Sunday, 1 December 2013

Because, Reasons : EQNext, GW2

In the long PR build-up before the launch of an MMO the quantity and quality of information coming out of the company making it may vary but usually it follows a definite narrative. We are making this type of game. It has this type of content. You can expect this type of gameplay.

Companies take various stances on inclusivity and collectivism during those long months and years when there are no customers to satisfy, only curious potential purchasers and pre-sold fans. ArenaNet chose to release a seemingly endless series of "Reveals" while the EQNext  team is running what appears to be an open-ended series of discussions with "the community" on just about every aspect of their upcoming flagship franchise release.

Currently they're highlighting Lore. They already ran a poll on it and followed that up with one of those mildly uncomfortable PR videos that most game companies seem to insist upon doing, where a couple of guys who look like they'd probably rather be getting on with their real work do their best to emulate the co-hosts on a regional TV show that goes out in an unpopular time-slot.

Omeed Dariani and Steve Danuser, well-known to the EQ community in particular and the blogosphere in general as Moorgard, do a better-than-average job keeping the conversational ball in the air. It's an entertaining-enough watch as these things go but in the end I'm not sure how much wiser we are about the precise mechanics by which Lore will be disseminated in the next iteration of Norrath.

If I had to guess I'd say it won't look that much different in practice to GW2's "Dynamic Events" system. The part where they discuss the various potential outcomes arising from Orcs attacking a village sounds eerily similar to ArenaNet's famous pre-launch "Manifesto" only with Orcs instead of Centaurs.

Get to know that face. You'll be seeing it again.
That's not to be cynical. It's a given that almost everyone involved in the complex enterprise of making of these entertainments wants everything to turn out just as well as it can. Experience suggests, however, that, when it comes to making MMOs, reach all too often exceeds grasp.

GW2 turned out to be a magnificent failure in many ways. A huge, sprawling, living world that should have continued to grow and change by day and by week ever after but simply...stopped. A year and more later the same centaurs burn the same villages as the same villagers shout the same lines even though there's no longer anyone there to listen. Meanwhile odd, fractured, half-baked tales are told badly in secure corners instanced safely away from the world, popping up like mushrooms to be gathered, consumed and forgotten.

Scarlet's return as the instigator of the Thaumonova Reactor Meltdown hasn't gone down well. If ANet were to run a popularity contest between Trahearne, Logan Thackeray and Scarlet, Scarlet would probably come in fourth. There are a lot of reasons to dislike her, from her derivative personality and nonsensical backstory to her annoying catchphrases and irritating voice.

That's his excuse...
I find the catchphrases amusing and the voice acting entertaining myself, but it's a minority view. Instead, I share the objections of the commenter on the pithily-titled forum thread Scarlet Hate " who observed "She can basically pull what she needs from thin air, in no time and deploy it instantly, without anyone noticing. It would not be out of her apparent remit to simply make lions arch city vanish into thin air."

There's a theory going around that she's behind the mysterious sizzling pillars that popped up overnight all across Tyria. Apparently they extend even into the previously untouchable realms of Orr, thought for practical reasons at least to lie outside the remit of the Living Story. Her dire hand has already been felt across the Mists, where the pillars have been received with a little more equanimity than the universal loathing which greeted the incursion of her Toxic Alliance across the borderlands.

In the face of widespread, if not unanimous, disapproval, much like the character herself the Scarlet storyline endures. Still, there is hope yet for her haters. ArenaNet move as though behind a veil, mysteriously. Things once forbidden become ordained.

When World Versus World received its own, separate progression path complete with its own, discrete pool of experience points, its own titles and ranks and traits, ArenaNet chose to tie all progression strictly to characters rather than to accounts. I rather liked the decision but again that put me in a tiny minority.

By George, I think he's got it!
Since launch WvW had been, nominally, a character-based activity but the sheer lack of any practical purpose to WvW beyond server pride and the fun of fighting other players made that easy to ignore. The arrival of points and prizes led many people to feel they had no choice but to concentrate on a single character for WvW. It was the death of Alts.

