Monday, October 20, 2014

It's The Little Things : GW2

Looking back across the year GW2 has seen a lot of changes. Living through this stuff month by
month, day by day, it's easy to forget just how often the boundaries shift. From Megaservers and fixed timers to the Wardrobe and a Trading Post that (almost) works, so much has happened that it scarcely feels like the same game we were all playing this time last year, let alone the one we began with way back in 2012.

It's the way of MMOs. Some change fast, some more smoothly, but unless population and popularity drop far enough for the mothballs to come out (and no-one likes to smell of camphor) they all do change.

The Nosy Gamer today posted a transcript and commentary of an address given by CCP Seagull at the EVE event taking place in Las Vegas, the gist of which appears to be "change is coming, like it or not (but don't worry, you'll like it"). Perhaps the most interesting thing about the speech, at least for someone like me who has never played EVE Online and most likely never will, is CCP Seagull's assertion that "we need to make more changes where we can't predict what's going to happen". 

Forgive my cynicism, if that's what it is, but isn't that all changes in every MMO ever? Fifteen years of experience is more than enough to convince me that most Devs can't predict what's going to happen when they bring a server back up from routine maintenance, let alone the day after they release a major update.

Still, letting that ride for a moment, the idea of intentionally changing the game-world in ways whose outcome is  unknowable is rather attractive. It's enticing to imagine logging in to a world where wikis no longer work and veterans feel at sea like newbies.

Then again there's the NGE and Monoclegate to consider. Those, like countless other less-celebrated PR disasters, amply remind us that one person's unpredictable outcome is another's blindingly obvious inevitability. What, you really didn't see that one coming? Oh, apparently you didn't...

All of which lengthy and ponderous pontificating on the interface between possible and probable brings me to my tiny princess. Of all the year's changes I'd be hard-pressed to think of one that's had more impact on my enjoyment of the game than the March of the Minis and I certainly didn't see that one coming.

Prior to the most recent Feature Pack, if you wanted to run around with a Mini in tow you had to have a separate, individual copy of said Mini in the inventory of each character who might want to call on it. You had to open your bags and click the icon to summon the Mini and you had to keep your minis in a "Safe" bag to prevent them being whisked away to the Vault every time you used GW2's handy "Deposit All Materials" button. On top of all that nonsense Minis couldn't leave the map on which you spawned them so you had to go through the whole rigmarole every time you went anywhere.

Eyes without a face. Wait, what eyes?
Unsurprisingly, about the only place you ever saw Minis in numbers was Old Lion's Arch, back in those halcyon days when, as though in some glorious Edwardian summer, now lost, people would stand around for hours on a single map just passing the time of day and admiring each others' frocks. Thanks to Scarlet, those days are over, but to no-one's greater surprise than my own I find I'd willingly trade the chatter and bustle of Old L.A. for our new, go-ahead, go anywhere Minis. (Although, come to think of it, wasn't there supposed to be some kind of reconstruction project? Whatever happened to that?)

It's not as though I even collect minis. The Miniature tab in the Wardrobe tells me there are 270 of them. On my senior account I have just two: Evon Gnashblade and Princess Doll.

The best ones, in other words.

Evon is best because, well, he's Evon. Why didn't they listen to him? He was the favorite! And Princess Doll (Pwincess to me - don't judge!), she's best because she's full-on crazy.

Pwincess has no face. In extreme close-up you can see her blank sackcloth weave. Even so, featureless, she has more personality than any ten storyline NPCs you care to name. She curtseys, she sways, she sings and she screams and somehow she has become the inseparable companion of my gruff, manly (catly?) Charr Ranger.

Her wordless, borderline personality outbursts spur him on through keep sieges and open-field skirmishes. Her piercing voice penetrates The Mists, bringing a fervid, febrile cheer to the endless snows. Her movements are mysterious. He often jumps from a high place only to find her behind him when he lands, yet at times he can turn and watch her skip along a ledge and jump down to join him.

 Last night, in a quiet moment as I was guarding our second Hills (we always try to keep one spare), I spent some little while trying to catch her out, running along the parapets and jumping down, trying to see if I could find some place she wouldn't dare to follow. There is none. She is fearless.

Of course stepping out unpartied as a ranger these days feels more and more like leading a team than going solo. There's the pet, naturally; always a Lynx or a Wolf for the Borderlands. Then there's Pwincess. Finally, when the rune procs (and the rune always procs) there's Rock Dog.

It wasn't the Charr that discovered Rock Dog. That took Asuran genius. When reports filtered back, how that peculiar hound saved the Junior Ranger from certain death, holding off enemies while Pet Number One licked his master back to life, nothing would do but the Charr should have one of his own. Indeed, so impressed was I, it's a wonder I stopped at the Rangers and didn't slap a set of Ogre Runes on everyone. The stats are pretty handy all round after all.

