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Hidden Arcana: Developer Spotlight on Crystin Cox

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Hi! I’m Anatoli Ingram, and welcome to Hidden Arcana, where I’ll give you a look at some of the people and processes behind the development of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™. This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Lead Designer Crystin Cox, who spearheaded development of the Mastery system.

Crystin got her start at the California State University Studio of Arts, where she studied theatrical scenery and lighting. Video games are her first love, so after she worked for some time in the film industry, she was encouraged by her friends to think about pursuing game development. Crystin wasn’t sure where to start, so she took a position where many game-industry professionals begin their careers—quality assurance. She says that it gave her an excellent insight into how games are made, and she believes that QA is a job everyone in the industry should do once in order to understand how important it is.

Some of the games Crystin worked on prior to joining the ArenaNet team include Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Nexon’s MapleStory. She strongly believes that games without subscription fees are in the best interest of players, so as a huge fan and longtime player of the original Guild Wars®, she was excited to learn that ArenaNet was planning to implement a microtransaction system in Guild Wars 2. She hoped she could use her experience working on commerce systems to help develop the Gem Store within Guild Wars 2, so she applied at the studio. Some microtransaction items had already been implemented when she arrived; while some of them became Gem Store staples, Crystin helped to polish, implement, and revamp others based on beta feedback.

During Living World Season 2, Crystin took charge of a new team that was organized to improve in-game rewards in Guild Wars 2. Previously, no single dedicated team handled in-game rewards, and individual content teams were responsible for deciding how players would be rewarded. Crystin felt there should be a greater balance between Gem Store item offerings and in-game rewards, and she and the rewards and commerce teams have worked on creating a clear division so that items will fit their method of distribution. For example, armor sets are now exclusively designed as in-game rewards while outfits are primarily Gem Store offerings. Her teams also designed the new transmutation system and helped work on the new wardrobe.

Much of Crystin’s work in MMOs has been in creating systems to keep players engaged and having fun, which led to her interest in working on the Mastery system and progression for Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns. Crystin says that her earlier work on games for a younger audience was eye-opening because children are, in many ways, harder to please than adults. She explained that while an older player may take to the forums to give feedback, a child is more likely to simply walk away from a game and never touch it again, leaving few clues as to why. Guild Wars 2 players leave consistent feedback on what they’d like to see in the game, which is very helpful.

Crystin’s main character is a charr warrior, although she also loves to play as a mesmer and is looking forward to making a druid. Between playing the game and helping create it, it sounds as though Crystin will be very busy in Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns!

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