Sunday, July 1, 2018

Summertime Sadness : GW2

I very much agree with UltrViolet, who, when he briefly reviewed the latest Living World episode,  wrote

“See all previous comments regarding Guild Wars 2. There’s no need to write a new post. Nothing has changed. Whatever they spent extra time to work on is not evident to me.” 

Exactly so.

On the other hand, Jeromai, who very much knows what he's talking about when it comes to GW2, takes a different view :

"There’s a lot of what seem like under-the-hood tweaks to improve storytelling: from better NPC AI that form formations, in-instance object changes and scripting and zone phasing that are mostly remarkably used well in the service of telling a story, possibly over-fancy tweaks to the UI to indicate new status conditions..."

I have to confess I missed all of that. ANet did allude to some background changes when they were warning that the latest episode would be late:
"...we had an opportunity to make some adjustments to how we approach developing each episode..."
but in keeping with their usual hyper-cautious attitude to secrecy they gave not the slightest hint of what those changes or adjustments might be.

Well, they probably need to do something. Or maybe they don't. Who can tell? Megaserver technology makes it impossible to assess how well GW2 is doing by any of the usual means. You can't count the servers or make any meaningful judgment on  how busy the maps are. World vs World should be more quantifiable but that game mode is currently in such a deep, prolonged malaise pending the supposed root-and-branch revamp, that it's pointless even trying to take its temperature.

NCsoft’s first quarter 2018 report has GW2 performing tolerably well as part of the overall portfolio. I did initially interpret the table that had ANet's game neck-and-neck with Aion as evidence of a serious slide in profitability but in fact it turns out to be mainly due to a surge in monies coming in from Aion.

"Every other game saw a slight dip...with the exception of Aion which saw a big jump which NCSoft attributed to a “change in monetization scheme”"

All the same, the feeling in-game is one of drift. I find it more than peculiar that ArenaNet, with its 300+ employees (as reported in 2016) appears to struggle to produce four quarterly content updates, each of which provides  - at best - a couple of weeks of fresh entertainment for a very casual player, plus a full expansion only every two to three years.

Many - I would say most - moderately successful MMORPGs do considerably better than that. Even those that don't do a significantly better job at providing bread and circuses to keep the players entertained between major releases. ANet don't even seem to feel they need to work up a full year's calendar of holidays.

Jeromai mentions an upswell of feeling on reddit concerning GW2's lack of a genuine end-game, a problem that's ironically compounded by the game's horizontal sprawl:

"On the GW2 Reddit, there are threads bemoaning the lack of an endgame right alongside threads in which new and returning players profess their utter overwhelm and confusion with what to do next."

It's a problem ANet appear no nearer to solving than they were six years ago, when they trumpeted their mold-breaking manifesto. Over the running time of the game so far many solutions have been trialed and tried. Some have stuck, most have faded. The result is an ill-fitting, ill-seeming mish-mash of old and new.

Raids and fractals sit in their silos alongside the failing, fading original alternative game modes, sPvP and WvW. GW2's goal of becoming a popular platform for professional eSports is long forgotten. The supposed end-game equivalent, realm versus realm competetion in The Mists via what was once known as WorldvsWorldvsWorld languishes in deep decline, played by few,  cared about by fewer. A plan to revitalize WvW's fortunes lies somewhere in the future, maybe next year, maybe never.

Meanwhile the game limps along on crutches of cosmetics and collections. In the absence of anything comparable to vertical or linear progression the developers lean heavily on increasingly time-consuming busywork, leading to increasingly purposeless rewards.

What once seemed an outrageous shopping list for the original Legendary weapons now looks like a trip to the corner store in comparison to the requirements of the new batch. Jeromai considers his options:

"I’ve just come off the really long term goal of making a second set of legendary armor (heavy and light now done, medium to go… at some point far far into the future); am still eyeing Astralaria with temptation but utter trepidation (second gen HoT legendaries are intensive); and settled on the more medium term goal of repeating a easier first gen legendary..."

