Four years ago, on October 23, 2013, Path of Exile left Beta and was formally released! To celebrate our four year anniversary since the game's release, I (Bex) have taken a moment to reflect on the journey of development we've taken together and offer insights into what it was like to observe this from my position inside the company.
I became a part of Grinding Gear Games' customer support team in March of 2013, shortly after Path of Exile had left Closed Beta. I had just turned 23 and came equipped with a love of RPG games, some small background in game customer support and community management and a desire to change the course of my life.
I didn't know much about Path of Exile then, but once I was accepted to the team I began to studiously research more about the game. The more I learned, the more my excitement to be part of this team grew. With the impressive passive tree, gritty art-style, New Zealand inspiration and compelling business model I had discovered I was part of a team that was creating a game I could earnestly get behind. I was hooked.
We were a small team back then of only around 20 or so members. I remember being cautioned that the fate of the game was still unknown and to be prepared in case the job might not last. From the outset it was easy to feel part of something bigger and that we had all unified around a single cause to propel Path of Exile forward and share the game with more and more people.
The time between when I started and the official release of the game were somewhat wrought with uncertainty. The forum was littered with posts saying the end is nigh which, at the time, was nerve-wracking. It seemed that the odds were against us and we were fighting an uphill battle yet there was a lot of reason to be hopeful.
While I was still finding my footing on the customer support team, the developers were working studiously to bring our first challenge leagues, Anarchy and Onslaught to fruition. In the meantime, the community was flourishing as they honed their skills and shared their knowledge with one another. In May a buzz ran through both the community and the studio when Havoc was the first player to reach level 100. There had been so much anticipation for this moment. At that time many thought it wasn't possible and yet here we were on this new frontier.
The month or two prior to the game's official release in October 2013 was exciting and full of anticipation. We acquired a third studio in our office block to fulfil the needs of our growing team. The customer support team seemed to explode overnight with many new faces ready to assist us with the influx of people at release. There was a flurry of hiring and training new people. In my memory, this was the biggest batch of people we'd hired for the customer support team at once. It is especially noteworthy as a great number of the people we hired for our team at that time have since evolved to become core members of the development staff.
Our official release day was my first experience of the whirlwind that is launch day. I arrived early in preparation for an onslaught of players, new and old. To my surprise, Chris was there and had been awake all night. He was coughing as he was overcoming a cold that he'd caught a few weeks prior. His voice was hoarse, he seemed tired and a little stressed but yet his energy was still infused with excitement and anticipation.
All these years later, it is still a common sight to see Chris in this state first thing in the morning on launch day, sometimes curled up on the couch in his office (having been awake all night preparing the final build) as we all quietly get ready for the launch around him. I remember being completely impressed that he was working as hard as he was. It was refreshing to be lead by someone that was invested in the process and working hands on to make it happen instead of standing back and waiting for the work to be done.
By mid afternoon, the official game release was a mere few hours old and things were becoming settled. Chris was still awake and wrote a news post to the community to announce the success of the release. In it he announced that it was the proudest day of his life. That moment has stayed with me since. I too felt proud having watched the team come together to make it happen. There is something that feels strangely special in being a participant of someone's proudest day.
Shortly after the release, Jonathan hosted a party for all of the staff so that we could celebrate the success of the launch. There were a lot of emails to tend to, but I was lucky enough to be able to sneak away from them to join everyone. Chris gave a speech thanking all of the staff for their hard work and spoke to the success of the game so far and the future to come. Morale wise, it was a great moment. Although, speech aside, the most noteworthy thing about this party was that it was the first time Chris wore his iconic hawaiian shirt. Path of Exile had truly arrived.
Not only were memes being born, but we had also just added the 7th character class, the Scion, partnered with Garena in Southeast Asia and published Path of Exile on Steam to an even bigger audience. Dominus was now the final boss of the game at the end of Act 3. This time is so embedded in my memory that even now when I am playing through the game, I feel an out-of-place sense of achievement when I kill him.
The outlook of the game from here was very optimistic. We had made it this far and it seemed things could only go upward and beyond. This feeling was affirmed shortly after when Gamespot nominated us as PC Game of the Year.
Our second pair of leagues, Nemesis and Domination, were in full swing and we started to gain momentum in development. We had 33 staff now, and while we were still a small team, comparatively, it was a huge increase in people! At this time, development began for the Sacrifice of the Vaal expansion and its accompanying leagues, Ambush and Invasion.
My memory of our development in 2014 is somewhat of a haze of new staff arriving and continuing to work to improve the content. Forsaken Masters and its accompanying leagues, Rampage and Beyond launched in August that year. These were our first three-month leagues.
Late in that year, Chris approached me and mentioned that he wanted to explore the possibility of me moving out of customer support and making me the community manager. During my time on the customer support team I had made myself known on the forum and developed a rapport with the community and while I wasn't seeking a specific role, I was definitely interested in the opportunity to challenge myself further.
Before the Christmas break, Chris asked me to send him some writing samples in different styles. By then I'd had some time to think about the possibility of the role and it had slowly dawned on me that I was very invested in the idea. I took a few days and created some samples to share with him. To my dismay Chris replied to them with, "Thanks! Let's discuss this when you get back from break." That was possibly the most anxious vacation of my life but I was hopeful.
