Friday, 19 June 2015

Hitting A (Pay) Wall: GW2

There's been a bit of a bit of a hoo-hah this week. You may have heard about it. ArenaNet came out with the pre-release, pre-order, pre-purchase details for Heart of Thorns, their much-hyped first expansion to Guild Wars 2. Just in case anyone hasn't seen the skinny, there it is, down below.

I stole that image from Aywren who, like an awful lot of people, has already decided to sit this whole thing out at least until after launch, if not for ever. There's a reddit campaign up and running that aims to persuade people to boycott the expansion. It's currently 84% upvoted (whatever that means). The thread on the official ANet forums totals eighty-two pages as I write, with over 4000 posts, most of which, if a random sampling is anything like a guide, are vows not to buy HoT until Something Is Done About It.

Ravious makes a heartfelt plea for tolerance and compassion for the poor artists and designers. They just tried to make a nice game for everyone only to find themselves hounded off Twitter and reddit by the baying internet hordes, all for something that they didn't even have anything to do with. Tobold, who doesn't really do nuance and doesn't have a dog in the fight anyway, since he doesn't play the game in the first place, chips in to lay the whole thing at the door of "the usual entitlement kids".

I guess we should go round them up. Anyone know where they usually hang out? Oh yes, Twitter and reddit and the forums. Not on nice blogs like these, that's for sure. Oh, never mind that anyway. It's too late to close that door.

This is just a sample of the furor. The story hasn't made the BBC Technology News pages yet but I imagine it's only a matter of time.

My own first reaction was mostly along the lines of "what's all the fuss about?" Yes, $50 (£35) is on the pricey side for a bog-standard, basic version of an MMO expansion but it's hardly out of the ballpark. The perks and extras in the deluxe versions do look a bit weary and shop-worn but then, to me, they almost always do, which is why I have never in fifteen years bought one.

Wait, I think I can make something out through the fog...is it a release date? Nah...

Dig a bit deeper, though, and reasons to be scornful begin to make themselves clear. There's the highly contentious issue of ANet overtly promoting the base game over the past few weeks with the strong message that it's needed to play the expansion, only to reveal, after (presumably) many thousands of people had taken them at their word and bought the game, that it in fact comes bundled with the expansion anyway.

That is, at best, clumsy marketing. Some people, quite a lot of people, think it's more sinister than that. I'd probably be one of them if I hadn't experienced enough marketing cock-ups from the inside over the years at various places I've worked to realize that it's entirely possible the people who wrote the sales blurbs had no idea what the guys setting the parameters for the pre-purchase had in mind.

Ah, there's that word again: pre-purchase. It's an unusual one for MMOs. We're used to all kinds of Early Access deals that are, effectively, pre-purchases but when it comes to expansions for existing games we're more accustomed to pre-orders. The difference is whose bank the money is in between now and launch and when you can change your mind: pre-release means "yours" and "any time until release"; pre-purchase means "now" and "never".

Got to cure this acrophobia somehow before all that verticality arrives.


Still, if you're sure you'll want it when it comes and you can afford it then why not pay now? Well, perhaps because as yet no-one has any idea when "when it comes" is going to be. We're no nearer knowing a release date now than we were in February. It might be August, it might be November, it might be 2025.

Of course, if you do make that pre-purchase you get immediate access to all the beta events, of which there are currently none scheduled. There might be some. There probably will be some. A few of them might even last longer than the two-hour sessions we've seen so far, or take place in more than a corner of one unfinished zone, or not be open to everyone anyway.

Oh yes, zones. About time they got a mention. It's traditional to at least list how many of those a given MMORPG expansion is going to add to the game it expands. Here's what Zam said about EQ2's last expansion, Altar of Malice:

"In total, the expansion will include:

  • Level cap raised to 100 for tradeskill, adventuring and guilds
  • 2 new overlands zones
  • 14 new heroic zones
  • 6 new raid zones
  • 6 new advanced solo zones
  • HQs, L&Ls
  • 4 new avatars
  • New tradeskill quests
  • Tradeskill apprentice with "best in slot recipes"
That's quite specific. I quite like to see a feature list like that before I get my credit card out. I'd quite to like to know just how many zones there are in HoT and, even though I almost never set foot in GW2 dungeons, how many new dungeons we're getting (have any HoT dungeons even been mentioned yet?).

