The Art of LiveOps

343 Industries: Jerry Hook

January 23, 2020 James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox Season 1 Episode 17
The Art of LiveOps
343 Industries: Jerry Hook
Show Notes Transcript

Join us as we chat with Jerry Hook, Head of Design for Halo Infinite at 343 Industries on the latest episode of The Art of LiveOps! 

Support the show (http://microsoftgamestack.com)

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. So today is another podcast you had to fly solo on.

Crystin Cox (00:18):

I know. You're just too important and busy for me these days.

James Gwertzman (00:21):

Oh, I know. Let's not make this a habit. That'd be sad.

Crystin Cox (00:24):

But today, I talked to Jerry Hook.

Jerry Hook (00:26):

Yeah. I'm Jerry Hook. I'm the live director for 343 Industries and Halo Infinite.

Crystin Cox (00:32):

Before you were with 343, you were also at Bungie, right?

Jerry Hook (00:36):

Yeah. I was a live project lead on Destiny, business director for Destiny 2. That pretty much covers the big gambit.

Crystin Cox (00:45):

Sorry you missed this one. It was really interesting. Jerry is the live director for Halo Infinite which is the next Halo game that's going to be coming soon. Before that, he also worked on Destiny, running their live team there. He has a long history with Xbox Live where he was one of the principal developers on Xbox Live originally. So he's been in the live world for quite a while.

James Gwertzman (01:10):

Well, the Halo franchise was famously one of the kind of classic package goods games. The fact that Halo franchise now has a live director really talks to how live ops is really starting to grow even in the top-end console space.

Crystin Cox (01:23):

Yeah, absolutely. He had some really interesting insights into how live ops has affected AAA. So let's get into it and you can hear the interview for the first time yourself.

James Gwertzman (01:31):

All right.

Crystin Cox (01:37):

So you've been in the industry for a while and you've mostly been in the AAA space.

Jerry Hook (01:42):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (01:42):

But recently, the AAA space has gotten a lot more interested in this thing we called live ops.

Jerry Hook (01:49):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (01:50):

So how have you seen the relationship of big sort of AAA developers to this idea of sort of games as a service, live ops, live games.

Jerry Hook (02:00):

Yeah. So primarily, I think you really take a look at it if you go back to MMO days is really the first foray into what services would look like for gaming. And the industry really shifting away from just DLC models into more regular updates. A lot of that are driven from the player's expectations both from a mobile perspective that mobile is always... Touchable players can always grab it off their phone or off their tablets, whatever their favorite device is and enjoy an experience. So that's led sort of to changes in player behaviors that they're expecting their hobbies to be readily available for them.

Crystin Cox (02:45):

How do you see the reaction from AAA developers to those changing desires from that player base playing out?

Jerry Hook (02:52):

Well, there's the bad side where they went so heavy on the mobile side that I think they hurt everybody with over monetization. Then I think there's just the good side, and the good side is the hope of I think any quality entertainment is that you're providing regular updates for your customer, for your players. For TV shows, we know that as episodes every week or in Netflix now that you're releasing an entire show at once, but you're still releasing it from an episodic perspective to allow your players to take a breather or your customers to take a breather from watching their show, not necessarily binge watching it all in one sitting but allowing them to basically have fun with their entertainment in the time frame that they want to.

Jerry Hook (03:43):

And that goes more to what live ops is I think all about for triple gaming which is how do you bring players their hobby and their experiences in the way that they live and the way that they actually consume entertainment nowadays. It's not always in one giant sitting of 10 to 20 hours. It's not always recognizing that the market is pulling people entertainment wise to TV, more movies, more streaming, music. Everything has become so more readily accessible that as a game industry, we've had to try to do the same thing. It's like how can we always be there, and always be there is always provide experiences new and fresh to the players.

Crystin Cox (04:27):

Yeah. I mean, I think when you look at a company like Bungie, working in this sort of... We think of them I think mostly as a very like multiplayer focused first person shooter. For a console game, they've actually been doing quite a lot of connected experiences for a long time and what was that like when they had actually, I think a lot of, I would imagine a lot of knowledge about their player base and the way their player base interacted with their games not just as one piece of consumable content, but over time.

Crystin Cox (04:59):

When you guys were getting ready to move into making Destiny, which was being built from the ground up to be much more persistent, what was your kind of expectation for how different that experience was going to be for players versus the experience they've been having with Halo in the past?

Jerry Hook (05:19):

Yeah. So I wasn't with Destiny from the very beginning.

