DeepFriedDave - CasualCore
CasualCore: Mature gamer who is able to put in about 2-3 hours a session maybe three to five times a week, anywhere from 12 to 18 hours on average per week.
I like this term. I will now be know as Smiff the CasualCore player
I was very fortunate to be chosen to attend the Elite Task Force (ETF) workshop that was held at Massive's studio in Malmö, Sweden. The details of the discussions are under an NDA, so I'll share as much as I can about the event. This isn't going to be a short thread, but there’s a TL;DR summary before my impressions at the bottom.
WHO WAS INVITED
I'll say that I feel Massive did a fantastic job of pulling together a group that was diverse in many different ways. Thirteen players were invited to the event, and 5 of those were content creators. The players were from all over the world (5 different countries), and both male and female gamers had representation. A wide variety of gaming backgrounds were found in the group ranging from FPS to RPG, but many had a strong MMO background which is key for this type of game. Most importantly, I believe every play style was represented well. It’s hard to create a group were all members are vocal and honest about their views on topics, but we definitely had this within the group and it showed our passion for the game.
The average playtime of the hardcore players was around 60-70 days if I had to guess, and most all would be considered "hardcore” players. Below you'll find which play styles were represented, which I think you'll agree is very diverse.
- 5 hardcore PvP only
- 4 hardcore PvE and DZ players (including someone who's soloed all heroic content aside from DN)
- 2 hardcore solo PvE players
- 1 hardcore PvE group player
- 1 CasualCore PvE-but-wants-to-DZ-as-well player (me)
ABOUT ME I’ve been involved in podcasting about The Division for over a year now (Rogue Agent Radio and Collecting What Remains - Division Lore Cast), and have spent much of my time preparing for those podcasts and my gaming by learning all there is to know about the game. If you’ve listened to RAR at some point you know that I am passionate about the game and it’s community, and that I consider myself a CasualCore player. I was once a “hardcore” player, but adulting has limited my play time. Whenever I do have free time, it is spent gaming, and I take it seriously (CasualCore).
I’m a 40 year old father of 2, and my work/life balance only allows me to play in 2 hour chunks typically, which averages at about 15 hours a week. I have a 30 year background in FPS and RPG games (my first RPG was Wasteland on C64). I am one of the original members and admin of Dads of Destiny (a clan with nearly 60K Dads), so I am very familiar about what a gamer with limited time looks for in a game. I feel that my CasualCore play style brought a very important perspective to the conversations, representing people who love gaming, but just don’t have the same amount of time that others have.
I have close to 18 days played amongst my three characters, and when I play I look for fun activities that allow me to gear up in my limited time (I don’t do many incursions). I understand that I may not get to the optimal min/maxing of my character, but I believe a rewarding feeling of progression should still be present. I love the idea of the DZ (risk/reward – tense situations when farming loot as a PvE player), but I avoid the DZ now because I don't think these conditions exist currently and it's more focused on PvP. I believe you should be rewarded properly for spending large amounts of time doing the longest activities in the game, but not punished due to the limited play time you may have.
- Office Tour
- State of the Game
- Presentation 1 : Enemy Health and Difficulty Scaling
We began with a large “meet and greet” with the developers at the studio, then a presentation with the event’s agenda. We then individually introduced ourselves and talked about our gaming background and Division gaming play style. It was awesome to see the developers do the same, so you could begin to understand which people worked on separate core systems of the game.
After a tour of the studio, we all entered a conference room with only the community managers (Hamish & Yannick) to begin discussions about what the ETF thought about the actual "State of the Game". This was a time to identify what the top issues (bugs and fixes aside) we believed were in the game. As you would have imagined with a diverse group, the answers were diverse as well. From someone who participates and conducts many idea-generation workshops in their professional career, I can say this was an appropriate way to start. Each of the ETF were asked to write down their top three concerns down on post its, and then we proceeded around the room and each person explained their top 3 issues. This wasn’t a time for solutions, it was a time for identifying problems. The activity turned into a brainstorming heat map, where the post-its were grouped topically and added to a whiteboard in order to create a visual map that categorized the issues. I believe we ended up with 6-7 “categories”, and then all voted on what ones we thought were most important. It’s important to note that this is a great way to begin a brainstorming activity, so you can identify where to concentrated your problem solving efforts on. These post-its, their groupings, and the notes aside them was left on the board for the remainder of the event so we could reference.
