Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Bring The Tar, I've Got The Feathers : GW2

Just shy of a year after launch Guild Wars 2 looks to be in good shape commercially. NCSoft's quarterly report in May described both box sales and microtransactions as "still very strong". The Nosy Gamer's invaluable if controversial Digital Dozen consistently shows GW2 second only to World of Warcraft in XFire logins. Anecdotally from my own observation in-game I'd say Yak's Bend has rarely been busier, with plenty of new players asking new player type questions in map chat and many familiar names I haven't seen for a while not just reappearing but sticking around.

That popularity, however, doesn't seem to be mirrored by the GW2 bloggers and commenters I read. Some have dropped out altogether while others still post but frequently grumble (guilty as charged). That might be just the insular nature of the little pond we all swim in, though. I took the trouble to click through Hunter's GW2 blogroll this morning, which is a list of blogs most of which I've never read or even heard. Some of them are shuttered or haven't posted for months but quite a few have posted recently in pretty positive tone.

Clearly GW2 is working very well for some and less well for others. Today I read an interview with the game's Head Writer Bobby Stein that goes no small way towards explaining why that might be. The full interview is here and it's well worth reading. As usual the subtext tells almost more than what's being said out there in the open. Here are a few highlights, with gloss:

"...with multiple teams producing thematically connected stories in short development cycles, it's often stressful. But now that we've gone through the motions a number of times, it's getting a little easier to manage."

Ironic understatement. Always one of my favorites. So are you managing it or aren't you? If not, when do you think you might get on top of things?

  "To put it into perspective, our first two Living World releases, Flame & Frost: Prelude and Flame & Frost: The Gathering Storm, had extremely short development cycles. The common misperception about these two releases is that there was supposed to be a huge narrative component to them when in reality they were meant to provide context for upcoming releases which would have much more gameplay and story. In essence, we were rolling out the Living World story in small phases while our tech and design were being solidified."

Testing in a live environment with players as the test subjects, in other words. I don't object in principle. I played five years on EQ2's Test server after all, but it had a population in double figures for most of that time. Paying players generally do not choose to play in unstable environments. But then, we're not paying, are we?

"I’m happy to say that our latest designs will go a long way in solving many of the usability and contextual issues that players are facing when trying to experience the Living World story."

I like the use of the future tense there and the flurry of adjectives and descriptive phrases setting limits on what might be achieved. Let's not over-promise or over-commit, eh? Still, Syp should be happy to hear a fix is incoming for at least some of the problems he so eloquently highlighted.

"We've had to rethink our methods of story delivery post-ship...I was not directly involved with the core Guild Wars 2 story, so I wasn’t privy to all the decisions and ideas that formed the final product at ship...Now that my team is actively writing story content, I’ve worked with people in various departments about the ways in which we present story to our players. We no longer use cinematic conversations for exposition."

I'm in charge now. All that stuff those other guys spent five years on? Dust in the wind. Although I tend to agree that those puppet-show cinematics never worked and no-one's going to miss them, it does make me wonder what else from the ancien regime may now have become that of which we no longer speak.

"world dynamic events are very good at conveying and reinforcing themes, but aren’t necessarily great for character development. They’re non-linear by nature in that they run independently of player progression within a linear story path..."

If you give people toys sometimes they don't play with them the way they're supposed to. For god's sake, sometimes they just kick the ball about and don't even keep score!

"Our players want to be entertained. If a story resonates with them, they’ll appreciate it. If it’s poorly executed or gets in the way of their adventuring and exploring, then they’ll have something to say about it. But story and characters provide the player with context and without them, the game is reduced to its core mechanics."

Fine. Only first off, much of The Living Story has been poorly executed and secondly, context is Background while the mechanics you're introducing are Foreground. Our adventuring and exploring trumps your narrative. Always. Or it should do.

 "We didn’t build a living game world just so people could kill virtual monsters. It’s there so they can live out their heroic fantasies, go on thrilling adventures with their friends, experience unusual situations, and do things that they can only dream of in real life."

Well I certainly can't vote over a hundred times for the same candidate in the same election in real life, I'll give you that. Not if I want to stay out of jail.