Guild Halls are going to be wasted on some people...

The thing is, even without the rather expensive box price, the very lackluster selection of "goodies" and the absence of a free character slot to for the new Revenant profession (just plain mean and a terrible PR own-goal), HoT looks, well, pretty ropy.

So far it looks like a claustrophobic jungle where we expand only upwards, like a 1960s urban redevelopment project.  "Verticality" stands in for horizontality or what we traditionally call zones, maps or explorable areas.

That does not appeal to me and nor do the recently-revealed Guild Halls which, ironically, look as though they would serve perfectly well as explorable maps themselves. I get the feeling our three-person guild would be as lost in one of those as three mice in St Paul's Cathedral and have about as much impact on the space.

In fact, hardly anything about HoT appeals to me. Some of it is meh, the rest is yikes! Nothing I've seen so far is wow! Or WoW for that matter, which at this point I am thinking is a negative, not the positive it would have been four years ago. I could go through the whole "feature list", such as it is, and detail why I'm not excited but, well, I'm not interested enough.

Zubon suggests that I should already know by my emotional reaction that I'm done with GW2 and don't need to buy HoT. "Do big changes inspire interest or dread?" he asks. "You have already made your decision, you just need to recognize it".

We may be at Jormag but our minds are on Our Glorious Leader

Well, yes, that's all very well except for one thing. I do, very definitely, want to go on playing WvW. I am very excited about that. As I type this there is a fantastic, nail-biting match going on in which Yaks Bend may just sneak a win over the combined efforts of a cheating Fort Aspenwood and their lick-spittle sometime-lackeys Sea of Sorrows.

Mrs Bhagpuss is in there right now and I want to get this written so I can join her and the rest of our brave, beleaguered forces. As things stand only blogging is getting in the way of me doing just that but come the release of HoT it won't really be an option at all unless I have bought and installed the expansion, which replaces three out of the four WvW maps with new ones.

Or so I believed until half an hour ago until Ettesiun and Jondare started me wondering with their comments. Actually it turns out this is completely untrue! I went and did some fact-checking and, as you can hear Colin Johanson say at around 11.55 in this interview with Angry Joe, all players will have access to the new WvW maps whether they buy the expansion or not. I do think he sounds a bit as though he wishes it were otherwise but still, there it is. There goes my Ringo joke. I was rather fond of it too! 

So it now appears I don't have to buy the Heart of Thorns expansion in order to go on playing WvW in a full and meaningful fashion. I'm going to have to come up with some other reason to buy it I guess. Damned if I can think of one off the top of my head though.

And all these facts have made a right old mess out a perfectly good argument, too!

Come on the Yaks!










15 comments:

  1. I have not yet read that the access to the new WoW map are restricted to HoT player. But I may have missed it. They have clearly said that all guild function will no longer be available for not HoT player. I do not know what is the usual player conversion rate for MMO expansion. Is there often player that only play the old game ?

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    1. As you can see from my hastily-corrected post, you haven't read it because it's not true. I've believed it since the original announcement but apparently I misunderstood everything I'd read.

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  2. Do people really want to play the entitlement card every time a decently-sized slop of internet denizens ruffle their feathers?

    I'll do it. I hate this corporate entitlement that thinks it is okay to not own up to a marketing mistake. You say one thing, then change your mind after the fact - that isn't cool. You also should feel the right to start charging for something until a somewhat ironclad set of details have been released. As a consumer, I expect a rough list of what is included and an idea of when it will be released if you want my money.

    Never mind the fact that people are idiots and will pay for something, especially a video game which is prone to emotional/irrational attachments. Do your due diligence and be the responsible one, corporations!

    Furthermore, giving one thing to one group and not to the other seems pretty easy to call unfair to me. Perhaps you might want to consider giving people that extra slot, hm? Oh, you feel entitled to the ten dollars you've arbitrarily assigned to that item in your cash shop? And you don't care anything about loyal customers who've stuck to your game for this long?

    Typical entitled company wanting everything your way without bothering to think what your customers and fans want.

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    1. That's much more the way I see it. Corporate responsibility though, do you think that could ever catch on?

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  3. Ehm what? There has NO mention of the new WvW maps being paywalled behind the expansion. None at all, and i HIGHLY doubt that would happen.