When we reach a point where players are working on their third set of "end game " armor and further "end game " weapons (all of which offer no practical character improvement other than convenience) just to have something to do, it's clear that we have a game whose appeal is going to be limited.

There are, it's true, a lot of players who like that sort of thing. Collecting all the things because all the things! has long been a recognized behavior. It's my feeling, however, that such an audience is dwarfed by the demographic that likes to see their characters become more powerful, more effective, better. Not just better-looking and easier to dress.

GW2 has become the poster child for that old saw "be careful what you wish for". We wanted an MMORPG with no vertical progression and no end game and this is what we got. I don't believe such a game has to look like that but this one does and I'm the poor sod stuck playing it - although I do at least play it my own way, most of the time.

I was, for a long while, invested in the narrative. It reels and lurches like a drunken sailor in a force ten but I've always found it entertaining and still do. In this, as in so many things, I seem to be out of step with the current audience. In game or out, few seem to care any more. Time was when each new twist and turn in the plot would spawn frenzied speculation in map chat and on the forums. These days all people seem interested in is where to go farm on the new map and how quickly they can get the mount.

I'm not going to say my time with GW2 is drawing to a close. The open-ended payment model means a GW2 player can never really quit, only take a break. I'm playing less, though. Much less. These days I just do my dailies and my Krait on each of three accounts, then I log out and play something else.

That's becoming an established pattern. With the new LS chapter I played a couple of sessions on the story but once I finished I haven't been back to explore the new map. Mrs Bhagpuss hasn't even logged in since the update. WvW is in freefall. Neither of us do much there right now. Maybe the proposed conversion to an Alliance system will change that, maybe not.

I suspect everyone who cares has already left and most won't come back, or rather they will, but they won't stay long. Old names crop up all the time but few hang around. Nothing much has changed over the last four or five years to make anyone who stopped playing feel they made a bad choice.

Then again, it is summer. People have other things to do. Maybe that's all it is. With World of Warcraft gearing up for an expansion launch a lot of MMOs will be retrenching, hunkering down to wait out the storm. Maybe come the autumn things will look different.

Oh, who am I kidding? In Tyria nothing ever looks any different and never will. Not now Scarlet's dead. I miss her. If only this could be true. Just the first bit, obviously.

Enough whining. Maybe I should go look at the new map after all. I might find something interesting. Someone did. Don't click on this if you don't want spoilers. If you've finished the storyline, though, seriously, CLICK ON THIS!

I'm not even kidding.


  1. I think GW2 has a problem with audience. As you said, there was a time when all the talk on Reddit was centered around the next twist of the narrative. That’s very much no longer the case. I still blame raids, honestly, even though I’ve bowed with the inevitable and joined the Romans, so to speak, doing what Romans do in Rome.

    It separated all the “tryhards” from the “not really interested in trying, for possibly understandable reasons.” The former were the leaders of map metas, the organizers and cat-herders, searching the world for fellow hardcore souls to do content with, and conveniently bundling up the weaker players and moving them along despite a lack of gear progression.

    Now, due to the focus on closed instance raids and fractals, challenge mode difficulties and meta builds and dps meters, they’ve easily segregated off to focus on only those they consider “worthy” enough - aka actually trying or shows objective measurable results.

    That leaves behind all those who haven’t quite got to that level yet (and may or may not want to), to struggle on their own without many teachers or leaders to somehow blunder their way into improvement or not. Little wonder why there’s an increasing call for gear progression. The default MMO mindset is “if I can’t do it yet, I have to improve my gear” after all.

    1. Anet have lost all sense of who their audience might be. They've flip-flopped so many times now that they can barely be said to have any credibility left and what's more I don't even get the impression they have a clear and unequivocal direction for the game in mind any more. They've burned through several since launch and now they appear to be winging it without one.

