Sunday, April 27, 2014

Megaserver - The Verdict : GW2

An interesting thing happened on Yak's Bend yesterday. The King Over The Water came back. Or maybe it was Arthur, returning at our time of greatest need (except that was last week, so if so he's late...).

Yak's Bend did far better in WvW's Season One than most people expected, even most people on Yak's Bend. It was a team effort, of course, but much of the credit went to a handful of commanders, one of whom, already popular and well-known, pretty much wrote his own legend during those weeks. He may not have been Space Famous but he was as World Famous as you can be on a GW2 World.

After the party came the months-long hangover. A lot of people drifted away. A couple of big guilds upped camp and moved worlds. Our superstar commander hung around for a while then just vanished. It seemed no-one knew where he'd gone or if he'd be back, not even his guild.

Gone he was but very much not forgotten. As Season Two drew nearer there was much speculation. Surely he'd return? Every day in WvW people would be asking about him. I asked about him. No-one knew anything. The Tourney began and there was no sign of him. Weeks passed. We won. We lost. Other commanders stepped up. The war machine rolled on. Still, now and again, his name would be invoked.

Then, with no fanfare or warning, yesterday there he was. I got home from work and I'd hardly got my coat off before Mrs Bhagpuss said "Guess who's back!". He was my second guess, after our missing guildmate. Apparently word had spread so fast and wide that people were logging into GW2 from work just to say "welcome back". When I got on and went to WvW his name was all over map and team.

He wasn't online right then but even without him other commanders were leading while acknowledging tactics they were using as ones they'd borrowed from him. When he did appear later in the evening, while we were cataing Northern Shiverpeaks' inner garrison, I felt sufficiently moved to welcome him back personally even though he has no idea who I am.

In GW2, since the coming of the Megaserver, this is something that could only happen in WvW. Why? Because under the Megaserver the rest of Tyria has become the place where not only does no-one know your name, no-one knows anybody's name.

Ravious gave his impressions of the megaserver earlier this week. Broadly he seems in favor although his wife very much is not. Jeromai offers a much more critical view and it's his analysis with which I find myself in sympathy. I have tried to be open-minded and positive about this huge change and there are some good things that can be said about it, but the more I see, the less I find to like.

As I've been playing this week I've been making a list of Megaserver pros and cons:

  • Cities bustle and buzz the way cities should
  • I've seen more roleplaying in cities in a week than in the previous year and a half
  • More events run in general, infrequently-seen events run more often and more group events can be completed 
  • Very unpopular maps with no desirable large events now feel moderately well-attended
  • Load times for most maps are much longer. For busy maps they measure in minutes not seconds.
  • Map chat has degenerated appallingly. Maybe we were lucky on Yak's Bend but open channel conversation used to be mostly polite, intelligent and respectful. Now it's an earsore that needs to be switched off after a few seconds in most maps.
  • Wilderness areas feel like crowded city parks.The attractive xp bonuses for hunting and exploring in out-of-the-way places has become elusive in the extreme.
  • All major events with desirable rewards are massively over-attended. Any previously required tactics or gameplay no longer exist. Every "fight" is an 80-strong zerg and lasts seconds. Scaling cannot compete. The only factor slowing these events down is massive lag. I was getting 3FPS at Jormag last night, for example. Mrs Bhagpuss, whose computer has begun to complain if there are more than 50 other players on screen, can't attend some of the big events any more without suffering screen freezes. 
  • Genuine lower levels and even some downleveled 80s struggle to get credit for most stages of a large event because they either can't do enough damage or the stages finish so fast.
  •  According to most reports, although I haven't attended one to see for myself, the more complex events like Tequatl and Three Headed Wurm, always hard, are now barely possible at all.
  •  Community  as a concept and communities as entities have been destroyed. Jeromai's post linked above covers this extremely well. The overall effect has been as if the earliest version of WoW's Dungeon Finder had been applied to an entire MMO. Everyone is a stranger, all sense of responsibility or fear of consequence has been removed.
So, a lot more Cons than Pros. Even so, some of the positives are worthwhile and the worst of the negatives could be mitigated if most of what ArenaNet had claimed about how the Megaserver works had turned out to be true. It didn't.

"The megaserver system is a weighted load balancer for players. It aggregates data about you, like your party, guild, language, home world, and the map copy where people you like to play with can be found. Using this data, it ranks all possible versions of a given map by attributing a score to each. You’re placed in the map with the highest score, which is the one with which you have the most affinity." Source

That's the high-falutin' claim and it's nonsense. Either it's just PR guff or whatever algorithms they're using simply don't work. In my experience so far, many hours on many maps at many different times of day, not only does the system not place me with people I recognize from my home world, it can't even place me in the same map as someone I'm grouped with if we cross from one map to another. It just doesn't work.

I question whether there really is a "Megaserver" at all in any meaningful sense. This seems to me more like a clever smoke-and-mirrors rebranding of the existing Overflow technology. We're all just being pushed onto overflow servers far more frequently than before and the experience is just what you'd expect.

