Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The New ANet : GW2

Since the departure of Colin Johanson as Game Director, ArenaNet feels almost like a different company. Both the tone and content of communication have changed almost out of recognition, along with the delivery of substantive and meaningful improvements to the game itself.

Following the successful and generally well-received systems overhaul of the Spring Update last week's regular bi-weekly patch added a neat teaser event for the return of what may or may not end up being called Living Story 3. It was only a small addition, flagged up with a single line in the patch notes, but it bodes well for the future.

The most striking example of the changed attitude, though, has been the arrival on the WvW Team and on the official forums of a developer who appears both to understand how world vs world is played and to be able to discuss it coolly, clearly and rationally. That is something the game has needed and lacked for the best part of four years.


With Tyler Bearce now fronting the discussion and the revitalized ANet seemingly committed at long last to a full revamp of what was at one time, supposedly, its flagship feature, the future for large-scale PvPvE competition in GW2 looks brighter than it has for years. We have already seen a very fast response to the opinion expressed by the great majority of interested players with the return of the original, "Alpine" borderland maps.

Before that the widely disliked and frequently shunned Desert Borderlands received a successful and largely well-received sense-check that made them much more fun to play. The plan is to bring both sets of maps into some as-yet unspecified rotation and my feeling is that it will come to be seen as a good and acceptable solution.

No sooner was that done than we had a poll on what we'd like ANet to do to improve WvW next. This is unprecedented. Unlike SOE/DBG, who will run in-game polls on what color hats they should put in the store (not an actual poll example - or is it?) ANet never poll anyone on anything. What ANet like to do is start interminable opinion-gathering threads on the forum, let them run on for weeks or even months, cherry-pick a few of the least relevant comments to reply to, generally stir up a huge amount of noise and then do absolutely nothing about it.

I should say, that's what the old ANet liked to do. New ANet is different. This time we got a poll with two choices and a third "I don't care what you do" option and about a week later we got a result. The choices were between a rag-bag of "Quality of Life" improvements and a revamp to the WvW scoring system. A do-over for scoring won and presto, another week later, up pops Tyler Bearce with a full, coherent, well-presented proposal for exactly what those changes might look like.

The Deserted Borderlands

I'm not going to go into the detail. I'll just say that if all those changes were made to the game today I'd be delighted. There are things I'd do differently but there's not one thing in the list that I dislike and almost all of it looks as likely to improve the overall experience of WvW as not.

The general response in the lengthy thread is very positive. Mirroring ANet's own change of approach player reaction is undergoing a sea-change. Astonishingly, when game-developers express themselves clearly and lucidly and talk to their customers as though they were self-aware, intelligent adults the response from the players becomes less defensive, more co-operative.

There's only one genuinely controversial element in the proposed changes: an adjustment to the scoring system that attempts to compensate for "night-capping". Night-capping isn't what our guild-leader was doing yesterday when he had one shot of whiskey too many and had to go and have a lie down (true story). It's when players in one time-zone hit their prime-time, all log in at once and find the players in another time-zone, who spent the last six hours taking and fortifying structures, have logged off and gone to bed.

"They say you can't go home again/Don't believe it" Quoting my own three-decade old song lyrics ftw!

GW2 is a globally-available game but it only has three data centers. You can discount the Chinese operation as a separate game. That leaves the rest of the world playing either on servers that are nominally either European or North American. Europe, by and large, manages to stay relatively coherent so the real problems are on NA servers.

There are by convention, four time-zones for WvW: EU, NA, SEA and OCX. You can sub-divide further but that's the baseline. This reddit thread explains it simply. The problem comes when a match takes place between servers whose major populations don't align. Players tend to cluster by culture or language or simply when they happen to be awake, so certain servers have far more players in one time zone than another.

In our current match, for example, Yaks Bend has a very strong NA, a moderate EU/OCX and almost no SEA at all. Jade Quarry is almost the reverse. In NA prime JQ lose everything; in SEA they take it all back and take our stuff as well. Most of that is large blobs taking undefended structures.

The problem is that you can't tell people where to play. There have been various incentives to get people to move about but nothing has really worked. As a massive believer in server loyalty I don't even admit to there being an option: I chose my server four years ago and I will play there until the server is de-listed.

Remember when we were excited for ranks? Thought not.

Recognizing the impossibility of moving the players ANet has decided to move the goalposts instead. Under the new proposals there will be a "Victory Point Multiplier" that attempts to compensate for map populations at various times of day.

