Monday, January 21, 2013

Tread Carefully : GW2

Everyone who cares will have read Colin Johanson's Road Map for the first half of 2013 by now. Like most ArenaNet press releases it's long on generalities and short on detail, so I'll wait to panic when there's something definite to panic about. Which there might be.

Some of it is heading in a direction I like. We're off to a good start with "What Makes GW2 Unique and Successful", and "The Living World Game". Allowing Colin a pass on "unique", I think he sums that aspect of the game up pretty well. The things he mentions are high on my own list of reasons why I've been playing his game for the last five months:

"Through the dynamic event system, every time you log in, you can experience and share something different in the world with other players".

"Open world online games are always strongest when players are encouraged and rewarded to interact as a community". 

My problem comes in what he proposes to do to enhance and expand on this in the months to come. This bit's fine:

"we also need to build on and strengthen our existing open world and its persistent content".

Nice intention. Problem comes with how he proposes to get there:

"One of our focuses is expanding and leveraging our achievement system".

Whoa! Hold on a second...

For my money that I'm not paying the whole Achievement system could just go away. About the only good thing I have to say about it is at least it's unobtrusive and easily ignored. But not for much longer, if Colin has his way:

"We’ll add tokens for your achievements that you can turn in to select from a list of rewards"

Oh fantastic! More shopping. That really is what I come to a renaissance fantasy virtual world for - the shopping. Apparently the sense of achievement from having achieved an achievement isn't enough of an achievement any more - we need to be paid, too. Aside from the underlying philosophical and semantic weakness of this approach, the practical upshot is this: either the rewards are desirable, in which case achievements cease to become reminders of things we have done and become instead pointers to things we have to do, or they are undesirable, in which case why bother?

Nevertheless, I'm not strongly against this mechanism. I'm not incapable of enjoying an MMO in which I do certain things only in the expectation of the reward I get for doing them. It's clumsy, inorganic and artificial, but hey, stuff! What I am quite strongly against is having this mechanism bolted onto an MMO that I feel is trundling on perfectly well without it. The idea of exploring and doing events because it's fun in and of itself will struggle to compete. GW2 already suffers from a surfeit of box-ticking and this can only make it worse.

Whatever happened to natural curiosity?
Much more worrying, though, is how this thinking looks like it might affect the "Dailies". GW2 has the best Daily system I've seen. It's a short list of simple things that you'd be doing anyway. If you play a standard 2-3 hour session you'll finish your Daily without even noticing you're doing it. If you're in a hurry you can knock the whole thing off in 15-20 minutes. It's just about perfect.

It does not need to be made more coercive, directed or structured. Any proposed change to an MMO that uses the phrase "drive players to different areas of the world" should have been shot down in the discussion phase. Imagine the mindset that allows a phrase as toxic as that to appear not just in a design document but in a Press Release!

Let me make it clear. As a "player" the only place you will "drive" me is to a game made by someone who doesn't think of players as cattle.

Moving on, all the stuff about Guilds is fine and dandy but again it's the wrong emphasis for this MMO. Encouraging guilds to be the be-all and end-all of community goes directly against the open and inclusive nature of GW2 that the opening paragraphs were puffing up as the game's Unique Selling Point. By all means give guilds more bells and whistles and little tassels down the back, but "content designed specifically for the guild to accomplish" by definition takes people out of the open world. Stick with "creation of new content by a guild/s everyone in the world can experience" and we're back on track.

Buggiest MMO ever and I played Vanguard!
As for the World vs World changes, we live in fear and trepidation. So far we know about the removal of free server transfers, which is causing huge disruption in the short term but can only be good for the game going forward, and the proposed nerf to AoE abilities, which no-one asked for and few seem to want. I certainly don't want it - it could wreck my favorite WvW builds, all of which rely heavily on AoEs.

There's yet more shopping in prospect, of course:

"We’ll introduce a system of prestige and advancement specifically designed for WvW".