      The thing I skated over in the post is the way Aion has managed to rev ive its fortunes so handily without having anything like an expansion or new content to drive income. I don't follow Aion but as far as I can see what happened was a wholesale revamp of the game with a lot of zones/maps/content being removed entirely to "streamline" the game and, crucially, reduce the size of the download to attract new players. Given that the result was an in crease in year on year income of more than 40% you have to wonder what NCSoft would like to see done with GW2, whose increased sales appear to come mainly from the expansion. If you can get the same benefit by removing content as you can by adding it...

  2. I don’t think SuperData was reporting that, those numbers are from the NCsoft Q1 earning report that came out on May 10 of this year. You can find it over on the NCsoft investor relations page.

    1. Aha! I think you are right! I remembered having seen the details in a blog post about the recent Superdata report but now you point it out it's actually direct from the NCSoft Report. Thanks for the correct ion - fixing it now (which will then mean your comment and my reply make no sense but you can't have everything!).

  3. Hmm. What do i see here? A very long "this game is doomed" posting, this time in GW2 flavour, done by Bhagpuss.

    And sorry for the sarcastic start, but i couldn't help it. It very much reminds me looking at some steam reviews of some games, where people have 1000 or even 2000 hours of time clocked in a game, then write a review that the game is bad, not fun at all and you're better off not playing it. What mostly got me that you commented on the pace of content creation and concluded with this sentence: "Many - I would say most - moderately successful MMORPGs do considerably better than that." May i please know which of them you would refer to?

    I mean, i would know of no MMO out there, which is able to create content at the pace the community is able to consume it. Compared to many other MMOs out there, GW2 is rather fast and steady. I mean yes, the last story update was delayed, but they announced the delay, explained it and excused for the delay. They generally have a history of meeting their deadlines. Also note that generally the quality of their updates also has improved. Yes, there's a bug here and there, but i regularily experience much worse in many other games. The only real drawback of the new content is in the hands of the dialogue writers. Formerly my character was a good guy. Friendly, sometimes a bit gullible, but all fine. Now with the new writer, my same character suddenly is loud and proud, too full of himself and an outright lower body orifice. Which is annoying me a bit, but doesn't change the fact that everybody else but the new writer of the dialogues is doing a really good job.

    So really, what you write here is not a flaw of the game. For me it's still a very enjoyable experience. Keep in mind, play much less, only have one account, only have one character in fully ascended gear and have no legendary equipment at all. So i guess compared to you, i am a dirty casual. After all, i play several other games, which keeps them all fresh. But for somebody like me, this game is perfect. I can do stuff everywhere, progress at my personal pace and have fun.

    I understand that from the point of view of a focused player, this game has the some problems. In my eyes, it's the same problems of any other MMO out there, just in slightly different colors.

    I still think that GW2 is an outstanding success. Yes, it went it's own way, yes, some things are different than in other MMOs, which of course is "terribly bad" in some peoples eyes, and yes, after several years of dedicated playing, it can get old. But despite some meandering on its way to the current status, i find that it at all times provided an enjoyable experience and thus a game worth investing my time and some money for me.

    And last not least on the financial side: yes, it's true that GW2 the last two quarters was going down. On the other hand, Q4 in 2017 was their record breaking quarter, where the game had it's all time peak, thanks to the last expansion. So numbers going down again after that is natural and to be expected. I think the game's in rather good shape at the moment.

    1. It's not a "this game is doomed" post so much as a "this game is dull" post. I play every day because I like my characters, the gameplay is very simple and relaxing, which makes it particularly good after work, and because it's there and I don't have to go fiddling around looking for it. Most of those aren't partiularly positive reasons, are they? Not terrible reasons, perfectly fine, but hardly thrilling.

