Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cat. Bag. Out Of : GW2

The Mystical Mesmer, in a thought-provoking post ostensibly aimed at discussing the recent layoffs at Carbine and what they presage for the future of WildStar, digresses into the ever-thorny question of whether ArenaNet might, one day, deign to take our money in exchange for an expansion. He lays out a strong case suggesting that such a project is already in progress, not just from circumstantial evidence, such as ArenaNet being entirely exempt from the current NCSoft cutbacks but by reminding of us of the mysteriously under-discussed statement from last February's NCSoft stock summary.

Supporting evidence is linked in the Mesmer's post so I won't re-egg that pudding but I will repeat the quote he highlights: "NCsoft is scheduled to launch an expansion pack for Guild Wars 2 in the US and Europe in 2015". That seems pretty conclusive. Then again, so did this quote from NCsoft's managing director, Nah Seong Chan, back in May 2013:

" sales and microtransactions are still very strong, and of course we are preparing an expansion pack but in terms of when we will actually launch it, it's something we are still monitoring... We are looking to the performance of the game and then we will decide what will be the best time to do the launch."

If you pay attention to paymasters NCSoft, the question would seem to be "when" not "whether". If you go by the words of the folks actually tasked with making the game and all its content, however, the official line is entirely different:

"So right now we're not really looking at expansions as an option. It's something that's on the table but it's not something we're focused on, because what we want to do is - our idea here is that with Living World, we can do what expansions would have done but do it on a more regular basis. If we do this right we will probably never do an expansion and everything will be going into this Living World strategy"

Lead content designer Mike Zadorojny

If you dig around the interwebs you can come up with plenty more quotes from ANet supporting that position. It's emblematic of the approach that has turned a rabidly supportive and positive pre-launch fanbase into a surly, cynical bunch of post-launch pessimists, an approach sometimes characterized as  "Say one thing, do another".

There is more going on here than merely a difference of emphasis or a disagreement over terminology. The two statements - "...of course we are preparing an expansion pack" and "...right now we're not really looking at expansions as an option" - are mutually incompatible. Either someone is bending the truth or someone is in the dark about what's going on. Possibly both.

Direct, open, irreconcilably conflicted statements of intent or current activity happen rarely and, as The Mystical Mesmer points out, it's very odd how under-reported and, especially, under-analyzed this particular rift in reality has been. But then, GW2 fans have so many other reality dysfunctions to discuss and I don't mean The Mad King's Realm.

The current contentious hot topic is the change to the way the in-game Gem to Gold to Gem conversion system works. Until last Tuesday you could buy or sell any numbers of gems you wished, starting at one and working up from there. You could also see, in game, both the exact current exchange rate and a chart showing the trends over a period. It was simple and straightforward both to watch for advantageous market conditions before hitting "Buy" and to get exactly what you needed and no more.

In last week's update all of the current and historical monitoring data was removed. The ability to buy in units was removed and replaced by fixed quantities. The predictable result was outrage. The threadnaught on the forums currently runs 40 pages. A period of denial and self-justification gave these reasons for the unwanted, unexpected and unwelcome change:

That, along with comments like the one excerpted below, again from Community Rep Gaile Gray, stoked the feeling, already common on the forums, that not only do ArenaNet not listen to their veteran players but they don't care much about what they think either. They appear to be far more focused on new players, as might well be expected of a company whose commercial model relies heavily on selling new boxes and digital downloads to new customers, who may very well also exhibit a higher average spend on microtransactions than Veterans.

Tune out the the peevish, passive-aggressive tone (it must have been a long day at the office) and you can see that Gaile has a very good point. It's the reason these changes never sit well with established players and it's what makes communicating those changes so very problematic.

Put simply, ArenaNet are changing their game to suit the needs of new players and explaining their reasons for doing so to old players. The first group may both need and welcome the changes but their thoughts and feelings on the matter go unrecorded, at least in public, while the second group, who most probably neither need nor want the changes, most assuredly do have access to all the relevant communication channels and the confidence and motivation to make the fullest use of them.

It must be very difficult, having to address the needs of one group of customers while explain your thinking to another. Especially so when the two groups can often be seen as direct competitors with entirely different outlooks and expectations. It's hardly new ground though. These are the kind of problems that all MMO developers experience and probably always have done. I recall reading interviews over a decade ago where John Smedley complained of the difficulties in meeting the needs and expectations of both new players and veterans at the same time.

SOE certainly never found the sweet spot where necessary changes were both communicated and implemented efficiently. Maybe that sweet spot doesn't exist. Maybe the needs of the beginner and the veteran conflict to such a degree that compromise isn't possible. You'd be forgiven for thinking so if you'd played any of these games for long enough to pass from one state to the other. In the case of the Gem Conversion Crisis, however, reason has finally prevailed:

As we've had cause to observe of SOE, weeks or even months after many a reverted decision in Everquest or EQ2, they got there in the end. As with SOE's many, many foot-in-mouth episodes, however, the inevitable corollary is why didn't they see it coming and do it that way in the first place? I'm a great fan of SOE's MMOs. I'd say any developer working in the field could do a lot worse than to examine and emulate a great deal of their game design, methodology and ethos. With the best will in the world, though, would anyone ever benefit from modelling their communication strategy on SOE? I think not.

At least ArenaNet turned this one round quickly, which is more than can be said of the previous in their long list of self-inflicted wounds, the Great Trait Revamp. The thread on that one, still on the first page of the forums and still flagged "Hot!", runs to 57 pages, the issues it raises largely unanswered and wholly unresolved. If only there was something that could take veteran players' minds off all these niggling little problems...

