In terms of hard design doc versus prototyping, what kind of balance did you have?
EJ: I arrived in 2007, and the game had been going since about 2005, so they had some definite design ideas and some documentation there. And what we did was we took a look at that, took a look at where the game was, and started trying to play the game. And as we learned what we couldn't play and what we could play, we started adjusting the design.
Since then, we've continued to create documentation, and continued to maintain it, but it really is about: we apply something in the game, we see it, we feel it, we touch it, we see how it works, and then we can go, "Okay. This works. This doesn't." Dave's heavily involved in that. The whole development team is heavily involved in that.
RTW has the tag on it of being a design-driven company; what that means, necessarily, isn't that the design team drives the company, it's that everyone is involved in the design. It's my job to maintain and shepherd that. But, you know, we take the advice and consultation of everyone else involved -- whether it be an artist or a programmer, or an audio guy, or a community person. All of those people have valid concerns. We try to address that.
And it's certainly a unique development environment. I've worked at seven other companies, and this is the most unique environment I've worked in.
Another thing that's been a concern, I think -- we were talking about how launches can't be like they used to be, and I think betas have shifted, too. They've become way more of a marketing tool than they were, and I think that the audience, back in the day, had this understanding that the game was going to be broken in beta, and now the audiences don't have that.
EJ: When you get feedback in beta, the whole point of the beta is to take that feedback to heart, even if that means making some sacrifices, and looking at your release timings... You have to push back and say, "Hey, if these people say it's not ready, it's not ready. We have to fix it."
So we're already in what we call our F&F [friends and family] phase, where we do have some public involved, but it's very small and private -- it's mostly friends of the company, or people that we trust implicitly with the game.
And we're taking their feedback as well. We have forums set up, and we have community guys already working on that. So, to us, beta is where we discover what we did right and what we did wrong, not what we thought out. Closed beta.
Open beta, we understand is pretty much a marketing exercise. It's a stress test and a marketing exercise. But the early parts of closed beta, we're going to continue to find people we can trust to look at the game objectively, rather than just expect it to be ready to play.
That's a good point, about closed versus open, because ultimately you do have to test these ideas. There's no real way to do it without having a beta.
EJ: No. With big online games, you can't have the development team play it and expect to have everything right. What we use the development team for is a real good litmus test: a lot of the guys are very specific play types. We don't have a lot of MMO players on the development team; in fact most of the ones [who do] are people who come from MMO backgrounds, and a few other guys. So we rely on those guys to tell us what's wrong with the kind-of persistence and progression -- what feels right from that point of view.
But a lot of our people play action games; they play console games; they play very mainstream stuff. So we use them as a good test for what the usability is like; what the user experience is like. We use that as our initial test, and we make our assumptions off that, but as we get it out there, and as beta players start to play, we're going to listen to what they have to say.
I mean, Dave is committed to this really being a player-driven game through and through. Not just player-driven in the mechanics that players actually use to play the game, but player-driven in how we take the game from post-release as well as in beta.
The crime theme is a really great target. It's really compelling in a lot of media -- there have been some really successful games that, obviously, Dave's been involved with. However, this isn't a traditional MMO. That audience and the people who are familiar and plugged-in to PC gaming may not be as familiar nor as plugged in to this genre. What do you think?
EJ: I think what we're looking at is, we're looking at establishing this genre for ourselves, and it is this online genre that shares similarities with other ones, but it is different. We are looking for an audience that enjoys the game.
That may be console guys who do play GTA; that may be guys who play WoW; that may be guys who play My Little Pony Online. The honest truth is: we have some pretty clear business targets about what we want to reach, but the audience is still kind-of an unknown country. And we think we have a compelling game -- the reaction we get is compelling. So we believe that we're going to be able to attract a real core audience that's going to enjoy it, but we also, certainly, recognize that this is different.
I mean, one of the things that concerns us the most is, between now and release, the message we give about what the game is has to really educate people on what the game is, because it's different. I mean, it is truly different.
And I'm not just saying that to put the cliché out there; as someone who has worked on a variety of these types of games, it was definitely hard wrapping my head around it. It's been one of the best challenges I've ever had. So I hope it works out.