Sunday, February 23, 2014

What's My Motivation? : GW2

It's Groundhog Day in LA! No, make that Groundhog Hour. Hold on, I have the tour schedule here somewhere...


      Lionguard Tours Presents : Burning Lion's Arch

10.00 AM - Your Lionguard representatives will be waiting at the entrances in Lornar's Pass, Gendaran Fields and Bloodtide Coast to escort you on your tour of Lion's Arch.

10.05 AM - There will be a brief display of local customs, including a martial arts performance, before we enter the Burning City. Please be aware that this is a full-contact demonstration so please be sure to wear the appropriate protective clothing.

10.05 - 10.40 AM - The following events will run frequently during your visit, approximately every ten minutes or so, giving everyone plenty of time to enjoy them all:

  •     Black Lion Dolyak "Stampede"
  •     Children's Parade
  •     Lighthouse Workers' Fun Run
  •     March of the Ogres

There will also be many opportunities to see spectacular displays of local customs and dress throughout the city, including the incredible Flame Legion Burning Effigies, the astonishing Dredge Mining Suits and, of course, the flamboyant Sky Pirates. So dashing! So debonair!

10.40 AM  
  • Moa Race (Please note: due to the potentially hazardous nature of the current course, this race is for entertainment only. No bets can be taken. We'll be sure to let you know if that changes. We do understand that everyone enjoys a little "flutter" on the birdies!)
  • Commodore Lawson Marriner's "Dignified Retreat" (Comedy gold!)

(Please also note that these two events take place at the same time so you will not be able to attend both on the same tour).

10.40 - 10.50 AM - Grand Finale!

  •     "Shadowstep Tag" with the Champion Molten Berserker
  •     Elite Aetherblade Display (meet at the Broken Lion)
  •     Jungle Wurm Fun and Games (a great one for the kids!)
(While these events can also overlap, you should still be able to catch at least a couple in a single visit).

10.50 AM - Tour Ends. Captain Magnus (The Bloody-Handed!) will call time across the city as your tour comes to an end. Please be aware that Burning Lion's Arch is still a working city (you may notice some drilling taking place in the harbor) so please heed the Captain's Call and make your way promptly to the exits.

Didn't get to see everything you wanted? Don't worry! Lionguard Tours understands there's just far too much to experience in a single visit. That's why a new Tour begins every hour, on the hour!

Come Early! Come Often! Bring Your Friends!


Is this the 3D photo booth?

Well, that's about what it feels like. Jeromai has a great piece up about the problems of getting players to take the whole thing seriously, but is it any wonder? How are we supposed to take any of this stuff seriously when it runs on auto-repeat 24/7?

It's a very well-rehearsed problem. GW2 was built on the concept of dynamic events and an ever-changing world but it's also a "game" and it turns out that the one thing players of games won't put up with is missing out on "content". ANet burnt their fingers very badly on the first ever GW2 mega-event, The Karka Invasion, (although I rated it rather highly) and ever since they've been in full-on retcon mode, retrofitting their dynamic world into something much more predictable and consumable.

The Escape From Lion's Arch update really brings into perspective just how far they and we have traveled since the Karka managed to knock down just the one lighthouse in Lion's Arch before promptly decamping for Southsun. This time supervillain Scarlet Briar's air armada arives in the skies above Tyria's unofficial capital, launching a devastating aerial bombardment that destroys most of the infrastructure in minutes. She follows up with a ground invasion and her seemingly inexhaustible armed forces take control. Lion's Arch burns.

There was more than one lion statue in Lion's Arch. Who knew?

And burns. And burns. For two weeks. On the hour, every hour, just to be sure no player misses out on the opportunity to finish his or her Meta (fifteen achievements, very quick and easy to get, just as well since the "reward" is nothing more than another hundred of the same little loot bags you already get by the score every single time you run the event). It also gives us all plenty of time to find the thirty piles of rubble needed for "Memories in your Hand", the solipsistic and selfish achievement that Commanders yell at you for doing when you should be rescuing citizens.

