Sunday, 17 August 2014

I Want What They're Having : GW2, EQ2

The news that Episode Four of Living Story Season Two would be the last for several months came as something of a surprise. No, wait, that's not quite right. It came as a total bolt from the freakin' blue!

ANet have somehow managed to eke out the reveal of a single new explorable map, one that's roughly a quarter of the size of the map next door, over the course of two months, and almost convince us we're getting something amazing. How did they do that? All the lore arguments about the original GW1 Dry Top being a small area aside, it's really not a very impressive achievement, although the way it's been marketed definitely is.

Now we learn that it will be another two months or so before the process starts up again. At this rate it will take more than a year to add the equivalent of one, complete explorable area.

Compare that to recently-announced expansions for other MMOs. The upcoming EQ2 expansion, news of which so impressed me, includes two massive overland zones, fourteen dungeons and a new playable race. WoW's Warlords of Draenor proposes to expand Azeroth by more than half a dozen outdoor zones plus dungeons and another ten levels. FFXIV's as-yet unscheduled first expansion is mooted to be as large as the entire game was when it first launched.

There are plenty more where those came from. Even MMOs that aren't going down the Big Box route can claim to have added major new game systems in expansion-like updates - SW:ToR's Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds brought PvP space combat and housing to that game, for example.

By contrast, what have we had in the two years since GW2 released? At the start the signs looked promising. In the first four months there was a new, explorable map, Southsun Cove, swiftly followed by no fewer than nine "fractal" dungeons. At that pace, who needs an expansion, right?

Since then, however, world building has slowed from a flood to a trickle. There's been one WvW map, Edge of the Mists, and one explorable map, Dry Top and that's it for permanent new areas. Oh, hang on, no it's not - how could I forget Cragstead and the North Nolan Hatchery from the very beginning of Living Story One? Anyone visited either of those recently?

Along the way we've seen a reasonable amount of temporary real estate appear only to vanish like morning mist when its purpose has been served. Dungeons, like The Molten Facility and, um, was there another one? Oh yes, the Krait Tower in Kessex Hills.


We've had small storyline pop-ups like Canach's Lair and off-the-wall experiments like the Super Adventure Box and naturally we've had the usual flurry of seasonal and holiday content like Tixx's Infinirarium and The Mad King's Realm. We even had the gorgeously detailed and highly popular Bazaar of the Four Winds and look how that turned out.

Right from the start ArenaNet's insistence on a dynamic, living, changing world has been controversial. While most players understand why content related to specific holidays only hangs around for a specific period, the idea that almost all new content should be dangled on a string for a week or two and then snatched away was a difficult sell from the beginning and the current direction of developmental travel seems determined to take us down an altogether different road.

Changes to existing maps that tie in with a particular storyline are a longstanding and widely accepted tradition in MMOs. Sometimes they leave permanent scars on the landscape to puzzle and confuse future generations of players, like the huts of the Rude Individuals that still litter Qeynos Hills a decade and more on, or the shattered remnants of Scarlet's probes that glower banefully across Tyria even now. More often they just vanish when their function is no longer required.

With GW2 in general and the Living Story in particular, AreneNet have attempted to sell the idea that their approach to content addition is something radical and new. For a while that seemed almost plausible. Certainly the pace at which they approached things was unusual. The appearances, completely unexpected and unheralded, of whole-cloth additions like Fractals and the SAB were bold, striking coups. The introduction of the bi-weekly Living Story sent ripples across the genre.

From the perspective two years down the line, however, things look somewhat different. GW2 has not added more, new, permanent content than other MMOs I play, when judged on that timescale. If anything it has added less. Moreover, I would strongly question whether it has even given us more temporary content than we are used to getting elsewhere. After all, every active MMOs runs storylines, holiday events, anniversaries, and a variety of one-off or ad hoc activities as a matter of course.

Just today I noticed that my No Bombing At The Moonfire Fair post from last year had popped back up in the top five weekly posts list for this blog, leading me to surmise, correctly, that Square had switched the event back on for its annual appearance. This is just what MMOs do. In a few weeks Mad King Thorn will, we assume, burst out of what's left of the Lion Statue in LA and start haranguing us all over again. Many MMOs, EQ2, LotRO and WoW among them, even have in-game calendars so players can keep track, so frequently do these time-limited events arrive.

GW2 has already created a number of set pieces that can and will recur. Even the Bazaar of the Four Winds may make a comeback - it's not at all clear how much of the flying fleet came  down over Dry Top, after all. Two years on a solid framework for celebrating high days and holidays has been established.

Outside of that, over the course of its first two years I don't believe GW2 has added much, if any, more regular content than the average MMO. Unlike most other passably successful games of its genre, however, what it has not done is produce anything even remotely comparable to an expansion.