Crystin Cox (05:22):

Okay. You missed some of the early conversations.

Jerry Hook (05:24):

Missed some of the early, early things. But the main thing when you look at after destiny launched and when I joined to help create the live game of Destiny, it was the differences between what I would consider singular activity focused models versus multiple activity focus models. So there is a huge difference both in both cost as well as expectations for players when it comes to multiplayer versus single-player PVE experiences and that shift is probably the hardest thing from a balanced perspective of getting live ops correct.

Jerry Hook (06:02):

It's something that we struggled heavily with Destiny 2 to, I think, get to a good place. But as anyone who's followed Destiny at all, it's a learning experience and every single title is going to be different. It was interesting when I first came on board with my creative director, ME Chung. We went to Blizzard and we're like, "Man, we're going to get a bunch of time with the WoW team. Man, these guys have been doing it for 20 years. It's going to be amazing. They're going to help us understand. What do we need to do?" And sit down with that team.

Jerry Hook (06:38):

They were like, "Yeah, we don't know. We don't have any answers for you. Here's a bunch of stuff that we've tried and it's worked and hasn't worked." It's because you're always refining and also at the same time your players are always changing their own expectations and so then you're going to have to shift. It comes down to that fundamental which is the bottom line from a live ops perspective is how you're going to listen to your players and how you're going to regularly meet their expectations. And that's really hard because your designers are usually working three to six months ahead of where the players are at.

Jerry Hook (07:14):

So some of the feedback the players are giving, you're like, "Yeah, we got that ready for you." And some of the feedback they're giving are like, "Oh my gosh, that would cause a complete turnover of this system. I don't know if we can support that in a year let alone the next three to six months." That early phase of trying to figure out what the live game of Destiny would look like just revolves around, "Hey, what are you going to do as a team? How do you want to support it? What is your vision for what that works or how that works?

Jerry Hook (07:47):

It's pretty much I think something that as all of our lives, all of our entertainment, whether it be school work or whatnot, we have all these other time pressures on us to consume entertainment. And what you're trying to do from game developer's perspective is you're trying to understand where do you fit into that? How can you fit into the mix and how can you become a part of somebody's top time desires basically or wants. So you're really meeting their needs from a hobby perspective.

Jerry Hook (08:18):

So for Destiny it is. You do have to know how you're trying to ensure that engagement is the top thing of mind like how much a player engages with you, matters more than anything else. Revenue counts. You need to have that revenue to keep the doors open and support your studio. But without satisfying the players and without meeting their needs, you'll never make money. And everyone can point to 1,001 live service examples and games that have been done at the opposite where monetization is first and player engagement or player happiness is second, and that doesn't tend to go very well.

Crystin Cox (08:56):

Not for long.

Jerry Hook (08:56):

Not for long. So at least from a Bungie and a Destiny perspective, the mentality was always put the player first. What does that mean?

Crystin Cox (09:07):

I think I love that answer you got from the WoW team because I think that's the true answer from a real live team. A real team that really understands live ops is going to tell you, it's actually about iteration. It's actually about experimentation, iteration and letting the players help you discover the game you have. The games I've worked on have absolutely been like this. Before we launched Guild Wars 2, we had a very like specific idea about what Guild Wars 2 was and what the player experience was going to be like, and then it happens so fast.

Crystin Cox (09:40):

After it goes live, that all changes, and you have to be there ready to let the game teach you what it's really about, let the player base teach you who they really are. How do you work with a team like the Halo team at 343 which has been making these incredibly polished, incredibly high-end experiences for many iterations and help them get into this head space that's actually we're not going to have all the answers when this game goes live?

Jerry Hook (10:08):

Yeah. There's several things there because it's true and this was true with Destiny. Frankly, I think it was true for WoW and Diablo as well. So when you're creating something new, your players will have a different perception than you do. Things that you think are important, your players may tell you, "No, don't care, right?" And that is the hardest piece. The first thing you try to train or at least what we're trying to do is we want to try to help make sure that feedback in particular and how you take feedback, how you learn how to trust feedback is probably one of the hardest things to do from a development standpoint because you're taking a very crafted experience that your experience and what you want to do and your passion to create this art form and get that art form out and establish it, right? Your players may quite frankly say, "No. I like the color blue," and you used red too much, right?

Crystin Cox (11:05):

Yeah.

Jerry Hook (11:06):

Stuff like that happens and that's probably the hardest part I would say of any live game where you make a bet and that bet doesn't pay off. So what you're trying to do is you're trying to set the team up to if you finish development before you're done with it. You're already in the mode of how you ship, how you develop a feature, everything in the way that you know that you're going to have to run as a live game moving forward.

