Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Terrible Twos : GW2

GW2 is two years old. My, how the time does fly. It's not the new hotness it once was, that's for sure. Since it arrived we've ridden the hype train for WildStar and TESO and Landmark to name but three. The ArcheAge train is building up steam for its turn around the track even as I type.

To those who tried GW2 back at launch and didn't like it - at all or all that much - it probably remains at best a half-forgotten disappointment. For many of the three and a half million who bought the box or downloaded the download and who drop in and out as the mood takes them it's just another amusement, a bit of fun now and again, nothing of any great significance.

For a few of us, though, GW2 is an ongoing relationship, something we live with day to day, and like all relationships it's had its ups and downs. Aywren took the trouble to compile a detailed list of the highs and lows so far. It's a reasonably impressive tally, for sure, but how does it stack up against other MMOs at a similar stage of development?

Here are the patch notes for a single LotRO patch, the first big one after that game's Spring 2007 launch. Back then the highlights included

 "...an entire new region to the game: Evendim! Roughly the size of the Shire"

"...LOTRO's first 24 person raid"

"Additional new instances" (nine of them!)

"Over 100 new quests ... and over 20 new Deeds"

"7 sets of Epic Armour"

All that plus an insanely long list of quality of life tweaks and bug fixes that would take half an hour just to read.  

Not sure what it was about LotRO's housing but somehow it never quite hooked me.
Geddit? Geddit? Oh never mind, please yourselves.

Two months later Turbine did it again, adding six instances, two public dungeons, a new explorable area, well over 100 new quests, two new game systems (Barter and Reputation)  and another gigantic round of QOL adjustments that included substantial changes like UI Scaling, expanded vault space and a dedicated chat channel for roleplayers.

Come October Middle Earth got four more explorable areas and a freakin' housing system! All this in the first half-a-year. On it went like that every few months until, right on the second anniversary of the game, the lucky cusses received a full-blown expansion in Volume Two: Mines of Moria.

Envious much? Well, yes and no. Yes on the expansion. Although not so much that expansion. And the housing. Although not so much that housing.

Lord of the Rings Online isn't one of my favorite MMOs. Some would say that, although it's still running seven years later, the F2P conversion and supposed current development malaise suggest it's not a particularly successful one either. How much I like it or how successful it is compared to other MMOs isn't the point.

The point is that you could probably trawl back through the patch notes of the first couple of years of any AAA MMO of the last decade and a half and come up with a similar bundle of new content, additions and (intended) improvements. That's just how a good MMO rolls. After two years, compared to most of them, the GW2 pile o' post-launch goodies looks a little thin.

Oi! You with the balalaika! Play "Never on a Sunday" !

And yet. And yet... While the amount of New Stuff ArenaNet have added since launch may be objectively quantifiable, its quality is necessarily subjective. And anyway, it is quality that matters, right? Or at least personal taste. It's certainly a fact that, for me, LotRO could add a new zone every week and two on weekends and I'd still be playing GW2. Come to that, if ArenaNet had never added anything at all to GW2 since August 2012 I'd still be more likely to be playing it now than LotRO.

Despite the fact that GW2 has disappointed me quite severely in the quantity of new content on offer during the first two years and looks set on continuing to do so, and even though I'm not even sold on the quality of much of what we have been given, it remains the case that GW2 is the MMO I play most of the time. That does seem to trump everything. So; why?

As Ravious observes GW2 is a very comfortable place to spend time. You can hang out there and it just feels easy. That's easy like Sunday morning not easy like falling off a log although come to think of it... And I'm a Sunday kind of guy. I wrote a song once about falling in love - okay I wrote about a hundred of those but this particular one was called "Everything's Sunday". The guitarist in the band took objection to the title because he shared Morrissey's view but for me there could be little better than an eternity of Sundays and that's what GW2 feels like much of the time.

The long-term attraction of GW2 in a nutshell.

I'm not, therefore, feeling particularly up in arms about the changes, the lurches, in direction as GW2 staggers this way and that, trying to please everyone at once. I'm playing it. I'm enjoying it. So what if it's a radically different experience from the one that was promised all through that seemingly endless run-up to launch? So, the paradigm didn't get changed. Big deal.

Even the supposed dumbing-down that Golden Paths, Quest Arrows and Level-Up Packs (none of which are the terms ANet chose to use in their PR) might inflict upon the game leaves me unruffled. These things often look a lot worse coming than they are when they arrive. The widely-despised changes to the Trait system a few months back, for example, turned out to be a non-event as as far as I was concerned, although the still-thundering threadnought on the official forums suggests that might be an extreme minority opinion. In the end, though, as Jeromai comments on the upcoming changes to the New Player Experience "If feeding info in more controlled drips helps player retention, then that’s what’s best for the game".