Constant petitions were made against the decision, all unheeded. Then a few days ago a simple announcement turned the whole thing on its head. Most players were unwilling to look this gift horse too closely in the mouth in case it turned around and bit their heads off but there were some who raised questions. Devon Carver, ANet's WvW Co-ordinator gave the following reply, which is, I feel, emblematic:

"We never said we couldn’t do it. We said we weren’t going to do it. There is a large difference between things that we decide to do for design reasons and thing that are technical constraints."

So true. And so unhelpful, begging as it does the question of why a "design decision" taken a few months ago and rigidly adhered to ever since was the right one then but is the right one no longer.

On we roll. At some yet unspecified date in the future all our characters will gain the benefits of the work done by their account-mates. Another step away from the origins and, as some would have it, meaning of the genre but a large stride towards making the game into something closer to what most people appear to want it to be. By the same token we might wake up any day and find Scarlet fell down a hole and can't get up.

EQNext is the only upcoming MMO for which I have any real, meaningful, emotional feeling. Landmark is...I don't know what it is. Everything else is a curiosity at best. I'm certain-sure I'll play EQNext. I'd lay very long odds I'll enjoy it. Do I expect it to live up to expectations, either mine or those of the people making it?

Well, what do you think?


14 comments:

  1. My expectation goes back and forth, honestly. I can't really decide what I want EQN to be and what I think they will give me. After Guild Wars 2, I've sequestered myself from getting too overhyped about MMOs. I was so excited for so much of it, but ultimately it was a complete letdown for me.

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    1. I'm not even sure I know what SOE thinks EQNext is going to be yet. It's a lot clearer than Landmark but it's still pretty fuzzy. Also I would guess we are the best part of a year out from beta still, let alone launch. Definitely not worth getting hyped up at this stage.

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  2. Heh, hype. I never understood how people can take it at face value and believe in it. I suppose they're the same people who watch the non-stop car commercials on TV and is persuaded to buy one. But then seeing as our whole economy is dependent on consumption, maybe this is a good thing....

    My philosophy is don't set expectations, play it, and form your own opinion on whether it's fun or not. I have to admit, even as a die-hard GW1 fan I never seen the GW2 Manifesto videos until it was almost released. Combined with the incredibly low cost of access, and GW2 has been a run-away success for me, personally.

    -Ursan

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    1. Given the many hundreds of hours I've put in I'd have to say that GW2 has been a success for me too. On the other hand, I'm very aware it could have been a lot better.

      As far as cost goes, it's true that it's been an incredible bargain. I paid once (well twice, for two accounts) fifteen months ago, played non-stop and never spent another penny. That said, I'd far rather have paid twice as much or more for an expansion with content I wanted instead of the drip-feed of variable quality free content we've had.

      What's your opinion on proposed the WvW changes? It seems everyone wants it to be Account based. I actually liked it being character based. Never had a problem with that.

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    2. I'm still convinced they will release an "expansion"-like content update through the Living Story vehicle. They only have 4 LS teams, with each team being like 10 people (i.e. SAB's team was like 7 people, I believe.) Anet employs 300 people. It would make no sense if they are not making an expansion-like update.

      I was pretty appalled back when the account wallet came out. But then I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority when it comes to favoring character progression over account (gamer) progression.

      -Ursan

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  3. That Pr response about WvW made me sooo mad >_<. Yes it is emblematic of the complete ignorance and egotistical vision they have of the product. Giving vague answers or even interpreting things in different ways from what they were previously. I just ... rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
    I love this game I just dislike how it's being run, it's infuriating. Urge to rant .. Rising..

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    1. ANet tends to exhibit the most annoying combination of certainty and vacillation. Something *has* to be done this way until one day it doesn't. They hand down commandments on How It Will Be that might as well be carved in stone then they frequently appear to cave to player pressure and revise or reverse them. The constant chopping and changing is bad enough but the most annoying part is when, as in this case, an unsuccessful innovation stays in the game for months before being changed with no apology or explanation.