Ah yes, those poor Lion's Arch citizens. There they are, cowering in corners with massive yellow fists hanging over them like the wrath of some Simpsonian god or, worse still, lying unconscious in the street as adventures trample over them as they chase after the blue-doritoed pipers.

Is it really any wonder no-one cares about you, citizens? We rescued you an hour ago and now here you are, back in the exact same place! What did you do, sneak back in? Looking for your heirlooms, were you? Well get a clue, Lion's Archling - all your heirloom are belong to us! And you can dam' well rescue yourself this time!

Wake up, lazy cat!

The 1200 citizen rescue target isn't actually that hard to achieve. Like most things in GW2, if you want it done, do it at reset. I spent fifty fun minutes last night mother-henning the Ogre cave and environs, bucking up citizens, picking up Lionguards, speeding up ogres and generally aiding the cause. I estimate I rescued at least 50 citizens all on my own, although I had plenty of competition on and off from butt-inskys who wanted to rescue them first.

The main reason I was doing it is because working to achieve a shared goal is fun in and of itself and one of the prime reasons for playing MMOs instead of single-player games in the first place. God knows I wasn't likely to be doing it either because of the immersion factor (there isn't one) nor the for the reward (it's derisory). The best part of an hour's work during which a hundred or so people co-operate, largely against their own self-interest, nets you a shabby "Rare" bag containing more of the same inventory-clogging rubbish you already get throughout the event plus a chance at some old rubbish from previous events that you never wanted the first time round.

Perfect for those parties where everyone has to come dressed as a mechanical spider.
And there you have my real problem with GW2: I love the gameplay for its own sake but the "Living World" often feels like watching a news-reel on Repeat and when it comes to the "rewards" for participating there's almost never anything that interests me in the slightest. The armor and weapon skins are largely vile. I have literally never used any of the dozens I've acquired. Mini-pets and illusions are fleetingly amusing but I just can't get 1% of the pleasure out of them that others seem to find. The boosters sulk unused and unwanted in my bank. Even the Rares and Exotics I salvage just turn into unused stacks of ectoplasm.

As I read that post linked above describing the last time Lion's Arch was invaded I was struck not only by how much more immersive, compelling and memorable it was for being a one-off but by how much better the rewards were: "In the end I got a couple of rares and a couple of exotics, one of which I could actually use, and everyone got a 20-slot bag (worth about $10 in real money) and a level 80 exotic jewellery item. Some folks even got Legendary Pre-Cursors". A 20 slot bag, if you can believe it, which needless to say I am still using. That's the kind of rewards you can afford to give out when something only happens once.

4/30 today, 4/30 tomorrow, 4/30 'til the heat death of the universe

Horizontal leveling is great in theory and it works pretty well in GW2. I already had just about everything I needed a year ago. Now I can just play. It's taught me a valuable lesson about myself, though. It turns out I prefer rewards that increase my character's power significantly to ones that...don't. Oh, I've always known that the incremental upgrade path, where your new Mighty Legionnaire's Sword of Mightiness makes you 0.35% more Mighty than your old Mighty Soldier's Sword of Mightiness, doesn't work for me, and GW2's a bit like that even when you're leveling up but I never realized until I got there just how it would feel at 80th, where you'll spend almost all the time you ever play.

Now that's what I call a reward.
It takes a while but eventually the awful realization dawns: you'll never see a real upgrade, ever again. Oh, you can grind til your fingers bleed for Ascended gear but we got our wish there - it's the ghost-image of Vertical progression, not the real thing. You don't need it and if you get it you won't notice it. And it might still not be so bad if the cosmetic "upgrades" that make up the supposed alternative progression path didn't look like they'd been designed by a fifteen-year old Hair Metal fan on mescaline.

So, take away the visceral St Crispin's Day thrill of the one-time only event and replace it with Repeat Performances - Showing Every Hour, then lard heavily with pointless, worthless "rewards" I neither want nor need and there you have it: GW2 one year after the start of the Living Story.

