Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Go Play Outdoors! : GW2

For quite a while The Nosy Gamer has been publishing a league table of MMO log-ins garnered from X-Fire under the name of The Digital Dozen. I think I first came across it back when I took my blog-reading cues from VirginWorlds and I haven't done that since before I started Inventory Full.

It's a controversial enterprise because who really knows how many MMO players use X-Fire, Raptr or any other third-party launcher? I'm 99.9% certain that if I'd asked in any guild I've been in in the last decade there'd have been tumbleweed blowing across the chatbox. It would be pushing the envelope to ask most people I've played with over the years to find the official forum of the game they were subscribed to; downloading and installing a third-party app so they could log into a game that had its own perfectly serviceable launcher would be looked on as a sign of insanity.

You said "in the water" !
Nevertheless, by dint of persistence alone, The Digital Dozen has become both useful and instructive. It may not tell you how many people are playing MMOs in general or the commercial success of any MMO in particular but it does provide an internally consistent benchmark of one against another, at least insofar as users of X-Fire are concerned.

Since Guild Wars 2 launched it has been pegged in second place behind World of Warcraft. The numbers go up, the numbers go down, the positions stay the same. GW2 is not going to overtake WoW as the West's leading MMO any time soon.

That said, the direction of travel I alluded to recently seems to me to make it more likely that the gap between them will gradually close. As GW2 shifts ground towards the territory staked out out by WoW, so will more barriers preventing players who came to MMOs through WoW from making a comfortable transition drop. And should Blizzard choose to borrow some of GW2's clothes and retro-fit GW2 conveniences to WoW in an attempt to stave off disloyalty and curiosity, that in itself may go some way to buttering defectors paws in their new home.

Hire more tellers!
Both Mrs Bhagpuss and I remarked this week on how very, very busy Yak's Bend has become. There seem to be players pretty much everywhere we go at all times of day and night. I couldn't even see the banker in Lion's Arch through the crowd for most of Sunday and the sewing line at the Tailoring station was six deep.

Part of this may well be more actual people logged in; new players, returnees, regular players playing more. ANet have certainly been very bullish recently both about their sales and their concurrency. One thing that's definitely making the game feel buzzy and busy and bustling right now, though, comes as the direct result of the loot changes in the February update.

Prior to that, the place to be was grinding in Fractals or Dungeons, instanced off out of sight. With everyone farming for Ascended or Legendary progression the outside world risked becoming a place to pass through on the way to Map Completion then swiftly forget.

Never has nuclear clean-up seemed so...worthwhile.
That wasn't really going to happen, of course, because plenty of people have other things on their mind than vertical gear progression. The open world was busy enough with explorers and wanderers, the casual and the curious. Big ticket events were already funneling in the hordes for a crack at the slim chance of finding something worth having in the Big Chest.

Post-patch, that funnel has turned into a fire-hose. Maps with events featured on Guild Wars Temple's Dragon Timer now go into overflow as often as not. If you want a shot at Jormag's Claw you'd best be there before the 75-minute window of opportunity even opens. Latecomers can cool their heels in an alternate Frostgorge with only some bonus Orichalcum for consolation (although they may be lucky as I was to find the Claw screeching his defiance even in Overflow).

Barbecue at the beach...
There are rumbles of discontent, albeit mild ones. Guesting is currently taking the brunt of lock-out bitterness as disgruntled locals complain that incomers are taking all their dragons. There's some occasional graveyard humor about GW2 becoming the world's first AFK MMO. In general, though, people seem to be enjoying themselves.

The run up to every chest-dropper is like a little mini-event in itself, with impromptu costume brawls, dance parties and heavy map banter. The spirit is good because, by and large, people are getting what they want and they don't mind waiting for that. The effect on the surrounding world is positive, too, with plenty of players spreading out around the area as they wait, working on Dailies, doing events and generally making the place look lived in.

The new loot route may be as unimmersive and artificial as the one that preceded it, but having it happen out of doors makes all the difference. The guild bounties and missions are equally artificial but they too occur outdoors and that matters. If game design tends to direct players towards certain paths of achievement, it's much better if those paths are out in the open where anyone passing by can join in.
...barbecue at the bank.

So, it's hard to tell if GW2 really is pulling in more people but there's absolutely no doubt that it feels that way from the inside. Subjectively, the game is heaving and it feels great. And if curious heads do poke in from the MMO world outside, how much better for them to find us all having one enormous party rather than looking at a ghost town and wondering where everyone went.

5 comments:

  1. I was incredibly opposed to the new world event loot initially. As a hardcore dungeon runner, it felt silly to be able to afk for 30 minutes, spam 1 for a few more, and get rewarded for barely playing. Not to mention the lag/overflow problems.

    I've mellowed though. Because you're right, it's contributing greatly to the sense of community and the liveliness of the open world. Frequently I am reminded that I can be myopic to the greater goals of the game while looking it through my own personal perspective. And when I do that, I miss the bigger picture and end up not having as much fun.

    I'd like to profusely thank you for this post. I've been approaching the dragon events as a means to an end and it's been killing my enjoyment of this game. As always, your insight has giving me a new perspective and really helps my enjoyment, as wierd as it sounds.

    Having said that though, I wouldn't mind if the dragon encounters were tweaked to be a BIT more difficult. Like the Orr Temple events. At least have sub-events spread out so people aren't so clumped in one spot.

    -Ursan

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    1. Thanks! Glad I could help :P

      Much though I'm enjoying the loot-frenzy I do think one of two things will have to happen:

      a) the frenzy will die down naturally as people get what they want and drift back to other things or

      b) if it carries on like this for more than two or three weeks ANet will have to tweak either the loot or the difficulty.

      I think it will be the latter and it will be difficulty that changes not loot. I don't know if you've done the Krait raid on the Asura lab at Fabled Djannor recently but it seems to have changed a lot and I'm guessing that was in the last patch. I'd done it many times before the changes, often with a lot of people around, and never even seen a Veteran spawn. Now several veterans come in most waves and I've seen two Champions spawn one after the other.

      The reaction from people doing the event has been pretty enthusiastic and I'd expect to see all events scale more effectively against big zergs in the fairly near future. The big ticket events need a bit more than that as well, I think, and I would expect changes, although probably not for a while yet.

      Meanwhile I'm making hay while the sun's shining.

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    2. No no, thank you. Every so often I drift from the realm of "Playing for fun" to "Playing for rewards." Something has to pull me back from the abyss once in a while. This time it was you.

      Whether they truly eliminate culling or not at the end of this month is going to be huge, I think. If culling was eliminated, then you open the possibilities of much more complex open-world boss fights without lag/culling becoming an issue. But I'll believe it when I see it.

      Heck who am I kidding. I'm embarrassed at how excited I am for the future of a 6-month old MMO.

      -Ursan

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    3. The interesting thing about events scaling to include more Veterans and Champions is that it breaks the "more people -> more mobs -> better loot -> more people" feedback loop. You get better loot from killing a Champion, but not as good as the combined total of the ten normal monsters you could've tagged in the same time. As I see it, combining that with the increased chest rewards is great, since they shift the incentives from tagging more mobs to completing the event. But the people who like using those events to farm have already started complaining. (Especially Penitent/Shelter, which doesn't have a chest)

      Sadly, Colin has posted on the forums that the March patch will only remove culling in WvWvW, not PvE.

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  2. At Tarnished Coast it is frequent go to overflow at the zones where the dragons come...

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