Jerry Hook (11:34):

So it is a little different. It will never be on par because you're still trying to finish the main game. And as you're trying to finish the main game though you can at least develop muscle rhythm that helps you know how the team is going to work, how you are going to work with feedback, how you're going to exercise and make decisions as well as how you're going to make sure you're running your business effectively.

Jerry Hook (11:56):

All that comes into play and from a player experience perspective, the thing you're also trying to do is you're trying to expand whether it be an early view of the game. You're trying to do that way sooner than what most AAA developers are used to doing. You see even today with like Apex Legends and others who have just said, "Nope, we're just going to go out there and we're just going to learn." But I also always point back to League of Legends and how League of Legends originally grew as well, which was pure just like get it out there, let your hobbyists blossom. Let your community grow and let them have a voice. And how you let them have that voice into the development cycle is pretty critical for long-term success of any live game.

Crystin Cox (12:41):

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that example about League is really prescient because I actually think as the AAA space starts to look more towards live ops because players are like, "Yeah, I want more content. I want to have a whole community experience around this game. I want it to be my hobby." We start to look at things like League of Legends as great examples. But I think there is an element there that League didn't really have to deal with which is the set of expectations which exist from, especially the AAA console player expectations are very high.

Jerry Hook (13:16):

Yeah. Most of that though is in the... It's one of these challenges, right? If you were to try to develop an MMO for example today, you would have to meet all the expectations of what WoW is today plus all of its mistakes fixed, plus like... We've just incrementally over decades said, "Hey, this is what you have to be for me to like your experience." And that's absolutely true. League struggles with trying to get new stuff out because they aren't doing the same things they were in the past. They aren't just letting things out there to test, to let the players tell them what worked and what didn't work.

Jerry Hook (13:58):

I think you have to have more than that. I think you have to have moments in two ways in which the community can say, "Hey, look. Here's a bite-sized things guys. This is what we're thinking about. We're going to create maybe a mini-event around this for you and what worked, what didn't work. That's the hardest thing I think for any development team, be okay to fail. Be okay get out there and go, "Oh, that did not work at all."

Crystin Cox (14:23):

Yeah, I think sometimes we don't trust our player base enough though because I will say... And this I'm totally tainted because I worked mostly in really long running MMOs.

Jerry Hook (14:30):

Sure.

Crystin Cox (14:31):

But those communities are so resilient actually, especially if you communicate with them, especially if you're engaged in a dialogue back and forth. I do sometimes think we don't really trust the players enough to be okay with us letting them in a little bit more.

Jerry Hook (14:48):

I mean, I agree with that. Halo in particular has some struggles that I don't think Destiny had. The long history of Halo puts us some somewhat in some boxes of what the Halo hobbyist wants to be able to have that if you step outside, as you can read any Halo post over any title, any title like any Bungie developed title or 343 developed title of what they don't like, you change this, therefore, it sucks now type of thing, right? As well as the difference between a pure PVE experience versus a competitive experience because those bring their own challenges of is this actually going to be competitive? Do I actually feel like I can be successful?

Jerry Hook (15:34):

As well as today's live games, the other things you have to worry about isn't just about the game itself, but it's about the content creators who basically support your game from streamers to podcasters, to all these elements that are outside your ecosystem entirely in how they're able to interface with your content and how you're providing mechanisms for them to be supportive in the live game as well.

Jerry Hook (16:01):

A bunch of that is definitely new muscles that game developers have to think about that they've never thought about before. But again at its core, it's what you said, which is we do have to trust our players a little bit more that we can create a game experience and they want to see us succeed too because they're a part of the hobby, right?

Crystin Cox (16:20):

Right.

Jerry Hook (16:21):

Which means anyone who's passionate about anything, as anyone knows who's ever been in the game because lots of passion there, passion comes with a lot of emotion. It's not a negative thing. It's something that if you harness correctly, you learn from and you know that you're going to make some mistakes stumbling along the way while you do so, but as long as you're open and honest with your play race, what are you trying to do, what are you going for, and a dialogue with them whether it be feedback mechanisms or direct dialogue, whether it be community events or whatnot. The more you provide that so that you realize that they're part of your development effort, I think the better long term your game is going to be.

