By sominator @ May 23, 2013 at 3:00pm
State of the Game
Andy Velasquez, Neverwinter Lead Producer
Neverwinter friends and fans! Andy Velasquez here, Lead Producer.
First, I want to say we’ve all been tremendously pleased with the positive feedback and constant support we’ve received from our players throughout Open Beta. It’s been incredible! Game launches are always tornadoes of activity — MMOs, especially. For us here at Cryptic and PWE, things have been absolutely crazy, but in a good way, mostly. ;D
We’ve been doing our very best to keep you up-to-date on our latest efforts using all official channels at our disposal (Facebook, Forums, Website, Twitter), but I wanted to devote some extra time to do something more personal — a detailed but candid message straight from a developer's perspective. And hey, if you enjoy seeing updates like this, let us know in the comments!
To start, I think it’s worth sharing that Open Beta has been a huge milestone for us. I will never forget the day Neverwinter opened to the world. Because it's how we operate, everyone here was on high-double-dragon-bold-alert. We had projectors all over the office displaying server and game monitoring tools across any bare surface we could find, and someone even brought in a birthday cake that was modeled after the in-game Mimic chest! As a team, we watched our online player base grow to a level beyond any we’ve ever seen before OBT (we'll have some official numbers soon as we get investor relations clearance). The positive comments from players and press started flowing in, and almost everyone in the office was watching a livestream of Neverwinter while they monitored services and interacted with the community.
However, like with any game launch, we also had issues to address (we still do). Since Open Beta started, we’ve been in crunch, working to fix bugs and address connectivity issues to the best of our ability, and tirelessly.
The first things we focused on were, of course, remedying unexpected hardware issues at our data centers during those early days of OBT. Predicting spontaneous line card disruptions within enterprise level routers is quite the challenge, but it turns out correcting the issues just requires shoving dozens of engineers into cages for days at a time. Thankfully, as I mentioned, we were all-hands on-deck from moment one, so we jumped on them and turned out the fixes as fast as possible. We then honed in on identifying and patching exploits our players identified, issues with PvP, things that could adversely affect the economy, character corruption issues, and general network performance. Here’s a list of some of the major items that have been fixed so far:
- Characters are no longer able to use a set item exploit to deal millions of damage in a single strike.
- The exploit that allowed Astral Diamonds to be gained illegitimately through an auction house bug has been eliminated.
- Several chests that could be looted more than once were fixed.
- It is no longer possible to disconnect other players from the game by stacking Daze skills.
- It is no longer possible for Tab Slot powers to be lost
- The issue where certain powers could be placed on unintentionally high-duration cooldowns no longer occurs.
- The Dungeon Delve bonus chest now properly shows up at the end of successfully completed dungeon runs.
- Several quests that could be exploited if shared can no longer be shared.
- Improvements have been made to the Foundry to prevent players from creating “speed leveling” missions.
As always, you can keep an eye on our latest changes in the Patch Notes. We’ve made a lot of progress and still have a long way to go. Here’s a short list of some of the top things our team has been working on lately — things we hope to have updates on very soon:
- Network performance and overall connection stability
- Queue system issues (wait times, teleportation issues, group composition)
- Party Loot issues (better allowing players to win the items they legitimately need)
- Making gear progression feel more visually and mechanically meaningful
- Improving the PvP system to better reward participation
- Aggro and threat balancing
- Auction house bug fixes and UI improvements
- Monitoring the economy to ensure that appropriate actions are taken to remove any remaining illegitimately gained currency and items
This is just a list of some of the top things that come to mind. In truth, we’re discovering new issues every day, and plan to continue working hard to get everything smoothed out.
The next thing I'd like to address is server uptime, as we often see players inquiring about the frequency of our maintenances. While we do try to keep the number of maintenances to a minimum, most of the issues we’ve been resolving have been critical enough to warrant almost immediate downtimes and we'd rather take the game down and make it right than leave it up in a poor state. Keeping the game fair and balanced is critically important to us, so when we discover a new exploit, or something that can cause one player to negatively impact another player’s experience, we do our very best to get that fixed right away. Other spontaneous forms of downtime (those hardware issues I mentioned) were addressed early in OBT.
On the opposite side, we do have a lot of things in the works (including the list above) that we’ve been spending much more time on, rather than trying to rush them out the door as quickly as possible. Because we are treating Neverwinter as a live game, we’re making sure to spend the appropriate amount of time planning and testing these changes before they go live.
Speaking of testing, as we progress through OBT and near the official live launch, we'll be standing up a Public Test Shard or PTS. That way we can make "Wild West" changes on there and ensure that only quality fixes make it into the OBT. To those who have played our other games, you probably know that this is one of the main ways that we fix bugs, collect feedback, and stress test our games before the content goes to the live servers.