Ah yes, what's best for the game. It's not always the same as what's best for the players, now, is it? Or not all the players anyway. There's a longstanding argument over whether MMOs are services or products. From the players' point of view they're definitely services but two years after launch it's about as clear as it possibly could be that GW2 is a product first and a service only when convenient.

As a business model it seems to work. Any successful business would want to expand the market for its existing products while retaining its existing customers but in the end you go where the money is, which seems, right now at least, to be China.


Someone's dream, someone's nightmare, someone's cash register ringing.
The upcoming "Feature Pack", currently being fluffed up to fill the gaping hole between Living Story packages, along with a hastily-contrived four-week WvW "Season" and, no doubt, the usual Halloween return of the Mad King, appears to be a straight port of refinements made to fit the game to the tastes of the Chinese market. Whether the rest of the world needs those changes isn't clear but, providing they can avoid an NGE moment, ANet can re-tool their game any way they want. If most people accept it they can even call it a success.

That's the thing about MMOs. They change. Sometimes it takes players a while to adjust. Sometimes developers get it badly wrong. In the end we pays our money and we takes our choice and, in this best of all possible worlds, the age of everything for nothing, sometimes we can skip the paying part altogether. If we want to go on playing, though, we need to realize that every business has to make money somehow. Even so, there are ways and there are ways.

Feldon, sage of all things EQ2, recently gave it as his opinion that "... it’s a good time to be an EQ2 player". I agree. There's a game that really knows who its customers are and what they want - and it only took the Devs a decade and the departure of who knows how many thousands before they worked it out. Feldon made that statement in the face of a massive price-hike in cash shop prices. In the end, if you offer your customers something they want they will pay. It might be willingly, it might be grudgingly, but either way, if there's nowhere else to get the stuff, they have to come to you and they have to give you what you ask.

Two years on, for many GW2 remains the only place to get the stuff. There may be grumbling and mumbling but that's a much better sound than the chirping of crickets. It may not be the game we were promised, it may not be the game we expected, it may not even be precisely the game we want but it's the game we've got and it's pretty spiffy.







5 comments:

  1. I loved all the content that originally shipped with GW2. Fractals were also cool. The first season of Living Story bored/annoyed me, however, and while this latest season is very much a step up, it's too little, too slow for GW2 to be my main MMO anymore. I had one year of solid fun out of it though, and I still like a lot about the game. Their content development strategy just isn't enough for me tho. The fact PvP isn't my thing may also be a contributing factor.

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    1. It's highly ironic that before launch I made a particular point of arguing against people who claimed that WvW would be the "end-game" that would keep people playing GW2. That has turned out be exactly the case, at least in our house. My GW2 time consists of Dailies, Living Story when an installment drops, World Bosses, inventory management and WvW.

      Of all of those it's WvW that really keeps me logging in. I even follow the scores at work like it was a sport.

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  2. I've settled into a pretty wonderful habit these weeks. I'd log in on the weekends and play through the Living Story with my buddies, and while we are all on we'd knock off JPs, dungeons, and WvW. Then barely touch it through the weekday except the occasional log on for crafting.

    I mean sure, it's a big drop-off from my heyday of playing 4+ hours everyday. It's a combination of my busy work schedule + me having literally played everything in game hundreds of times. But hey, I'm happy with it. The 5+ hours I spend a week is still absolutely delightful. And the game's structured so that it'll continue to be delightful for me despite me spending very little time and having completely giving up altogether going for the fancy ascended stuff.

    It's the perfect game for older folks like me, heh. Cheers to that, I'm glad this game exists.

    -Ursan

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    1. I think it's unarguably the best casual drop-in MMO around. The surprising thing to me is that, despite the significant lack of substantive new content, it also works very well as a full-time, main MMO two years on. It's that comfort effect for sure. They nailed that one.

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  3. Lazy gaming, f'sure: tired, late evening, not ready to crash... drop into WvW with the toon I know how to play best (and doesn't get killed too easily), run around and cause trouble for awhile -- ding! Daily done! (without trying, of course) -- stop and stare somewhere while reading map chat until I realize I'm done and log, half asleep.

    EQ2, I need to use my brains, but I've been back in there more again lately. In fact, Anet's going to be hard-pressed to keep me in Tyria come November. Still, it's pretty comfy and easygoing in there, yep.

    -- 7rsly
    AB & BG

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