    And Ettesiun, they haven't really talked about how the new guild stuff will be done with regards to owning HoT, but i imagine you will still be able to do what you can now, and i would imagine you might be able to enjoy the new parts as well, so long as an officer or two has HoT purchased.

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    1. Oh, you are right! Thanks for putting that straight. There's not a lot of hard information about it and back when it was announced there was a lot of talk about EBG staying as it and the rest changing with HoT, which led some people, me included, to believe that meant you'd need the expansion to get the zones .

      However, Colin Johanson does say at around 11.55 in this interview with Angry Joe that the WvW game maps "will be available to everyone" since they can't lock people out of game modes.

      Well, that's a relief, I guess! Although now I have to come up with another reason to buy HoT!

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  4. Not buying this thing at this point isn't "entitlement". It's common sense. There's no release date, not a good list of features, and no particular reason to give them money right now.

    If people want to be treated better by gaming companies like this, they should learn how to not fling open their wallets just because the company teases some stuff. I mean, would you buy a pizza that was promised with some toppings, to be delivered at some point in the future, probably?

    No, of course not. Entertainment products are no different. Show me the merchandise, and then we'll talk. Pre-purchasing this early is entirely the province of suckers.

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    1. Common sense tends to be sorely lacking when it comes to things people are emotionally invested in. Despite all my negativity and lack of interest I am 99% likely to buy the darn thing. Not yet a while though. I have that much sense at least.

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  5. Sadly, to me, it smells like a new zone full of jumping puzzles (which I hate) and a new class (which I can't play without spending even more money for another character slot). Combined with a pre-PURCHASE (not pre-order) which offers absolutely nothing worthwhile.

    I can't even imagine any reason to pre-pay rather than waiting until release to take a closer look. But frankly, if it released today, based on what I know, I can't imagine dropping fifty bucks for it.

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    1. Having been in the last Beta, i can assure you that the jumping with Shrooms and Gliders are nothing like jumping puzzles at all. Gliders are simply amazingly fun, and Shrooms are more or less preprogrammed, shooting you in a certain direction, with a certain landingspot in mind. You can navigate a bit in the air, but not much.

      As for mass of content, i am quite certain they've talked about there being 3 zones, each with 3 Biomes. And don't forget, you'll also be getting new elite specs for our existing character classes.

      All of that being said, i can understand if you feel like you need more information. I just that if people are to rag on the preorder, they should at least do it from an informed position :P

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    2. I think the main source is this interview with Zam in which Colin Johanson says: "“Our focus is instead on a smaller number of maps that have an incredible amount of deep replay value.”

      I haven't seen a specific number although three would be about the minimum I would think. Well, technically two, I guess. I'd be mildly surprised if it turns out to be as few as three open-world PvE maps but I guess it might be that low.

      The three biomes is definitely right assuming you mean the three vertical levels, the roots, the middle bit and the canopy. I imagine there are more than three actual biomes within that.

      That interview, which goes back to January, actually has about as much information as we know now. I read it back then but I'd forgotten just how much detail it goes into. It's actually where I got the original idea that the BLs would be locked out in WvW, I think:

      "World vs World is getting a new borderland in HoT and we confirmed that Eternal Battlegrounds will not be getting a new map. This new borderland will not be replacing the old borderlands, but will be put into a rotation where both will be played."

      Because that was in an interview specifically about the new expansion I understood it to mean this was expansion-exclusive content i.e. EBG was being left untouched for non-expansion buyers and the rest, but only the rest, would get the new BLs. I also believed the rotation referred to was to allow non-expansion players a turn on the BLs now and again. Re-reading now still makes me think that's what they are saying although the Angry Joe interview clearly makes the point that it doesn't mean that after all. I don't follow Angry Joe though...

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    3. It's the first expansion "buy it now" announcement I've seen that managed to come without a feature list. A colossal marketing screwup, if you ask me. But that is entirely par for the course, what with a The Secret World advertisement that turned out to be a GW2 advert, and other strange as hell campaigns.

      If they just pushed the guild halls blog posts a day earlier or two, I might have jumped on it due to all the neat ideas for guild halls + multi-guild chat alone (though it'll probably be available to others expansion or no expansion) just out of goodwill.

