“Oh,” said Britta. “They’re just running away?”
She was doing her best to sound like she had played no part in this new development. Nigel was good at hiding their meetings from observers, so she was assuming Dr Reedy didn’t know about their get together earlier. Or that it had been her suggestion for NPCs to be less confrontational.
It was a bit awkward, though, since she didn’t know what Dr Reedy thought Britta had been doing. Had she seen her with Sister Florence? Or did she not even know Britta had logged in today? It seemed safest to say as little as possible.
“That’s, erm, unusual.”
“Yes,” said Dr Reedy, sounding distracted. “It’s very inconvenient. We’re getting hundreds of bug reports from players who think it must be some kind of SNAFU on our end.”
“It’s not on your end?”
“Definitely not. And it’s not a bug. This is a deliberate change in NPC prioritisation. No, this is Nigel’s intervention.”
“Maybe he’s trying something new. It is still Beta, so he might just be looking at options.” Britta hadn’t decided what she thought of Nigel turning pacifist, but he might as well see it through.
“It won’t work.” She sounded very certain of herself. “We tried all these strategies in Alpha. Nigel has all the data, so I have no idea what good he thinks this will do. If only he’d speak to me, perhaps I could… Britta, do you think you could contact him?”
“In-game?” said Britta. “I don’t know. Maybe. But what would I say to him?”
“Just knowing his thinking would be of help. He knows how the players will react. If they lose interest, that puts the whole project in jeopardy. People aren’t interested in a pastoral gaming experience. If we hope to capture the public’s interest on a wide scale, it has to be through combat and conflict. It has to be.”
Britta found the insistence on violent means a bit odd. Obviously they had run tests using various different strategies, and wandering around in a pretty wilderness hadn’t been very popular. Nigel had said pretty much the same thing. But Dr Reedy sounded very stressed. Even when things were going wrong, she usually maintained a cool and unflappable exterior. She had to be under a lot of pressure to be this flustered.
“Wouldn’t it be better to let him try whatever he’s attempting, just for a few days?” Britta was quite curious herself to see what he was going for. If he knew the results of previous testing, he had to be attempting something new. “It might not be the direction you think it is.”
“No,” said Dr Reedy. “It won’t work. We don’t have the time to try something new at this stage. We can’t afford any more delays.”
It sounded to Britta like this was less of a gameplay concern as it was a business one. Had Nigel been right about who was really in charge?
“Perhaps once we have a unit in every home and an established playerbase, we can try setting up alternative communities within New World — that sort of thing has already been suggested for future release — but our priority right now is to get a stable product to market.”
Yep, the ambition was definitely business-first. And also surprisingly grand. A unit in every house? The large rig cost the same as a car. Even with the changes to make it into a helmet, the price still had to be astronomical. How were they planning to make it affordable for every family? Sell it at a loss? If they planned to make their money through in-game purchases like the gift boxes, that would create its own problems. Surely this was about more than the money.
“I’m not sure there’s much I can do,” said Britta. “He might talk to me, but I doubt he’ll take any advice.” Unless it was to do something that put her in a completely awkward spot. She very much hoped there was no recording of her suggesting Nigel stop all the fighting and killing.
“No, I understand that,” said Dr Reedy. “We don’t expect miracles. We have people already working on ways to wrest control of the game away from Nigel, hopefully without doing too much damage. To be honest we should have acted much earlier, but he seemed to be taking things in such interesting directions we became mesmerised by the possibilities. We only have ourselves to blame, I suppose.”
Britta wasn’t sure if she was supposed to agree or not, so she said nothing. She could agree to go speak to Nigel, but she had no idea what she would say to him. She assumed this would be a conversation that they would be watching. Maybe she could agree but put it off until later.
“I’d like you to speak to Nigel as soon as possible,” said Dr Reedy.
“Oh, erm, okay.” Most of the time they let her do what she wanted, but she couldn’t really refuse a direct request. They were paying, after all. “What should I say to him?”
“Don’t worry. We have put together a packet for you. Everything you’ll need. There was a storyline we planned to go with for the launch, I think it would be the perfect thing to implement into the current meta. I’ve sent you an email with it attached. Just look it over, familiarise yourself with the basic narrative, and then present it to Nigel as an option. That’s all, just something to consider.”
That didn’t sound too bad. She would basically be a delivery girl. “Yes, I suppose I could do that.”
“Obviously, we’d like you to put a positive spin on it. We’ve included some talking points and some counter-arguments to the most likely objections. You’ll see when you read it.”
It was becoming less attractive all the time, but she wasn’t in a position to refuse. She would just do her best to make it seem a viable alternative. Nigel was bound to say no, so it didn’t really matter.
She opened up her email as she spoke. “Okay. I’ll look it over now. I probably won’t be able to log in until tomorrow, though.”
“That’s fine. Thank you, Britta. Give me a call if you have any questions.”
Britta opened the email, and then the attachment. It was a big file. Hopefully because of pictures rather than reams of text. The folder was called: Revenge of the Blue Spider Demon God-Queen.
Britta shook her head. Apparently they were hoping to appeal to every fourteen year old boy in the world, and Dad.