      All MMO companies make unpopular changes and end up revising them. Most have learned that, if they want to keep customers, they need to sweeten the pill a little with some kind of apology or explanation. Not Anet, or not yet.

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  4. I'm having strong WoW flashbacks where GW2 is concerned; the game is going down similar paths the way WoW did in TBC and which ultimately led me to quit; the item and grind-centricity, the achievements, the changing design approaches. I haven't played GW2 since Bot4W and I doubt I'll go back.

    I am definitely excited for EQN next year, as well as TESO. TESO is my one big hope. I doubt I'll be playing Wildstar...or at least I hope I won't have the time because the other MMOs are keeping me entertained. I am also slightly interested in Archage and what's gonna happen with Skyforge, but that's a while off.

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    1. One theory might be that GW2 is the MMO, of all post-WoW MMOs, that really did succeed in attracting and holding the attention of a sizable number of ex-WoW players. A lot of the changes of direction and emphasis would make sense if seen as deliberate attempts to curry favor with players who liked GW2 but would like it even more if it was more like WoW.

      After all, there must be a huge demographic that would just like a shiny, new WoW with prettier pictures.

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    2. Isn't that a risky assumption though? what if those ex-wow players were attracted to GW2 exactly because it was NOT so much like WoW? I can only speak for myself, but there's a reason why I left WoW and it wasn't the graphics. GW2 going the same way is the last thing I would've wanted. =/

      I find it very odd to change the design direction of a game that launched as successfully as GW2; basically they are fixing what wasn't broken in the first place? surely you would want to set yourself apart from the bigger competition. /shrugs

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    3. ...then again, I forgot: GW2 isn't a sub MMO. so by their reasoning, now that they got players like myself to buy the game, why not also go for the other demographic? makes sense. sell the thing to as many people as possible.

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    4. They also have the notorious Metrics, of course. We can only speculate and guess how various innovations and changes are playing out, based on the tiny fragment of the overall game we see and the equally ill-informed commentary provided by our fellow-players in game chat, on forums and on blogs.

      ANet actually know, in nit-picking detail, exactly what every player is doing every minute they're logged in. They wire up the levers, stack the pellets and record which ones we push and keep on pushing. The one thing they have no more idea about than you or I is *why* one lever gets pushed while another is ignored.

      That said, the obdurate way they stick to the party line on certain things apparently regardless of the way they're received by players suggests someone has An Agenda that's going to be applied no matter what. The determination to stick with the Living Story and the bi-weekly free update schedule while denying any immediate or medium-term plans for a paid expansion smacks of management egotism to me.

      I hope Ursan is right and there's another, larger crew working on a real expansion as we speak. It's hard to see how they can be making more money with the current system than they would have made by launching the game, selling 3m copies, maintaining and polishing it well and then selling a full expansion to all the same people a year later.

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    5. Syl's comment reminds me of a "classic" error I learned about in college. A southern U.S. university wanted to build a new recreation venue and looked at their student demographics. Seeing that many students came from northern states, they proposed a bond initiative to build an ice skating rink. The bond failed. The university staff had failed to realize that the those students from the north had come south to get away from the cold, and weren't interested in the ice rink. They ended up proposing a swimming complex, iirc, which passed with an overwhelming majority.

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  5. I'm compelled to point out that Cuddlestrike posts up some of the best wvw screen captures. Makes you want to keep playing, however otherwise burnt. uhm... note that's wvw, the home of interminable redundancy yet.... it beats the hell out of the LS which.. just can't keep me interested, in spite of constant updates.

    I have to think that wvw feeds into the metrics that, in turn, feed into the gem shop and all that but it's... seemingly indirect because we're so nose-down in there. I have a hard time thinking the Living Story is a big source for market dev but, heck... my bias. I can't stay with the LS. To read the forums, tho', you'd be reminded that some people really like L&L to the bitter end (Norrath? Hello?) Just... where is the money?

    Cuddlestrike is joyous enough confuse you away from all these considerations.

    -- 7rlsy

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