      Really, what's so hard about a numbers/feature list:
      * 3 (or several, if you want to cage) new Magumma Jungle zones, featuring 3 separate biomes, Roots, Ground and Canopy - each containing densely packed content for groups and solo players. Zone-spanning Dynamic Event chains, individual Adventures and more!

      * Unlock special Maguuma Masteries that open up new ways of traveling through the jungle - gliders, bouncing mushrooms - and lore about the elusive denizens within.

      * 8 distinct Elite Specializations that allow you to play your profession in an entirely new way!

      * 1 entirely new heavy armor profession, the Revenant

      * 2 entire instanced jungle zones for your guild to conquer and convert into your new Guild Halls, featuring blah blah (insert stuff about arena for dueling and GvG among other things)

      And so on and so forth.

      Their whole information distribution chain is more than out of whack, assuming that we know what the devs know, that we're going to comb through every last medium (social media, Twitch, Youtube, livestreams, blogs, beta sneak peeks, god knows what) in order to put together the whole picture of what the expansion contains.

      It's not a TSW ARG, for crying out loud.

      For me, I am definitely waiting until I get a complete picture of what the expansion contains. Tell me about all the elite specializations again, right now I have Druid, Chronomancer, Reaper and Dragonhunter. The other four? *crickets*

      I'm going to wrap my head around the impending patch that's going to shake up all the systems in preparation for HoT and check out how the game feels then, before deciding if continuing with an expansion is what I want to do.

      Especially if I'm going to spend a hundred bucks on a digital version with no tangible goodies like an art book or a statuette. (Speaking of which, why can't we get a digital art book or a soundtrack to sweeten the deal, anyway?

      The marketing team's decisions continue to confound at every step. Folks who buy a normal price expansion want a character slot for the new class. Folks who buy the overpriced deluxe versions want their standard goodies - free mini and prestige skin and title are good, but most collector's editions throw in artbook and what not. GW2's artists are revered, why not make the decision to throw money at you easier?)

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    4. ANet should hire you now. I'd totally buy THAT expansion!

      Seriously, though, ANet's marketing team appear to come form a parallel universe. Do you remember how long it took them to get the Gem store to the point where it was regularly adding new items that people actually wanted to buy? Well over a year by my count. And the absolute insistence (by the dev team admittedly but presumably supported by marketing) that the business model involved giving players everything for free for ever if they'd bought the box?

      I can't but think we'd all be in a better place, business and customers alike, if they'd just run the thing along traditional "we make stuff and we sell it to you" lines from the beginning. We'd have had this expansion a year ago for a start and be writing about the next one by now.

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  6. 2 things that folks commonly don't pay attention to concerning this preorder thingy when they're calling me and others entitled.

    1 - I've got 9 alts. All lvl 80, all geared. So, getting the 45 euro pack, I have 2 options if I want (and I most certainly do) to play a revenant. Either delete one of my characters, lose all progress on him/her to make room for the revenant (and I don't want to do that, I love my characters) OR splurge another 10 euros to get another character slot. That takes the cost of the expansion up to 55 euros. But you can grind gold and buy the slot that way! Sure, I can do that, but, if I'm to grind for something, I need to decide to do it on my own, as a personal goal, and not be "gently pushed" towards it. I don't want to feel like I'm working in a game. Serious issue for me that one.

    2 - I don't much appreciate that veiled "threat", that's been looming abouts. If i want to see the story and be part of the living world, tough luck, I need hot for that. Cause living story will presumably will go on after the events of HoT so obviously I can't participate if I don't have it. And if you think you'll just wait for the sale for HoT, well, just pray that they haven't moved into LS content and you have to buy that one too. Somehow this feels wrong. Very very wrong.

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    1. The character slot debacle is just inane. It creates completely avoidable bad feeling among the core customer base and makes the company look like a cheap bunch of money-grabbers. Against that they can weigh the hundreds of thousands of £8.50s (price of a character slot) they'll earn for literally doing nothing. You can see the motivation but it's not good forward planning.

      As for the Living Story you'd think it will require HoT, wouldn't you? The story so far ends with the teaser for the new areas and that's where it must go next. Given Colin's comments on not locking people out of parts of the game though I guess they could use a separate built-for-purpose map that's in the Maguuma Jungle but not in the expansion. Or use instances. There are ways round it. Like just about everything else related to HoT there still isn't enough hard information to be sure.

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