PAX Panel: Inside ArenaNet

The panel opened with rousing music from Guild Wars: Eye of the North and a behind-the-scenes video from the Guild Wars Nightfall making-of DVD. The format for this panel was similar in structure to the other panel I attended. The official Guild Wars site has a brief summary. The first set of panelists were all women who work at ArenaNet: Gaile Gray, Community Relations Manager; Reagan Wright, Artist; Shana Gitnick, Content Programmer; and Linsey Murdock, Game Designer. I believe the rationale behind this was visibility. They wanted to show the audience that there are influential women in the games industry and at ArenaNet. They didn’t actually discuss much about “what it’s like for a woman” in the industry, which I thought was a good move. They talked about how they got their jobs at ArenaNet and shared some insight into ArenaNet’s office culture. The second part of the panel was also given over to ArenaNet employees discussing how they got into the industry. The panelists during the second half were: Bobby Stein, Writer; David Stiner, Producer; Emily Diehl, Design Liaison; and Brant Fitzgerald, Special Effects Artist.

Since a summary of what each panelist said is already available on the Guild Wars site, I’ll summarise the Q&A sessions.

One person asked how Gray deals with angry players and fan negativity. Gray said that she always kept the following in mind: If the fans did not care, it would be worse than them caring too much. The players get angry precisely because they care. She said that her reaction to the negativity had to be like “water off a duck’s back or else you drown”. She’s able to deal pretty well with anger hurled at her personally, but she gets angry in return if the attacks are directed towards her colleagues.

There was a question about how much Guild Wars 2 content was complete. At the moment, there has been no graphic design for Guild Wars 2. Loads and loads of concept art has been completed. The lore and history has long been started. Work on the new user interface has begun.

There will be Hard Mode in GW: EN, but not at release.

When asked about release plans between GW: EN and Guild Wars 2, the reply was that it is unlikely that there will be more expansions before Guild Wars 2. Guild Wars will continue to have events. There will be some surprises. The automated tournaments will continue. And they pointed out that the Bonus Mission pack will be available later this Autumn.

Someone asked about player input and the game economy. The economy is monitored closely. They are aware and keep an eye on the desirability of particular mods, skins, weapons, and so on and continue to make adjustments where needed.

Guild Wars, unlike many popular games, currently does not have much licensing or merchandising tie-ins. Someone asked about the possibility of a Guild Wars pen-and-paper RPG. Another person asked about Guild Wars novels. I cornered a concept artist at the ArenaNet booth and asked about high-quality art book compilations. ArenaNet is in talks with a number of companies for licensing. They are looking into a lot of options. There is a new marketing team in place and all of these things are being considered. If you want Guild Wars plushies, said Gray, you have to somehow make your voices heard. If there is a demand, they will probably consider it.

Guild Wars: Eye of the North will not have a separate Cartographer title, so you do not have to re-earn your Tyrian Cartographer titles. The mapping of the new areas will probably be part of the Master of the North title.

There may be new continents in Guild Wars 2, but there are no specifics. They only thing they could tell us is that Guild Wars 2 will not be in space.

The artists were asked what software packages they use. 3D Studio Max, Maya, and Photoshop are used.

Someone asked about facial articulation and facial expressions in Guild Wars 2. They vaguely answered that there will be more of what the fans have been asking for.

The free-to-play model is a driving force for ArenaNet. They feel very strongly about it, and remain committed to having a subscription-free pricing structure. ArenaNet want to give players freedom to play the game how and when they want to play. They saw the direction the industry was going and they decided they didn’t want that. NCsoft does not dictate decisions, however the success of Guild Wars has certainly given ArenaNet some power in this area.

There were a couple of questions about game education and ArenaNet’s hiring preferences. ArenaNet hires people regardless of experience. They will hire someone right out of university if that person has the skills they are looking for. They are looking for capability, potential, and people who make a good impression on them. They won’t necessarily hire game designers with game design degrees, because that limits the pool of applicants from which to draw from. Some of the ArenaNet development team have non-industry backgrounds, such as retail management. They want the best people, and their advice was to be the best person you can be. Getting involved in areas that will hone your skills is a good thing, for example a lot of game designers are good at writing, and they practiced writing.

One audience member asked a question about the work/life balance, and ArenaNet’s position on this. There are core hours during which everyone should be at work. ArenaNet is understanding and flexible, and they can make special allowances for people if need be, though can depend on whether the employee is permanent or contractual.

I really enjoyed the panel. The ArenaNet folks seem to be a tight-knit group of people. They are all friends and of course they have disagreements, but they all still seem to get along really well. The culture there is pretty laid back, I guess like a lot of industry companies, but they also work really hard. It was a neat peek into the culture of ArenaNet, and the ways that the panelists got into the industry were very interesting.

  2 comments for “PAX Panel: Inside ArenaNet

  1. bigwig
    30 August 2007 at 02:48

    Pretty interesting. and i take it you didn’t get a chance to check out the preview weekend?

  2. 30 August 2007 at 08:32

    I did a few quests with my Tyrian Necromancer, but I didn’t get very far.

    A positive point about missing the preview weekend is that there wasn’t any content during the preview event that won’t be available at launch (e.g. no special hats or whatnots).

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