On August 18th, about 3 weeks prior to this event, Massive acknowledged on the State of the Game that the game was in a poor state, and went through the many issues that made the game not fun and quite frustrating. Using feedback from the community, they began to work on fixes for the main issues that plague the game at that time. This is important to note because I’m glad they didn’t wait until the event started in order to begin working on fixes. They listened to the community, and began to come up with core changes to address things for us to review and improve upon. For myself, this was a powerful step because I can tell you what needs improvement, but without knowing the limitations developers face I couldn’t tell you the best way to fix it. This would bring us to our first presentation, Enemy Health and Difficulty Scaling (more info on presentations below). After this presentation we broke for dinner, where conversations and ideas continued to happen as a mix of developers and ETF sat together. This was another great example of continued brainstorming. I went on a rant one night to the loot team that adding sealed caches to any activity makes it better! Make it rain sealed caches!
The presentations were the key aspect of this workshop being a successful event in my opinion. I’m sure most of you have gathered this from watching the SotG every week or just previous gaming experience, but each input into the game has it’s own team really. Just as examples there is a team of devs that handle loot/economy, another team on weapons, another on enemy AI, etc. It’s important to note that none of these developers were in on the initial heat map brainstorming activity, which really made that portion key in producing good results.
Each presentation followed the same format, and each was about 60-90 minutes and was presented by the developers who owned that particular topic. These presentations were VERY detailed, and there was a lot of statistics and information provided within each. Below is a sample outline of the presentations:
- What the issue is today? (why it’s an issue, the logic behind the original intent, and how it affects different player play styles)
- How did the issue get to its current state? (what changed at endgame to get it to the current state?)
- What SHOULD it look like if working as originally intended? (This is important because it was an admittance of fault when they compared it to the original intent)
- How can we get there? (Proposed solution)
During these presentations we asked MANY questions to understand all aspects of the topics that were discussed, but solutions would be tabled for the workshop that would be had on the third day (This again is the correct way to organize and facilitate an event like this one). The methodology on how to approach a positive change was helpful to understand their limitations and options when it came to game development for us to ultimately give meaningful feedback.
- Presentation 2 - Loot
- Presentation 3 - Weapons / Gear
- Presentation 4 - Skills
- Heat Map Review
- Early 1.4 Build Playtest
Heat Map Review: After the presentations had concluded, we revisited the heat map as a group, but this time with the developers in the room. We looked through the topics as a group, and identified which topics would be addressed if the developer proposed solutions were put in place. I was personally impressed to see the large number of topics we identified were addressed in the presentations, and became very hopeful that a project of this large a scale could be executed correctly and timely. The majority of the remaining topics would be discussed in the workshops on the third day.
Early 1.4 Build Playtest: I can say we were all presently surprised there was a VERY early 1.4 build (probably more like 1.35) that we could play which had adopted SOME of the gameplay changes they had suggested in the presentations prior. This was a great opportunity for both the ETF to get hands on with the build, and the developers to get feedback about the path suggested. I can’t go into details on what changes were implemented or new things that we saw, but I can say that I am very impressed in what changes have been made to the core experience thus far. (There were also several quality of life things that are not important to the core experience, but exciting to see added
- Gameplay feedback
- Skills Workshop
- Gear Sets Workshop
- Economy/Loot Workshop
- Enemy AI / Mechanics Workshop
- Workshop Feedback
Gameplay feedback: We started off Day 3 with an open forum with all of the developers present on how the build felt. We went through the discussions in a topical format so that we could relate them to the suggestions presented in the presentations, then gave very open feedback on what we liked, didn’t like, and felt was missing. We also spent a bit of time discussing how we as players were impacted by the changes (our characters were imported) to give some feedback on how we were personally affected by the changes. Additionally they asked us for feedback on how they should address the community with certain changes in the game that will affect your play style and your character, which I thought was a very smart way to go about helping the communication with the community. As always, our feedback was well received, and all of the developer’s continued to ask questions and feverishly take notes on our responses to the experiences we had in game.
Workshops: This was appropriately the most important part of the event, and it was planned well given all of the activities we had done to lead up to this. This is the time we would sit with the developers in groups to discuss specific topics to their team. As a recap, leading up to these discussions the ETF openly gave feedback on the main faults with the game, the developers identified what they believed to be the faults and proposed solutions, and then we played an early build that had some of these solutions coded in. We now had ALL of the information we needed to give meaningful and insightful feedback. We then began a series of workshops that covered skills, gear sets, economy, loot, enemy AI & mechanics.