So, here's my question: why am I still playing the heck out of it and having a great time anyway?


  1. You've nailed it. I am flabbergasted every year that these experienced, professional, veteran game developers either do not understand this or it does not matter to them. Players *crave* unique content, they *want* to see something special ...but it's not special if its on auto-repeat, not special if EVERYONE can have it and be there. The very notion of "special" implies that it is unique -- it's not unique if everyone can achieve it. It's not special.

    I think devs try hard to have their cake and eat it too. They promise dynamic worlds and deliver the opposite because they don't understand those things aren't compatible. ANet has really eaten their foot on this one. it seems they're so strapped for cash or something economic (surely) that they are cannibalizing their own game features in the name of "accessibility" and "success". They aren't bold enough to deliver the game they actually want to make or else the game they actually wanted was GW2 in it's current form.

    1. I'd cut ANet a good deal more slack than that. I think they'd have liked nothing better than to have been able to give us a series of one-off, world-changing events. That's pretty much what they said they anted to do and what they started to do with the Karka invasion.

      Unfortunately the very great majority of those players who expressed an opinion hated it. Had they carried on in the face of such opposition, who knows how many they'd have driven away. Clearly they weren't prepared to risk it and so we got The Living Story, Achievements, Ascended gear and the rest.

      I don't blame them for making those choices. It's their livelihood after all. GW2 is a mass market success and the mass market clearly doesn't respond well to a steady diet of disruption and denial.

  2. ANet just can't win. They try to do something special with a one time event and people are rightly pissed off that they missed it due to real life needing to come first. And now the complaint of the event happening every hour is getting trotted out because it's not special enough! This is honestly frustrating to read. The game is played all over the world in different time zones, with people having different schedules or amount they can play. I think this once per hour thing is just fine. Having certain events happening like clockwork maybe wasn't the best idea, I'll concede that. But making a story event accessible to everyone.. that's just plain, common sense. Plus with this one it's allowed servers to figure out how to maximise rescuing citizens. It allows one to spend time in different corners of the map, experiencing the different events. It allows time to explore. It gives a sense of urgency for the event as you only have a limited amount of time. And lastly, it's a game. Not real life. Things repeat in *every* game. One must use a small amount of suspension of disbelief.

    I'd take this repeating event over the one-off karka one every. single. time. And I say that as a person who is able to spend much more time in game than the average player.

    Whilst I'd rather no one leave the game as I still like it and want it to thrive, it really seems like the game is no longer for you. Or was it ever? As the reward structure really hasn't ever changed.. and I'd almost go as far to say that it's not really changed from the original Guild Wars either. I do feel bad saying this as I've had this said to me regarding Lotro (though the game once really was for me until it started actively driving off raiders) but sometimes it's unfortunately true.

    1. GW2 is probably in my top five favorite MMOs, which is a pretty good placing given I've played (or at least had a look at) over a hundred. As I concluded, I'm still playing the heck out of it and having a great time.

      As a general rule I don't waste time critiquing or analyzing anything that I don't like - what would be the point? Of course, I tend to hold things I like to a much higher standard than things I don't. Life's too short to waste on things you don't enjoy.

      The thing about Anet, GW2 and me is that I'm pretty sure that we were completely in synch when the game launched. It was they who designed and created the Karka event as the first major milestone for the game, they who chose to promote it heavily as it a "be there or be square" deal. I'm pretty sure that was the way they'd have liked the game to go.

      Unfortunately, for them and for me, the majority, or at least the vocal majority, felt like you do that this is a game and everyone deserves a turn. That makes little sense to me and never has. I'd far rather miss out on a one-time event because it happened while I was at work or asleep, wake up or come home and hear people talking about what happened, go see the aftermath, go search out video on YouTube and read blogs and news sites reports than have the same event served up cold for me when I'm able to get around to it.