Crystin Cox (17:02):

Yeah. You're hitting on something we've been sort of developing this idea for a while around looking at the industry through the lens of we sort of started from a place of games as product. We moved to a place of games as service, but I really feel like we're moving out of that era into what I'm trying to get everyone to agree to call games as community because it really is so much more I think of what you're talking about there, which is it's not just us serving them, actually there's a dialogue going on back and forth and there's actually give and take happening, and it really is about managing them as a community of people.

Jerry Hook (17:37):

Yeah. The way I say it is... So I've started using this in Twitter for a very similar reason, which is community is the end game.

Crystin Cox (17:45):

Right.

Jerry Hook (17:46):

Right? And if you view community as the end game and you realize that 90% of your game is consumed in the end game, then you should be treating your community with that level of focus.

Crystin Cox (17:58):

Right.

Jerry Hook (17:59):

But it is hard. There's a lot of muscle there that you have to learn as a developer that you may not be used to. It's literally working with your strong designers who have created amazing worlds and amazing vision for things and learning how to like how do we pick on things in a regular cadence to enable it to get into the game as fast as we can, but also that your success comes from nurturing and ensuring that your community is successful. And this is where the shift to content creators, content creators being like YouTube streamers or Twitch streamers or whatnot, that's what I mean when I say content creators, that they can be successful with their hobby as well because they are also feeding your hobby.

Jerry Hook (18:44):

They're feeding all their fans that are coming to them for information about your title that even though you may have posted on your website for some reason, no one's going there and they're just waiting for someone to stream and talk about it.

Crystin Cox (18:55):

That's right. Because it's got to come wherever they want to be.

Jerry Hook (18:58):

Exactly.

Crystin Cox (18:59):

You don't get to control where they see your message anymore.

Jerry Hook (19:01):

Exactly. And that's so critical because that's a hilarious thing is like you can spend all this time investing in all of these things just like we have it all for you right here and they're like, "Yeah, but if it's not on YouTube, I haven't seen it or if it's not on Twitch, I haven't seen it." It's like okay.

Crystin Cox (19:16):

I'm not coming to your website.

Jerry Hook (19:17):

Exactly. I mean, at some point it'll be, "What's a website? What is that thing?"

Crystin Cox (19:23):

Well, this is something I think is funny because the whole games industry I think has a reputation for over indexing on forum post. We love forum post and I used to laugh about it because especially working on so many kid's games earlier in my career, I just feel like, "You know nobody under the age of 35 looks at a forum, right?" Forums are very much sort of this much older generations venue. So much of your community is going to be like, "No, no. I mean, I'm only going to watch YouTube or I'm going to be over here." And it's hard to keep up with that.

Jerry Hook (19:56):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (19:57):

The community keeps changing. It grows and it evolves. Even on a game, I mean I imagine you saw this on Destiny for sure, the community that's there day one is not the community that's their day 365. Even if they might even be made up of kind of the same people, their relationship to the game has changed.

Jerry Hook (20:13):

Yeah, absolutely. And hopefully you've kept them with you, but it's changed with the game as well, right? Again, the great thing about the team at Bungie is they've always put the player first. They've always put the community first. Yes, there's always stumbles along the way like we've talked about. But they've never looked at the community like the true community view through a single Reddit post or a single Twitter post. It's never viewed that way. It's always viewed in a larger sense so you don't... If you swing the pendulum too hard on just one of those emotional swings, you'll end up destroying yourself, right?

Crystin Cox (20:56):

Yeah. You talked before about so much of the challenge of getting a big AAA team ready to go live is to get them used to this feedback loop. When you talk about the feedback loop, I assume you're talking about both qualitative feedback but also data.

Jerry Hook (21:11):

Yep. Absolutely.

Crystin Cox (21:13):

And that has been I think for me one of the challenges that I've dealt with a lot in my career is sort of retraining designers to use data and moving to a balanced place where you need data because you need information, but you also need the perspective of a designer from the human psychology perspective and then how do you mesh those together. So how are you guys getting ready to actually like consume all of this player data?

Jerry Hook (21:45):

Yeah. So a lot of that is also changing the way you formulate data. So the user studies are one thing, but we know that they have severe limitations when it comes to the human psychology of going into a study and everyone trying to be smart for example instead of just being themselves. So we're trying to do more what we're calling flighting programs or programs with small groups of people who we can trust or signs NDA, but then we grow it.

Jerry Hook (22:17):

Part of that of why you start small is because you don't have all your muscles and one usually the people who are looking at the game at that point, it's like everything is a gray box. There's nothing. You have to have a high tolerance for low working code at that point, but you're trying to train all your muscles how you get your builds out, how you get feedback from those individuals, how you pull that in.

