Monday, March 31, 2014

Every Day Is Not Like Sunday : GW2

As hobbies and pastimes go, playing MMOs demands a remarkable degree of flexibility. Other obsessions demand far less of their adherents when it comes to re-adjustment of attitude, expectation and performance. The rules of golf or crown green bowling don't change every couple of months, for example, nor do you arrive at the ocean one day only to discover that you need to learn an entirely new way to scuba dive because the old way doesn't work any more.

MMOs change all the time. They always have. Whether the pace of change is increasing or whether it's just that nowadays a lot of us play more MMOs and therefore see more changes stacked tighter together in time I'm not sure. I think it's most likely both.

It's not easy to cast one's mind back ten or fifteen years and recall ordinary, day-to-day events. Not with any clarity, at least, as anyone who's ever consulted an old diary will attest. Certain events stick in the mind, often those that we polish up to a lapidary gleam and hand out as anecdotes over the years, but memories of most of the things that we did just for the day fade fast.

With that caveat, it does seem to me that, when I played Everquest or Dark Ages of Camelot or The Realm back at the very beginning of the 21st Century, major changes to systems within MMOs that I played came along less frequently. What's more, when they did, less was required of me as a player to adjust to them.

Number-crunching! It's what I live for!
Over the past few years it seems to have become the norm for MMO developers to rebuild the ship while it's still out at sea, rather than wait until it's safely hoisted out of the water on the dry dock of an expansion. I've lost count of the number of times EQ2 has revamped its Alternative Advancement system so radically that a complete points refund has been required, for example.

Even SOE must finally have realized the potential negative affect this could be having on their players because last time round they automated the recovery process and added predetermined upgrade paths. Rift did something very similar at quite an early stage, when they began twiddling about with way Soul Points worked there and I believe so did Lord of the Rings Online with the recent changes to that game.

Providing a quick fix for players who resist, resent or simply log in unaware of these changes is a wise plan. While there certainly is a significant and vocal demographic within the hobby that relishes Year Zero resets and many who get very excited over builds, yearning for more opportunities to bury their heads in statistics and possibilities, there are plenty who see the whole,thing as a royal pain. Even for those who are willing to spend time getting a build just right, as Keen found, when he launched himself headlong at the ESO head start and bounced off the Wall of Choice, sometimes too much freedom is no freedom at all.

The possibilities are endless
In any probability distribution set for readiness to adopt options to change within MMOs I'd almost certainly be an outlier. For the most part, once a character I'm playing ceases to level he also ceases to change. It's at that point that I will usually optimize his gear and build and then that's him finished. No, more than that, that's who he is. From then onwards that character will take what virtual life throws at him and deal with it as best he can with what he has. Tweaking builds from that point onwards is not an attractive option for me but an onerous chore.

Unless, of course, I happen to be in the mood for a good old fiddle. Once in a while, on a whim and usually on a Sunday afternoon, I might take it into my head to revisit a character's traits or points or whatever it may be. I might spend a while moving things around. More than that, I might thoroughly enjoy myself doing it.

Oh, the inconsistency of it all. Largely, of course, it's being imposed upon by outside forces that irks. If I'm in the mood to spend most of that Sunday afternoon changing my Elementalist from a water staff support build to a full Zerker rain of fiery death build then that's my business and my fun. If I log in after a tiring day at work just looking to zone out while I do my dailies only to find that before I can even start I have to respend all my points, which in turn means researching a new build and learning how to play it, then I'm likely to balk at that first hurdle, close down that game and go somewhere else.

Choice is only choice when it's your choice. When MMO developers decide the time is right to revamp these systems they are exercising their right to choose to do what they feel is in the best interests of the game. If the game is strong enough and the changes are sound then even reluctant outliers like me will be carried along on the tide of enthusiasm. Once. Maybe even twice. Keep at it, though, and in the end those returned points will go unspent, the characters unreformed, the game unplayed. 