Although the real figures are kept frustratingly obscure from us, I think few gamers would argue that any of SOE's MMOs can be more commercially successful right now than GW2. How is it, then, that both Everquest and EQ2 get substantial expansions every year and regular, substantial content updates throughout the months between? Regardless of anyone's opinion of the relative quality of these additions their quantity isn't up for question.

To stick with the current MMO I know best other than GW2, last year EQ2 received a full-scale expansion with Tears of Veeshan in the autumn of 2013. By the time that arrived players had already enjoyed the free Scars of the Awakened update in spring, which added a large explorable zone and a new, full-size dungeon, and, as if that wasn't enough, they'd also had the Dawn of Darkness update in June, giving them alternate, high-end versions of several existing dungeons.

Well, if EQ2 is so much better, why don't you go and play that instead, then? Oh, wait, this isn't map chat, is it? No, the point isn't to score points, just to note that, for all ANet's high-visibility effort, the progress being made isn't all that impressive. It's not quite treading water but then it's not the Australian Crawl either. More like doggy paddle I'd say.

With spoilers in mind I'll leave it a few more days before I get into what I thought of the actual content of the "mid-season finale". I'll just say that it took me less than three hours to complete and that I haven't felt like repeating it on the second account yet. With everyone else getting expansions between now and Wintersday, though, the second half of the season had better come up with something substantial. Man cannot live by amuse-bouche alone.

22 comments:

  1. Perhaps sounding like the Devil's Advocate, but why would a B2P game be 'honor bound' to expand their game for free? Isn't extra free content just gravvy?

    Personally I had expected GW2 to follow the GW1 route, with a relatively quick succession of paid expansions.

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    1. Blimey! You commented while I was still editing!

      I completely agree. They absolutely do not have to give players anything for free. That, though, is what they decided they wanted to do. There's a quote from Colin Johanson that covers it - hang on a sec... here it is: "Our goal is to make it so you get more from GW2 for free than you get from a game you pay a subscription for". Source

      I remain at a complete loss as to how that can be a more profitable or sustainable route than, as you say, the one that worked so well for GW1. I know which I'd prefer but they won't take my money.

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  2. Yea I think AN has pulled off a huge con job. In total they produce much less content then any other major MMO. But because they rush it out in tiny chunks and promote the heck out if each one casual fans get the impression that there is a ton of content.

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  3. And payment model is not relevant. They make plenty of cash. Just look at the NCsoft financials. So lack of a subscription is not an excuse. They just monitize differently than WOW or Starwars

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  4. It's true, Anet's marketing hype has been bigger than any run-of-the-mill EQ2 expac. Heck,even the so-called "features set" -- mercs, Beastlord, etcetera -- has had more effect on Norrath than most, if not all of additions to Tyria since its launch. Do I still think it's ridiculously good bang for the buck? Absolutely. Do some players have a distorted sense of proportion, when kvetching about Anet's failures to give more, similar to that of Anet's marketing? Uhm... of course they do. *shrug* Got me. Maybe both parties are just made for each other.

    Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled game dev... Definitely looking forward to November in Norrath. (Okay, did that pirate city remind you of a certain recently trashed capitol elsewhere -- ? heh )

    -- 7rlsy
    AB & BG

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    1. GW2 is incredible value. There's really nothing to match it in the field or not that I'm aware of. It's a brilliant MMO in many respects. That's the main reason I wish they'd knuckle down and make more of it!

      As for the pirate city, the opening shots reminded me a little of the docks in New Targonor but I'm guessing that's not what you meant...

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    2. heh heh, silly me... Of course you have A LOT more mmo's in your head than... nearly everybody? Limited me, I was thinking Lion's Arch, but now I have to look up New Targonor.

      -- 7rlsy

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  5. I just wanted to say that "No Bombing at the Moonfire Fair" would make a great song title for a 60's/70's folk band.

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  6. THIS IS WHAT HAVE I BEEN SAYING ALL ALONG jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez.. haha.

    They put a ton of marketing into it and it's hard not to get swept up in all the hyped packages, it's only when you reflect over a longer period you realise how little was involved. And pve story gets the most development, just imagine if the part you liked was dungeon running, pvp or wvw.

    Have to admit i was rather amused with the recent feature pack additions.. A pvp patch that gets golem mastery and coloured doritos for insane prices, thats just ridiculous and more a hotfix type thing within any other mmo.
    I just don't understand the significant lack of quantity.. even the quality is lacking at times. The glassdoor reviews tends to show a lot of mismanagement so maybe thats to blame.

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    1. WvW is still the engine driving our loyalty. We both spend far more time on that than all the other parts of the game put together. That doesn't really have much to do with playing an MMORPG of course. Especially now that named servers only exist to facilitate WvW matchmaking it might as well be hived off and sold separately.