      It's not down to the age of the game. I play older MMOs that I've been playing longer and I'm more excited about them. Specifically, I play EQ2, which currently I find more compelling than GW2, mainly beause, despite having a team probably less then 5% of the size of GW2's, it somehow manages to add content that interests me more often. I enjoyed the EQ2 expansion a lot more than Path of Fire and I played it for a lot more hours. What's more, I am taking my third and fourth characters through that expansion whereas I took a single character through PoF and have no plans ever to take a second. EQ2 also has a full calendar of holiday events that take up most of the year, sometimes overlapping, and those events have new content added each year and offer rewards I find desirable and appealing. If I was playing WoW I could say the same. Or FFXIV. In GW2 there are officially just three holidays, Lunar New Year, Halloween and Wintersday. Four if you stretch a point and count Super Adventure Box. It's no coi-incidence that those three (not SAB) are my three favorite times in the game. Holidays in MMOs represent the kind of content I prefer. As I've said before, in GW2 my favorite content over the last year or two has been produced by the time that does the Current Events/Side Stories. Those are the closest we get to what would be holiday content in other games and personally I would very happily take more of that in exchange for less emphasis on supposedly big ticket Living World chapters that end up falling flat. It annoys me that when we get actual LW content the superior Side Story content dries up.

      As for gear etc, despite having thousands of hours played on three accounts, I have never done map completion on anyone, never finished the Personal Story on anyone, and own no Legendary weapons or armor. What's more I've never attempted to do do or obtain any of those things. Mostly I do my dailies, content in Level 1-15 maps, World Bosses and World vs World.

      Again, as I've said before, I really enjoyed Heart of Thorns. I didn't expect to - I expected to dislike it a lot but the opposite turned out to be the case. Similarly, I really enjoyed the open world version of the Living World in Season One and I really like Scarlet Briar and the plotline around her. There were lots of things I didn't like during the first four years but, as they say, you never know when you're well off. I thought the game would improve after Mike O'Brien took over the reins when HoT tanked but on the contrary things deteriorated and continue to do so.

    2. ...and a second part because I exceeded the comment length...

      I recognize that GW2 now has a vocal demographic that enjoys the kind of gameplay that revolves around farming and collecting, as well as somewhat settled raid and fractal cultures but none of that content really does much for me. It's also very much the kind of content that's widely available in any number of MMOs (albeit the farming and collecting may well be at its most intense in GW2).

      The kind of gameplay I wanted from GW2, and used to get, was mainly the huge open world zerg content which exemplified the original dynamic event system and especially the Scarlet Invasions from Season One. (Fundementally I want an MMORPG that's all Scarlet Invasions/Rifts/WoW Invasions all the time). The map meta system that's replaced that model since Dry Top is not bad but it's too formalized to scratch my itch for long. Plus I always have full bags and now I also have autoloot I have to keep dropping out to make space - which is just as bad as always having to stop to pick things up!

      Anyway, the gist is not that I think GW2 is dying - it's obviously not - it's that I'm getting bored of it and I'm getting bored quite specifically because of the kind of content that the developers are focusing on. Whether enough other people are getting excited by what bores me to keep the game's finances healthy we will see. As effectively a one-product shop, however, I would be amazed if ANet aren't already working on another project behind closed doors. GW2, with the best will in the world, is not growing and its goin g to get harder and harder as it ages even to keep the audience it's got. That's not doom-mongering, it's just the way of things.

    3. Then i am sorry for my misinterpretation. The passage with numbers being not checkable but probably being down and so on lead me wrong.

      Based on what you wrote now, i get it more. But i consider it a matter of taste. For me the game is fine. I don't farm, but apparently i also don't have to. I only enjoy zerg activities sporadically. I don't go for PvP, i don't care for raids or fractals. In many games, GW2 included, i see seasonal events as a plague, and treat them like that. But i enjoy playing the story, doing one or another daily activity and be fine. And that's content which keeps coming at a reasonable rate, for a casual player like me. So for me the game is doing perfectly fine.

      So i guess it boils down to personal taste and once again, i am sorry for misinterpreting this as a "doom" statement.