      Missing a big one-time event in an MMO that you play and then hearing all about it afterwards is thrilling. Catching the seventh or seventeenth re-run isn't. Some people feel this, most don't. MMO devs need to feed their families so they always end up serving the larger audience not the smaller. Who can blame them? Certainly not me. If they had a free choice, though, what do you think they'd choose?

      (Too long for comments - part two coming up!)

    2. That said, I have no problem whatsoever with accessible, regularly repeated content in GW2 or any other MMO. Probably my favorite of all of ANet's Living Story episodes is Scarlet's Marionette. I must have done it more than fifty times during the month it was here. The difference between that and the current "Escape from LA" event, and to me it's a huge difference, is that the Marionette was successfully contextualized.

      It's a completely false dichotomy to say that you either have accessible events or special ones. In the case of the Marionette it's clearly and convincingly explained that Scarlet is simultaneously using the players to test her latest weapon and, by implication, training the same players in skills they will need to be of use to her in a later stage of her plans. This manages to be immersive, coherent and satisfying in terms of the lore and storyline, while at the same offering regular,accessible content for an extended period.

      Escape from LA does none of these things. It's a single event (rather a good one) snapshotted and repeated ad infinitum for the convenience of all-comers. It would have been entirely possible to frame the attack on LA in the same excellent cut-scene we got and then construct a two-week repeatable event that made sense as a response to the aftermath of that attack. We could, just as a for-instance, have had LA as a live zone populated with Scarlet's armies and terrorized citizens to be rescued, with achievements and quotas, as an ongoing occupation. The specific events could all have been provided as solo and group instances, as has been done successfully in many previous LS episodes.

      You say "we should use a small amount of suspension of disbelief" and I agree entirely. I'm more than happy to suspend my disbelief by a substantial amount. Having the same sequence of desperate events play out once an hour, every hour, for two weeks stretches that suspension of disbelief far beyond breaking point and is quite simply poor game design for a supposed virtual world role-playing game. It would be absolutely fine for many other kinds of video games, of course.

      The upshot of all this, as I thought I made clear in the post, is that GW2 remains an immensely enjoyable and entertaining MMO despite it's very many failings, an MO that I will almost certainly continue playing with great pleasure for many years. It's almost frightening to imagine how good it might have been had it stuck to it's original design brief.

    3. " It's almost frightening to imagine how good it might have been had it stuck to its original design brief."

      Their original design brief has the following two design choices in this order,

      - Appeals to casual players.
      - Have big onetime meaningful events.

      However these are contradictory design choices so the second one had to go. Casual players are time poor and the chances are they will miss lot of these big events. Missing a lot and hearing about it from other people isn’t that much fun.

  3. And you just described why I don't bother with the game any more. Seeing zergs being the only viable play for these events makes me not bother any more, mostly because I don't care for farming and any non-farming activity (i.e. straying out of the zerg) is (a) frowned upon - "stop messing with the train!" or (b) simply impossible without any other participants straying from the herd. I learned that the hard way, during the Scarlet Invasions.

    1. Strangely, the exact opposite is the case in Escape to LA. Much of the peer-pressure in map chat comes from people demanding people stop zerging and spread out because that's what has to happen if the 1200 citizens total is to be achieved. It's not only feasible but socially acceptable to wander about on your own doing your own thing, provided you rescue citizens as you go.

      Personally, I love a bit of zerging and farming when I'm in the mood. Both can be very relaxing. ANet seem confused about what they think of both, what with the farcical "Diminshed Returns" system and various nods towards the "anti-zerg" voices on the forum, while constantly adding content that both requires intense farming and heavily favors a zerg approach.

      I'd quite like to see an MMO developed that uses zerging and farming as its primary mechanic. It seems that in every MMO I've ever played there's a big demographic that will run in a huge gang and kill all the things any time the possibility presents itself and I think a game that acknowledged that and designed for it could be great fun for a casual audience.