Jerry Hook (22:39):

For us, everything goes into our... It's basically our central database for both feedback. It sits right alongside of our bugs. The goals we have is that that feedback is triaged by the organization, it's prioritized. So instead of having to do, usually, you'll always have a scramble for patch notes. And what you want to be able to do is beyond just patch notes of what finally gets out there, you also want to be able to help your audience understand the intent. A lot of the challenges you have from a data perspective is understanding the intent of perception or subjective data versus actually quantifiable data of what's actually going on in game.

Jerry Hook (23:18):

What you may see in general with a lot of games especially the scope of Destiny or even what you see with hardcore multiplayer games is you have to balance those two because your data may be showing, "Hey, guess what. Everything is just fine." But perception is so wrong that you've got to figure out like why like what is it? And some of it's very, very small things. Some things for example on changing difficulty for things, you can do call outs, you can do other things within the AI to help the player understand that something is being ramped up that may not be there and so you can help control perception of reality of what's actually going on in the game.

Jerry Hook (23:56):

Even though nothing's changed, you're just helping them understand. That's where your data won't show you why sometimes emotional responses are occurring and that's why you need both sides which is the human side as well as what's actually going on in the game engine.

Crystin Cox (24:11):

Yeah. I mean, it can be so dangerous to just follow data, right? I use this example quite a lot when I'm talking about monetization where I sort of point out that if you just look at data for purchasing, you would never find out that you mispriced something because usually when people look at purchasing data, they operate under this assumption that the price is correct if a lot of people pay it. But that assumption assumes all kinds of things about free market equilibrium that never exist inside of a video game ecosystem.

Crystin Cox (24:44):

So I think that people can sometimes get this idea that data can't lie to me. Data is always pure and true. But you can have five people look at a piece of data and come away with completely different conclusions about it.

Jerry Hook (24:59):

Absolutely, yeah. And you can even have a meeting about that data where you're being very specific and they will still walk away with a different perception. And that's our own propensity to, I guess, believe our own lies or what we want to be true versus what we're trying to do. But the other thing is also being truthful about what the data is really telling you versus not. And also you being clear of like "Guys, this is what I think we're saying. We're going to go forward with this. But here is the data test I need to help validate our next step to see if we're right or wrong."

Jerry Hook (25:33):

Most video games for example, mobile does this really, really well. AAA does not know how to do this primarily because the cost to do it is very hard, but when you look at true AB testing data segments where you can literally give a feature to 10% of your players and the other 90% don't get it, and so you can literally see side by side what's going on. AAA can't do that because the cost to try to develop new systems, put it in the game and do a whole separate build and distribution is just too expensive today.

Jerry Hook (26:02):

But we do have to start pushing in a bunch of those rounds to help us really demystify really what the data is trying to tell us. And pricing definitely is one of those things and we have an economist on our team that brilliant brain, can't touch it myself, but it's that type of expertise that you look forward to help you answer some of the harder questions that logically you may think one way, but reality shows you it's another.

Crystin Cox (26:31):

Yeah. I mean I think you hit on it there. I think something that's always fascinated me about the role of AB testing in games is how unavailable it really is for a lot of games, both because of the cost you're talking about, but I know we worried about it significantly when I was working on Guild Wars 2 was crosstalk. We didn't want to create a situation in which one group of players got something, a different group of players got something else. They didn't understand why their experiences were different. They didn't understand how to parse those differences. We were like, "That is going to create an incredible amount of confusion and sort of uproar." So it becomes very difficult to make a sort of scientifically valid AB experiment.

Jerry Hook (27:13):

Yeah. And the difference is because you don't see in mobile. King does this regularly for example, right? Mobile game does an experiment for a different feature set to try to create a specific behavior or solve a specific behavior and no one goes to Reddit and post about their different experiences. Whereas a AAA game, you would see that...

Crystin Cox (27:37):

Immediately.

Jerry Hook (27:37):

Immediately. It wouldn't even be like, "Okay, we'd press the button." Literally 10 minutes later top of Reddit.

Crystin Cox (27:45):

We used to see incredible amounts of crosstalk when I worked on Maplestory, because Maplestory the way it's distributed is it's actually a separate client per region.

Jerry Hook (27:55):

Got it.

Crystin Cox (27:55):

So the Chinese version of Maplestory. There's a North American version of Maplestory. All those teams actually run independently. So I was running the team for global Maplestory which was North America, Europe, sort of rest of world. We had our own content plan and our own strategy. As soon as Maplestory china got an update, our players would be coming back to say, "We've translated all of their patch notes. This is everything that they got. Are we going to get this? When are we going to get that? Why do they have this and we don't have that?" That crosstalk was incredible. I think that the trade-off though when I look at mobile, I see one of the weaknesses of mobile is the lack of that crosstalk is sort of a symptom of how underdeveloped their communities often are.

