Monday, August 12, 2013

Unintended Consequences : GW2

The wealth of activity the Queen's Jubilee brought to Tyria will all have vanished in a few weeks. The changes to the infrastructure that arrived alongside it will stay with us for the foreseeable future, landing with an impact that has far greater potential for change than a few hot air balloons dotted around the countryside.

The Living Story wrapper tends to obfuscate the normal patching process. Every two weeks we all cast the runes trying to decipher the rambling, incoherent narrative and chase madly after the shiny at the end of the Achievement rainbow.

Meanwhile the traditional tuning and tweaking that marks the progress of an MMO in full sail creaks and groans in the background. In other times, in other games, those are the changes that would be the hotly-debated talking points; here they can pass with barely a comment.

Two innovations slipped in by the back door this time, both greeted with quiet but apparently universal acceptance. Firstly, The Wallet pulls a number of items that were previously held as virtual physical icons out of storage and into a game-window. It's a common practice in MMOs seeking to avoid currency clutter. Secondly, all Champion mobs now leave a Steel Chest behind when they die. Each of these changes has wide-ranging implications for how the game will be played in the future, one very personal, the other very public.

Don't go in dungeons much, eh?

The Wallet raises issues that are mostly metaphysical. For the vast majority of players it will almost certainly be received as a universal good. Who doesn't want to have all their currencies neatly tabulated and stored in one place rather than spread out across the inventories and banks of half a dozen characters? Who doesn't want the vault space back?

Well, people who play their characters as individuals, perhaps? Players who don't see their characters as an amorphous mass of "Toons", mere ciphers of the hand behind the keyboard. Players who don't see why an Engineer who never lifted a flamethrower to defend his borderland should be able to claim a thousand Badges of Honor that were earned in hard battle by some Ranger the Engineer never even met.

It's hardly worth bothering about in GW2, of course. The base unit there is and always has been The Account. All this new refinement really does is shift the underlying structure towards a more coherent form. The game arrived with an ill-thought-out muddle of Account- and Character- based functions that already required a good deal of double-think to reconcile.

As a character-player of longstanding I regret the trend toward Account-based play now becoming widespread across the genre. It makes for lazy play on my part when, as I inevitably do, I take advantage of the indisputable convenience it brings. Under any system, however, character-play ultimately rests in the hands of the person guiding the characters. If I was really that interested I could still keep notes of who earned what to make sure no-one got a free ride.

Alternatively (and it's the lazy fix I choose to make) I can consider all my characters part of a team, create an organization for them in my head and play them accordingly. With two accounts I even have two separate teams, which allows for both co-operation and competition. And banter.

They also serve who only stand and wait at the bank

So The Wallet is assimilable into most existing playstyles. Any changes to gameplay that it brings to the individual player are invisible to others around him or her. Not so the Champion Chests.

This isn't the first time ArenaNet have fiddled with the reward mechanism for stronger creatures. At first Champions, the unnamed Nameds of Tyria, dropped nothing, or rather they had exactly the same chance at dropping exactly the same loot any other, weaker mob around them might drop. So no-one killed them if they could help it. A lot of extra work for no extra reward.

After a few months Champions received a pass that guaranteed they would always drop something. That prospect caused some excitement, which quickly dissipated when it was found that what they always dropped was a Blue item worth a few copper to a vendor or, if you were very lucky, a Green worth a silver or so. End result, Champions continued to be ignored.

Other designs are avaialble
Last week all that changed. Every Champion now drops a Steel Chest. The chest drop mechanic was itself added earlier this year, providing a visual indicator of the quality of loot as it hits the ground. A bag is Basic, Fine or Masterwork, a wooden chest Rare and a steel chest means you've found something Exotic or Ascended. Top of the shop, in other words.

In the case of Champions there's another wrinkle. Inside the chest is the drop the Champion used to have, if any, plus some kind of Exotic bag or pouch and inside that you'll find coin, skill points, crafting materials, weapons and armor, and if you're very, very lucky, a unique weapon skin. And that has become, overnight, quite literally a game-changer.

A few months ago a similar change was made to "World Bosses", the Dragons and other meta-events around Tyria. They began to give first a flurry of Rares and then another guaranteed Rare on top of that. For a while there was a frenzy, which then settled to a routine. All but the least-accessible "dragons" were dutifully farmed by medium-sixed zergs day and night.

