Chris Lee's VentureBeat Dev Diary

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Chris Lee on VentureBeat

This article originally featured on VentureBeat.com:


TERA: Time to “level up”

By Chris Lee, Publishing VP at En Masse Entertainment

My memory of the last two-and-a-half years is a blur of starting a new company, westernizing an MMO, and promoting a game. Some specific moments stand out in my mind, like our first day as a company when we met in our real estate agent’s back room, or the epic yoga-ball jousting match we had in the hallway of our first office, or last Halloween when the new office was full of Starfleet Academy graduates, Mad Men ad agents, and Tetris cube costumes.

My fondest memory, though, was when we got our first build of TERA translated into English. We played through it as a company to really understand the intricacies of the game systems and the leveling pace. At that time we were learning firsthand the strengths and weaknesses of each class, how a balanced party made a difference in the instances, and how much damn fun it was to kill a BAM.

To keep a public eye on how we were progressing, we found an empty wall and put up a magnet board marked out into 60 sections. You moved your magnet up a spot every time you leveled. The great part about being in a company of gamers was that every single person participated, from our QA testers to our CEO.

This not only drew praise and smack-talking for leaders and laggards, it also created competition in the office—and nothing motivates people like a little competition. I took pride in staying ahead of our senior producer on the board (at least for a little while), especially because the whole board was his idea.

TERA was a different game back then. This was before it had even released in the Korean market. As much fun as we had competing with each other, we also saw some of the hurdles we would have to get over, and compared our impressions to the feedback we were getting from focus group tests. For example, at the time we were forcing people to group for the majority of quests after about level 20. This worked fine for people who had a group but became a complete brick wall for the solo player.

Now, when you have a vision for a game, it can be challenging to incorporate feedback and make big changes while staying true to the game you started out making. But it’s that kind of fine-tuning that has made TERA resonate with so many gamers today. In the last two years, we’ve tuned and balanced the leveling and grouping requirements, improved the trade broker system, and added rest experience, achievements, controller support, and a tiered currency. It’s been quite a ride.

Now we have our “live” leveling board and it’s a great feeling to know that these characters aren’t going to get wiped! As for who is at the top—we had two guys from our network operations team hit max level within a couple weeks of our May 1 launch. For some reason a few of the art guys fell behind the curve (some excuse about being busy working on marketing assets or something). After hitting level 30 with my first character, I decided to restart with a Lancer. Now I’m smack dab in the middle of the board again with a large pack of people.

Leveling this time is much more fun, and that’s because now we get to play directly with our customers. What’s really interesting is the variety of people that TERA has drawn. In addition to our strong community, we have seen tweets from NFL players, Penny Arcade editors, and even Felicia Day about playing the game.

More importantly, just about everything that players go through while leveling, we experience as well. Yes, we’ve been ganked in the open world by outlaws, and some of us didn’t get credit for Karascha. We’ve started pick-up groups and waited in Instance Matching queues. We’ve transferred servers and even created and joined player guilds. Yes, we may be in your guild right now, or you might be in one of ours (but we’ll never tell).

We do this not just because we love TERA as a game. We do it because we want to make sure we get the full player experience. This time, as we make our way up the leveling board, we are feeling the needs of a live service and continuing to find the perfect balance of incorporating player feedback while staying true to the vision of TERA. The ride isn’t over yet.

See also:

TERA: A Writer’s Labor of Love

TERA: A Producer Does What?

GamesBeat’s online art exhibit: TERA