Ultimately, it was well worth the anxiety. When I got back Chris continued to hand me tasks befitting of a Community Manager as a sort of probationary period. By February 10th 2015, Chris had gained enough confidence in my suitability to the role and I officially became the Community Manager. I was on cloud nine, but there was no time to party as we were about to begin the Closed Beta for the Awakening expansion and it was time to get stuck into my new role.
The Awakening was my first experience at being part of the pre-expansion hype train. At that time we were facing our biggest expansion so far. I was already excited for it, as in early 2013 I had been told that Act Four was already in development, so it was a long wait for everyone involved. Being able to finally let the community know that it was coming was a big relief and only fueled our excitement.
During the lead-up to this expansion, we had finally reached the limits of our three offices. We'd used our Tetris skills to fit as many staff in as we could but with 55 staff and more on the horizon it was time to move onwards and upwards. We moved into our much larger office space which was a huge improvement for everyone. All the teams were now in the same place and we had the added convenience of meeting rooms which made communicating a lot easier.
In addition to being our largest expansion at that time, The Awakening also marked a monumental change in the game when we introduced Lockstep mode, eliminating the biggest blight on Path of Exile, desync. You can somewhat split Path of Exile's history into eras of before and after lockstep. It was a game-changing move, literally.
The Awakening officially launched in July and introduced Act Four, Lockstep mode, the socketable Jewel system, many new skills and items and was accompanied by the Warbands and Tempest leagues. These marked the last of our 'league pairs' separating Hardcore and Standard modes of gameplay between the challenge leagues. We have since opted for single challenge leagues so that we could invest more time into one league, instead of splitting development between two leagues. Later that year we introduced the Talisman League, the first of our individual challenge leagues.
In the meantime, the development team were quietly working on our next big expansion, Ascendancy! I remember being blown away when I first heard the plans for this expansion - which is now something I've begun to expect when I first hear of the team's plans. I am always impressed by how the team manages to take a game that is already seemingly complex and diverse and then twist it in a new and compelling way. It's moments like these that always remind me that I am equally a big fan of Path of Exile and a proud member of Grinding Gear Games.
The Ascendancy expansion introduced 19 new specialised character classes, The Labyrinth and a new boss, Izaro. It's honestly hard to believe that this expansion happened only last year. So much has happened since then but the echo of these improvements can still be felt in current Path of Exile gameplay.
The rest of 2016 is a blur of constant updates, four new challenge leagues and of course, the Atlas of Worlds expansion that focused on bringing a new system of improvements to the end-game experience! It was a great year where we took a lot of strides forward.
Earlier this year we announced our plans for The Fall of Oriath. At that time the community was expecting news about Act 5 and had no idea of our plans to also fully flesh out Path of Exile into one ten-act playthrough. The day of that announcement was easily one of the most exciting days of work in the years I've spent here. When the community is hyped, I'm hyped and I knew this announcement was going to be big.
The thirty minutes leading up to the announcement was spent preparing everything that needed to go live at that moment, the trailer, announcement and other various bits and pieces. There was an electric quietness that overcame the office as we all anticipated what the response would be. It's the online equivalent of being backstage about to walk out in front of an audience and present a project you've been working on for several years. I had a mild panic attack waiting for the moment to come, my fingers nervously hovering over the 'post' button being terrified that I might accidentally press it early with my nerves.
The moment finally came to post and all of a sudden there was a calm focus. Everything was out there now and I almost broke my F5 key to see what the reaction would be in the various areas of the community. Immediately, the response was overwhelmingly positive. The excited comments kept rolling in and a the quiet in the office quickly turned into a buzz that lasted the entire day. The announcement made it to #1 spot on reddit, the first time any Path of Exile news had done so. Being the 8th most visited website in the world, this was huge exposure for both the expansion and Path of Exile as a whole. Great success!
The excitement of announcement day quickly settled back into a studied focus as the development team worked tirelessly to bring the remaining elements of the expansion to fruition. I've seen the team work perilously time and again on expansions in the past, but the work that went into The Fall of Oriath was something else entirely. The amount of dedication that individuals and the team as a whole put into the various areas of the game was exceptional. I found myself constantly in awe of the amount of hours, blood, sweat and tears that various members of the team put into this. (We love you, Ivan)
After several months of this work and dedication it was finally time to officially launch The Fall of Oriath. That launch day started early. I arrived at 4.30am with one of our web developers and two of our server admins. Chris was already there, of course, and with us in the building he was now able to hand over the reins for a few hours and get some sleep before the expansion would be live.
The server admins took the realm down and began the deployment of the update. I settled in with the community for some pre-expansion hype and to keep a lookout in case any issues might arise. This part of the launch is relatively quiet and always feels strangely similar to being involved in a rocket launch. There's a countdown and communication between all parties present checking and confirming their various areas of responsibility with each other.
