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May 04 2012 -
Preview Game Worlds
ome of you probably already heard about our plans to set up some kind of development servers to try out and finetune features which have not been released yet. We already shared a rough concept with the PvP focus group to hear what they think about it. Since our plans have started to take more shape lately, we would like to present and explain the concept to you, provide some information on our reasons behind the idea, and inform you about what you can expect, and when.

What's the current situation?

Usually, major game updates are preceded by a private test with selected player groups, e.g. tutors, and a bigger public test follows later. Many players enjoy these tests since they give them a chance to try out new content and features before their release. They already get a first impression on what will await them after the next update or patch.

Especially during the private test, dedicated players help us to identify bugs or imbalances that have been missed during our internal tests. They provide valuable feedback about technical issues but also about design issues relating to new gameplay features or content.

Nevertheless, due to the voluntary and rather unfocused nature of private and public tests, their limited duration and artificial test environment, they are usually less satisfactory when it comes to predicting long term effects, and providing extensive feedback about controversial feature sets and game dynamics such as in PvP or vocation balancing, topics on which opinions often differ widely or sometimes even clash directly.

During public tests, there is often a conflict of interests between players who would like to test new content and features without being interrupted, and those who are mainly looking for PvP fights and fun. Furthermore, there are certain aspects and complex constellations which cannot be simulated sufficiently in tests because they only exist on live servers, e.g. the house system or the guild system. If you have already joined a test once, you may have experienced that many players are also inclined to take more risks since you hardly lose anything there in case of death. Experience and skill loss is considered secondary since it does not affect your "real" characters on live servers, and test server assistants provide you with money. Also, you can find lots of rare items scattered around in cities since they are practically of no value. Considering these aspect, the behaviour of players during tests obviously differs from that on live servers, and thus, is not really representative on a larger scale.

Also, our approach up to now pretty much limited the possible scope of adjustments to tweaking some details while the overall features remained more or less untouched. We spent a lot of time on developing features before allowing players to test them. At that time, though, major adjustments were hardly possible anymore without extensive efforts.

Naturally, we try to consider all different interest groups, possible loopholes and side-effects while creating a consistent concept and developing it into a feature. Nevertheless, what looks good and works well in theory does not necessarily apply in practice. Judgements about the value of an abstract concept can differ quite a lot from judgements based on first-hand experiences in tests which can also differ dramatically from judgements based on gameplay experience on live servers. The implementation of a promising feature to address an issue might still lead to more problems than it was supposed to solve, turn out different on live servers, or just fail to provide an engaging experience. The latter meaning: it is ingame but players do not enjoy, and thus, do not use it.

How to address this situation?

In order to remedy the shortcomings of private and public tests, we need something that fills in their gaps: A real game world, a live system with all the complexity, components and challenges just like regular game worlds. We need a world with a vibrant community that has grown there, and where players care about their characters just like on regular game worlds.

Such an environment would allow us to run longer tests prior to releases so that we can better assess long-term effects. At the same time, the community there could provide us with feedback about their experiences, what they like and dislike. We would be able to try out and tweak new features as well as different solutions more sufficiently and thoroughly before we release them for all game worlds. We could even implement features one way, let them run for a while before changing them to the other way, and see which way actually is better received by the community before making a final decision about whether or not to implement them for good, and if so in which way.

Our goal is to improve the quality of the design, development and testing of new features, especially those of controversial nature. We are convinced that such an environment would help us tremendously in the iterative development of Tibia. Therefore, we were looking for a way to achieve this, and came up with the idea to set up a new game world type with special conditions, called preview game worlds.

Preview Game Worlds - What to expect?

Our plan is to put up two preview game worlds in the near future, one located in our European data centre, and the other in our American data centre. These two new worlds will be like regular Open PvP worlds at the beginning but with two major differences:

Character world transfers will not be possible, players will neither be able to transfer to or away from those game worlds.
Moreover, double experience points and double skill training will be enabled permanently there.

Except for these two differences, these game worlds will be exactly like all other game worlds. As soon as we go in a preview phase, though, a further condition will apply to them: Due to the fact that we plan to run previews of not-yet-released features there, which are still in development, we cannot guarantee constant functionality. So these game worlds may be subject to resets as they become necessary during preview phases.
Yet, this does not mean that resets will be a daily occurrence on preview game worlds. As long as they are not in a preview phase, they will not differ from other game worlds in that aspect. Also, a preview phase is only temporary, it is not a permanent state. What it means is, that once in a preview phase, we may have to reset these worlds to the start of that phase. So players will not have to start from scratch again in case of such a reset. Moreover, we intend to avoid resets if possible, and we do not plan to put on features there without having them tested internally ourselves. We also know from previous update tests that major problems which require a reset are usually discovered within hours or days at a max which means that the progress players may lose will most likely not exceed one or two days.

We plan to continue testing new content mainly in private and public tests just like now but we want to use preview game worlds for testing bigger feature sets, especially controversial ones. This allows us to test such features earlier during the development phase and decoupled from update cycles.
Of course, whenever a preview is released on a preview game world, we will inform the community about it in advance. Also, we will explicitly point players to the special conditions of preview game worlds during the character creation process there.

While we hope to get lots of player feedback about previewed features on the two respective world boards of these game worlds, we will not only rely on direct feedback, but also gather data by measuring stuff and effects of tweaks and adjustments during a preview phase. Nevertheless, we also consider these two new world boards a promising channel for direct exchange between developers and players from time to time. So our developers may also open up feedback threads there and exchange opinions with players about features in question or other stuff they would like to put up for discussion.

What does the schedule look like from here on out?

While we cannot give you a concrete date yet, we plan to set up the new game worlds sometime later this month. Also, we hope to be able to launch the first preview in the near future: our proposal for an alternative PvP rule set. This concept evolved internally and was inspired by all the topics, problems and suggestions that came up in numerous, heated in-depth discussions with the focus group. Dedicated focus group members also helped us to tweak it further, and since we did not find a common ground on all aspects, the preview game worlds are a great chance to try out different solutions and see their effects.

Also, we already presented our plan to set up preview game worlds to the focus group a while ago, when we still referred to them as development servers. Opinions and feedback differed quite a lot. While some players welcomed the approach and our plan, others voiced doubts and concerns. For example, they forecast that players will be fighting for control over these worlds and thus, that chaos will ensue there. However, since the first preview will be all about PvP, we need all that: fights, warring guilds, struggle for power. In the end, we can only come up with fair yet thrilling and challenging solutions for all sides, rulers and ruled, predators and prey, oppressors, oppressed and neutrals, if there is an authentic PvP environment we can analyse.
Other focus group members pointed out that many players will only be interested in getting high level characters and not care about giving valuable feedback. As mentioned earlier, we will not only rely on written feedback but also collect data. Furthermore, if you are concerned about the quality of feedback, take that as one more incentive to start a character there and contribute with constructive feedback. If you think you do not have enough time to start yet another character besides those you already play actively, just give it a try. Even if you can only play from time to time on preview game worlds, the permanent double experience and double skill training will certainly help you to get a decent level quickly for testing new features.

All in all, we need a proper community on the preview game worlds before we can launch a preview. In order to go through with our plan, enough players have to start a character and play there. So we really need YOU! We need your feedback, your expertise, your passion!
If you are looking for a fresh start, like trying out new things and facing new challenges, the preview game worlds might be just right for you! But even if you have doubts about them and how things will evolve, make a character there, share your opinion and experiences with us. We need your input and honest feedback for we want to improve Tibia together with you!

Stay tuned!
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