Sunday, May 25, 2014

You'd Have To Pay Me To Do That : GW2

ArenaNet's response to the howls of justified outrage/whines of selfish entitlement that followed the return of the heavily re-vamped Queen's Gauntlet was surprising. Rather than return the event to its old form (never on the cards), tinker with the mechanics (always a good bet) or tweak the difficulty (pretty much odds-on) they decided instead to refurbish the reward structure.

Here's the new version from the patch notes:

  • The Crown Pavilion’s Boss Blitz event has had its rewards adjusted in the following ways:
  • Bronze Tier
    • Increased the number of champion loot bags from 2 to 6.
    • Increased the number of Festival Tokens from 15-21 to 40.
  • Silver Tier
    • Increased the number of champion loot bags from 4 to 8.
    • Increased the number of Festival Tokens from 30-36 to 60.
  • Gold Tier
    • Increased the number of champion loot bags from 8 to 10.
    • Increased the number of Festival Tokens from 46-52 to 80.

Intriguingly, this change is listed under "Bug Fixes". Hard to imagine that the original version simply shipped with the wrong numbers attached but swiftly skating over that particular stretch of thin ice...

As long as I've played GW2 people have complained loud and long about the risk vs reward structure. When the game launched Veterans and Champions were just harder, not more rewarding. They had, as far as could be ascertained, the same loot tables as normal mobs. Mostly they dropped nothing. Consequently people didn't fight them if they could avoid it.

After a while and a lot of complaining on the forums Vets and Champs got a loot pass so they at least dropped a blue or green item every time. Whoop and indeed dee-doo. Still no-one killed them.

Time passed. Complaints continued. Eventually ANet threw up its collective hands. In came The Champ Revamp. In a seeming fit of passive-aggressive "Is that what you want? Cos that's what'll happen!" overnight Champions became freighted with loot - items, skill scrolls, crafting mats, coin... you name it, they had it. All across Tyria the Champ Trains chugged out of their forgotten branch-line stations onto the main lines where hordes of eager passengers were waiting to ride them to fortune, if not to fame or glory.

In update after update a very large segment of the playerbase has demonstrated that if there's easily accessible content that can be zerged down for a reward even slightly better than five copper pieces and an Unidentifiable Object, out they will turn, in numbers. In update after update ANet have demonstrated that much, most, of the content they create is amenable to being mobbed even if that wasn't the intention. We did The Southsun Stroll, Scarlet's Invasions of Convenience, Queen's Gauntlet Mark One, Edge of the Mists Never The Teams Shall Meet 24/7 Champ Farm and many more now forgotten.

Eventually ANet appeared to tire of the players endlessly innovative ways of turning finely-tuned content into the zergfest du jour. In came Tequatl, the Marionnette, Three-Headed Wurm, the Fall of Lion's Arch and now Boss Blitz, all sending out the message loud and clear - play the damn game the right way, not the lazy way. To which the general reply has been "make it worth our while and we will", the problem most players having with these events not being, on the whole that they are too hard but that they are too hard for the time and effort they take.

There does seem to be a fundamental disconnect between the GW2 players and developers on what constitutes a fair reward. Developers remain convinced, for example, that a handful of green quality Mastercrafted items provides a suitable and satisfying reward despite all evidence to the contrary.

The policy even extends beyond simple loot drops and event rewards. Look no further than the vendor just added to swap out surplus Blade Shards. To quote ArenaNet some weeks back when they trailed it thus:

"Please don’t delete them!

You can hold on to your extra blade shards, as the team will be adding something later which will allow you to convert the shards to something of value."

What was the something of value? A green item. The very same item, that is to say, which will either be sold to a vendor for a pittance or deconstructed for crafting mats and Essence of Luck, which builds Magic Find, which is desired because it increases the chances of getting better loot than Greens, which no one wants to get if they can avoid it.

Players do not, as a rule, enjoy getting poor quality items as a reward for a big fight. They'd rather have an item of reasonable quality or a fixed amount of currency with which they can buy one. Hell, they'd probably take a choice of nothing at all most times against a good chance of a much better item, so long as that item dropped at a frequency that felt fair.

In the absence of anything genuinely desirable being offered, however, many pragmatic players are willing to settle for a pile of intrinsically useless junk so long as it can be sold or converted into something useful and, most importantly, so long as the pile is big enough to make them feel they haven't completely wasted their time. The pile now on offer for running the Queen's Gauntlet has been weighed and found to be just about adequate. The sputtering, failing festival is, fitfully, back in business.

I did the Gauntlet three times last night. I had to Guest to change megaserver maps to find one that wasn't utterly shambolic. I lucked onto one filled with good-spirited, polite, pleasant, conversational players. First run was a shambles but instead of everyone leaving a big discussion began on how we could do better, commander tags were popped, people co-operated, we took another run at it and had five bosses down with two minutes to go on the Silver timer.

We failed that one and took Bronze but everyone was upbeat. Several people commented it was the closest they'd ever come to Silver. I hadn't planned on staying but it was such a pleasant environment I changed my mind and lined up for another try. After a shaky start we went into Silver Time two bosses down. With two minutes left we still had two bosses to go but unlike last time, when the Ogre was at full health and proved too much for the half-dozen players trying not to scale him, both were around 30%.

When the last boss went down there were three seconds left on the clock. It was exciting, satisfying and entertaining and I'd had enough and so had most everyone else. The commanders tagged down and people drifted off. I de-guested and went to the Borderlands, where I remained for the next four hours until bedtime.