"Players will soon understand where these characters are headed, and how these seemingly disjointed events fit together and tie into the larger narrative. So while it may look like we’re playing catch-up, we’re actually ahead. It’s just hard for the average player to make sense of it all since we’re pacing it out in two-week increments and we don’t yet have a mechanism to log what’s past and what’s to come. That’s slated to change before the end of the year."

"Soon"! Great to see you again! By the end of the year it is then. Just another eight or ten bi-weekly episodes of The Living Story to go before it starts making sense. Can't wait. Oh, hang on...

"Any team that has to support a live game is under a lot of pressure to produce great content. We’re certainly feeling it since we absolutely must ship something every two weeks"

My wife isn't talking to me, my children call me "that man", the dog growls when he hears my key in the lock. Just so we get "something" out alternate Tuesdays. This can't go on...

"It’s sometimes hard to process complaints that each semi-monthly release isn’t a full-blown expansion."

What more do you want? Blood?! If I find out who said "Expansion" and "Living Story" in the same sentence, then you'll see blood!

"What we can do is look at what players are doing, analyze those metrics, and make informed decisions so that we’re providing them with more of what they like and less of what they don’t."

No! Seriously, NO! What you're doing is providing us with more of what we're doing, not more of what we like doing. It's not the same thing. Much though I personally disliked the Super Adventure Box, it was possibly the most popular single addition to the game ever. None of us had any idea it was coming. One of your people decided it would be worth doing and he did it and he was right. We need you to make new things, things we don't know we want yet, not just replicate more and more of the exact same stuff you can see us doing already.

"we don’t have the luxury of huge budgets and flexible release dates that we had before launch. In short, we’re forced to be more creative with less resources"

Not much has changed since February, then. I won't hold my breath for a new WvW map.

"Once our Living World tracking system is online, we will have solved the story presentation issues that are currently making it difficult for people to experience the story content in the proper order...In the long term, we’ll have a system to better support the Living World narrative."

Yes, end of the year. You said that already. Until then we'll just kill all the things, tick all the boxes, grab all the loot and forget about the story. You know that's what we're going to do anyway so there's really no hurry.

"Players will soon experience events in the Living World story that will tie things together in a way that is more relevant to their character. We also intend to provide a mechanism that will help players more easily find and experience the story content, though I can’t provide a specific release date for that feature."

Not the end of the year this time, then? That's too specific, is it? Soon come, as Peter Tosh would have said.

"I think it takes a lot of guts to comb through thousands of critical (and at times, somewhat snarky) posts about why a total stranger hates what you’ve spent years crafting."

I think if you're getting "thousands" of posts that say they "hate" what you've crafted you might want to consider the possibility of crafting something different next time, rather than crafting the same thing again and painting it a different color. Is that enough snark?

Taking my snark hat off (I kill and skin the snarks myself, I'll have you know, although I have a little man that makes them into hats for me) Bobby Stein comes over pretty well in the full interview. I'm sure he's doing the best he can. It must be a nightmare of a job, under-resourced, on a frenetic schedule, juggling the demands and competences of four separate teams. I bet he wishes he was working on a nice, behind-closed-doors, full NDA, done-when-it's-done Expansion instead.

I wish he was, too.


  1. Lately, in the context of mmo design, build, maintenance, bugs, breaks and the consumer economy driven need by companies to move on with new-newer-newest (EQNexter?) -- particularly with GW2's first year anniversary coming right up -- I keep thinking of this gem from last week's GU67:

    "Little Tarby Lost – You now have more time to react to the hungry wolves after speaking to Tarby. Tarby can also survive a bit longer now if attacked."

    I'm amused but I don't quite know how to work it into the bigger critique, like here at Inventory Full. Funny, tho', in any case.

    -- 7rsly @ AB
    (also with a clunky Charr with far too many jp's under his belt)

    1. I laughed when I read that patch note. Poor old Tarby! So many times I've run right past him but have I ever done the quest? Maybe once, right after launch. So someone at SOE finally noticed what a terrible time he's been having all these years and tried to make things a little easier on the little bear. Who'd be a quest NPC, eh?

  2. The negativity and the increased activity is fascinating to me. The core of you/J3w3l/Syp's complaints all seem to be Anet introducing system to compel you to do certain things, instead of doing whatever our hearts feel like...And yet I can't be crazy for thinking that these psychological hooks are somehow related to the increased activity.