Tyler Bearce describes this as potentially controversial in his opening post and he is not wrong. Much of the ensuing discussion focuses around this single change, with strong arguments for and against. Some "off-hours" players see it as a slap in the face. One even calls it "racist".

As someone who has literally never played a full session during Yak's Bend's prime-time, which starts just as I'm going to bed and ends just before I get up, I have no qualms about the proposed changes whatsoever. I don't feel for a moment that anything I do in my server's "off hours" will be less valuable or less valued than if I was doing it in prime time.

It's an emotional issue, though, and one that no-one at ANet has dared to address until now. Even if this doesn't turn out to be the best solution it's very good that the issue is out in the open being discussed and, at last, addressed.

Everything considered, this is a very exciting time to be playing World vs World. If we can just get this bedded down we should be able to move on to the return of Seasons. Season gameplay was the most exciting and involving competitive gaming I have experienced in a decade and a half and I'd love to have it back.

If this is the New ANet I have to say I heartily approve.

4 comments:

  1. If Anet is even considering addressing night-capping via scoring changes, then things must be very, very bad.

    The playerbase had been complaining about this since launch week (and I assume still does, though I left after 14 months and 2000 hours played). The answer was always WvW is a 24/7 game mode and they don't want to privilege one region's contribution over another. They just would never budge on this.

    Talking about killing sacred cows. It is a wholesale revolution.

    The other thing to watch for would be arrow carts. Their buffing was the other controversy I remember being on a par with night-capping, and was hated by most committed WvW'ers (as it was basically an "I win" button). If they nerf arrow carts, then the purge was indeed ubiquitous.

    - Simon

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    1. Hey! We worship arrow carts on Yak's bend! It's mandatory for all YBers to carry a minimum stack of 50 Superior ACs at all times - everyone knows that.

      I'm a major fan of siege weapons in WvW. I think a lot of it comes down to whether you see the game mode as a tarted up form of PvP or an easy-acess siege simulator. I've always leaned to the latter which is why YB has been such a perfect fit. Sheer good fortune that was.

      The company line is still that WvW is a 24/7 global game - hard to argue because that's what it is - but suddenly there is movement on accommodating the mechanics to compensate for the stubborn refusal of players to spread out evenly. I think at this stage its fair to say that players have been complain ing about everything under the sun, in PvE, PvP and WvW, for three and a half years and the official line has been "suck it up". Suddenly that's become "Sorry about that! We'll fix it. Fast." Maybe it wasn't Colin Johanson's departure that caused the change but the two things certainly co-incided.

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  2. I think the night-capping argument misses the point entirely by making it seem the issue derives from timezones. The player discussion in the thread highlights another issue, which I previously never considered, but after thinking about it, seems to be the crux of the matter. It's about population imbalance across servers at any one particular time, specifically, when one server has an overwhelming crowd advantage against the other two. It disuades anyone in the other two servers from deciding to WvW at the time, making it skewed even further.

    Whatever solution implemented needs to try and account for this imbalance, such that as long as two servers can field players who can conceivably resist each other, the activity level should be considered relatively fine. Not sure how you could incentivize more people to play WvW, rather than de-incentivize the stacked server to log on a crowd (that crowd is a community that is enjoying itself, it's a shame to split them up) - but I'd prefer to see ideas where a smaller group could conceivably put up a fight or offer good fight or score resistance to that crowd. We basically want to incentivize players to play the content, not tell them, don't play now, you won't score as much.

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    1. I saw that point in the thread too and I thought it was well-made. I can think of numerous occasions when YB has been able to field a zerg of 40+ and yet still couldn't get out of our Citadel. Often that happens on a Sunday afternoon/evening my time, which isn't peak NA but is a busy NA period. We just happen not to have as many weekend players as some other servers, even in NA, while our weekday NA has always been very strong.

      I can't see why WvW has to be handled differently from the rest of the game. Why can't WvW spin up extra maps to meet demand? Why can't it replicate the exact data of the current maps, including current structure ownership and even siege placement? It's just data, surely, that can be polled and copied? If that led to players gaming the system by moving from one map to another then so what? That potentially creates a more interesting dynamic and it's what players already do all the time in PvE (Tarir Chest Train for example).

      I think they could certainly be more imaginative in their solutions but at this point I'm just happy they're actually doing anything!

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