So if your key metric for success of your game is fun, how do you make content that fits that goal, and how do you know if you’re succeeding? It’s easy to tell if a subscription-based game is hitting its metric of success, you simply look at the number of subscriptions; fun is much harder to define. To accomplish this, we’ve had to fundamentally redefine our development process of content in GW2 around this concept of fun, and it starts with asking a very simple question that surprisingly isn’t asked that often in game development: “Are you having fun?”
As a fun aside, as a result of allowing our QA team to be so involved in the development process, it helps us find people with amazing minds for design based on their feedback and suggestions. Many of our current content designers on GW2 originally started their careers in our QA department. Names of a few of these folks who may have built some of your favorite events, story steps, or dungeons include: Will “Willipedia” Fairfield, Devon “The Knife” Carver, Matt “Wolf” Wuerffel, Kim “The Truth” Kirsch, Ben “Zen” Kirsch, Mike “Z-Axis” Zadorojny, Leah “Giggles” Rivera, Theo “Thor” Nguyen, Anthony “Put a Buff on It” Ordon, Leif “Fly-By” Chappelle, and Jordan “Action” Anton. (Note: Some of these nicknames may have been invented for this article, but will now be used around the office…constantly. —Colin “Optimist Prime” Johanson. He didn’t start in QA, but Eric “The Commissar of Common Sense” Flannum deserves a shout out for helping make all of this possible by building a design culture that lets us chase fun!)
We didn’t just ask “Is this fun?” in early development, though; we also asked this question constantly throughout our development process, and in a lot of different ways. First—and this is one of the things that I love most about ArenaNet—we ask our QA team to ask this question when they test everything that goes into the game. When they play an event, they don’t just file bugs, they write suggestions and ideas for how to make it better. They give their feedback on the experience: Did they enjoy it? How could it be improved? How many rampaging rabid raccoons could be added to this event to make it amazing? They send this feedback directly to the designer building the event, and talk and coordinate with them to help make it better. I’ve never heard of a game company where the QA team is so ingrained in the development process, where they can enact and impact change on a daily basis in the game. They aren’t just testers, they are developers who help make every part of the game better, and they do this by constantly asking the question, “Is this fun?”
Finally, we expand this process to the largest possible audience, to our beta test with hundreds of thousands of players. To get feedback on fun from an audience this large, we need to ask the question in a way that’s simple for them to answer, and easy for us to condense the feedback down into simple-to-look-at numbers we can then act from. To do this, we added surveys to the game that occur after you finish story steps, renown regions, events, and dungeons. Each of these asks players a few simple questions, but the most important question we always ask? “On a scale of 1 to 5, how much fun was what you just did?” From this, we print out giant reports of survey information, then meet as subteams and target the content that isn’t scoring well on “the fun factor” before brainstorming, together, on how to make that content more fun and exciting.