    Quite the paradox, no? I completely agree with Jeromai with the fact that achievements has somewhat dulled my enjoyment of the 3 minigames. (The few games I played after I completed the achievements were a TRULY liberating feeling.) But then, again, I imagine these achievements are the main reasons why these minigames are well populated. And because of that, ultimately fun.

    It's the great paradox of MMOs in general I think.

    Bobby Stein seems to have his head screwed in right. Almost makes me wish he was in charge of the travesty that is GW2's personal story. Honestly though I don't mind Anet's incongruousness too much as they have a reputation of letting zany creative ideas a chance (i.e. SAB.)


    1. I thought Bobby came across a good deal better than Colin Johanson usually does, although the sheer number of times he commented on the pressure and the stress levels makes me wonder how long he'll last.

      In the blogs I read the sense of disillusionment with the direction GW2 has taken is palpable. Not just the obvious suspects, either. Jeromai is beginning to sound distinctly cheesed off and I found a really excellent rant by Kichwas, who usually sticks to very good, very detailed gameplay guides. I added his blog to the roll and I recommend reading that outburst - he makes some excellent points.

      And yet as I keep saying, none of this stops ME playing or enjoying the game. As you very rightly point out, the increased activity and focused population brings undeniable benefits to everyone. All I need to do is get off the Living Story train for good and start riding my own pony again. Not that we have ponies but you get my meaning...

    2. Whoa. Kichwas's gameplay posts are quite wonderful, thanks for the pointer!

      I think you need to get the Shortbow legendary. You know, the pony bow. Ride that perhaps.


    3. Let's us be for the moment, getting over a period of grief can be hard. Acceptance will come in time.

      Unlike Mr bhagpuss I haven't been bothered with the achievements for some time, ticking a box off doesn't interest me as much. I'm still doing what I enjoy, traveling the land with alts and doing lots of WvW but it really is that scab you can't stop picking at. I'm not perturbed by the achievements per se, more lamenting the fact that there isn't any new interesting content and additions to the world to enjoy.

    4. I dunno if it's intended or not, but a scab is such a perfect analogy. It's an annoyance, but it's still a mechanism which overall benefits your body by helping it heal.


    5. I was banging on a keep door today and the person next to me was firing ponies at it. Really, once you see that there's little point complaining about anything else not being convincing.

  3. @Bhagpuss

    "That popularity, however, doesn't seem to be mirrored by the GW2 bloggers and commenters I read."

    If GW2 have that popularity it is because they are doing something right.

    They are trying some new things, give them time. Management is not a God-given skill that only a few predestined have. Humans have free will, we are not Demigods like Percy Jackson and good management is BUILT. So, they have 4 teams producing the living story and one team integrating the story, something no one tryed at this side of the pacific ocean, they will need fail a lot for learn how to do it.

    Let me say something to MMO bloggers. china will be the biggest world economy before 2020. almost all MMO will be created for the chinese market first, the western market will come after.

    So, MMO will have the features that the chinese market wants, western market will need to adapt to it. Living stories and bimonthly updates are included, chinese MMO have them for some time now.

    MMO blogs need to learn to live with that...

    1. You sound a little like Tobold with his "it's popular so it must be good" refrain. When it comes to MMOs, I'm a consumer, not a producer or a shareholder. I really don't care very much what's good for the businesses behind them, just so long as they make enough money not to go out of business or close the games down. Beyond that, it's not necessarily in my interest for them to become massively successful, profitable or popular.

      Your observation on the increased importance of the Chinese market is well-made. I've heard the same predictions for the direction the movie industry might go over the next decade. It's very broad-brush, though. We've had a century of American cultural hegemony but most countries still managed to produce art and entertainment of all kinds that were tailored to the cultural expectations and demands of their own people. I don't see America turning Chinese any more than we saw the French turn American.

      The issue with the direction MMOs might take might have more to do with the fact that most of the really big developers, or more properly the guys paying the really big bills, *are* Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Singaporean, Taiwanese... Before we get any MMOs tailored primarily to the Western market we probably need to get some major western development houses started, not just studios based in America.

