really know what to expect. So getting to a place of consistency felt good to us, but then we were there long enough that I think our player base shifted a little bit and that started to feel not boring, but business as usual. And they wanted to see something a little bit different. So, yeah. So we thought it was a good time for us to assess again and see what parts of our plan were working better than others and how we could adjust.

Crystin Cox (13:57):

Just, so it took Guild Wars 2 a while to figure out this cadence, right? I think the last couple of seasons actually have been much more consistent, but you alluded to it before. There was a time when we shipped content every two weeks.

Linsey Murdock (14:16):

Oh, yes.

Crystin Cox (14:18):

Can you talk a little bit about why did we do that? Why did we move away from that? What was the thinking and getting that cadence to a place that actually worked?

James Gwertzman (14:26):

Yeah, I mean, when I started out, when I was doing the content releases for Guild Wars 1, I actually went back last year to look at our release dates for them. And I had some content releases that were four days apart, new quests four days apart. Right. And I was like, "Oh right. That's why I was so sleep deprived." And then, every two weeks was a real challenge in coordination. Shipping. I started to talk about how every time you ship a product, be it a new box or a content release or whatever, there's sort of an overhead of pain that developers spend. Right? We all go through a certain amount of pain trying to get everything ready to ship, and then out the door and then dealing with whatever fallout there is. Is there bugs or did some balance change screw something up or whatever, right? There's always follow up. So every time you're shipping, you're paying that overhead cost of pain to the developers.

James Gwertzman (15:27):

And the more frequently you ship, the more your developers are going through that. And we did some tricks where we would prepare two releases, like a month's worth of releases in a single package. And then we turn it on with sort of switches, right, once it was live. But that was also really stressful. Getting to a place where we had a little bit more time to develop our content and we weren't trying to develop a release in a month and then ship it. And then the next, every month for teams, we have always had staggered teams to accommodate fast shipping, but it's still is a lot for folks. And it can be that pace can be grueling, no matter how hard you work to make it not, and how hard you work on work life balance. It still can be grueling. And I think people get exhausted from that. So you work hard to make it more sustainable. And through that, we extended our development times and we extended how long between episodes and that's helped us a lot.

James Gwertzman (16:39):

How have the tools that you use to do all your live updates changed over time? Because I imagine as you've gotten more sophisticated and you got more process oriented, you've probably built better and better tools for yourselves.

Linsey Murdock (16:48):

Yeah. They certainly have improved a lot and we actually now have far more capability to adjust things on live without doing a build than we ever have before. So one of the things that we figured out is really important as you build in more process and get a little bit more structured in how you release stuff and get a little bit more responsible about the way you ship builds, that means you can't be quite as agile to major problems on live. So if we accidentally ship an exploit or whatever, the process to get a fix out can be lengthy. And we found that that was really hard on us. So we developed the ability to turn off content on the fly without needing a build so just in house. We've also developed the ability to do certain types of balance changes on creatures on live without having to do a build, which is rad, like, "Oh man." When we got that, it really, really opened the door to how we monitor player engagement and react to it. So if we ship something and we didn't quite have a good understanding of how it would behave when there's 50 people engaging in it and there's a problem and it's actually scaling in a weird way and now the damage is too high, we can make tweaks to that. We're very conservative about making those kinds of changes. And there's a whole process around that as well as a big long process for applying kill switches, which is how we turn off content on the fly. So we have to be diligent and be responsible and using those tools. But we do have those things so that we don't always have to do a build in order to fix something on live. That helps a lot.

James Gwertzman (18:36):

And that's definitely a trend we're seeing in a lot of other studios, is this shift away from builds as the mechanism to make changes to more of a live always on sort of connected experience.

Linsey Murdock (18:45):

Yeah, I think it provides a lot of freedom to developers and a little bit more safety to experiment. Yeah.

