Sometime in the fall of 2011 I first started talking to Lisa Stevens and her team at Paizo about their plans for Pathfinder in the MMO market. Within a few months we had decided to create a plan to make an MMO, and begun writing up our ideas about how it would work and what kind of experience we wanted players to have.
In the summer of 2012 we found a perfect funding source with Kickstarter - a way to raise funds for the project that matched exactly with our philosophies of deep community engagement. Later that year we used Kickstarter again, and became one of only a handful of projects to raise more than a million dollars on the platform.
In 2013 we told the community we were racing towards a goal of beginning Alpha testing early in 2014.
Today, we are announcing that we are beginning our Alpha Testing for Pathfinder Online!
We have built an Alpha Test server platform here in our offices in Redmond. This server is going to be used for testing purposes only and won't be the production server we'll use in Early Enrollment. We wanted to have it close by so we could easily do hard reboots and swear at it when it's being recalcitrant. We've named this server Zog.
As we begin Alpha Testing we are moving to a new cadence in our operations. We are going to be working on a 2-week cycle which is going to drive a lot of the information flowing from our team to the community.
This picture explains everything!
Ok, not really. But here is what that picture means. Since we have a 2 week cadence, we'll refer to Week 1 and Week 2 to explain this process.
On Monday of Week 1, we have a Code Freeze. This means that the team cannot check in any new materials. The only thing that can be checked in are bug fixes.
On Monday we will attempt a build of the system (this means building the clients for Mac and PC and building the Server, and perhaps building other bits of glue and tool systems). This build will be called Release Candidate 1 (RC1). Normally, RC1 will fail, either because the build was unsuccessful or because we found a show-stopping bug when testing it, etc. As the team works to fix whatever is wrong with RC1, the code freeze remains in effect on Tuesday. On Wednesday, assuming everything has been fixed, we will build Release Candidate 2 (RC2) which we will then test to verify that all the reasons RC1 was unsuitable have been fixed.
On Thursday we will release RC2.
For the rest of Week 1 after the code freeze is lifted on Tuesday, through the following week, the team will be working on the list of features and fixes that they are targeting for the next release. On Wednesday of Week 2 the work they have done will be finalized. The Team will generate a list of new features, feature improvements, and fixes, which we will publish in a Dev Blog mostly consisting of a changelog and status update. The following Thursday an internal build attempt will be made which should reveal whatever dependency problems exist in the system, allowing the teams a couple of days to get them fixed before the code freeze the following Monday of a new Week 1.
This cadence means that the community will see the following behaviors:
On Wednesday of Week 1, we will do a Changelog blog that will update everyone on the imminent changes to the Alpha Test.
On Wednesday of Week 2, we will do a more traditional blog that will focus on the marketing, new hires, ideas from design for which we would like to get community feedback, etc.
On Thursday of Week 2, a new build should become available for Alpha Testers, and they should begin to download and install it.
The first week or two of Alpha Testing will be an internal test with Goblinworks and Paizo employees and family members.
Once we're confident that we have the server in a ready condition, that people are able to install and run the client software on a variety of machines, and that in general the board is "GO!" for public Alpha Testing, we will begin to send invites to the first group of Alpha Testers.
Those initial Alpha Testers will be the people who backed the Tech Demo Kickstarter and the Pathfinder Online MMO Kickstarter at the Alpha level (or equivalent). We will also be inviting selected members of the media, partners, potential investors, and other business related contacts to join us.
Based on how stable the system is and how well it is handling the load, we will begin to increase the number of people with access to the Alpha incrementally. The existing Alpha testers will be given an invite they can give to a friend. Later, they'll be given several more invites. Over time we will monitor how many people are accessing the game and adjust the number of invites being distributed to get the load on the server we need to see for testing purposes.
As we move closer and closer to Early Enrollment we will expand the Alpha invite list by including randomly selected members of the Month 1 Early Enrollment cadre from the Kickstarter backers. As we continue to increase the load testing, we'll allow those people to send invites to their friends as well.
Finally, in the last weeks before we begin Early Enrollment we will open the Alpha to every Early Enrollee and conduct some all-up stress tests. Ideally we would like to have a few days of operating the server under full load before we begin Early Enrollment so that the first day of Early Enrollment is no more stressful than the last day of Alpha.
Our transition to Early Enrollment will be dictated by the pace of the Alpha Test and what it tells us about the state of the game. We are not going to announce a start date for Early Enrollment yet - we want some experience operating Zog and transitioning to the Early Enrollment hardware before we start speculating on a launch window.
We do not yet have an autopatching client. That means that currently you have to download the whole client each time we push a fresh build. The client is currently about 2 GB in size.