As I spoke about earlier, another thing we are addressing is our network connectivity. Those who have been with us since Open Beta began probably remember the week where we had a couple of situations where our network equipment failed unexpectedly. The silver lining of this issue was the fact that at those times, our games experienced the highest number of concurrent players that they’ve ever seen, but the issue was still critical for us, because there’s nothing worse than having players not being able to play our game. During that time period, we flew our engineers out to our various data centers, replaced and upgraded a significant amount of our hardware, added more hardware for redundancy, and developed additional monitoring tools to help us keep an eye on the performance of the live game in real time. At the time of this writing, we’re confident that we’ve got things to be pretty stable, but we’re still monitoring them very closely to ensure that they stay that way.
Apart from stability, we’re also working to make sure that everyone is able to play the game smoothly, with as little lag or rubberbanding as possible. This has been an ongoing effort for us, and we’ve made a lot of progress, but do understand that there are some players who continue to experience lag-related issues. We’re continuing to review these reports and collect data in order to further optimize the experience for everyone. We’ve also got a team of technical support agents (in addition to our regular Customer Support team) helping users one-on-one to get into the game and maintain a solid connection.
Additionally, a small number of players identified a couple ways to exploit our game during Open Beta, allowing them to progress, obtain gear, and gain in-game currency at a rate that was higher than it should have been. While most players who saw these reported them to us, rather than utilizing them (because our community is awesome — thank you!), there were a few who took advantage of the exploits at an extreme level. As much as we hate to ban players from our game, in this particular situation we had to permanently close all exploitative accounts and coordinate a 7-hour rollback of all characters and currency transactions. Balance and economy are extremely important to us, and to protect these two integral aspects of the game, we can’t allow characters to exist in the game once they go this far outside of the intended mechanics.
We believe that we have eliminated the majority of the currency that was earned through these exploits. We’ve also investigated the reports of exploitation or illegitimate currency that our players have sent in. Fortunately, in many of these cases, we found that players who claimed to have retained illegitimate currency in chat or on the forums after the issue was resolved did not truthfully have the items that they claimed to have. Still, we continue to investigate reports of potential exploitation every day.
To prevent exploits as we move forward, we’ve beefed up our QA processes with more checks, based on lessons we’ve learned from the previous bugs. On top of that, our hope is that the public test shard will give players an opportunity to help us identify potential exploits before they make it to the live servers.
Additionally, since the exploitation issues caused extended downtime followed by a character rollback on Sunday, May 19, we’ve put together a thank you package for all of those affected, as a way of demonstrating our gratitude for your patience, understanding, and support.
I’d also like to talk about class balance. Like any online game, class balance is a huge discussion, both internally and externally. We are definitely hearing this feedback and watching the evolution of PvE and PvP strategies in an effort to help bring everything into alignment. Right now there are a handful of powers and feats that still have bugs associated with them, so we’re working on getting those issues ironed out first. Once we’re able to make sure everything is working properly, our next step will be to start diving into the balance feedback, and do our best to not only make things fair, but also ensure that all of the classes are fun to play in every aspect of the game, from solo play, to group PvE content, to PvP.
Of course, fixing issues isn’t the only thing we’re doing. We’ve got a lot of new content in the works that we definitely feel will take Neverwinter to the next level. Right now, we’re putting the final touches on some new end game content: Gauntlgrym. It will be our first raid-sized, competitive PvP/PvE experience, and our current goal is to release it to OBT within a few weeks. On top of that, we’ve also got new companions, zones, mounts, mechanics, Paragon Paths, and a new class. I can’t share the details about the new class just yet, but as a hint, it’s going to be a “ranged” one. So, while our engineers, testers, and other team members are addressing maintenance, upkeep, bugs, and network issues, our content creators and artists are working on lots of new things for the game.
We also have a lot of updates in the works for the Foundry. It's been great to see our players helping each other out, sharing their missions in our brand-new Foundry Spotlight forums, and contributing to the Official Wiki. Right now we're bringing in more player-requested assets, along with expanded functionality for three dimensional editing. We're also working to better organize missions in the catalog and aggregate legitimate peer feedback.
On the Gateway side, we’re continually fixing bugs and optimizing the mobile experience. We’re also adding more functionality to it to give you more ways to develop your character, interact with other players, and manage your character’s various areas of progression.
Finally, we’ve got a few big surprises coming with Module 1, which we plan to share more info about very soon!
As we get closer to the official launch of Neverwinter, we plan to keep working hard to identify and address issues on a daily basis. On behalf of the entire Neverwinter team, I want to send out a huge THANK YOU to our fans who have participated in the Open Beta with us, and who have shown their support for our game. Having worked on the game for the past several years, it means a lot to us to see so many people enjoying our game, and engaging with us on our social channels.
I hope this update helps share a little more info about what’s going on over here on the dev side. If you have more questions or would like to share your feedback regarding what you’d like to see in Neverwinter, feel free to post them here!
Click here to register for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG. The best part about Neverwinter: it's free to play! Become a Hero of the North today with a Founder's Pack purchase!
Want more game details, screens, and videos? Like Neverwinter on Facebook for more fan-exclusive content and follow us on Twitter – tweet us your questions! And, subscribe to our YouTube channel for the latest Neverwinter videos.