At GDC I sat down with managing director Chris Wilson and technical director Jonathan Rogers to discuss Path of Exile and their idea of adding player-run races to the game. A fan favorite, these timed gaming experiences are currently only officially sponsored events grouped into seasons, the first of which just concluded. However, devs would like to give players the opportunity to create and host unofficial events (meaning results won't have any bearing on the seasons) to allow players to enjoy this wildly popular facet of the game in a place where they can practice skills, test themselves against friends, or just enjoy a unique challenge.
"We have the ability to have [what we call] leagues. They are basically game economies that can exist for variable lengths of time. We can open one that lasts for a month and players play in that. And when finished, those characters get folded back into the main game economy. This is a lot of fun for the players because they get to play on a clean server. It's like a fresh slate, where there aren't all these powerful items floating around the economy."To participate in these short-duration events (usually one to three hours long), players have create brand-spanking-new characters and race to complete objectives as quickly as possible. Adding to the variety, each event can have completely different rulesets and objectives. Wilson gave the example of one event where health was tapped to use skills instead of power, forcing players to really rethink their strategies.
Rogers emphasized that Path of Exile is not a game that lends itself to making and playing only one character. With 24 character slots, the game encourages experimentation and the races are a good way to engage players and get them to try new classes. In essence, it helps players avoid getting stuck in a rut and losing interest.
Another important point Wilson made is that these events test a player's skill at playing the game, not how much time they've invested in it. Contrary to many other competitive arenas, in this one, players won't have an advantage over others by mere virtue of having tons of hours to spend grinding out special gear because everyone starts from scratch at the start of every single one. There is no gear discrepancy, only skill. Obviously those who have played the game some and understand it more will do better than a newcomer; skill is still the deciding factor.
Community-driven content like this is a win-win. Wilson told me, "Features like this are useful for keeping the fans engaged, they're really good for making money, and they're a lot of fun for us to work on -- that's a really important set of reasons of why we'll do it." But he continued, "The difficult question is pricing because we want this to be a really accessible thing... l suspect we'll base a lot [of the price] on what features they want turned on."
Rogers added that the team is also working on more areas, including the third act of the game. And while Path of Exile is expected to release in late September, players won't have to wait until September to see changes in development; a big content update won't come out of nowhere at launch. Instead, players will see weekly updates leading up to it. Wilson pointed to the game's recently instituted weekly content patch schedule: "We found the players respond really well to frequent updates. If they're not playing constantly, it gives them a reason check every week to see what's changed and see how it affects their characters."
If all goes according to plan, then the both guilds and player-run races should make it into game by release. However, server stability and other issues will always be the first priority for the devs. But players needn't wait until release to check out the game and experience the league system for themselves -- they can join in open beta right now. If you'd like to hear more about Path of Exile, check out Massively's hands-on experiences.
Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!