It's not that I don't, won't or can't enjoy ANet's new direction, then, even though my personal preference remains very strongly skewed towards the open, inclusive, come-as-you-are approach that we were promised in the long run-up to launch. You may remember it as the paradigm shift in gameplay that would change MMOs forever. Well, they tried that and it came out very differently to how they expected so now we all have to revise our expectations.

That's okay. MMOs change. This one's changed a bit more and a bit faster than most but never mind, buckle up, let's get on with it. As the Marionnette and last night's QG run demonstrate, there is indeed fun to be had here if you're willing to adapt.

Except that if we're going to revamp the game to fit in structured content that requires organization, don't we also need to revamp the UI so that we can, y'know, organize? At the moment it feels like some kind of management bonding game where a bunch of people who only met ten minutes ago have to figure out a way to get across a river using a pile of planks and a yo-yo.

The current bad feeling around the game most likely isn't caused by players' lack of interest or willingness try new things. No, more likely it's the sense that we're being taken for mugs, treated like a resource not an asset. We shouldn't have to scratch and scrabble for fun in a game, especially one that likes to bill itself as open and inclusive.

Sort out the risk vs reward (and in GW2 "risk" really means "time spent"). Sort out the mechanics. Give us raid frames and instances and in-game voice chat. Design content that we want to play and give us the means to play it instead of having to play against it. Turn your game into the kind of game you said it was going to replace if you must, only at least do it well.

Maybe then the rage will subside and the whining will die down. Then again...


  1. Give me an achievement, title, minipet or something of the sort and I'm so there. I'm easily bought.

    But don't kid yourself on the rage - the ragers will always whine about something. ;)

  2. I actually like the open and inclusive nature of those organized fights. They are fun precisely because every time you are able to complete them with the randoms you met on the map it feels like an achievement. If ANET turned those to an instanced raid structure, the fun will very soon to be lost because frankly those engagements are not that difficult for a well organized hardcore guild group. So if those events are structured like raids, the organized guilds will be bored because the events are too easy, the pugs will be bored because they will never be able to do those events if don't do them with an organized guild.

    So yeah I think the current structure is pretty good to provide a sense of achievement to players even though the events themselves are mediocre difficulty. I agree ANET should provide a bit more tools to make it easier for randoms to better organize ourselves in such an event though.

    1. I'm 100% in favor of open and inclusive. I was partly being ironic at the end there, partly pragmatic. I'd personally prefer it if they tailored the content towards the kind of "all must win prizes" approach the game had back at the start.

      Since whoever's in charge right now seems to be dead set against that, however, I do think it's down to that person or team either to design this new type content more elegantly so that it can be completed enjoyably and successfully by all-comers or admit defeat and put in some proper grouping/raid tools.

      The idea that it's pitched intentionally at a level of difficulty and organizational complexity so as to give random coalitions of PUGs a sense of achievement is an interesting one. It does have that effect when it works but it seems like a very arduous and chancy way of going about it. I think there must be quite a few ways to achieve the same end without annoying and alienating so many players during the considerable time it takes for the strats to be discovered, discussed, deployed, practiced and perfected.

  3. That's something about GW2 I always disliked, the rewards (when I used to play) totally sucked. Felt kind of weird that I as a "pact commander" had to go dumpster diving and recycling for gear and money to pay for my next meal. Literally.

    3 silver and 52 copper can buy you what exactly? A couple of teleports and maybe a banana pie slice? Thanks for killing the bad guy hero. You did do it for free ... right?

    1. I agree. Weird is exactly the word. I struggle to think of any other MMO where the rewards are so consistently dismal. I appreciate they might have wanted to avoid the hyperinflation common in other MMOs, where you could easily lop a couple of zeros off the end of everything, but this goes way too far to the opposite extreme.

      I am, sadly, now at the point where I do believe most of GW2's design decisions are taken with a view to driving real cash sales in the Gem Store. This would be one of those.

  4. "The current bad feeling around the game most likely isn't caused by players' lack of interest or willingness try new things. No, more likely it's the sense that we're being taken for mugs, treated like a resource not an asset. We shouldn't have to scratch and scrabble for fun in a game, especially one that likes to bill itself as open and inclusive."

    This. So this.

  5. Great writeup! I think I'm on the opposite fence as you, though, and totally on ArenaNet's side. IMO, Vets and Champs, Fighting a harder than usual boss shouldn't give massive loot. I see them more as skillchecks. What you don't get in loot, you get in practice. Then they buffed Champ loot, and the Champ trains naturally formed. Well, duh. Gamers are the laziest. If you put low hanging fruit in front of them, they're going to grab it over and over and over and over again. I refused to jump on these "trains" simply out of principle. I consider myself better than that. Too much reward for too little effort feels childish. Since when does every challenge need to be over-rewarded. As my mother use to say "Oh good. You were able to do something everyone else can do. Do you want a cookie?" If everyone is capable of doing it, it shouldn't get rewards above the average. Above average effort (to which I think means more than time) deserves above average rewards. Everyone is looking for the most efficient path, even if that path is tedious and a chore.

    I like the direction that GW2 is headed, with encounters becoming challenging and not just a snore-filled zerg-fest. I can get into that. But you're 100% right. So far, the lack of UI has been fine with the lack of challenge, but if you're going to demand more organization, the UI is going to need to be buffed as well.

    I like the new challenge, but I think the community is going to backlash against itself as a result. Instead of just complaining to ANet, I think we're going to see tighter demands on each other's gear/dps/etc. Mitigating challenge. The path of least resistance is too comfortable to not take.


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