Our group of 13 was broken in to two groups, and each group had a very good balance of play styles which is very important. For the remainder of the day, the small groups met with the development teams individually to do a deep dive into details surrounding the various topics. As an example, I'll outline some topics we discussed in the "Skills" group I was in. We went through nearly every skill as a group, and how they were (or were not) used in the game, how they could be changed, how they effected each of us in the group (PvP players, solo players, PvE players), what role they should use in the game, and various current stats against them. When you put all of the people at the same table with this much game experience, and who have many different play styles, it’s amazing how you can potentially find a good result that satisfies any play style. It was these types of discussions which made me realize how invested Massive is in this initiative, and how much insight we have to give as players of the game.
The 3rd day came to a close with a discussion on feedback regarding the event in it’s entirety. Overall the response from both the ETF and the developers was enormously positive. Once again, there were several points made by the ETF with good feedback such as “should you do this type of event again here are some things to keep in mind” type of moments. Again, everyone was very forthright. Massive was very genuine in communicating how important this event was for them (on SEVERAL occasions and not just this one), and I believe the value it will generate is exponential.
The group chosen was very diverse (Hardcore PvP, Hardcore PvE, Solo Players, and Casual). Of the 13 people there, 5 were well known content creators. The first exercise was the ETF each gave their top 3 concerns about the State of the Game. Over the next 2 days developers gave presentations about various aspects of the game per topic (enemy health, difficulty scaling, loot, weapons, gear, skills) and what the current and future state should look like. The ETF played a build with these suggestions, then we conducted specific workshops on topics providing precise feedback and ideas for solutions.
Overall it was just perfectly planned and executed. This says a lot for a management nerd who runs these types of events and can sometimes have difficulty getting good results depending on your participants. The player diversity was spot on, it was well planned, well prepared, they always had the right people in the room to answer questions, and the environment was very engaging.
It became immediately clear to me when they flashed up the agenda on day 1 we were there to get down to business and make things happen. Sure, it was awesome to spend time with the great group of developers there and be as a giddy as a school girl sitting on the “State of the Game” couch, but we all stayed focused on the goal and agenda of “Making The Division Great Again” (a US pun that was often explained). The Days were packed from 10:00am to 6:30pm when we broke for dinner, and they did a great job on keeping conversation focused (passionate players can get off track talking about a game they love…).
I was pleasantly surprised about what they had presented as well as the solutions they had came up with and had implemented thus far. It should be noted this was in no way a “come and play this build and give us your feedback” session. There were many things yet to be included in the EARLY 1.4 build, and we were repeatedly reminded that we were there to influence it’s effectiveness. It was evident they were engaged and excited to have us there, and it was very apparent our presence will have a good impact on 1.4 (seeing the intent of a change they showed on Day 2, then showing the updated change on day 3 based off of our feedback was very reassuring).
Overall I’d say the event was an incredible success. We all felt very welcomed, and relevant to the decision making process and outcome of 1.4. We were all very humbled to be chosen, and I can honestly say to the community of gamers that put their faith in the ETF: you won’t be disappointed. The team at Massive listen to the community feedback, and they are very passionate about the feedback they receive as well as the game they want to deliver to us. This much was evident in every way possible during this workshop. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this group and hope the community will appreciate the effort that Massive and the ETF have put into this event to help bring The Division to a great experience as we know it all has the potential to be.
Massive have continued to state that the intention of 1.4 is to improve the “core experience” of the game. This will not be a small change. The change will be fundamental on how the game will be played today, and it will pave a way for future updates to not go down a past path. There will be big changes coming, but be ready agents, as they are all for the better of the game that we love.
I’ve not identified any of the ETF agents at the group, but I’m sure you’ll see some of them if they choose to introduce their selves in this thread. It was truly a great experience and awesome to be with a group so passionate about this game, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in the Division community often going forward!
Hope you enjoyed the recap!
The NDA is important to have in place for many reasons. It’s not that Massive doesn’t want us to be transparent and interact with the community. They shared information with us that is proprietary to how they design their games. Additionally, the majority of what we spoke about were suggestions, and we cannot confirm or deny they will make it into the final version of 1.4 (because we can’t say for sure at this point). The ETF will find out with the rest of everyone else when the patch notes are released on what changes were included in the release.
Massive paid for our flights, lodging, meals, and transport to and from the hotel. We were each given a bag of SWAG (t-shirt, poster, patches, etc). No monetary compensations were offered or asked for.