Using "Megaserver" to describe this effect is highly misleading. It's a term that brings to mind something like the single shard universe of EVE Online. I'm personally a big advocate of individual servers for MMOs but if we are moving to a future where all players must share a single common game-space then it has to be done the way EVE does it, with meaningful repercussions and consequences and with everyone genuinely in the same space. It has to be done in such a way that someone like the Commander I began this post by talking about would become more Space Famous as a result, not more anonymous. 

The upshot is that, post-megaserver, GW2 is a chaotic mess.

If you're pottering around on your own leveling up it's arguably better than it was, although I'm doing exactly that and my argument would be that even then it's at best a neutral change. Most events were always soloable and most events are more fun from a narrative and role-playing perspective when soloed. Other people around very definitely make them easier but they don't often make them more entertaining. 

If you love to run in a huge zerg, waypointing from event to event to autoattack something you can't clearly see, at single-figure fps rates, for thirty seconds before clicking "Loot All" and moving on to rinse and repeat, all the while chortling at sexual innuendo and scatological puns then this is probably the best update GW2 has ever had.

If you're anyone other than a leveller who hates to solo or a dedicated zerger with an adolescent sense of humor, however, there's not much good to say about any of it. My only hope is that the old ANet iterative process (if they still have that going on) might eventually come to shape the "Megaserver" into something resembling what we were promised. Some hope.


  1. I'm with you. I don't think Ultima Online would have been the same compelling experience if I had played it as a Megashard. Even if there weren't constant people out in the wild, I very much enjoyed having LESS people on the server so individuals and specific organizations could stand out.

    Now that's it so easy in most MMOs to rename your character or switch servers though, a lot of that natural community you got from the older games is a lot less likely to happen. Megaservers just finish it off.

    1. Although people *can* change their character names and move servers much more readily than was the case even a few years ago, I'm not at all convinced that a significant number of them *do*. Prior to the megaserver, playing on YB, every session I saw dozens, scores, probably hundreds of names that I recognized. One of the joys of GW2 has been how no-one ever really stops playing - every day names keep popping back up that you haven't seen for months. It gave the whole enterprise a charming soap-opera feel that I really valued. All gone now, except in WvW, where it persists for the time being.

  2. I starting to think that unless you have a massive amount of space available then one server, or a "megaserver" just isn't worth it. I understand that it's mostly a pr move for companies now to avoid saying that they're closing servers but I would much prefer defined servers and the communities that result.
    I really don't think they thought this through and I'm sorry it's ruining your experience a bit.

    That's a nice story about the commander too. It's amazing how much a good one can rally the entire server behind them.

    1. I am convinced that the only reason we have the "Megaserver" at all is so that ANet can avoid announcing server merges throughout 2014. All MMO companies now seem desperate to avoid any such announcements so I can only assume that it does have a significant negative effect on income if they do.

      I've been merged so many times over the years and it's not fun for the players, either. If I'd been offered the choice between Megaservers as described in the original press release or server merges I'd have chosen the Megaserver. On paper it sounded like the least bad option.

      That was before I saw it in effect. Given a choice between what we have at the moment or server merges I would take server merges without hesitation.

    2. Why?
      What advantages have the server merges?

    3. Very simple. You stay with all the same people you were already with plus add some more, as opposed to lose all the people you were with and replace hem with others.

    4. What would be the percentage of people really affected by this when we already had overflows and guesting plus some low populated zones?

      It might affect a couple of guilds trying to do tequatl or whatnot, but they already complained about it. Having taxis to put everyone in the same overflow already happen, people complaining about "foreigners" already existed.

      A small percentage of the population will be negatively affected, potentially only for a while, while a large portion of players that can't yet solo champs/group events will benefit.

    5. It's clear that a lot of players like the new version of GW2. That would be the demographic you refer to, the one that considers being able to kill Champions and complete Group Events reliably and frequently a primary consideration. I consider it to be fine, indeed I prefer it, if those things only happen occasionally, even exceptionally, so making them happen more often, more easily and more efficiently doesn't improve my experience. If anything it diminishes it.

      I've heard of the "taxis" and read about people forcing overflows and so on, but it's not something I've ever done, nor, as far as I'm aware, does Yak's Bend have any culture of doing it. As far as I've always been concerned, if it didn't happen on Yak's Bend, it didn't happen. Previous precedent on that therefore has no standing in my reaction to the new changes.

      Of the players who don't like the Megaserver changes at all, some will adapt and others will leave. Of those who adapt, some will adapt willingly and others grudgingly. For me, it's not enough to stop me playing GW2 but changes like this do have an incremental effect. At the moment there are no other new MMOs that interest me enough for this to be significant enough to make me stop playing GW2 and play one of those instead (or go back to an older game full-time) but that won't be the case for everyone who is currently feeling displaced and uncomfortable.

      Clearly ANet believe the net benefit for them will be positive. The game has evidently, at best, plateaued or else they would not be making these changes in the first place. I imagine they know they will lose some people because of these changes but are sanguine about it because they believe they will retain some others who might have left had it gone on as it was (mostly the unhappy players on the low-pop servers) and also they must hope that the new GW2 will be attractive to some players who previously would not have considered it.

