I want to take a minute today to talk to you all about something extremely near and dear to my heart; Ethics in operating an MMO. There is a point to all of this, but at times I do ramble a bit when I'm trying to explain stuff.
I will reference the following link a few times, so feel free to take a moment to familiarize yourself with the t20 incident -- additionally, although far more "gossipy" you can click this for more background.
Everyone knows that developers have all the power in the world when it comes to their game, after all, we couldn't MAKE the game (let alone test it) if we didn't have cheat commands. Many games in the past have been plagued by rumors, suspicions, and allegations of improper cheat use on the live servers. In some cases it is true (the aforementioned t20 incident) but in many more cases it is not. Many times these issues are found and dealt with immediately without the players knowing, and sometimes they aren't. Rarely are they as transparent as the t20 incident.
For those of you who don’t know my role at Carbine, I’m responsible for the successful operation of WildStar and all of the departments that are integral in that role either report into me or I work extremely closely with. As such I take cheating, and reports of cheating, extremely seriously. This is especially true given the fact that I identify closely with the Lawful Neutral alignment. (Am I showing my age/geek upbringing a bit here?)
I want WildStar to be above reproach when it comes to claims of developer unfairness. I want players to never have reason to fear that a developer at this company would use our powers to benefit them personally in the game. I want WildStar to have an even playing field between the customers and us. I believe that you want this too, because I (and many of us here at Carbine) are gamers too.
I’ve been in this industry for a long time, and it is common practice that during beta that in game benefits are given out to various people; developers, press, investors, you name it. Beta is typically a Wild Wild West for things of that nature. We have largely avoided this. Devs do not have cheat access on the beta realms (with the rare exception of very few people who need it to investigate issues, like our server guys, my team, etc.) We have a “secret” cheating server that is accessible to our partners who need to fly around the game and view the zones for various reasons, or for developers that need to test things on a “live” environment, or for demos that we bring to conventions that require artificially leveled characters and the like. That’s not a problem. The problem lies when those things start happening where players are spending time and putting effort into their characters (i.e. the Beta/Live realms).
I think everyone, players and developers, understands that Beta is Beta: the characters are going to be wiped, that special things happen on the Beta servers will never happen on Live, and that generally things we do (like summoning a thousand Rowsdowers) wouldn't be acceptable after launch. But if we're okay with doing it under the radar in Beta, how can players trust that we won't do it after launch?
The answer is simple: transparency. If the Community team wants to run a PvP event on the live servers, we'll support the request. The operations team will create all of their characters on the live servers, we’ll spec them out with appropriate (but not overpowered) gear and elder gems, we’d give those characters to the employees for the duration of the event. Most importantly, we’ll make a post on the forums CLEARLY outlining the names of the characters, the gear we are giving out, and why we are doing this. At the end of the event, we'll reclaim the characters and either delete them, or store them for a future similar event. As an additional benefit, this gives you the opportunity to call us out if we DID accidentally give them godly gear so we can fix it beforehand! We aren’t perfect, why pretend to be!
At the end of the day, the community team gets to run their event (which we can all agree that the players generally like), and we don’t compromise our integrity because we aren’t hiding anything. We tell the players that we are doing this, we do exactly what we say we are going to do, and then we remove the artificially leveled characters from the general public. The overall game benefits from this developer-player exchange.
An example of this (which we didn't properly communicate due to lack of notice and time) was the characters used during the Battlegrounds/Arenas livestream a few weeks ago. Those were given to Scooter and Bardic as pre-leveled characters with level-appropriate gear, and were reclaimed by us after the stream. Moving forward, when we need to do this again, we'll be sure to communicate exactly what we're using and why. Beta is a time to refine our policies and procedures as well as the game itself.
So with all that, I’m here today to talk to you about the first "official" instance of this program. We are going to be giving out a few (anonymous) artificially leveled characters to members of the gaming press so that they can review content in the game that would be otherwise unattainable during the limited remaining beta periods. These characters will be playing on the Beta realms, but will not have any cheats themselves. We are artificially leveling/gearing them up, and then moving them to an account the media have access to during the review period. After the reviews have been completed (no later than head start), we will reclaim those accounts.
Attentive readers will notice that we said we’d post the names of the characters in the PVP example above, but we aren’t doing this for this first official instance of the program; seeing as how the goal of these characters is to review the game, we felt that giving out their names would open them up to unwarranted harassment.
At the end of the day there is the possibility that I’m completely off base and that no one cares about any of this. That I’m spending all of this time talking to you all about this, fighting against industry standards vs. my Lawful Neutral nature, and no one really cares about it. I don’t choose to believe that as true. I believe that our players want an even playing field without the fear that the developers are giving themselves unfair advantages with cheat powers. I believe that our players want an even competitive field, be that in raiding, world firsts, pvp, housing, or many other avenues of play. I believe our players deserve our trust that we can be open and forthright with them. I believe that transparency at the beginning, and consistently throughout, will set us all on a path to success and enjoyment as WildStar enjoys decades of success.
I believe in our players.