Interview: Mark Davis & The Prisoner of Live Events
Posted by Blog Posts from "WAAAGH!" - [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 March 2009, 9:58 am
(My goal is to get one Mythic interview for every Harry Potter book, just because.)

Recently, Mythic's Mark Davis returned from an overseas trip (was he hoarding treasure in the Bahamas? Rescuing a double-agent from certain doom in North Korea? Now that would be telling.), and groggily agreed to submit to a pleasant chat about Live Events -- the team he manages in WAR. Live Events has been a source of intense interest for me ever since they started, and I was dying to get a few dire questions off my chest.

WAAAGH!: We're sitting here in a shadowy bunker with Mark Davis, who's been leading the Live Events team. You might recall Mark from his stint on America's Most Wanted (mistaken identity, alas) and also his Dev Blog from last fall. Let's start with the foundations -- when were you brought on board as the Live Events lead, and when did Mythic decide that they were going to do Live Events in the game? What was the thinking behind it all? Madness? Sparta?

MARK DAVIS: This is… MYTHIC!! I love that movie. Up until just after launch, we didn’t really have a concept of Live Events. We’d talked about them prior to launch, sure, but really.. where does a Christmas holiday fit into the Warhammer world? We’re much too busy burning things to the ground to worry about something silly like hanging up decorations and dancing! Pfft. After launch, we had time to take a quick breath and realized that live events DO have a place in Warhammer. Live events would be like anything else we’ve done – just add WAR! We knew we had some new classes we wanted to add post launch, and what better way to get people excited about it then a live event that allowed players to unlock them early, to actively take part in the process. Badass said we, and so we set about it. That was the starting point and everything has grown from there.

WAAAGH!: The first event, Witching Night, was a pretty ambitious event so soon after launch. What were your goals going into it, and what did you take away from it?

Ambitious? Hell yeah. It was also Awesome! Halloween happens to be my favorite holiday, but the trick is how to do it in the Warhammer IP. The Witching Night was the perfect choice since it already exists in the Warhammer IP and meshed nicely with the spooky sort of feeling we were going for. We knew that we wanted to craft an experience that everyone could do, regardless of level, provide something for everyone to do no matter what type of gaming experience they enjoyed, and we wanted to offer fun, cool rewards. After the event we realized that RvR Public Quests were made of gold and we should continue to plan more of those. We also learned that players love bragging rights. So rare drop items like the Monster Masks are for the win! Did you get a gaping skull mask? I did. It’s awesome.

WAAAGH!: Which Live Event has fostered the most positive feedback from your perspective? Which has been the most problematic?

MARK DAVIS: The most positive was hands down the Night of Murder. What’s not to love? We had assassin quests to kill marked enemy targets, we had Witchelves and Witch Hunter NPC’s lurking in the shadowy corners of the cities, and you could even mail your enemies head back to them for a special title.

The most problematic would probably have to be Keg’s End. This event was particularly hard to develop since we knew it was going to have to be a very long duration in order to accommodate everyone’s holiday schedule. The event ran for almost 3 weeks. We learned a lot about pacing and cadence for how an event should run, how difficult tasks should be, and how much time players expect to put into an event. It was a lot of fun, though. Seeing the Dwarf fireworks fire off over a recently captured keep, toasting and boasting in scenarios was hilarious, and of course the hunt for the elusive Battlebrew backpack was epic.

WAAAGH!: A common observation concerning the Live Events has been their pendulum swing between Too Easy and Too Grindy, often going from one extreme to the other between successive events. Why do you think this is so, and how has your team been working on finding that sweet spot -- the balance that might make everyone happiest with the work-to-reward ratio?

MARK DAVIS: I think this observation stems largely from the experience of Keg End. It was completely different from the past two events, the most obvious difference was that there was much more emphasis on killing monsters rather than killing players. Because of this, players felt there was too much grinding. And you know what? They were spot on! Since then, we’ve ran two more events starting with The Night of Murder and Bitter Rivals where we’ve seen those complaints vanish. We’ve learned lots of lessons and have incorporated those into our events. Planning the cadence of the event comes down to careful planning, detailed testing, and a bit of tea leaf reading to accurately predict how players will react to the event in a real world environment.

WAAAGH!: How very much do you hate me and everything I stand for to make me grind for DAYS to get that Battlebrew Backpack? I was *this* close to going insane...

MARK DAVIS: I should put you in touch with a support group chaired by our QA lead for Warhammer. It took him a staggering 1300 kills to get his, it took Live Producer Destin Bales around 700, I came in at an easy 257 kills, and our Associate Producer Howard Marans grabbed his after 4 kills. Sorry Syp! We want to add really awesome items to the game with decent stats, and we want folks to brag about their gear. It’s gotta be tough to get if we want to achieve all that. =) But hey, you got your backpack! Look how cool you are!

