Forge in the Crucible of Gameplay

Saturday, June 27, 2015

One of the unique aspects of Pathfinder Online is something we call crowdforging. Crowdforging brings into play a symbiotic relationship between the developers and the players. The players become partners as we design and develop the game over the course of many years. It's more than using customer feedback—it's having players actively contribute to the design by giving us real information from actual gameplay. In addition, the players are creating a vibrant world from an empty sandbox—all the stories, quests, personalities, and most of the gear comes from their hands, forged as they played the game.

Crowdforging the Gameplay

When we started building Pathfinder Online, we created an initial design document—a tome that would guide us as we started to make the game. It laid out our vision for Pathfinder Online, conceptualizing different game systems and how they would interact with each other. In traditional MMO design and development, the design document would be fully implemented before a single player would be let into the game, even in alpha or beta testing. In these games, player can have very little impact on the fundamental design of the game design. If the designers were off base with part of their design, there is little they can do at this point without costly changes and long delays, so the only problems that get fixed are the things that are either relatively easy to deal with, or the most egregious. Things that work "well enough" don't usually get much attention, even if they could work much better.

Instead of locking ourselves into our design document, we created the base systems of the game—the fundamental things that every MMO has, such as running, fighting, inventory, weapon slotting, and crafting. Then we began bringing players into the game during a phase we called Early Enrollment, while we were starting to work on the systems that make Pathfinder Online unique. As we launch each of those systems, the players give us real-time feedback that allows us to maneuver our design away from problems we didn't foresee in a way that you just can't do with traditional MMO design.

Of course, while the players are helping us refine our design, they are also populating the Echo Woods, creating settlements, putting up holdings, fighting off monster incursions, gathering loot and raw materials, and crafting finished goods such as weapons, armor, potions, and other things that characters need to survive in the world.

It has been a really great process for us at Goblinworks. Our current players are pioneers in the game, forging a world from the wilderness, creating an economy, developing political alliances and enemies, and forging real friendships. All the while, their experiences are helping us make the game better for them. Let's talk about some examples!

The Monsters Are Coming

One of the new concepts you'll find in Pathfinder Online is the escalation. There are areas of the world where different groups of NPCs—human or otherwise—have staked a hold on the land to try to fulfill their own agenda. The Skullbasher ogres are trying to fill their stew pots with meat. The Mordant Spire elves are searching for Azlanti treasures. The duergar are looking for slaves to take back to their underground cities.

In our original design document, these escalations would enter the world in a particular hex and, unless they were stopped by the players, they'd grow in power and expand into surrounding hexes. We thought this tension would be great, but through months of gameplay, we realized that because the pressure was always on, the players felt they were being forced to attack escalations even when they might prefer to be doing something else. And if they let the escalations go for a while so they could do other things, the escalations soon got out of hand.


The Bloodstone Swords join with the Pathfinder University Faculty to battle some Charred Goblins.

So working with the community, we started to change the fundamental ideas behind escalations. Players were happy when they could chip away at escalations over the course of a few weeks, but all their hard work was evaporating when the escalation grew back from its losses. So we changed escalations so they grow much more slowly and don't infect other hexes as quickly. And instead of having every escalation start small and grow, we created an escalation that came in strong, but because the monsters were in control, they only left their lower-powered soldiers around. Then, as the players succeeded against the escalation, more powerful minions would get sent in, with the escalation getting harder as you got closer and closer to victory. Also, in the next patch of the game, various events that had been on timers in the past will have those timers removed so that progress against them won't be lost.

All of these changes came through direct feedback from players. Without this feedback, we would have never known that our original plans had flawed assumptions about the way that players wanted to interact with that part of the game—at least, not until it was too late.

Getting the Balance Right

Another part of the game where crowdforging has made a difference is in balancing the classes and the various equipment in the game so there isn't a single, sure-fire winning strategy. This is pretty hard to do in a vacuum—game designers need real game feedback from real players to understand why they behave in unanticipated ways.

For instance, Pathfinder Online has a number of consumable items that the designers thought would be a part of every player's arsenal. Tokens are one example—they're small one-shot magic items that do a single thing, such as heal you, improve your armor, give you resistance to energy attacks, etc. You get them as drops from killing monsters, so you are constantly getting more. The designers thought that even though the effect of a single token isn't huge, players would slot them and use them regularly because they were effectively free and they did provide a benefit. But the reality was that they just weren't powerful enough for folks to bother with. Incredible amounts of tokens built up in character vaults because they weren't being used in the game. So the designers amped up the effects, and now tokens are getting used on a regular basis.