    2. And you really should start your own blog, Joao!

    3. It is too much work and I am a lazy person. Not be a native english speaker too make it harder for me, I fear the grammar policy. And it is a better option to learn mandarim than to learn english...

      Tobold is in full delluded mode. WoW is losing 600 k to 1 million each quarter and he thinks Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, is an asura genious because Vivend forced him to rebuy the own company (or, wait, hmaybe he really be an asura... but that kind of genious that exploded the lab and created a defective golem). That no other company wanted buy Activision Blizzard is a clue about what the big money really thinks about the future of WoW. My advice, ever follow the money, in this case the big money.

      But there are worse cases tahn Tobold, Syncaine is living inside his own imaginary bubble... never trust greeks and his gifts, you will have your city burned down.

      With relation to popularity, while you are a consumer and not a producer or shareholder, you cannot play a game that goes bankrupt. Get to play Copernicus from 38 Studious will never happen.

      Can you guess why SOE changed all development they had for EQNext and re-started from scratch? Because they were wise enough for see that the WoW-clone model was a finacial disaster in making. Too late for SWTOR.

      I hope that storybricks works with EQNext, it is a good chance to have not only dynamic events but too dynamic NPC. I have more hope about storybricks than I have for the sandbox model...

      With relation to US cultural hegemony, I am from Latin America, we have Hollywood movies here... and pratically nothing more. We will not be luckier when the chinese cultural hegemony finally arrives. Better I really learn mandarim, the new master race waits...

    4. Good time to start a GW2 blog in mandarin then!


  4. Just a thing I thought after I wrote last post.

    I am cynical enough for note that the bloggers were bitching about GW2 not have enough end content.

    Then they bitched about temporary content from the living story.

    Now they are bitching about TOO MUCH content from the temporary story.

    Now they are adding permanent content to living story updates (that big hole inside human city is going out, see you), I bet that in 4 months we will see bloggers bitching about Tyria changing too much fast and be too much dynamic, that they want a more static world.

    Bad you if you have a cynic living inside a barrel, bad you if you do'nt have it... wait, that was about dogs or about cynism?

    In doubt, join the goths before they sack Rome, it is diference between be a sacker and be sacked...

    1. Meh, I think I've always bitched about the quality of the content. The pace and structure of it in recent times just makes the quality all the more apparent.

      Wierdly enough I actually enjoyed the flame and frost update so I'm full aware my opinions aren't the norm

    2. My real problem is that however much I grumble I enjoy the great majority of it. It's been a very interesting learning experience.

    3. I just saw your EQNext comment in other blog, about the hero thing (you are against it).

      So, now you will stop to bitch about Trehearne (sorry if I made a mistake, but I think you bitched at some point about our friendly lettuce head), our great green leader and supreme destroyed of Orr undeads and dragon? Or you will now be a extreme devout of Kormir, the great goddess that destroyed Abbadon?

      Oh, how I hate Kormir...

    4. Joao, I understand that English isn't your native language, but lets try to not use the "b" word. It can be pretty rude =).


    5. I barely know who Trehearne is so it probably wasn't me that was complaining about him! The Personal Story is so bad it makes the Living Story look like War and Peace, though, and I vaguely remember he had some part in it so I may have mentioned him in passing.

      I've never completed the Personal Story on any of my characters. I've done it far enough to see the bits about the "lesser races", which are quite interesting but after that I can't be bothered. Mrs Bhagpuss finished it on her first character and I helped on some of the instances so I've seen most of it. Not impressed.

      And yes, the "b" word as Ursan so delicately puts it was one I was never comfortable with and don't use, although in the context you're using it it isn't a problem. I'd say "grumble" or "complain" though. No-one will get offended by those.

    6. Well, I will forever and ever complain about Kormir.

      And you have to admit that Trahearne had a lot of blogs complaints (com-plants?).

      So, complaint about GW2 if the player is not the hearo, but Trehearne is, and complaint about GW2 if they make the player the hero, because that other blog said it is a sin.

      Can you see a pattern?

  5. @Ursan, don't blame me, blame the translator. I will balme Kormir, it is all Kormir's fault. Too is Trehearne's fault.

    Waht word I can use for what blogger are doing and that is not offensive? You know, about "it is GW2's fault they do'nt have a dog and do have a dog" And do and did is not offensive?