  4. I think this onetime event and repeating event debate is the good old fashioned “hard core” (has lot of time) verse “casual ” (doesn’t have lot of time) debate we have in EQ2, WoW etc with a slight twist. If you have lot of time to spare then you prefer one time big events which means something as opposed to the infinite loop of LA. However if you don’t have lot of time then the chances are you will miss lot of these big onetime events and you rather take the infinite loop of LA.

    In EQ2 and WoW, the big debate between hard core and causal is about difficulty of raids and the associated rewards. The hard core wants difficult raids (one off big event) with good loot but the casual wants difficulty toned down and good rewards for everyone.

    Anyway Bhagpuss accept your inner hard core raider :)

    1. That's very perceptive. I think the "hardcore" vs "casual" thing is very much part of all this, although he terms have become blurred and confused over the years. I'm very much a "hardcore" fan of the MMO genre: it's been my primary form of entertainment for a decade and a half, during which time I've not only played MMOs for countless hours but written, chatted and debated about them endlessly. My relationship with the genre is anything but "casual" even though my playstyle often is.

      Being that involved puts me in a similar position to a sports fan or the ardent follower of a particular band. It doesn't seem at all unreasonable to me that I would need to re-arrange my schedule to get to an important match or to travel to another city to see a one-off gig. Equally I would understand that, no matter how much I'd like to, I couldn't possibly go to every match or see every gig on a tour.

      Where the analogy breaks down is that, for a live gig or a sporting event, the "reward" for the fan is Being There. As you leave the auditorium no-one hands you a bag containing the keys to a brand new sports car and a cute little puppy. In an MMO, however, it seems that just attending a Big Event isn't enough for most people - there has to be a material reward of commensurate importance. That then means everyone who wasn't there raises hell because they didn't just miss out on the event (which I think most would accept) but on the Rewards too.

      It's a hard circle to square but not, I think, impossible. It's certainly more likely to happen more often if the genre does shift towards a sandbox model. The recent B-R5Rb battle in EVE is just the latest example of real-time "you had to be there" spectaculars in that game. I'd very much like to see more of that kind of thing in the MMOs I play.

      From what little we know about EQNext it's going to feature events that only happen once but last a long time while they're happening, giving everyone a good chance to participate but not guaranteeing it. That could mean nothing more than a glorified version of the kind of Combine Spire Building events that EQ2 has had in the past but just maybe, with the "special sauce" of the StoryBricks AI and the destructible world, we might get something a little closer to the kind of "you had to be there" events that leave such an enduring memory.

    2. “Where the analogy breaks down is that, for a live gig or a sporting event, the "reward" for the fan is Being There”.

      People are doing events in GW2 for “tangible” rewards. If there are no rewards I doubt anyone will ever do any events more than once. To go further, will MMO players do anything in a MMO if there are no rewards? The answer I guess for the majority is that no, they won’t do anything if there are no rewards. Why is that? The same people go to live gig or sports don’t they? Or does it mean that live gig and sports have rewards but they are not “tangible” ? Or does it mean that events in Gw2 (or other activities in other MMo) are so boring in themselves that you need rewards to get people to do it?

      Thinking out loud really..

    3. Nah, it's just a disagreement between those who prefer a one-time event in the name of immersion (an MMO is a world) and those willing to suspend disbelief just a tad for more people to experience the same thing (an MMO is a game.)

      I'm not very time-starved at the moment, and I MUCH prefer the repeated events. One, for inclusiveness' sake, so that others can get to enjoy it too, at a time convenient to them. Two, for personal profit - more repeats means more chances at loot for myself. Three, for prevention of insane lag - the karka event lagged more for me than a three way in Stonemist, never again.

      And lastly, it's nice to see incremental learning and have different experiences based on the people that make up the map. I've had wacky zerg heirloom runs, lootstick runs where everyone came out with 200+ bags, fail runs of zero communication and squabbling, super-coordinated organized 1200-1500 citizen rescue runs, and even the odd "We're not going to make it, but we'll try anyway... OMG, we made it!" ones.

      A one-off event wouldn't produce that range of emotional experience. In fact, it'll be more likely to be a confused inexperienced zerg milling around as no one would have the opportunity or time to reflect or devise strategies or learn over time.