Jerry Hook (28:41):

I totally agree. As well as their stickiness. AAA gaming relies more on its community for sure than mobile though I think you'll start seeing changes in that regard because of how much more powerful the mobile devices are getting, right?

Crystin Cox (28:56):

Yeah.

Jerry Hook (28:56):

And I think if you can get them mobile gaming in general to turn in standard gaming stop being so much about monetization and actually be about an experience first like what I think most good AAA developers try to do, right? Create that experience first. Make sure you have a solid game and yes, you want to provide extra stuff for those hobbyists who want to continue to invest and build more of the game. I mean, that's the big difference.

Jerry Hook (29:26):

When we did live originally for Destiny, the goal was that the live team was paying for itself. That was the goal that we had and the focus that we had and it was all because of the community. It was all because hey, we had to listen to the hobbyists, we had to listen to the players who were dedicated to the game. What are they looking for? What aren't they looking for? If mobile games can get away from their over monetization and just go to experiences first, especially with the strength and the power of our devices now, we should be able to get really strong quality experiences wherever you go. Of course, you have things like xCloud and whatnot who are going to help you do that anyways.

Crystin Cox (30:11):

They might be the same games.

Jerry Hook (30:12):

They might be the same game, exactly. Community comes with you because, again, community is the end game, is the heartbeat that is, to me going to make or break you.

Crystin Cox (30:25):

Yeah. I think we will see that change in mobile. When you look at the trajectory of the way sort of free-to-play and live ops games have gone, mobile, I think has been in this world. It's very focused at the beginning of the experience, very focused on top of funnel, very focused on acquiring players. Now, I do see them transitioning to caring a lot more about long-term relationships and that's just going to lead you down the road where you've got to develop that community in order to compete honestly. I mean especially as things like xCloud happen they've got to compete to keep their players engaged when their other options might be something that you could be richer.

Jerry Hook (31:09):

Yeah, and not only that, but I think what you see with most of the streaming services for gaming in general, again, that's just going to... I just want to play my game, right? And really, wherever I'm at, I'm going to play my game. Obviously, it does take money to run these types of games more than what we used to just stamping a disc and sending it out and then going on to the next game. It's not about that anymore. It is about the health and the care of your community because if you have a strong community that moves with you, you can't beat that.

Jerry Hook (31:43):

You can basically take your game as a platform and say, "Hey, look. How am I going to build off of this? How am I going to help make sure that I'm continuing to add things that we want instead of having to reboot every year and do that model?" Which I think is going to break because I don't think players, one, are going to continue to pay it at that rate. But also I don't think they need to, if you have a strong enough IP as well as you're regularly feeding them, you should be able to keep them, not only happy with brand new experiences, but also happy because you're not constantly stacking them in the wallet.

Crystin Cox (32:20):

Yeah. I mean, I think to me when I look at... I sort of moved over to free-to-play really early in the 2000s and working mostly in Korea and to me, it's always been this trajectory of the game industry just becoming more and more sensitive to the player's demands and being player-centric, because I know there's a lot of complicated emotions and feelings around the move in the industry to free-to-play, but from a very like dispassionate point of view, if you pull back, a lot of that move has been moving away from a model where we say, "Give us $60 now and trust us. It's going to be great," to a model where we say, "You're going to pay us after we prove it. After we prove it to you, and you're going to pay for what you want to pay for," which is a significantly more sort of customer friendly or like consumer friendly model. I think we're just going to keep seeing that happen. The value has to go up because our audience become more mainstream and they're more sophisticated.

Jerry Hook (33:25):

Yeah. And that's the thing is you're already training a generation on that entire mindset, right? All the kids today who are playing 80 to 90 on their mobile phones have an expectation for like, "No, I don't pay you something until I trust you that you're going to be able to produce things that I like." Right?

Crystin Cox (33:45):

Yeah.

Jerry Hook (33:48):

Part of my time at Destiny was helping expand into Korea. The Asian view of content is so very different than the western view, but there's very strong similarities specifically when it comes to some of the monetization. Not all of it. Obviously, the asian market wave seems to be way happier with doing pay-to-win where western market doesn't accept it at all. I actually think long-term again, that's another trend that will change even in Asia, because it's not sustainable.