Crystin Cox (18:54):

You mentioned something in there that I think is a really interesting aspect for Guild Wars 2, which is that Guild Wars 2 is an open world game but unlike most open world games, it's an open world game where around 80 to 150 people occupy the same space at once. And so content is actually designed to be engaged with, I think a lot of times people say, "Oh, 50 people engaging with it. That's not a big deal." It's no, 50 people engaging with it at once, at the same moment. These are 50 people all attacking one creature, or these are 50 people attending to participate in the same event together. There's been a lot, I think really interesting stuff that Guild Wars 2 has done around this design space. And I'd love to hear just your takes on how the thinking around that has changed and how it has been interesting, I think being in that space in this industry where there's a lot of open world games out there right now, and I think a lot of them would like to get to a place where it was not single-player.

James Gwertzman (19:55):

Yeah. Yes. I think the industry is moving more and more towards multiplayer, online multiplayer. Right? So one of the things that I think is the really important, one of the biggest, most important principles that we took with Guild Wars 2 multiplayer is around you should never be upset to see another player. And a lot of decisions that we made cascaded out from that one sort of statement as a pillar. And that meant that we were always looking for ways that we could reduce friction between players, ways that we can reduce those moments where you have an opportunity to be mad at somebody else.

Crystin Cox (20:37):

Right.

James Gwertzman (20:37):

And that was really important to developing a healthy community and a good culture within our game, so that they can engage in those high scale events. Now, one thing that I think that we've learned over time that has actually meant a lot to us and helped, again, developers have a little bit more freedom within constraints is we no longer get too hung up on making sure that content scales for five players versus 50 or a hundred or 150. So we used to really try hard to make sure that everything was accomplishable, no matter how large of a size group that you had. And now we've sort of let certain things be carved out as, "No you're going to need at least 30 people in order to do this. And if you don't, you're just not going to be able to do it." So accepting that and letting certain content types not try to provide for everyone has actually provided a little bit more freedom in the way that we build those things, especially in story as well.

James Gwertzman (21:36):

We used to get very, very hung up on making sure it's scaled for one player versus five. And that's hard to do. It really expands the scope of the development as well. We no longer work as hard on making sure that it's viable for both. We make sure that it's a good experience for both, but we're not trying to make it the perfect challenge for both one player or five players and all the in between. So that's, I think, helped a lot. And that did take us experience and time to sort of accept within ourselves. We sort of have tried to provide within Guild Wars 2 something for everyone, which is a lot.

James Gwertzman (22:18):

So I want to follow up on something you just said. Two things, actually you said. One of them is you talked about a healthy community and I would love to know what healthy community means to you. How do you know if you've got a healthy community? What is health? And just on the second point, you talked about something for everyone. How explicitly do you think about different player archetypes and making sure you've got something for the collector versus the adventurer versus the killer and so forth?

James Gwertzman (22:42):

Yeah. And we don't talk a lot about strictly those archetypes, but we certainly do talk about the different types of player bases that we have and what are we providing for them? How long has it been since we provided something for them, that kind of stuff. We do also think about the types of content that we're making and making sure, sometimes within a single map that we have a little bit of something for a few different groups. We tend to try to target just a few instead of all now, and we've done things like we released an expansion that was sort of marked by difficult zones where you really needed two to three players to be successful. And it wasn't as casual friendly or solo friendly. So when we spun up the Living World season that came immediately afterwards, I talked with the designers about trying to provide something more for the explorer types and making it a little bit more, not slower paced, but more viable for a casual player or single players.

James Gwertzman (23:46):

And healthy community?

Linsey Murdock (23:47):

Yeah. So one thing that I've noticed with the Guild Wars 2 community that I think is a good marker is the way that they interact with each other without developer involvement. So if you go to our subreddit for instance, and observe the way that players are responding to say a new player, for instance, who's posted and said, "Hey, I'm new to this game. What should I do?" It's very heartening to see our community immediately jump in and be like, "Hey, I'm a veteran player. I know how to do this stuff. Here's what you do. Here's some money, here's some stuff to get you started." I've seen so much outreach from within our community towards new players from veteran players that it's a really warm, cozy feeling in the community. When I go in game, I can engage in conversation at the map level that is always lacking in vitriol, to be honest.