I first observed the new emergent behavior that has replaced this tradition when I was crossing Frostgorge Sound in search of balloons. Map chat was alive with people calling "Drake", "Shark" and pinging waypoints. It transpires that within days, quite possibly hours, of the new loot changes a whole culture has sprung up. PvE "Commanders" sporting their 100g tags are leading zergs of greed-crazed adventurers on kill sprees through any high-level zone that sustains a large population of fast-respawning Champions.

Wait for meeeeeee
In the spirit of enquiry I joined zergs in Frostgorge and Cursed Shore last night. I learned a lot. For example, the Escort event near Anchorage Waypoint in Cursed Shore can be farmed for anything up to thirty or so Steel Chests in a ten minute run. When it ends there's just enough time to sell the loot and race around another half-dozen Champion spawns in the zone before returning for another go.

This event recycles constantly with an eight-minute refresh, provided you do it right. I forget whether we were supposed to Fail or Succeed, but get that the wrong way round and it's a two-hour wait. We were fortunate enough to have some Commanders guesting from another server where that had happened, or rather where the event had, as they bitterly described it, "been trolled" .

On the right target for once
Our guests were unimpressed with our zerg, which had mustered perhaps thirty or forty people. It was big enough to spawn the Champions required but too small to kill them efficiently. Apparently their own server is already in the habit of bringing three hundred workers to this particular farm. They were also critical of our rotation and our naming conventions, which again have apparently already been codified and set in statute on their home server in less than a week.

This is but the latest revolution in a repeating cycle in which ArenaNet introduces a change that is seen by a significant proportion of the playerbase as a quick and dirty route to loot. It began with the Fractals, which differed slightly in that the driver was loot you couldn't get anywhere else, then moved to the Dragons and now to Champions. Interspersed or layered on top are the limited duration hotspots like the Southsun riots and the current Crown Pavilion.

I'm the last person to say this kind of gameplay isn't fun and people certainly seemed to be having a good time, as was I with the best part of a bottle of red inside me, but I do have to wonder why it's only become fun now that there's a substantial material reward tagged on the end. After all, exactly the same gameplay was available two weeks ago but absolutely no-one was interested in doing it back then.

In 2010 Mike O'Brien, President of ArenaNet, published the GW2 Design Manifesto. In the opening paragraph he wrote "We believe that gamers want to try new things, new experiences, and that they’ll reward the companies who can bring them something new."

Or you could just let them run around smashing loot pinatas. That works too.


  1. I pretty much hate the champ loot update. But then I hated the World Boss rare update too.

    I guess I've accepted that fact that most people have a little bit of Achievers in them and game developers. It still annoys me though. While the majority of the population, I'm sure, is farming away I'm taking screenshots of the Inquest underwater base in Malchor's. BEAUTIFUL area. Completely under appreciated due to the gamer "rewards and kthxbye" mentality.



    1. *game developers need to cater to them to be financially successful.

      Not sure how I missed that o_O


    2. I must go and look at that. There must be huge tracts of undersea areas I've never even seen let alone looked at properly.

    3. Gosh the underwater areas are my absolute favorite in the game. Frostgorge, in particular. Absolutely gorgeous.


  2. Isn't that the normal in any game that is based in "rewards"?

    If I was a game designer I would remove trading and money.

    The core mechanics of a game are generally similar across all of it (sure there are some differences but if you can play one thing you can play the other) and if you are playing it is because you have fun.

    So what will you do?
    Do something that is fun and give you a reward or do something else that is fun but give no reward?

    Do you know why raids have the best gear? To attract people, because otherwise a majority would ignore it.

    Can I make a request?
    Can I have your thoughts on why (or at least some people seem to think) is tanking or healing so much more than damage dealing?

    I keep reading "GW2 has no team work because is all damage and dodging", the holy trinity on the other hand is so much team work.

    But isn't a dungeon group or a raid majorly composed by damage dealers? Do they not participate in the team work?

    Doesn't a DPS player press a button and deal damage, a healer press a button and heal damage and a tank press a button and aggroes?