Crystin Cox (34:22):

No. And I think when I look at the games that I was able to work closely with in Asia and actually see data for, I think that difference can be over-hyped in the western development community. I hear a lot of people like to say things like, "Oh, the Chinese players are totally fine with pay-to-win." Which is not entirely true. I think it's a little disingenuous. I think you have to look at the context at which that stuff is presented to them and the way that sort of played out. And then I often go to looking at examples in the west like Clash of Clans and say there are absolutely context in which something that we might consider pay-to-win is accepted, but it's actually pretty narrow context.

Crystin Cox (35:06):

No matter where you are in the world, a lot of Asian players are playing a lot of western games partially because they really like the value that comes from playing those games. They get a lot for their money and they care about that. They're like anybody else. Everyone cares about value.

Jerry Hook (35:21):

Yeah. And again, the piece with any monetization side, I think that we just all have to be careful is we do have to be able to run our studios, right?

Crystin Cox (35:31):

Right.

Jerry Hook (35:32):

They are more expensive than at least a bunch of the videos I have watched where people are surmising, "No, everything everything is inexpensive." And it's like no, no.

Crystin Cox (35:45):

If only.

Jerry Hook (35:46):

If only. And again, we go back to expectations on the AAA games side. Huge expectations. Great quality graphics, great stories, great cinematics. Great well thought out and quality gameplay. All that takes a lot of expertise and experienced people to go and make that work. When you look at pay to win or any of those other monetization efforts, it's really more about like what is the game you're trying to have, right?

Jerry Hook (36:21):

If you want a Clash of Clans type of game, in my head, I can't see a AAA game ever doing that. But if that's a game that you like and you're willing to feed, I guess that's fine for you. I just think in the AAA game space, I think the expectation is more that you have to enable... Your players are looking for quality entertainment first, which is they can just sit down and enjoy your game.

Crystin Cox (36:51):

Right.

Jerry Hook (36:51):

They don't have to open their wallet over and over again to do it, they can just sit down and enjoy their game, right? This is like the free-to-play comment you were making. Free-to-play is more to me, again, I would use that same mentality which is for AAA, if you can't sit down and just enjoy your game first, then no one's ever going to open their wallet in the future. I think today I agree with you. I think especially now, wow, the amount of trust that people are putting in us to put $60 down first before they've played the game. That's crazy.

Crystin Cox (37:26):

And we should respect that.

Jerry Hook (37:26):

It's something we should definitely respect and put a lot of effort. But I mean this is where I think game pass and other things to help players be able to play full titles, realize that they can trust them and then go out and purchase it, I think will always be a benefit for players.

Crystin Cox (37:42):

Yeah. I think one of the things that's been interesting watching free-to-play really come to the west and sort of have this big moment in mobile and social and now get folded back into more of the mainstream has been watching western developers learn a lesson that I think some of the Asian developers were ahead of them a little bit, which is a little crass, but to say we need to learn to be less thirsty. It's not actually a great look to players when we come to them so aggressively, so quickly, "Can you give us money? Can you give us money? Can you give us money?"

Crystin Cox (38:21):

We have to kind of play it cool. We have to be in a relationship with them first and earn that trust before we get there. I talked to some teams about ethical monetization. The thing we don't talk about that much is we need to treat our players right. We need to be a positive influence. We need to be a pro-social relationship with people. That's no guarantee they're going to treat us right and that is really where a lot of the tension comes from is we need to treat them right and then we have to hope that they're going to come back and say, "Yes, I agree. I did find the value and now I am going to open my wallet."

Jerry Hook (39:00):

That's one of the stats. 10, 15 of your players will pay what you would expect them to pay, right?

Crystin Cox (39:05):

Right.

Jerry Hook (39:06):

It's just like you just have to build on that and I think this comes back to the earlier conversation we had which is you do have to just trust your players. There are always going to be people who whether they're young kids and they just don't have the means in which to buy everything, but if you're building a free-to-play game, you're building a game in which those players can convert their time into the results that they need to again show off their investment in your hobby, right?

Crystin Cox (39:33):

Right.

Jerry Hook (39:35):

Other ways in which your players can invest in you, is critical for studios to run themselves but again, if you're having to do that right up front or you're saying thirsty or desperation would be another word, it could just go horribly, horribly wrong for you, right?

Crystin Cox (39:53):

Yeah. So I think we're just about out of time, but there's one question that we like to ask everybody who sits down here. It's one of our favorite ones, which is can you share a live ops disaster with us?