Between the earliest part of the launch and the expansion going live, several more team members typically arrive including Jonathan, the quality assurance team and various members of the design team. When The Fall of Oriath went live there was a familiar sense of quiet as everyone is on high alert checking their various areas of responsibility and makes sure everything is going smoothly.
The first hour of a launch always goes by in the blink of an eye and before I knew it, it was mid afternoon and things had settled in. The community was somewhat quiet, which is what you hope for after a launch. It means everyone is busy playing and enjoying themselves. It was time for me to go home and catch up on sleep before getting stuck into playing the game myself. Another expansion had gone down in the books, another success with even more people playing than before and the community at an all-time high.
It was another day of feeling a swell of pride to be part of this process and be behind a game that I personally loved and know brings entertainment to so many. Reflecting now on both the launch of The Fall of Oriath and the official Path of Exile release launch, it makes me so proud to know how far we've come and yet how much of the good stuff has stayed the same.
I am extremely grateful to be part of this project. Not only do I personally love Path of Exile as a game, but being part of Grinding Gear Games has been one of the best things that has happened in my life. I am grateful to the team for allowing me to be one of you and I am grateful to the community for welcoming me and allowing me to be your advocate.
Being your Community Manager has completely changed the trajectory of my life. If you had told me several years ago that this was in store for me, I would have laughed and said you were mean for mocking me. My role here has constantly brought me both joy and challenge and every year has pushed me to be a better version of myself. I am humbled by this experience.
I have many people to thank for where I am now. Firstly, I owe a great deal of thanks to Sam and Jess who initially hired me to be part of the customer support team. Your acceptance, training and guidance gave me the tools I needed to thrive and I would not be where I am without you.
I would like to thank everyone on the team for their camaraderie. Your hard work and dedication makes me proud to be numbered among you. It is humbling to be amongst such a diverse and talented group. I am constantly learning new things from the people around me and I am always inspired by the team's willingness to help one another. In particular, I would like to thank everyone who has kept me laughing even when things are challenging. It is a rare gift to be part of a group that has a huge sense of humour across the board.
Jonathan, thank you for having faith in me and with this faith, always pushing me to exceed my own expectations. I hold myself to higher standards because of your infectious passion and enthusiasm for this game and company.
Erik, the first thing I loved about Path of Exile was the art style. It was the first hook, though one of many. The team of artists you've gathered is one of great talent. Seeing the world come alive through your vision and their hands is one of my absolute favourite parts of being here. On a personal note, I owe you an enormous thank you for enabling one of my long-time dreams of bringing my art skills to the digital medium. I appreciate all the time you've invested in pushing my artistic abilities, teaching me new skills and giving me the tools I need to carry this passion onward and upward.
Chris, I don't even know where to begin. We are all here because of you. You are the heart and soul of this company. While everyone on the team works exceptionally hard, I have still never met someone who works as hard as you do. The way you tirelessly rally the team forward to defy the odds while remaining kind, calm and generous is something that never ceases to amaze me. On top of making all of this possible, the greatest gift you've given to me personally is your belief in me. Over time, this has transformed into a belief in myself and I can't thank you enough.
Finally, to the community, thank you so much! Your passion, enthusiasm and support for Path of Exile makes all of this possible. In the last four years I have spoken to so many Path of Exile fans and I am always humbled by having this window into your day to day lives. Many of you have been here so long that I've seen you grow with us. I've heard about your lives through the years, seen your hardships and your wins: some of you have started families, overcome health-scares, started new careers and much more. This connection to you is the greatest gift of all. Thank you for being part of this with us, with me.
Path of Exile's history is rich and full, we now have 103 in-house staff, have launched 6 full expansions and 18 challenge leagues, launched in China, Brazil, Russia, Taiwan and on the Xbox One but we're not done yet! I've had the privilege of hearing about the team's plans for the next few years, and I feel confident in saying, the best is yet to come. Here's to the coming years with you all!
4 Years already? The time pass fast with such a good game.
You've come a long way! Take us further!
Just a lowly standard player. May RNGesus be with you.
Current IGN: _ToubaboKoomi_
Last edited by Shovelcut on Oct 24, 2017, 12:09:07 AM
Great work from a Great team! A team who has given us a game that clearly shows their passion for it. No other game has a development team that churns out great content this fast, and this good!
The LORD will march forth like a mighty Warrior, He will come out like a warrior, full of fury. He will shout his battle cry and crush all his enemies.
Last edited by mezion7 on Oct 24, 2017, 12:13:41 AM
The years sure have gone by fast, that's for sure. :)
Please reply to your whispers for items... Even if you are mapping, in a rotation, in uber lab, or if its sold. Thank you. :D
Last edited by mattislouie on Oct 24, 2017, 12:11:08 AM
on Oct 24, 2017, 12:10:01 AM
4 years already? Damn! Looking forward to the next expansion!
4 years already and hopefully a lot more to come!
Last edited by gaudixxx on Oct 24, 2017, 12:11:53 AM
4 year agile sprints :D
🐦 Twitter - https://twitter.com/comfygangsta
on Oct 24, 2017, 12:11:23 AM
Hi. Early player here. Time flies. Grats GGG on the success and evolution of this game.