Gaarawarr Gabs with Andy Belford
The final interview we got to do before being blindfolded, stuffed in a van and dropped off at the bus station Mythic said goodbye to us was with the infamous Andy Belford.
We didn’t have a lot of time with him, but we tried to get in as many questions as we could.
Andrew – You can start.
GG – I can start? ~goes into fake interview voice~ We’re here with Mythic’s Andy Belford…
Andrew – Bandy Belfords.
GG – Warbandy Belfords.
Andy – Warbandy Belfords, yes.
GG – Mythic Candy…so over the last six months, we’ve seen the Public Test Server used a lot more frequently for Test Events as well as a lot more feedback afterwards, which has been a nice change. Are we going to see more of a set schedule for those as opposed to “just for patches”? Maybe just to get people together to test out random stuff or to maybe have events where people from all servers can come together?
Andy – At this time we don’t have anything like that planned. It’s very deliberate that we plan the PTS events around the patches coming up. That’s generally when we need the most testing for things, especially if we have new features. We need to test those. That’s when we really try to get people together. We also use that as a time to get information about the next patch out there as well via the Q&As and things like that. Now, as far as doing more community events and things like that, that’s definitely something we’re talking about. But there’s actually a tremendous amount of organization and time that goes into each one of those events and we start planning them weeks and weeks in advance. So it’s not, by any means, a small undertaking to do this. It’s a huge undertaking actually.
Andrew – The last couple PTS events that I’ve been to, it seems like there’s been a steady increase of players that are actually coming to the events to test them out. What do you think is the main reason for the increase?
Andy – I think that the biggest draw for the players is the chance to interact with the Development Team. Whether it’s just me or if it’s Carrie (Gouskos) showing up and playing or Nate Levy or any of those guys showing up and being there, being a part of it. That’s a really appealing thing to the players. We don’t have any illusions that there isn’t a sense of “coolness”…me having been a player, a gamer like everyone else, and being given the chance to interact with the developers was always just a really cool thing. Because these are the people making the worlds that are so important to me, these are the people that shape the worlds that I have so much invested in. I think that’s a really big thing. The chance to do Q&A sessions with the Development Team is a really big draw for a lot of people.
Andrew – So you think the word is just getting out and more people are realizing that the opportunity is there? Or do you think there is some other factor?
Andy – I think that players are recognizing the fact that we make ourselves very available to the community. We pride ourselves on the fact that we have regular interaction with the community and the fact that we really, for the most part, don’t pull any punches. We’re not giving people BS answers. Of course, there are some things that we say “No Comment” or we have to say the PC answer like “We’re always looking into things like that” but, for the most part, when we can give an answer on something, we don’t dress it up. We say “This is the answer.” We’re very forthcoming. Not only that, I think it’s that the players are recognizing that the Developers are human. We’re human, we’re people and we enjoy talking to people. We’re joking around, we’re being casual, we don’t have a stick up our butt. I feel like players appreciate that and I’m very proud to be a part of a team that’s like that.
Mykiel – So not many game companies do that type of interaction, especially doing what they can to get players on Vent. What was the defining moment for you here at Mythic, especially you for the community part, to actually go with that?
Andy – Where we changed our approach to testing, if I had to pinpoint a time for it, it would probably have been during the Land of the Dead testing. Granted, this was on a smaller scale with the Core Testers, but we spent three to four nights a week for six weeks straight testing Land of the Dead content. Everything from the PQs to the Dungeons to everything with the Core Testers all those nights and we were on Vent talking with them. We got a lot of great feedback that way and we really liked that.
GG – We liked it too. 🙂
Andy – Well thanks. It was a lot of work and it was a lot of really late nights and very tired days. But it was worth it to be out there with the players and to be interacting with them and to be on the level with them. Having seen the success that we had with that process and how much we were able to get done with that process, I made a conscious decision to make that my goal to bring that same level of accessibility and interaction to the general public. Which is why we started doing things like getting on Ventrilo. Mykiel actually provided a Vent server for us for a very long time at his own expense. We didn’t request it, we didn’t ask for it, he just said “Hey, here’s a 400 person Vent server , feel free to use it.” We were very fortunate to have that as a resource for us. With the success that we had with those, I was able to turn that around and justify to the Company/Studio “Guys, we need to buy our own Vent server. We need to provide this service to our customers.” So that’s what we did. We said “You know what, we’re going to make that investment in our community” and we went out and purchased our Vent server for the next two years. We’re committed to maintaining that same level of accessibility and openness through venues such as Ventrilo.
Mykiel – You mentioned before that you’re always looking for more Core Testers. Is there anything coming up that you might be looking for particular types of people/minds/whatever for?
Andy – Nothing specific coming up. I would say that with the City testing going on, there’s definitely going to be some opportunities to show us that they shine, so to speak. For people who want to be a part of that program to give great feedback on the forums regarding the City testing, to be good testers during the process, to have a high level of energy and enthusiasm about it. I think I’ve said it several times before, but we’re not looking for “Yes” men. We’re not looking for people who are just going to say “That’s the bestest thing evar!!1!! I love Mystic!1!!” We’re not looking for that. On the same token, we’re definitely not looking for somebody who just tears into every single thing that we do and basically acts like a troll all the time on the forums. We want for you to be critical. We want for our Core Testers to be critical of us while at the same time remaining intelligent and rational and reasonable.
GG – So speaking to the Core Tester program, the community outside the Core Tester program really doesn’t see a lot of what goes on or even know what exactly a Core Tester is a lot of the times. Are we going to see any changes to how the program is explained/displayed and what they do in the community’s eye so that it maybe helps improve understanding of their role?