Linsey Murdock (24:48):

So it's a lot of very helpful stuff. You can ask a question of the entire map. You'll probably get an answer. You might even get someone who's like, "I'll take you there. I'll help you with the thing," right? Just very helpful players who are really interested in fostering other players.

James Gwertzman (25:02):

And I'm imagining that sort of very healthy, supportive community doesn't just happen by chance. If it did, there'd be more of it across the industry. And so, do you think it's a result of explicit design choices you're making as game designers to create that? Is it a matter of how your community managers are managing your community? I think it's how do you get there?

Linsey Murdock (25:20):

Yeah, I think it's both. And like I said, there's this core principle that we've had of you should never be upset to see another player. We are always looking for moments of friction. I've personally cut content that I believed was rife with opportunities for griefing. And we don't want that level of engagement between players. We don't want players arguing about how they should complete an event. And there's been some learnings that we've had to make through that, like rewarding failure. We talk a lot about like, "Do not reward failure." And especially for developers who haven't had experience with this kind of stuff or are younger, they might think, "Oh yeah, if you complete the event successfully, you get this thing." But if you fail the event, they're just going to talk about how you failed. Well, talking about, having scenes around, failure can actually be a reward in a way, right. Hearing fun VO. And that could be an opportunity that players could say, "Hey, wait, no, I wanted to see this thing." Things that are really dangerous is achievements and well, if you fail this event, then it kicks off this other event and something else wants you to play that event in order to complete its thing. Right? So any kind of moment where you could create a situation where two players are trying to complete the same piece of content and arguing viciously about how it should be done, we really work hard to reduce all those kinds of things. By reducing these moments of friction between players, I think people are just generally happier, right? They're not yelling about "that guy stole my kill," or "I was going for that resource note" or any of that kind of stuff. We really-

Crystin Cox (27:02):

You're not just minimizing, then, PVP kind of opportunities.

Linsey Murdock (27:04):

No, no.

James Gwertzman (27:04):

You're talking about actual the way the quest is structured, reduces those kinds of arguments slash infighting slash...

Linsey Murdock (27:11):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. With gathering nodes, every player can run up and gather from the same node. It might mean that you'll see someone hammering away at empty space because you've already gathered that node. Right? but we're willing to accept those kinds of things because it means that if I'm running towards something and I see another player come out from the left and they're running towards the same thing, I'm not mad at them. Whereas there have been plenty of games where I've felt like, "No, I was going for that thing."

James Gwertzman (27:41):

Like in the parking lot. Like, "No, that's my parking spot."

Linsey Murdock (27:42):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. So that kill stealing. Like if you do damage to a creature, you get participation for its death, right? If you engage in the event, you get participation. You don't have to be the one giving the killing blow or whatever. So there's all these moments where through simple design choices, you can reduce friction between players, reduce moments where they might yell at each other for the way that they want to play. And that I think at its core is really what fostered the friendly nature in our game. And then from there, we also have had a lot of sort of community outreach within our community, from our community managers, working with our community and within our community. Community organizers, within our community, who organize events and you might have a guild who really loves a particular map that's old and doesn't get a lot of playtime, but there's really important things that players might want to do there.

Linsey Murdock (28:38):

And it's harder to do that solo. I've seen guilds like that form, who, "Okay, every Thursday and Friday, we're going to play in this map and anybody who wants to come," and they'll advertise it on forums and subreddit. I've also seen people say, "Hey, I know this really, really difficult jumping puzzle really well, and I can guide you through it if you come at this time on this day." And so there's been both from our community management team and from within the community, a lot of organization around helping. And I think that is another place where we've really fostered this helpful, friendly, welcoming, open community.

Crystin Cox (29:18):

Shifting gears just a little bit. I think one of the things, I mean, I had a lot of experience with this on Guild Wars 2. What's interesting about Guild Wars 2, as well, is that it's got a very robust open market economy and there's a lot of economic play in Guild Wars 2.

Linsey Murdock (29:35):

For some people, the whole game is an economic game.