Well, how about this? ArenaNet could save themselves a lot of grief and buy a whole load of goodwill simply by acknowledging, rather than openly denying, what does seem to be a known fact: they are working on an expansion for GW2 and we will be able to buy it next year. As The Mystical Mesmer points out, "why wouldn't you just tell your players that "Cantha is confirmed" and revel in the explosion of loregasms that would cover the first ten pages of the official and unofficial forums?" And, incidentally, bury all the bad news and whingeing, whining entitlement veteran threads back on page 11?

Bunker mentality? Wounded pride? Jeromai speculates in the Mesmer's comments

 "My guess? It ties in with the culmination of Living Story 2.
Announcing an expansion now would sort of ruin the revving up climax

Or it might revitalize flagging interest. I'd back the latter. Why waste a few months of free publicity and ever-building excitement? Maybe because they're relying on that to fill the long, empty months between the end of Living Story 2 and the launch date of the Expansion That Doesn't Officially Exist Yet?

I don't freaking know but here's an idea you can have for free, ANet. If you don't want cynical, pessimistic grumbling bitter vets clogging up your forums and bringing down the whole vibe then just tell us what you're working on. The whole damage limitation mechanism of never announcing or confirming anything until it's a done deal stopped limiting the damage about a nanosecond after you announced it, even if NCSoft weren't out there denying your reality in their corporate statements.

There is such a thing as too much information but this isn't it.


  1. That MM post got me to go back and review my 2014 predictions. I had said that ANet would slow up their content update pace and go for an expansion, not so much because they want to, but because NCsoft tells them they have to. Selling boxes was the winning strategy that made GW a success, so I am not sure how ANet feels they can drop that... and neither does NCsoft. The recent layoffs remind us of the long standing NCsoft policy, which can probably be summed up as "win or die."

    1. ANet's commercial approach to GW2 has mystified me from the start. They have made numerous statements that indicate an extreme aversion to charging money for content. The Mike Zadarojny quote above is one such and one of many. Their experience of developing and operating GW1 surely must have demonstrated that players positively welcome being offered new, paid-for, boxed content and yet from the start they have been almost pathologically opposed to following that model for GW2.

      The caveat is always that they can see the actual numbers and we can't. I thought the phrase "We are looking to the performance of the game and then we will decide what will be the best time to do the launch" from the NCSoft exec was very revealing. My guess is that NCSoft are more than happy to let ANet run on without a boxed expansion so long as the cashflow from box sales of the main game plus microtransactions is, as he puts it, "very strong" but only with the safety-net of a prepared second box sale ready to deploy when that cashflow begins to flag.

      That would explain how ANet could express a belief that they would never need to release a boxed expansion. If the Living Story had done the business they could sit on the expansion they'd made forever. Which would also be a good reason to deny they were making one. Imagine the fans reaction if they said "We've completed a full expansion but you're all spending so much money on clothes and toys that we're never going to let you play it".

    2. The lack of paid content/Expansions with GW2 always surprised me as well, but it may have something to do with the idea that 'Expansions create barriers for friends to enter', which now even WoW has embraced (the BattleChest has been updated to include MoP.with 6.0; sadly 6.0 also raised the level cap to 100 for Achievements, Honor Rewards, balancing etc. so, in usual Blizz fashion, their marketting and game development departments are out of sync)

      In other words, when GW2 stays a 'one box game', it is easier to pick up for new entries, and the whole content with expiration date idea is added for the 'dude you have to pick this up now!' factor.

      Personally I'm not a big fan of this (I thoroughly, 1000% detest temporary content, especially if you have in effect pay for it by subs etc.) also because it IMO is based on a falacy ('Expansions must offer Vertical Progression' ie a raised level cap etc., instead of the Horizontal Progression - 'different ways to reach the cap' - PnP RPG's thrived upon) but I guess that's what they're coming from.

      Still, with all the mentoring and what not mechanics, you'd think that GW2 would have less if even issues with content becoming 'obsolete' (which tends to happen with WoW-like games when the Level Cap gets bumped)

    3. "The caveat is always that they can see the actual numbers and we can't. I thought the phrase "We are looking to the performance of the game and then we will decide what will be the best time to do the launch" from the NCSoft exec was very revealing. My guess is that NCSoft are more than happy to let ANet run on without a boxed expansion so long as the cashflow from box sales of the main game plus microtransactions is, as he puts it, "very strong" but only with the safety-net of a prepared second box sale ready to deploy when that cashflow begins to flag."

      The problem is simple.
      Most players see an expansion as "more land mass".
      If I have 10 players and 1 zone, I have 10 players per zone.
      If I have 10 players and 2 zones, I have 5 players per zone.
      One has the same amount of players but each player will have perceived a halving of players.

      Then it can also happen I have 10 players and 3 zones but all of those players are in zone 3, high level zone, and when the new 11th player arrives, zone 1 is empty (starter area) and he leaves the game.

      Anet since GW1 has been very concerned with player density and took measures with their zaishen quests.

      In GW2 we saw more of the same.

      Maybe Anet thinks they can solve that problem that so far eluded everyone.
      Or maybe they are just waiting for the time when it is not worth it to cater to the new players instead of bringing back old players.

  2. Cat of Darkness? ...Damn, now I really need to go back to GW2! <_< I've never been lucky on rare drops though. :(

    1. I believe he does drop but you can buy him from the vendor in LA for three candy corn cobs, which are themselves tradeable and going for less than three gold apiece on the TP. All in all maybe an hour running Mad King's Labyrinth would easily do it.

      The really rare mini this time round is Gwynefyrrd who appears to be a ghostly corgi. He's only available via the rng and is account bound so no buying (or selling) him for hundreds of gold!

    2. Doh! Misleading information! Correction!

      Zuzu is actually 12 Corn Cobs which is a bit more of an ask. He's currently just under 20gp on Trading Post. Still easy enough to get but going to take more than an hour to farm either the corn or the cash!


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