I guess you could call it release rhythm. Every MMO dances along to its own. Zenimax Online are aiming to push out notable new Elder Scrolls Online patches at a slow, steady dirge, once every month to six weeks. Blizzard pledged a new commitment to hi-NRG content beats for WoW back in October, but since seemed to have settled for nostalgic disco.
Guild Wars 2, by contrast, does drum ‘n’ bass. Death metal. The fastest music you can think of. Significant updates every two weeks, without fail. So how do ArenaNet do it?
“The fact that we release every two weeks doesn’t mean that the entire company works for two weeks,” explained GW2 lead designer Daniel Dociu at Gamescom. “We have restructured the company and we have broken down the team into as many as up to 17 teams.
“And they’re all staggered, so even though we ship every two weeks, the development time for any one of these releases is around four months, it’s just that it’s a smaller team working for an extended period of time which allows them to give it the level of polish that players have come to expect. But it is intense!”
I’ll say. Dociu admitted that the pace did take its toll on the team.
“I think getting two-week updates hasn’t come free – it’s been a lot of effort from the whole studio,” he said. “We reorganised our entire studio on ship in order to get it done and it’s kind of fun to see the benefits of that – we’re starting to get better about it, faster and more efficient, you know? So we’re seeing how much it kind of affects us as we go forward.”
That cadence can be exhausting for GW2’s players, too. One unique issue ArenaNet struggle with is in letting their spoilt Tyrians know which updates are large-scale, focused events, and which are business as usual.
“When we sit down we kind of [work it out] in year-long stretches, up to a year out,” said Dociu. “We’re all trying to figure out where the big beats are – like this month is kind of a bigger beat for us where we have a lot of things going on; we’re getting a free trial going and we are trying to make this one a little bit bigger.”
One consequence of the sheer speed at which Guild Wars 2 is developed is that ArenaNet have lost the ability to declare a Guild Wars 1.1 or 1.2.
“With the rapid release it just kinda loses all meaning,” said Dociu. “There’s always a balance of figuring out where those big moments are and how do we make people realise and feel them, you know?”
But ultimately, Dociu and the studio are pleased with the nature of the beast they’ve created.
“I think we really like it because it puts a lot of pressure on us to continue to deliver a really high product to everyone in order to keep their attention.”
Actually, Guild Wars 2 is on the cusp of a pretty unambiguous Big Update at the moment with the return of Super Adventure Box – the April Fools update that redrew Tyria in 16-bit jumping puzzles. Will you be heading back to the box on September 3?