Crystin Cox (29:37):

Absolutely. We had-

Linsey Murdock (29:40):

Because there's traders.

Crystin Cox (29:41):

Yep. We had a player type that basically they just exist to play the economy. Right? So from your experience having that in the game, what's the benefits? Because we talked to a lot of developers now who are getting into live ops and getting into live games and overwhelmingly, I hear from them, "We're not doing an economy. We're not doing an economy. We're not doing any player to player trade. We're really frightened of it," but you've been living with it. I know you've, yes, there are a lot of stories about how painful it can be and how hard it can be, but what are the benefits?

Linsey Murdock (30:14):

What are the benefits?

Crystin Cox (30:19):

Oh, this is great. She's like, "Actually don't do it."

James Gwertzman (30:20):

Don't do it. Don't do it.

Linsey Murdock (30:24):

It is a huge, huge investment of time and energy having an open market.

James Gwertzman (30:30):

On the design side?

Linsey Murdock (30:31):

Yes. Yeah. Not just design, but also you have to monitor it very closely and be very responsive to problems. So I'd say, I think it's a worthy thing for a studio to take on, but they should do so with eyes open. Like Crystin said, there are, for a lot of players, that's the game. They're really deeply invested in that part of the game. And it drives the way that they play the game or in fact is just the game for them. That's all they do is play the trading post. Servicing that section of the player base is, I think, a worthy endeavor, but you should do so with eyes open, like I said. We've had to field an entire team to monitor, on a regular basis, our economy.

James Gwertzman (31:25):

All your economists and worrying about your qualitative monetary easing and your...

Linsey Murdock (31:29):

I mean, we did have an in house economist who monitored the economy and worked with the rewards team and commerce team in order to help us navigate that. It is, I mean, we have actual commodities markets within our game. And in fact, for a long time we talked about creating an index because there's certain materials that sort of indicate to us what the health of the economy is. So if ectoplasm is incredibly cheap, we know that there's a bunch of something that's off. Yeah.

Crystin Cox (31:59):

Yeah. I mean, I think when we talk about with a lot of developers about data, and I think people like imagine these like big dashboards of monitoring data, the closest I've ever had to that actual experience was our economic dashboards for dimmers do like surrounding rooms, just charts going up and down and-

James Gwertzman (32:19):

Bloomberg terminals for Guild Wars 2.

Crystin Cox (32:21):

Exactly. But that was really important to the player base, right? It's incredibly important part of the game and something that we had really deep engagement with it. There are players that only did it, but I think it was something like 80% of players touch the trading post. So it's a huge part of the game.

James Gwertzman (32:40):

It is a huge part of the game and even fundamental design decisions about how we did rewards and crafting pre-ship were expecting that. Yeah. So, we were purposefully setting costs in crafting to be not super farmable on your own, right? That you could invest all the time, if, I don't know, you just have a hangup about trading with other players, which some people do. You could farm for it, but it was really difficult to farm for all the materials you needed. You really needed to engage in the trading post. We just balanced the game around engagement in the trading post. It's a fundamental part of the game. If you're not engaging in the trading post, you're probably bummed that you're not able to do all the things that you want to do.

Crystin Cox (33:26):

Right.

Linsey Murdock (33:27):

So that is definitely been a big part of the way that we make decisions about the game. It's a big part of the way that even we develop our content, we have to be really careful about the rate at which players can farm certain things, right? And so we have to even involve content designers who don't take to this sort of mindset as easily and guide them to help them not create situations that would be really unhealthy for our economy.

James Gwertzman (33:54):

Here's a question. You just talked about how you were trying very hard to avoid player to player friction and remove those frictions. Let's flip it around. What are the kinds of positive player to player interactions you're trying to encourage? We just talk about trading is one of them, trading between players is a type of interaction. What are the other kind of positive interactions you're trying to create?