    Sure, damage dealing is proactive while healing is reactive, but since there is a tank, healing becomes much more predictable.

    So why is healing and tanking a noble art and damage dealing is for scrubs?

    Is there something about it or is it because there are a scarce of healers and tanks that grant certain perks that damage dealers don't have since they are so many?

    1. Part 1.

      I imagine every player will have a specific personal take on why they prefer DPS, Healing, Tanking, CC etc. I can only really answer for myself.

      One of the first things I do in any MMO is turn off most of the textual visual indicators on screen, especially the damage numbers. I like as clear a view as possible. I also put all the combat info in a separate tab and only refer to it if I want to work out what happened after a fight has ended. That means I don't get much feedback from doing DPS, other than seeing the mob's health bar drop and I generally don't have time to watch that very closely.

      Healing, on the other hand, is much easier to follow. You watch the health bars, they go down. You cast a spell, they go up. I like that. Also the actions a player takes as a healer fill the health bar from left to right, which I find intrinsically satisfying in a way that diminishing a progress bar from right to left just isn't. All progress bars in every other context go from left to right so it just feels more comfortable.

      I also very much like the fact that as a healer you don't need to heal all the time. When I played a cleric regularly in EQ I prided myself on using the absolute minimum mana. I was the epitome of a sit-and-heal cleric. My goal was to get through a fight without casting any heals at all, which was rare, but failing that I aimed to finish each fight as close as possible to full mana.

      At the same time I also had a goal of not allowing anyone in the group to worry about healing. As a part-time tank I absolutely hated skin-of-the-teeth healers who let you fall to 10% then banged in a Complete Heal just as you were sure you were going to die.

      Balancing those two largely contradictory goals kept me entertained and amused for countless hours. Tanking, which I did less of and was worse at, had a similar dynamic in that I needed to manage my agro and keep the mob facing the right way while paying attention to adds so I could grab agro on those too.

      Best of all, though, was Crowd Control. I was a decent Enchanter when I was on form but it was by far the hardest and most taxing role in the then-Trinity. It took all of my attention, all of the time and it wore me out so I couldn't do it often.

      In contrast, DPS just stands there and blasts away. I just don't think it bears comparison as entertainment with any other role, which is why my highest-level Wizard in EQ was level 13 and my highest Rogue somewhere around 40.

    2. Part 2 (answer was too long for comment field)

      Those are a few of my personal, mechanics-oriented, reasons. There are more but I'd probably need a full post not a comment to detail them. The obvious non-mechanical motivation for playing Tanks, Healers, CC, Buffers and general support classes is that by doing so you are assisting friends not attacking enemies.

      I don't actually like attacking things much, even imaginary things. I do it because that's the paradigm we play under but it's not a comfortable thing to do. Well, I guess it is now because I've been doing it for so long that I don't really think about it but when I began playing it did feel quite weird for quite a while. For the first couple of years that I played EQ I wouldn't attack anything that wasn't aggressive, for example. It had to come down to me or it. Fortunately, most things in Norrath are aggressive so it didn't hamper my gameplay too much.

      It was much more natural and felt a lot nicer to use spells that healed people or that stopped bad things from hurting them than it was to set animals on fire. Although come to think of it I didn't apply any of that approach to "evil" characters. My necro killed anything that didn't run away fast enough. Maybe it comes down to roleplaying in the end...

      I would guess that people who specialize in playing Healers and Tanks feel particularly strongly about wanting to be positive and helpful rather than negative and destructive. For me, though, it does have more to do with the mechanics I described above than the morality. I just don't find DPS holds my attention very well.

      Well, that's clear as mud. I bet you're glad you asked.

  3. Instead of loot mechanics, improve monster AI/difficulty and boss encounters, so that fighting stuff 'for fun' is actually viable.

    1. But unless they only improve it for the mobs without loot, you still face the same dilema - fun with rewards or fun without them?

    2. I think the rewards they've added are fine. It's the spawn rates that are the problem. Either the spawn rates need to be much, much slower (like each Champion doesn't respawn for several hours) or there needs to be a loot lock-out on the character for each Champion.

      The way it is now is just ridiculous, albeit very amusing.

  4. Ohhh that sounds like a good place to visit - thanks for sharing! Just need to beat this Liadri person first! ;p


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