      Just because the changes may be good for ANet (and NCSoft) and for a large portion of the playerbase, however, does not mean those of us not included in that demographic either have to approve of it or keep quiet about our disaproval.

      Ultimately, though, it's a "feel" issue and no amount of logical discussion and swapping of "facts" and statistics will change anyone's mind. Either it affects you, possibly quite intensely, or it doesn't, in which case you will find it meaningless. Jeromai's post explains it better than I have, as do many of the posters on the lengthy forum thread.

    6. It still seems to me new players are still arriving into the game and they will see a more populated world through all the zones.

      Actually from the play style you've posted in this blog I have my doubts it actually affects you that much.
      I get the impression you enjoy playing GW2 but you don't like that you do.

  3. "My only hope is that the old ANet iterative process (if they still have that going on) might eventually come to shape the "Megaserver" into something resembling what we were promised."

    Right from the day of the announcement I assumed it'd be a bit broken and chaotic at the start, and that it'd take at least a month to start working as promised. I still have hope.

    1. When I wrote the post yesterday I hadn't seen ANet's smug, self-satisfied little PR Squib, patting themselves on the back over how well the Megaserver has been implemented. If I had I would have cut them even less slack than I did. We'll see just how much they do "evaluate" our feedback and what, if anything, they do about it, but they sound awfully pleased with themselves already so I wouldn't count on too much changing.

  4. Convenience over community these days. How i long for the days of reputation meaning everything. The consequences for being as ass used to be server wide exclusion from anything group related. Your option used to be either reroll on a different server, which could take up to a year to level again, or quit the game.

    1. I'm not really comfortable with the idea of moving servers to begin with and even less so when it becomes a trivial decision. I don't even like the Guesting system GW2 uses. I'd far rather be allowed to make characters on different servers, who then had to stay there, than only be allowed to make characters on one server but then be allowed to move them around.

      It's just one of many ships that have sailed, unfortunately. As you say, convenience over community. Not much point complaining about the concept any more but it may still be worth complaining about the implementation, I think.

  5. I have to disagree with some of your cons.

    1) Loading faster due to a lower population isn't a plus.

    If one is taking minutes to load the solution is a SSD - I had already added one to my GF's PC and my own PC during the Scarlet invasions (her PC only having an older SATA hard drive took ages to load).

    The problem existed before the megaservers. Con not found.

    2)I haven't noticed any difference in map chat, other that before some maps had no chat.
    Make sure it isn't your own mind playing tricks on you.
    Additionally those people were playing and chatting somewhere - if they are silly and rude now, they were silly and rude before.
    Con not found.

    3) Again apparently desert places were better than populated places are now - if that is the truth for the majority of the player base, companies would never do server merges.

    4) Being from Desolation, I've already experienced huge zergs everywhere.
    Additionally the World Events schedule change might be more of a reason than the megaserver itself.
    I thought you guys played WvW as well. 50 players is a way of life in there.

    5) The answer to not getting credit in events is to party. 5 people will get credit and smart people are always willing to take people.

    In Desolation is normal for people to spam the map chat with "LFG" or "3/5 self invite" for stuff like temple Events.

    6) I have no opinion about Tequatl and the Tri wurm other than the world event schedule change might be the problem.

    7) You mean the communities that you could find on the desert zones that were a pro in your opinion?
    Lets be real, the few communities actually affected will find a way to circumvent the problems.

    It is true that Anet could have just gone the district way and let people select districts, but that might lead to other problems.

  6. Most of that is difference of opinion, emphasis or interpretation so we'll leave it at that. The SSD one is intriguing though. It's a given that an SSD would load zone data much faster than a normal HDD but why would the load speed for a given GW2 map change from, say, 20 seconds to 40 seconds before and after the Megaserver if the issue was with the client hardware? What has changed other than the server-side set-up and the number of player characters on the map?

    The former is obviously beyond anything we can affect by changing our systems and I thought the latter wouldn't be something we could affect (by reducing character detail, draw distance etc) until the map had actually loaded. Does the client somehow pre-load all the textures and so on for all the characters on the map before it actually clears the loading screen?

    I guess maybe it does because, come to think of it, that thing I was so familiar with from EQ, where you appear in game but then can't move for 5-10 seconds as the client loads in the textures of everyone around you, never happens. Once you finally do get in you can (usually) move and act immediately.

    Either way, I'm no about to buy an SSD just to load GW2 maps faster and I have no complaints about speed of loading in any other game or application that would help to justify it. No doubt the next system I get will have one but I'm hoping to postpone that until 2015.

    1. With an SSD it takes me 5 seconds to load in Genderran fields, 8s to load in Queensdale and 20s to load in Divinity's Reach.
      Divinity's Reach has been the only place I've noticed an increase in load time.

      I don't remember how long it took with a HDD but it would be upward of 40s (my GF sometimes toolk 2 minutes to load in heart of the myst pre megaserver).

      We bought it because it was quite slow on my GF system and it was really annoying for her to waypoint around during the Scarlet invasions since the boss would be dead before she loaded.

      But here is a youtube link to see the difference (pre megaserver).

      I see no reason for people to have absurd loading times now and not during Scarlet invasions or the Lion's Arch living story.


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