    1. I think in this context, "complaining" or "whining" would be a much better option.

      i.e. People are complaining about the Living Story.

      Just that the "b" word is quite derogatory towards women.


  6. João Carlos,

    “If GW2 have that popularity it is because they are doing something right.”
    The popularity can be short term thing. The achievement driven Living Story is grindy and their temporary nature is forcing people to take part. If future LS are like this then people will burn out and quite the game where by making GW2 popularity a short tem phenomena. Based on the interview it seems that the dev themselves are under pressure due to LS and they might burn out before the players!

    “I am cynical enough for note that the bloggers were bitching about GW2 not have enough end content.
    Then they bitched about temporary content from the living story.
    Now they are bitching about TOO MUCH content from the temporary story.”

    I am not sure where you are going with this but I don’t think these are contradictory claims. What I see from the above is bloggers wanted enough high end permanent content which gave them something to do at their own pace. However they are now given too much temporary content which cannot be completed at their own pace. I think this is a valid complaint.

    Trehearne and personal Story – most of the complaint I read about is that the player starts off as the hero but then the player is sideline by Trehearne. I think if Trehearne was the hero from the start I don’t think you will get too much complaints.

    I don’t think one can ignore complains from bloggers about GW2 and say it’s all bitching since GW2 seem popular with the “masses”. For starts bloggers care/carded more about GW2 than the masses...

  7. @lostforever
    "For starts bloggers care/carded more about GW2 than the masses..."

    IMHO, the problem about the complaints bloggers are doing is that I have the strange impression that bloggers don't know what they want or, worse, when they get what they want they don't like it...

    This week Wolfshead made a post about what features he hope EQNext will have (not about what real features we know EQNext will have, take note: sandbox and storybricks). In other blog, baghpuss made the correct criticism to Wolfshed wishlist:

    "Forced grouping, corpse runs, death penalties, slow travel, ALL of those were hated by the majority of the part of the EQ playerbase that expressed an opinion. SOE didn’t change all those things because they got religion and wanted everythig to be nice – they changed them because of relentless, unremitting attacks from their paying customers."

    I fear we have bloggers that want return to an "golden era" of MMO that will never return, because the market evolved, because the thecnology evolved, because the society evolved.

    Gaming is not more a "nerd" thing, there are more people gaming, it is a mainstream entertainment now.

    MMO players now come from console gaming, that have a more reactive combat and a more dynamic game enviroment . So, MMO need have a more reactive combat and more dynamic quests and environment.

    I see a few bloggers enamorated with the idea of PvP full loot sandbox MMO (Syncaine). They normally use EVE as example. Sorry to say it, EVE don't have 400 k players, it have 400 k subs and average player have 2.5 subs: so, only 160 k players. That market is a restricted niche and a restricted market have a competition problem: too much MMO competing for the same niche market will force most that MMO to go bankrupt.

    There are bloggers are enamorated with sandobox, when I saw that is an illusion after play some sandbox MMO. You trade the themepark problem (devs cannot create content fast enough) for the sandbox problem: content is created by players. If players were to create quests, I am sure we will see 99% of quests being "kill ten rats". I think that a better solution is to give tools for devs make the content faster.

    I see some bloggers that think WoW era is eternal, that WoW is an empire that will stay a thousand years (tobold). WoW era is dead (woW itself will need some time for die, but it will go F2P before it) and the empire is closing to the colapse age, there are clear signals it is happening, but that bloggers refuse to see it and create excuses for the WoW failings:

    "Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, [...] is announcing World of Warcraft losing another 600,000 subscribers, and at the same time leveraging a buyout of Activision Blizzard from Vivendi, I can't help but think the man knows something about Blizzard's upcoming games that we don't." (http://tobolds.blogspot.com.br/2013/07/trusting-bobby-kotick.html)

    The economic geography is changing, moving to East and to China. MMO will stop to be made is western countries and translated to the chinese market, we will see more and more chinese and eastern MMO moving to western countries. Western gamers will need to adapt to the culture of eastern gamers (more grindy?).

    Sincerelly, I don't see bloggers having a better grasp about what they really want and about the future of MMO than the masses. IMHO, the wallet is a better indicator. Follow the money and the MMO that are making money.