      Imagine your first marionette or LA run as your one and only run. Utter and dismal failure from zero coordination is likely. That wouldn't be very fun, in my book anyway.

    4. I don't see any reason why we can't have our cake and eat it, though. Several other MMOs have used a really rather obvious method which works pretty well. There's a one-off event lasting an hour or two but it leads to the introduction of a new, permanent (or long-lasting even if time-limited) zone, map, dungeon or instance.

      I joined EQ just too late for the Bloody Kithicor event that opened the Plane of Hate but the reverberations were still being felt (and the event talked about) when I arrived and for several years afterwards. I believe WoW had a few similar events and I was there for the one in Rift that preceded the opening of Greenscale's Blight (feeble event, that was).

      If we'd had a one-off event in which Scarlet actually attacked LA, maybe lasting only half an hour and with no special rewards attached, which then segued into the current two-week event I think that would have worked better. I also think a lot of people half-expected it. I was in a Lion's Arch overflow a good hour before the patch and it seemed like most people online were gathered in the city waiting for the fireworks to begin.

      As Joao says below, this all stems from the extreme negative reaction the Karka event got, most of which probably stemmed from the lag not the actual event. Now they have that largely sorted out there's no excuse not to try again except that they have clearly decided to go full-bore down the video game route for GW2 instead of the virtual world direction they talked up so strongly for two solid years pre-launch.

    5. And how would that be different from a cutscene or personal instance that is tied to character or account, besides the fact that more people would be excluded from experiencing the entire story?

      The Living Story was already said to be disjointed enough, without folks missing out on important milestones. :)

    6. It's the exact same difference between being at a gig or a game and watching it on tv or hearing the live album. If you don't intuitively feel the difference I don't think it can be explained.

    7. I guess to me, the difference is more of a band that refuses to record an album on CD, preferring only to play to a small crowd in-house.

      That small lucky crowd may enjoy the unique atmosphere of this private exclusive band, but for everybody else and the band's general popularity, it's probably far better in general to watch their recorded concert than be always unable to attend one and miss out thusly.

      I wouldn't be unopposed to a live concert performance for a small group, IF the same performance is recorded and later replayable at repeat intervals for those that couldn't make it.

      The metaphor is extremely stretched by now, but in the case of GW2 being an MMO, that first performance is pretty much the one that everyone waits for as the patch drops. There -was- a buzz in the air in LA as people anticipated the end for the first time. Until and unless we get GMs and devs roleplaying and storytelling for that first time event, that's probably about as "live" as it can get.

      We can agree to disagree though. :)

  5. The problem is that the blacklash of the karka event was so bad that Anet will never more do an one time event. That is the sad truth, we like it or not (I liked the karka event, but sorry, we are the minority)

    Anyway, is the world dynamic? Well, yes it is, sorta. LA is gone and I guess that the city is rebuilt, that will need months and players donating mats.

    But...if the city is rebuilt, I am not sure if that will happen. See you, there is that giant bore machine at the middle of city and I guess what Scarlet want get from it. I think it is not oil... maybe the last chapter of living story season one we see that zone being gone forever... no one want live near a dragon lair...

    1. What happens next is the big question. A "dungeon" with a dragon in it is certainly one possibility. On the other hand, so is another two-week event in which we battle said dragon and/or Scarlet and win.

      I'm absolutely certain ANet won't be building a new dragon for a two-week event then taking it out of the game but they don't have to keep it in the LA map. If we beat whatever threat appears and retake the city, that offers a long-term rebuilding project that could be complete in time for Wintersday 2014, for example, during which time LA could be a combat map that we gradually reclaim. The dragon (if that's what Scarlet is digging up) could then remain in the game permanently in another location, even a new map entirely.

      Actually, though, I fear you are nearer the mark and LA will become a dragon's lair, with a periodic appearance by the dragon for a Teq/Wurm level event and the zone available for map completion the rest of the time.


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