Can always use a little more zap.
That was one reason, albeit not the main reason, I stopped playing Rift. It's one reason, again not the main reason, Mrs Bhagpuss (who is even more resistant to these things than I am) has stopped playing EQ2. It's a risky process. Every systemic change will fire up some players, pass as a necessary adjustment for many more and alienate others. Developers need to be confident in making those changes the game needs to remain fresh and entertaining while resisting the desire to keep moving the furniture around just to see if it looks better over there.

GW2 has managed to go a good long while without any major shake-ups to its systems. For all the fuss and bother it raised, ascended gear has proved to be eminently ignorable for those who choose to look the other way. The usual ongoing class revamps have represented nothing more than the eternal shortening of the legs to get the MMO table to stand straight that's been going on in every MMO ever, always.

Now, eighteen months down the line, we at last face our first full systems revamp and I find myself cautiously looking forward to it. With no expansion either behind or before us and an end game that could uncharitably be described as "more of the same", for once having all my points back to respend on semi-new things seems like not such a bad idea.

As for the ongoing free respecs in the interest of  making it "much easier to experiment with and learn new builds", well I think I'll pass on that, thanks, ANet. Come April 15th I'll get my nine level 80s how I like them and perhaps you'd be so kind as to let me leave them that way for another eighteen months at least.

Unless I have nothing better do one Sunday afternoon, of course...


  1. I ended up stopping playing League of Legends at the end of last season, because they made such big changes to items and laning that I didn't want to relearn the game. The funny part is that supposedly they made some great changes and the game is better than ever (coming from friends who are still playing).

    I don't mind small tweaks (abilities, etc.) but flow blown overhauls for me are hard to re-invest all that gaming time into learning time. My gaming time is already at a premium. Sadly, I think I am the one that ends up losing out because of it.

  2. I think that was the last nail in the coffin for me with Rift too. Logging on and seeing all 5 builds reset, my hot keys a mess of greyed out and missing icons, the macros all broken and i thought.."Can i be bothered to fix all this?" And the answer turned out to be no. I think it was exacerbated too by the fact that i'd have to go look up the latest set of cookie cutter builds needed to go raid or w/e...And it just becomes a bit too much of a chore. Of course the main reason to leave was when the social bonds that kept me logging in were no longer around (guild's falling apart as the population plummeted pre-ftp..) but its things like that which make the decision to finally say 'we're done here' that much easier.

  3. Constant change was definitely one of the reasons I lost interest in WoW. It made me feel like trying to get comfortable with anything was pointless since they were just going to change it again with the next patch anyway - until I got so uncomfortable with the game that I didn't want to play at all anymore.

    1. @Isey & Joc & Shintar - I think this is the crux of it. If you're really nailed onto an MMO then you will put up with almost any annoyance just so you can carry on playing. If your interest is beginning to wane, however, it's often this kind of change that gives you the excuse to do what you probably wanted to do for a while - either take a break or leave for good.

      I guess MMO companies must have metrics to show how many unique log-ins, or whatever they count nowadays, they lose or gain when they make one of these massive changes to systems and since they keep doing them I also guess the net result is at worst neutral. On the other hand, that would assume they know what they are doing, why and what the outcome is, which is something that's not always apparent from the outside.

  4. Of course when there is no change we have:
    "Stale game".
    "Nothing new".
    "Developers don't listen".
    "Devs don't care and are clueless".

    1. This is true but it doesn't mean there aren't welcome and unwelcome changes. The trick is making sure there are a lot more of the former than the latter, which is difficult enough in itself but almost impossible when large segments of your playerbase have widely differing opinions on which is which. Hardly surprising many MMOs don't get it right a lot of the time.

  5. *sigh* I recall my innocent naiveity when I got into this business. 'It's like a computer game but everything lasts forever!' I thought.

    The MMO Dream is remarkably similar to the Romantic Dream, but I don't think I'll be giving up on MMOs or women any time soon.


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