  4. I see your point, at least a little bit. The new episode feels rushed and the map meta look like it was not completed. There are three bridges into Gandara and it fells like the meta should use all of them for a three pronged approach. The real meta feels lackluster. You cannot explore Gandara at all, only a small part of it. So that is a bit disappointing.

    I likes the last map much more. It felt like you had much more to do there. And i liked the backpack collection where you taught the golem about beeing good by doing out of the way event all across tyria. That was fun to have a reason to visit a lot of places and even find some new things i had never done before. The new backpack does not look nearly as much fun. Especially since it need 700 inscribed shards which is just excessive.

    And i miss the large map meta like in HoT. I was really disappointed that PoF did not include at least one that can approach Dragons Stand or at least Octovine like standards.

    1. The previous map was definitely one of the better ones. I did spend a fair amount of time exploring that one although, as I said, that amounted to no more than a couple of weeks in total before I drifted away and didn't return. I am going to have to explore the new one to see what it's like but I can't seem to summon up the enthusiasm just yet. Still, it's not like it's going anywhere.

      I think I missed the golem backpack from the last map. Sounds interesting. I have all the ascended backpacks I could possibly use so I tend not to lok at them on the vendors but if it's fun to get then that's a different story . Thanks for the tip!

      And yes, I completely agree about the lack of anything in PoF comparable to Dragon's Stand or even the Octovine. I did both of those many, many times - Dragon's Stand kept me entertained for most weekends across the winter after HoT. I understand why they chose not to include map metas for the PoF maps and it sounded fine in theory but in practice it made them feel very much like "once-and-done" content. Well, it did to me, anyway, but that may be because I didn't actually like any of the maps in PoF in the first place. I guess had I enjoyed being in them the way I enjoy being in Ascalon or the Shiverpeaks I might still be hanging out there, map meta or no map meta.

  5. I share a similar frustration among the games that I play. The ones that consistently manage to put out the most and highest quality content are not the ones that I would think have the largest teams or the most income. It's like there is a peaked content to income function. Below a certain income a game gets no new content because the developers can barely keep the lights on. However, above a certain income developers don't put out much content because they can take most of their users for granted and/ or they are part of a larger company that siphons off a lot of their earnings for other projects. Between these two extremes are where you tend to get mid-level games with teams that are passionate and productive.

    1. That's a very good insight. The recent GW2 AMA was very revealing about process, I thought, particularly when they were patting themselves on the back for improving the way the various teams communicate with each other over what stage their various contributions to the whole project are at. I suspect the most efficent content comes when team members already know that sort of thing because they are all working in the same place, talking to each other like regular human beings. Which only happens when there aren't all that many of them.

  6. Guild Wars 2 is a game that launched with a huge amount of work and content, but past release barely budged from what was there already. It just doesn't make any sense how the team could make a game that big, and then nothing...

    I do have a theory. I think after release most of the team was moved to a new project, as it often happens, while they kept a smaller "live" team for the events and regular support. It's possible that this other project spectacularly failed and was canceled, or that they simply delayed it.

    When you project fails and you need a big delay to start from scratch or at least redo a big chunk of it, then it means your new project is going to cost A LOT more. Because time is money.

    This timing coincides with the first expansion of GW2. What I think happened is that they realized their next project was nowhere close to being ready, and so they needed more money invested to pay for the delay. In order to get that money they moved back some of the team to GW2 to produce the expansion. That's why it came so late in GW2's life cycle. I think they didn't even plan to make an expansion, it just became a necessity when they realized they needed a lot more time for their next project to be ready, and so had to extend GW2's planned life cycle.

    I essentially think they had to go back to GW2 in order to found the next project. And that would be the solution of the mystery why GW2 is lagging so much with the development. The majority of the team is probably working on something else. This something else probably suffered some major setbacks, and so they also need to better "exploit" GW2 to squeeze more money and afford to fix the setbacks with their other project.

    If tomorrow they announce GW3, hypothetically, you'd know: "ah, so that's what they were really working on all this time."


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