WAAAGH!: Rewards are a big part of Live Events, both the influence and drops. Do you guys get to dream up all of the unique rewards on your own, or are you given a list of parameters? How do you balance between pure fluff rewards (titles, masks) and highly functional rewards (stat-laden cloaks and trinkets)?

MARK DAVIS: We do a lot of dreaming around here. We come up with ideas, work them over with the Items guys, and finish with a compromise that hopefully leaves everyone only slightly angry. Generally speaking, we’ve been trending toward more fluffy, fun items and less stat driven items. We anticipate everyone being able to complete an event if they give it half a try, so that doesn’t jive with handing out rewards that compete with some of the more difficult to acquire gear in the game. That just wouldn’t be fair! This is by far the hardest part of the job, really.

WAAAGH!: Bitter Rivals and Heavy Metal are probably one-shot events (or are they?), but many folks are wondering if we're going to see these same events return next year (Witching Night, Keg End, Night of Murder, etc.). Are these being set up for an annual rotation?

MARK DAVIS: Yep – Bitter Rivals and Heavy Metal were one time affairs. Certainly, some aspects of those events may make a comeback tour, however. We do plan on having reoccurring holiday events, but that’s only if something else doesn’t take its place. For example in a totally hypothetical situation, if we were to introduce a awesome, totally badass RvR dungeon based on.. oh let’s say the Tomb Kings, we might have not one but TWO live events to introduce it. Where there may have been a scheduled seasonal, reoccurring holiday, there will now be a Tomb Kings live event. So yes, we would like to see the Night of Murder and Keg End return but cooler, better, and more awesome then last time. Time will tell if this is true, so stay tuned for details.

WAAAGH!: Live Events and the Tome go hand-in-hand -- how has the Tome enhanced the events, and what do you plan to do with it in the future?

MARK DAVIS: The Tome is an amazing core element of Warhammer and it was the perfect home for the Live Events. We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves for the coming months including evolving events that unfold through the course of the event, Order vs. Destruction races, and plenty more stuff that would get me fired if I mentioned any of them!

WAAAGH!: Another question that seems to pop up is why we've yet to see Live Events that alter the look of the world, namely in the capital cities (a la holidays in other MMOs)?

MARK DAVIS: We’ve been working hard to make our Live Events stay true to the Warhammer IP. Can you image a holiday where the good folks of Destruction would decorate the Inevitable City? I mean, really? The Order city of Altdorf isn’t much nicer. Sure, they might put up some wards against evil, maybe a pig’s head on a stick, but they’re not really the sort to do all of the decorations you’ve seen in those other MMO’s. That being said, we do have some world changing events planned in the next few months where players will see something built and then remain in the world after the event is over. Wish I could tell ya more about that.. but you know.. keeping my job and all that.

WAAAGH!: So far, we've been seeing Live Events on a more-or-less monthly schedule. Is that the plan for this next year? How many Live Events do you guys have mapped out for the future? Any hints?

MARK DAVIS: We’ve got events planned out for the rest of the year. You can expect to see them every month or two. Possibly some that are shorter in duration and smaller in scope while others will challenge the best events we’ve done yet in terms of coolness. We’re committed to making Live Events in WAR rock!

WAAAGH!: We learn by doing -- if you could go back to mid-2008 and share a few important lessons learned to yourself and your team back then, what would they be?

MARK DAVIS: I could fill a whole article on the lessons we’ve learned. Some of the highlights include:
  • Players are generally looking for an event that can be completed in roughly 2-3 sessions of casual game play.
  • Players go mad over secret, easter egg rewards. Be them hidden titles or items, they’re awesome. We try to add these to every event now.
  • Players love when we craft events that compliment what they’re already doing. That means making events that target Open RvR, scenarios, Public Quests, and Tome unlocks.. oh and by extension.. killing enemy players!

WAAAGH!: Finally, it seems to me that you guys are using Live Events to test new systems and features out before incorporating them into the larger (permanent) game, like the icons over the heads for Night of Murder. Does this have any merit, or am I just crazy?

MARK DAVIS: The idea has merit, but probably not in the way you might think. It’s not like we sit down in a secret bunker meeting room and discuss ideas on how we might improve the game and then test bed them in an event. No, it’s more like we have ideas that didn’t make it into the game at launch (like Open RvR PQ’s) or are ideas for the future that involve complicated development hurdles before we can implement them and they make a small, targeted appearance into the game. But mostly it is just me and my team sitting in our secret bunker meeting rooms saying “… you know what would be cool…” and then making it happen.

WAAAGH!: We appreciate you chatting with us, Mark.

MARK DAVIS: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my favorite thing in the game right now!

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