Andy – I think that we already do a pretty good job of explaining. Like every time somebody tries to blame something that’s in the game on the Core Testers, I make a point of explaining that…so, the Core Testers are chosen based on their interaction with the community, what they’ve contributed to the community, their posting history and we even vet their in-game actions, if they’ve had violations in-game, so how they conduct themselves both in-game and in the community outside the game. But the Core Testers are only different from the regular player in the sense that they have information given to them a little bit early, they sometimes play through content that doesn’t require large-scale testing before the public does, and other than that, they’re just like anybody else. They’re not empowered in any way, shape, or form to be advocates or leaders within their community. In fact, we specifically state (to them) that you are not a class lead, you’re not a career lead, you’re not writing regular reports to us or anything like that. We, generally speaking, don’t comp their accounts, we don’t do anything special for them. In fact, these people are giving of their time with little to no reward in return. So, they simply provide feedback at a more granular level than the general public does.
Andrew – I just had a conversation with someone on the general forums about that very same thing. I had to explain to them what it is the Oracle system, the Core Testers, actually are. I had to explain that we’re not there to represent other people, we’re only representing ourselves (our opinions). So I think that there’s a bit of a general misunderstanding, for whatever reason, among the populace of what it is that we’re there for.
Andy – It happens.
Andrew – They see the green name and they’re like “Oooo…special and different”.
Andy – Yeah. Any time that there’s something that denotes or sets somebody apart from the rest of the crowd so to speak, it can foster feelings of resentment or foster feelings of “why are these guys more special than me?” To the point, I think that people think that Core Testers have a direct impact as far making design decisions and things like that, where that’s not the case at all. Like I said earlier, these are just players like anybody else who were just chosen for the exceptional ability to communicate and contribute to the community.
GG – So, recently we’ve seen some changes where there are now Volunteer Forum Moderators. People who are player who are complete volunteers, not reimbursed, the only difference is that they have the little purple name and they can go and lock your thread. How has that been overall? How has it helped you as Community Managers? How has it helped the community? How do you see that moving ahead?
Andy – The addition of the Volunteer Forum Moderators has actually been very good. We have seen, of course, some initial reaction. I mean, we expected some people to flame them and make @ posts at them. That’s kind of to be expected any time we have some sort of a change. People are going to react like that. It’s a settling in period, I guess you could say. That part of it we expected and we managed it appropriately. We’re certainly not the first company to empower our community in this manner and we definitely won’t be the last one, that’s for sure. I simply see this as another aspect of giving the players more voice in the development process. Because everything from the design to the testing to the feedback to the communication is a part of the development processs. Even forum policing is still a part of the development process.
GG – Are we going to see any other forms of community empowerment in the future? Star Wars Galaxies had a program where certain players volunteered and were vetted to have the power to silence spammers in-game.
Andy – At this point, we don’t have any plans for that. That’s more of a Customer Service question though, so I don’t want to speak for CS regarding that. Things like that come up in conversation, but I don’t believe that’s anything we’re seriously considering right now. That being said, there is the Advisor system in-game where you can flag yourself as an Advisor and people can search you and ask you questions. That is strictly voluntary, you have to flag yourself as an Advisor. If somebody wants answers, they can actually look just for Advisors. I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of communicating that feature and I think we definitely should for people who want to contribute to the community in-game. But that option is there already, that tool is there right now.
Mykiel – Hint, hint.
GG – Oh, I’ve been flagged as an Advisor since it went into the game. But yeah, nobody ever gets ahold of me via that (as far as I can tell). It’s also partly because A: nobody knows it was there. It was added as a Patch Note. And B: there’s nothing during say, the new player experience, that would tell people it’s there. There’s a lot of things about WAR that are like that. You just don’t get told about what things are. You have to rely on yourself or ask those questions, but you don’t necessarily know who to ask.
Andy – Maybe somebody should do a blog post about that…
Mykiel – Yeah.
Andy – Who would do something like that!?!?
~the other bloggers got some more questions in, then I pounced, like the wily interviewer I am…yeah..that’s it…~
GG – So people on the forums have asked about Mythic showing up to different community events like gaming conventions and those types of things. In the past, you guys have had a really big presence at those. Are we going to see Mythic at any events this year?
Andy – There is a distinct difference between a game that is in pre-production and the first year after launch and a game that is more mature and is not moving at the same frenetic pace as a game that is getting ready to launch. We are definitely going to be cutting back our presence at some of those shows this year. We may have a presence within the EA booth at some shows. We’ve done that in the past with things like the San Diego Comic-Con. That’s not to say that we’re not going to be out there with the community doing things. We’re looking at different alternatives to actually speak with the community and interact with them on a face-to-face basis that don’t involve shows. I can’t say anything more than that really. Shows aren’t necessarily the best place to interact with your community anyways. Most of the time you kind of get lost in the noise. San Diego Comic-Con is a perfect example of that. There’s just so much going on there where, as much as it may sound blithe, I would hope somebody wouldn’t just go to SDCC just to see Mythic because there’s so much stuff going on at those Cons that are just so cool and amazing that you really want to take it all in. On the other hand, we definitely want to be out there traveling around and interacting with the players. Generally speaking, when we go to the shows it’s because we have something to announce.
Andrew – Do you have a follow-up?
GG – Nah, go ahead. He’ll just say “no comment”. 😉
And that wraps up the interviews from the Blaaagher Invasion. Hopefully they do more of these in the future and give other bloggers a chance to ask questions and get the behind-the-scenes tour as it’s definitely a fun experience.
Thanks again to Mythic and all the great people we got to hang out with. It was a blast.