Jerry Hook (40:06):

Oh. Let's see.

Crystin Cox (40:09):

And we like to put you on the spot for it, so we get the real answer.

Jerry Hook (40:13):

Real answer. Interesting. So the main thing I would say in a real live ops disaster... Man, almost all the ones I would have in my head are public, so I think they're okay. But anytime in Destiny for example where we would make a balanced patch that would nuke a favorite toy of most of the player base. And again, you're seeing it within 10 minutes that you realized, "Oh crap," and then you have to turn around and turn it on. Actually, probably my biggest disaster doesn't have to do with Destiny, it has to do with Xbox Live.

Crystin Cox (41:05):

Okay.

Jerry Hook (41:05):

So as a founding member of Xbox Live, when we first turned on Xbox Live and Xbox 360, so I did all the Xbox live marketplace side and we had a tool called Batman. And the goal of Batman was to help us convert old accounts and new accounts and get everything situated in the new databases. We went live, we pressed the button, and about 10, 15 minutes later, my head of development came to me and said, "We have a problem. Batman has just nuked about 300,000 accounts."

Crystin Cox (41:40):

Oh, no.

Jerry Hook (41:43):

The thing was it wouldn't prevent them from logging in, but it would prevent them from buying and doing all these other things. So literally 72 hours straight, because we didn't have a tool to reverse any of those efforts. So what we had to do is by hand go into every single account and it was three of us. I mean, literally by hand 72 hours straight. We didn't sleep.

Crystin Cox (42:11):

Oh, no.

Jerry Hook (42:11):

We had food shipped to our office and we just sat there and doing nothing. Because we had to do it manually, the support tools at the time, this is not a joke, support tools, you do an edit, you do something, you submit it, could take up to five minutes for 300,000 accounts.

Crystin Cox (42:29):

Wow.

Jerry Hook (42:29):

It was a nightmare.

Crystin Cox (42:31):

That's sounds bad.

Jerry Hook (42:31):

That was the worst live ops situation ever. But we never heard about it in the press because we fixed it-

Crystin Cox (42:38):

Because you fixed it.

Jerry Hook (42:39):

... fast enough. Even if it was manual, we fixed it fast enough. That's probably the tail live ops both on, when you look at the Destiny example of balance and everything else. Those are always stories that you're listening to your players and you're saying can we convert this? How fast can we remove something and get it back in or change something to better meet our needs? Or in a lot of cases, specifically from a balanced perspective, the hard part is, is some balance you expect rage because when you rebalance your sandbox, you're changing the meta that everybody understands, right?

Crystin Cox (43:18):

Yeah.

Jerry Hook (43:19):

Instantly, that change causes instant emotional, visceral, you've destroyed my favorite way of playing. This is the way I like and now it's no longer viable.

Crystin Cox (43:26):

But that's ultimately healthy, right, because they're a gap.

Jerry Hook (43:29):

Correct. Healthy, long-term. And so you don't necessarily always want to pull back on that, but it always feels horrible having the whole team just sit here and just take absolute fire from their community until either A, they figure it out and they develop a new meta or B, you find out you were actually wrong and the value you put in for a specific weapon was incorrect and you do have to revert it and change it on the spot as fast as you can.

Crystin Cox (43:55):

Oh, man. Balance designers have the thickest skin in the industry.

Jerry Hook (43:59):

They do. They're amazing. Like Tyson Green over at Bungie was just an amazing individual to be able to deal with a lot of this as well as frankly all of the... Josh Hamrick and the sandbox team. What they had to deal with all the time was just insane to me. And I wasn't always the nicest guy either when I had to deal with the leadership perspective.

Crystin Cox (44:26):

What are you guys doing? The players are all burning. They've got pitchforks.

Jerry Hook (44:31):

But stepping back, I mean the thing I always appreciated was ME Chung was always a voice of reason and all the team members, Ryan Paradis. All of them were just so solid, so good, able to provide feedback, able to go through things reasonably. I appreciate them more and more as time goes on. You realize how much they had to go through. Just amazing.

Crystin Cox (44:58):

Well, on that note, thank you so much for joining us.

Jerry Hook (45:00):

Yeah, absolutely.

Crystin Cox (45:01):

This is awesome.

Jerry Hook (45:02):

Thank you.

Crystin Cox (45:02):

Thanks a lot.

Crystin Cox (45:08):

Thanks for listening to The Art of LiveOps Podcast.

James Gwertzman (45:11):

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

Crystin Cox (45:16):

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

James Gwertzman (45:21):

Thanks for tuning in.