It seems no aspect of the game is to be spared. On the other hand:

"we’ll add a new motivation to the WvW domain that goes beyond the overall weekly score to give more short term reasons to be winning in WvW".

That does sound intriguing. Just so long as the motivation isn't yet another thing to buy.

Come on Tequaatl, jazz it up a bit, can't you?
The Press Release ends with a mom & apple pie list that includes all the usual suspects like bug fixes and bot bans, better boss fights and an lfg tool, among which this absolute gem shines out:

"Identifying existing parts of the game that can be improved and made more fun/exciting, and investing the time to ensure everything we’ve built really shines as we move forward."

That really nails it, I'd say. Just do that, then you can get started on world peace. 

Anyway, that's the menu. Some of it looks quite tasty, some of it could be hard to digest. I don't think any of it is outright poisonous but I guess we won't know until we've swallowed it and by then it'll be too late.


  1. If they want to "build on and strengthen our existing open world and its persistent content", they could try leaving new stuff alone and carry on fixing the existing content.

    I jumped on yesterday, first time I'd played in a few weeks, and thought I'd do my dailies. Took me 7 events to get the "5 events" achievement because two of them had bugged out and gotten stuck. Two out of seven bugged isn't a significant improvement over the bug levels straight after release.

    1. I've had a blog post about the extreme bugginess of GW2 in mind for ages. I was mostly serious when I said it's the buggiest game I've played since Vanguard. I'm all for new content but it often seems the system is creaking at the seams with what it's being asked to do already - I dread to think what strain a whole new raft of events will put it under.

  2. I'm surprised to hear about the bugginess of GW2. I haven't played it myself (a true shame), but I thought it was running rather smoothly from a couple months after launch onwards.

    Is it mostly the events that cause the grief then?

    1. Events, UI, the Trading Post, geometry, chat/guild functionality, you name it. Some of my old favorites, like being told I'm not in a guild when I'm playing the character that creates and leads it, seem to have gone, but only after several months of annoyance. Last night someone said the incredibly irritating sound bug that sounds like a nuclear war is about to start has been fixed. I really hope so.

      The TP still regularly breaks and then returns in French or German, which I find amusing. The bug where your character can't move is still around. Few of the bugs stop me enjoying myself but the cumulative effect can be wearing.

  3. "Let me make it clear. As a "player" the only place you will "drive" me is to a game made by someone who doesn't think of players as cattle."

    I don't think they're trying to treat us like cattle but I do think they inadvertantly already shepherded the sheep into one distinct corner of the game (fractals) and are trying to come up with some way to usher everyone back out to where they would prefer to be.

    This seems to be the biggest dilemma these guys face and I really do sypathize with them. This is a terrible byproduct of the genre where players now have an expectation that every activity must include some sort of meaningful "reward". Regardless of how good the content actually is, many people will blaze though it as quick as humanly possible in pursuit of another item. How do you encourage people to take their friends to see the content they enjoy if their friends discount it as "irrelevant" and "not worth the time"?

    In my mind the better way to approach this would be trying to come up with tools to let like minded players play together. But then these types of things need even more careful thought and good a good dev team behind them which (as the comment above highlights) might be quite a stretch for Anet.

    1. I hope you're right. I get the impression that ANet are playing catch-up with the players most of the of the time, which is par for the course in MMOs. How much of their original conception of the game they'll be able to save we will see over the next year or so, I guess. My feeling is that GW2 will gradually come to look more like the the games it hoped to replace than it looks different but maybe they will be able to hold the line.

      Either way I'm pretty sure there'll be plenty left to suit my tastes so I'm not really worried. It's very interesting to observe the process, anyway.

  4. About herding :
    As much as we like the possibility to wander in Tyria discovering this world, some people prefer indication and counsel. Having some dailies tied to some zone, as long as this remains optional, - and they want to increase the optional size as we will be able to choose which dailies objectives we want - seems interesting.
    Imagine that, after loging, you can go wandering anywhere, or if you want your shot of massive event you can go to [there] where you know there will be a lot of people doing their dailies.
    More choice is always better, isn't it?


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