Linsey Murdock (34:13):

I think a big one is ad hoc grouping. So a lot of the game is sort of built around this idea that we all kind of run solo to a certain degree. We may not have a group of friends with us, but if I'm drawn to this place, this piece of content, there's other people who are drawn there. On the back end, we sort of group you and give you the same kind of benefits that you would have in a group. And then maybe you'll stick with that group of people onto the next piece of content. And there are certain types of content that we have that actually we've planned out to chain. So like world bosses, for instance, there's an actual clock schedule for world bosses that players are aware of. It is in fact exposed to the players. So you can get on kind of the world boss train and stick with a group and do an entire play session with the same group of people.

Linsey Murdock (35:07):

I've done that myself and you start to get to know people and you might make friends that way. So we do think about, "Okay, well, if we vector them into this area of content and then that chains into this and then this and then this, we can keep this group of players together as a unit and they can create some synergy within themselves." So we have done some things on the flip side as well.

Crystin Cox (35:29):

Yeah. That stuff's really fun.

Linsey Murdock (35:31):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (35:32):

So we're just about out of time, but we always have one question we like to ask everybody, which is, do you have any live ops disasters or train wrecks that you want to share? It helps us all remember that we're human and that nobody gets out of live ops unscathed.

Linsey Murdock (35:50):

Oh man. Live ops disaster.

James Gwertzman (35:52):

Which one?

Linsey Murdock (35:53):

Ooh, man. I mean, I definitely have one story, which is just like a harrowing tale of sleep deprivation and shipping something without testing it. But it worked. It shipped bug free. So I don't know, I mean...

Crystin Cox (36:13):

It was only scary to you.

Linsey Murdock (36:14):

It was terrifying to me and my programmer and my poor QA. I don't know. They must've been biting their nails. I wasn't paying attention because I was too focused on trying to make sure that it worked before it went up to live. But I was doing a scene for GW 1 in the Warren Creda and it's this big trial. It's like a court case. And so it's all talking and there were no tools in that game for timing whatsoever. So you had to do it all yourself, just listening, timing it, making adjustments. I spent all night long doing that at my house remotely where I was like, "Okay, change this number to a four and then this one's going to be a six and then this one's going to do this. And then this is going to do that," and then run a five minute build because it's a single file that's compiling. Right? And then check it again and check it again and check it again. I submitted my last bug fix, drove into the office, which I was living like five minutes away at the time, drove into the office.

Linsey Murdock (37:09):

My programmer integrates it up to the stage server. And then the live server kicks off a stage build, then kicks off a live build behind it without the dist. And then he's got like another build. And then I'm checking on stage to make sure that my bug fix worked. This wasn't tested out all by anyone but me. So I'm checking on stage or maybe it was a local build while it's building on the live servers. And I've got one last, I've got a timer basically before the dist is going to start and actually distribute it to all the servers. And I'm just last minute trying to make sure that it all works and all the timing is good. And I'd been up literally all night long, doing tiny number tweaks. Don't do that. Don't ever, ever do that. So that's always my example of a thing you should never ever do. And somehow it worked and that is like magic. It's magic that it worked.

Crystin Cox (38:10):

I want to go back in time and just come into that room and be like, "What are you guys doing?"

Linsey Murdock (38:14):

Why are you doing this? Is it really that important that this thing ships at this time? Couldn't you ship it tomorrow? We hadn't released a schedule or anything. We're doing that to ourselves too.

Crystin Cox (38:25):

That's dedication to consistency. We are shipping this on this day. That's a good cautionary tale for sure.

Linsey Murdock (38:35):

Passion can take over and do bad things to you.

James Gwertzman (38:38):

Well, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us. It's really fun. And you obviously are so committed and passionate about your community and the game you're you're building.

Crystin Cox (38:46):

Awesome. Yeah. Thank you so much. This was great.

Linsey Murdock (38:48):

My pleasure.

Crystin Cox (38:54):

Thanks for listening to the Art of LiveOps podcast.

James Gwertzman (38:56):

If you liked what you heard, remember to rate, review and subscribe so others can find us.

Crystin Cox (39:02):

And visit playfab.com for more information on solutions for all your live ops needs.

James Gwertzman (39:06):

Thanks for tuning in.