  8. LOL!...

    João -- This has become your blog entry for the week, regardless. I'm with Bhagpuss on this; you really ought to fire up your own, "laziness" and language issues and all. Good stuff.

    Anyway, yes, clearly this mmo thing is entering a significant transition period, even though nobody seems to really where it's going. Kind of reminds me of early, pre-ipo web days (late 90s) when there was a daily chaotic panic to figure out how to be the first, the most brilliant, and become the most popular and the richest without anybody really knowing what to do at all. Add to that similar scenario a legacy of systems, products and business models to not do anymore and here we are now with mmos. Awkward, yup.

    I'm on board with the notion that Storybricks could be key. We may know better by Friday afternoon, Pacific.

    -- 7rlsy

  9. @João Carlos

    "IMHO, the problem about the complaints bloggers are doing is that I have the strange impression that bloggers don't know what they want or, worse, when they get what they want they don't like it..."

    I maybe wrong here due to sampling bias but based on the blogs I read, I actually see the exact opposite of what you wrote there. I see MMO bloggers in general are asking for more “depth” to their MMO and NOT getting what they have asked for in games such as WoW, GW2, Neverwinter etc. Their definition of depth is based on what most of them regard as “golden” era of MMOs and you are right that they may not get that anymore but bloggers KNOW or think they know what they want and they are certainly not getting it in the current games. I can’t think of an example where they got what they asked for and not liking it...

    1. @lostforever
      "Their definition of depth is based on what most of them regard as “golden” era of MMOs [...]"

      Their definition of "deep" is tinted pink by nostalgia.

      EQ and UO are not more deep than the MMO we have now. Possibly, they were more shallow than current games because today games give us more tools and features.

      When you see what bloggers say about how to get back that "deep", they come with the more disparatate theories. Sandbox, pvp full loot, forced grouping, permadeath, etc.

      We are seeing the same crazyness now with EQNext big show tomorrow. A lot of bloggers are coming with imaginary features they want EQNext have (more blogs after Wolfshead entered that crazyness phase). IMHO, whatever they show tomorrow as being the real EQNext, bloggers will not like it.

      Be warned the bloggers had the same crazyness about WildStar. When turned evident that WildStar will be more similar to GW2 than they like to admit it, because the most important diference to GW2 is housing and to have a holly trinity, and like GW2 WildStar will have dynamic events and "paths" (GW2 have the same achievement, explorer and killer "paths") that crazyness jumped to Neverwinter (that showed bemore of same) and now to EQNext.

      The best that SOE can make is a SWG, that was a good sandbox, with storybricks. With luck they will try make a pre-CU SWG sandbox, skill-based, but IMHO they will make a pos-CU SWG sandbox, class based. Yes, I am nostalgic about SWG pre-CU.

      Storybricks for me will be THE key feature. If storybricks permit NPC intereact with other NPC and players and create a virtual dynamic society as an emergent feature, that will be a very important step. However, we will need see it working.

      Take note most bloggers are beting on the sandbox elements, because they have nostalgia about SWG and UO, and forgeting tottally about storybricks, that is the real bet for a better MMO's future. The blindness that bloggers have about storybricks (they simply not talk about it...), show clearly they have no idea about how to get what they want, a more dynamic and immersive MMO.

      "I can’t think of an example where they got what they asked for and not liking it..."

      I can: kill the holly trinity. GW2 did it and the same bloggers that asked for it come with "GW2 combat is too much chaotic".

    2. The thing with "depth" is, is that it is a scale and it can apply to a variety of the mechanics.

      Combat, questing, end game, fluff, and crafting can all have depth to it but that depth is definable. It isn't just a nostalgic thing. Some things are more deep now like combat, others like crafting and player interaction are far less so.

      And I do think that bloggers know what they want, and this isn't just having those old mmo's back. We want a modern interpretation of many of these features, or these features with other modern mechanics involved. Ie. modern combat and in depth crafting but unfortunately that combination of features is much harder to come by. It is very frustrating to have one thing right in an mmo only to have everything else ruin the experience.

  10. The character you choose at the beginning of the game cannot be switched unless you go into World versus World and work around.

    Guild Wars 2


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