The same happened for potions. The designers thought there would be a big demand for various potions, but only a few select potions (healing and speed) were crafted by most people. The problem was similar to tokens: they just weren't powerful enough to be part of a regular arsenal. Changes have been made based on player input, and the jury is still out on whether potions are where they need to be. Only time and actual gameplay will tell.

These are just a couple examples of how crowdforging is working. There are many other areas where the players have helped to evolve our design document: the auction house, rogue abilities, the way feuds will work. This symbiosis is the crux of how we are making Pathfinder Online the best game it can be.

Player Profiles

We have a very diverse and colorful cast of characters in the game already and I want to showcase that diversity in this blog. But due to some mix-ups on my behalf, I don't have a player profile for this week. I have a number of profiles in the works, and should soon have a bunch in the hopper for future weeks. But in the spirit of crowdforging, I would love to hear your thoughts on players that you think should be profiled, so post your thoughts in the discussion thread—I'll be taking notes!

Lisa Stevens
CEO

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Tags: Pathfinder Online
Goblinworks Executive Founder

Great summary! I'm working numbers and tactics to provide meaningful feedback on the consumables.

Goblin Squad Member

Who better to profile then Benevolent Dictator Phyllain Or the Stab Happy Tink, who has come up with many great idea changes (some used, some not), such as the buffing of Thornguards, and rootable ranged attacks way back in alpha:D

(I may be a little Biased those opinions though :D)

*All hail Phyllain! Benevolent Dictator of Xeilias! And Golgotha, the throne upon which he sits!*

Goblin Squad Member

I wouldn't mind hearing from Bluddwulf. I think his perspective is often overlooked and you are missing out on a big chunk of potential Crowdforging.

Goblin Squad Member

Calidor Cruciatus wrote:

I wouldn't mind hearing from Bluddwulf. I think his perspective is often overlooked and you are missing out on a big chunk of potential Crowdforging.

I appreciate the shout out, and to be honest I would have had more to contribute earlier on in EE then at this moment.

When factions and outpost raiding is actually implemented, and I can do real banditry, I will be far more active.

Dark Archive

Starfinder Superscriber

Crowdforging is just another way to say playtesting,alpha testing, or beta testing. So far this game is looking like the Early Access games on Steam. People are paying to play test the game and tell the Developers how to fix those problems. If they made this free to play during this development stage, they might get more people willing to help them make it a better game. Paying to play test a game isn't very fun or appealing.

Grand Lodge

DragoDorn wrote:
Crowdforging is just another way to say playtesting,alpha testing, or beta testing. So far this game is looking like the Early Access games on Steam. People are paying to play test the game and tell the Developers how to fix those problems. If they made this free to play during this development stage, they might get more people willing to help them make it a better game. Paying to play test a game isn't very fun or appealing.

I feel what you're saying, but despite its shortcomings, it's fun to play even as a MVP (minimum viable product). The price is a little steeper than it ought to be at this point in development, but now we're just haggling.

Goblin Squad Member

@Dragodorn

I'll disagree a bit, while some of that is inherent to those traditional phases of development, by no means does 'release' mean an end to crowdforging for this game. Nor is it just a matter of "bugs". We've had an opportunity to influence systems and their design. It's very much a mixed bag.

The other big thing is that we are playing the game, what we do matters and will carry on into the future. There are no wipes. While it may be incomplete and early, it's still persistent progress, not for the fun of it testing.

Besides, every MMO is an ongoing effort that will continuously do the things we've both mentioned throughout their entire lifetime. So they let us in a little earlier for business reasons, that's an acceptable option.

Goblin Squad Member

The bug reporting/testing mechanism in game is separate from and serves a different function from the crowdforging.

Goblin Squad Member

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Traditional early access, alpha model sounds a bit different. Those free to play offerings attract a different type of player. Mainly they are interested in figuring out how to manipulate the game systems to get through this aspect of the game faster. What builds work what builds don’t. All the systems are already built and the traditional testers are testing what they want to be able to do in game.

PFO is a bit different in those regards because we aren’t testing the game systems as much as designing those systems. Which leads to folks raging that we are doing their job for them and we shouldn’t have to pay for it etc ..

My take on this is, that traditional model you like has produced 0 games I have enjoyed for more than a week in the last 5 + years. They spend millions on a game, embed some things in it that make the system unplayable and by the time it gets to me, there is no hope to change those systems to make them better.

So I am gladly spending money on helping design a game that I can play all the time. The developers are listening to our input and designing the systems based on that input. I Have been playing for 5 months now and enjoying it as opposed to buying a finished game. Playing that game for a week and moving on to the next title that I hope will be different or better … but hasn’t been in the last five years and probably wont be in the next five years.

What’s that definition of insanity... the one about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.. that is how i feel about the traditional model at this point and am happy to be trying something new.

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