What have you seen, boy? Is it Grawl?

 Where's all this going? Nowhere much. Only to say that, repetitive and predictable as it can so often seem as you grind away at your faction or your dailies or your rep or your status, all of these games, these worlds, are already unpredictable. A small change here, a revision or a tweak there, something you never considered and scarcely noticed, yet next you know your character has altered, his personality too, and your gameplay along with both of them.

So, yes please, all you CCP Seagulls out there. Go ahead, make changes whose outcomes you can't predict. Better yet, make changes whose outcomes you admit you can't predict. We'll roll with them. Unless it's another NGE or Monoclegate of course. But that's a lesson that's been learned.

Hasn't it?


  1. Well, I would re-phrase CCP Seagull's statement to read more along the lines of CCP isn't even going to pretend they can predict the outcome anymore. I know what she said, but I am pretty sure that is what she meant. In the past CCP has often said they were going to do thing X and expected result Y. Often they got result Y... the war in Fountain was a predictable result of a change they made... but were surprised when players also come up with results A-F inclusive. Now they are going to cut deeper with changes and hope for the best. We'll see how that turns out.

    Monoclegate is a bad example, if only because the actual change alluded to by the name is still in the game. You can still buy an over priced monocle to this day, and more such items have been added over time. The actual blow up was over CCP spending time and resource on things not related to the core of the game, which is people flying in space. Any future development of the reviled Captain's quarters and walking in stations was what got killed off and CCP went and spent the next expansion fixing stuff people have been complaining about for years. So, unlike the NGE, CCP didn't actually break their own game, they just got the players angry enough about neglecting the game's core that they actually had to sit up and listen. That has worked out quite well and has made the game better.

    1. Mostly I just wanted to type "Monoclegate" . It always amuses me but then I am easily amused. More pertinently, I do remember roughly how it all played out and I think it works as an illustration of how any proposed change, no matter how apparently innocuous, can so easily spin out of the control of both the developers and their PR team. I could have given literally dozens of examples of that from SOE, who are the past masters of being apparently blindsided by the bleeding obvious but I thought since I was quoting CCP I might as well use one of their rather rarer but undoubtedly spectacular imploding bright ideas.

      Of course, it could equally well be argued that the NGE wasn't actually the disaster its generally painted either. No-one ever releases actual figures but after the initial furore died down and the people who were going to leave had left, SWG carried on for a good long while in apparently decent health - certainly not noticeably less so than it had been prior to the NGE. Had SW:ToR not come along I imagine SWG would be trundling along today.

      The big difference between the two events is the long-term PR impact they ended up having. From the outside my impression is very similar to yours from the inside - CCP managed to turn a potential disaster into an actual opportunity and came out the far side with a stronger offer and increased customer loyalty. SOE conversely suffered a decade of vitriolic attacks that must have led to some degree of material damage to their bottom line as well as to their collective psyche.

      And the root of those differing outcomes is, I would suggest, that CCP were their own masters over Monoclegate while SOE were, at best, junior partners in the NGE. If someone else's hand is on the tiller it's hard to steer the course.

    2. Monoclegate is just one of those things that grates because I happen to have been close to the story. I always refer to it as "The Incarna Fiasco" and simply seethe (no doubt as the President was recently seething) when somebody with third-hand knowledge talks about how EVE players rebelled because an optional cosmetic item was deemed over priced.

      SOE is the tragi-comic example time and again of a company that just doesn't think things through, even to the most obvious first level implications. CCP usually has that covered, it is the second tier and beyond that tends to catch them flat footed. But SOE, I just cringe when I can see that they haven't sat down and brainstormed possible reactions to some of their ideas. They usually end up on the right side of history, they just have to get their through public humiliation over and over.

      As for the NGE, if you can find a copy of those graphs, which were supposed to be pretty spot on for SOE up until about 2010, SWG dropped from 300K to 250K before the NGE, then quickly to 200K after, with a small spike as SOE no doubt scrambled to fix the worst things... like leaving people who bought The Trials of Obi-wan from feeling totally ripped off by giving them refunds... but after that it is the long drop to 100K and the deserted trailer parks that were the SWG housing that I knew.

  2. " Fifteen years of experience is more than enough to convince me that most Devs can't predict what's going to happen when they bring a server back up from routine maintenance, let alone the day after they release a major update."
    Ha! Isnt that the truth :)
    Thanks for making my Monday a little brighter :)


    1. Here's the one that made me laugh:

      "apparently blindsided by the bleeding obvious"

      Someone ought to cut a video, using in-game footage, satirizing SOE accordingly. Maybe just re-posting their own promo for mercs with fresh titles would be simplest...

      -- 7rlsy


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