      The really mystifying part is that almost anyone could come up with a bullet point list of ways they could hugely increase their income stream, not instead of the current Gem Shop model but in addition to it, and yet they go on fiddle-faddling instead. It's almost like they don't want to make more money.

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  7. It works because they created good moments.

    The marionette was a great time, so was exploring the invaded LA or the Scarlett invasions.

    How long did the Queenºs Gauntlet and Festival consumed in its two appearances?

    Is that worse than exploring some new continent in a game expansion where you are again killing wolves except this time they are shadow wolves?

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    1. It has nothing to do with "better" or "worse" or even "good" and "bad". It has everything to do with "more" or "less" or even "exists" or "does not exist".

      The highlights you pick out were indeed highlights but every successful MMO I've played could offer a string of similar highlights that arrived as free updates. As I said above, that's just something any large, successful MMO does.

      The difference is those MMOs all also added much larger tranches of permanent content at intervals varying from every six month to every couple of years. GW2 hasn't, which is fine, if that's how they want to do things. There's nothing wrong with running a buy-to-play MMO with very little new content year on year. If the core gameplay is good enough maybe little new content is needed. It seems remarkably unambitious though.

      In the end, if ANet prefer actively to avoid even giving themselves the opportunity to take another $40 each from 3.5 million potential customers, that's their business decision. I just don't pretend to understand it.

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    2. Arenanet wants to avoid the ghostown syndrome at all costs and they have been trying solutions for that since GW1 with their zaishen quests.

      You log in now in timberline falls and you will see people doing events. You log in dredgehaunt cliffs and you will see the same.

      Double or triple the landmass. Then what?
      They already went into megaserver how are they going to keep the same player density? By doubling or tripling their player base?

      It is true that they have a potential market to be taped and turned into cash with an expansion.
      But look at the revenue they are still bringing in compared to GW1 expansion sales - their GW2 expressionless quarters generate revenues that rival GW1 expansion quarters.

      But will they be able to keep the player base if they expand the landmass at the cost of player density, losing one of the most unique aspects of GW2?

      Sure they could make $40-50M like that but that is 2 quarters at current revenue levels.

      I believe that a GW2 expansion will be way more ambitious than the regular type of expansions we see and that is why it is taking long.

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    3. Where it reads "GW1 expansion sales - their GW2 expressionless quarters" it should read "GW1 expansion sales - their GW2 expanssionless quarters".

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    4. "There's nothing wrong with running a buy-to-play MMO with very little new content year on year. If the core gameplay is good enough maybe little new content is needed. It seems remarkably unambitious though."

      That's basically where The Secret World is now, except that they're charging for the trickle of permanent content. (Their last two major content patches were this June and last October.) But it's good enough that I got the lifetime membership to get access to all of it, which is a good bit more money than GW2 got from me.

      I just have my fingers crossed that this model is stable enough for them that they can keep the servers running and the trickle of content going.

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  8. "...another $40 each from 3.5 million potential customers..."

    BINGO

    -- 7rlsy

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  9. I expected xpacs I'd pay for similar to GW1. I don't know how people are playing this long with no new skills, races or permanent zones. They don't have to be large but I need progression. So even though Tyria and the GW2 classes still go down as my favorite MMO experience to date, it wasn't enough to keep me going this long. And even though it's free I haven't logged in in ages.

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    1. WvW functions well with minimal updates and I still thoroughly enjoy leveling new race/class combos. Other than that only the gobbets of story and the bi-weekly content drops (usually worth about 2-3 days interest at most) keep me motivated. Absolutely none of the extreme grind mode stuff that they use for progression does anything for me at all but I'd have to say it clearly does work for a lot of people judging by both how many people sport the results and how often it's discussed positively in open chat.

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  10. Dunno, I used to be super convinced that a majority of the company is working on some big secret project. Less so now.

    If such project exists, I do understand the secrecy. The last time they hyped people about an unfinished project (game itself) a lot of people got really irrationally angry. Still though, neither extreme (tons of hype vs utter silence) is good. Really wish they'd just get better at community interaction.

    -Ursan

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    1. Like August or September last year Colin said on a interview if I'm not mistaken to Matt Visual that they were working in 2 GW2 projects on the background.

      What does that mean? No idea.
      But Arenanet staff keeps expanding, so if all we see is all they did for the last 2 years, their productivity fell from a cliff,

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    2. All those people must be working on *something*. At this stage, though, I'm starting to wonder if it isn't an entirely new, unannounced game and nothing to do with GW2 at all.

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  11. I figure at least part of that was adjusting the game for China.

    -- 7rlsy

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