To keep the clients and the server in synch, you may find that you need to download a new client on a fairly regular basis. Especially in the beginning of Alpha Test we may be updating the server out of the normal cadence, triggering a need to upgrade the client too. We hope to avoid this but we'd rather be testing good code than waiting for arbitrary dates for pushing updates.
A self-patching client is on the to-do list for the team and it will come into the cycle during the Alpha Test. When the client begins autopatching the need to worry about a client/server mismatch will be reduced.
We are beginning Alpha Test with a highly unoptimized client build. As a result the minimum system requirements will be higher than we expect them to be when we reach Early Enrollment. The biggest issue to focus on is the video card. You should expect to need a reasonably current processor (something from 2010 or later) and a few gigabytes of system RAM. You'll need to be running Windows 7 or 8. The Macintosh specs are even less well defined and we'll have to experiment. My mid-2012 Mac Mini does not have enough video ram to run the game in OSX, but it does have enough to run it in Boot Camp running Windows 8.1 - the difference is that Mac uses a completely different graphics system than Windows and the Unity Macintosh client is not as optimized as the Windows client is. We'll jointly explore the space of minimum Macintosh specs as we go.
Once you are invited to the Alpha and accept that invite, your goblinworks.com account will be able to access the download page for the client. That page will require you to log in with your goblinworks.com username and password. You'll use the same username and password to sign into the game as well.
Your invite to join the Alpha Test will include information on how to access the download page, install the game, and log into the server. Lee is working on some playtest instructions that we'll have available shortly for Alpha Testers as well.
We have not yet sent any Alpha invites. At this time there is no action required on your part.
There is no NDA for Alpha Testers. We expect that people will be livestreaming lets play video on the very first day Alpha Testing begins. Alpha Testers will be free to talk about what they like and don't like about the game, make screen captures, post videos, etc.
We are going to create a brand-new forum system on goblinworks.com. Initially that forum will be accessible only to Alpha Testers. That will be the place for them to provide direct feedback to the developers. As you are invited to join the Alpha Test, you'll also be able to access those forums. By the time we get to Early Enrollment, all the Early Enrollees will have access to those forums. When we make them generally accessible will be something we'll consider at a later date.
You are the vanguard of our community and we are relying on you to convey the following messages about the game. If we don't succeed in getting this information distributed, the whole project could suffer very negative consequences:
1: Alpha Test means the game is not even Minimum Yet
This is an Alpha Test. The game is not at "Minimum Viable Product" level yet. We are still working on every aspect of the game and everything - graphics, game systems, mechanics, UI, etc. will be steadily improving.
2: Alpha Test means limited accessibility
When we begin the Alpha Test the server will only be available for limited times and days. We will publish a schedule each week of when the server will be on line. As we move closer to Early Enrollment we'll expand the times the server is up, until we reach a 24x7 availability.
3: Alpha Test implies restarts and rollbacks
We expect that we will find show-stopping bugs, potential exploits, errors, and other game-breaking problems that will cause us to restart the servers and roll back to earlier conditions. Nothing in Alpha is permanent. It will all be wiped prior to the start of Early Enrollment. So it's important to note that even if things go completely haywire, there will be no persistent implications for the game.
We are going to start our internal Alpha test immediately. Assuming all is going according to plan we will begin distributing Alpha access to Alpha backers on the week starting Monday the 16th. If we can begin earlier, we will. If we need more time, we'll alert the community.
This is a major, major milestone in this project and one that a lot of MMOs never reach. The fact that we got here is a testament to the hard work of the Goblinworks staff who have been pulling extraorindarily long hours and showing immense dedication to the objective. For the record, I just want to name them here.
Art: Mike Hines, Dave Dawson, Seth Frolich, Zeke Garcia, Da Hsia, Darran Hurlbut, Michael Wallin
Design: Lee Hammock, Stephen Cheney, Bob Settles, Tork Shaw
Programming: Mark Kalmes, Cole Brown, Connor Douthat, Paul Gilmore, Taylor Hainlen, Andrew Richter
Producer: Jen Chalfan
Publishing: Bonny Paz
Operations: Lisa Stevens
Special Thanks: Erik Mona and the team that create Pathfinder have been invaluable in helping to set the vision and guide our design. Chris Self, who handles our bookkeeping, and Jenny Bendel who has assisted in marketing, plus the amazing Paizo Customer Service team and the Warehouse Team, lead by Paizo's COO Jeff Alvarez, without whom we couldn't deliver our Kickstarter promises. Our helpful advisors, Rich Fukutaki and Gail DeGulio provided tremendous help in focusing our message.
Not everyone who starts a journey finishes the journey but everyone who has worked for Goblinworks has been a contributor. So we also want to acknowledge Rich Baker, Andrew Carlston, Scott Magner, Stephen Minkin and Kieran Yanner.
I could not ask for a more awesome team of Goblins with whom to adventure!