Sunday, June 14, 2015

I Can See For Miles : GW2

One little wrinkle in the whole Pay-To-Win debate that never gets much of a mention is the huge disparity in hardware we all take for granted. It's something that sits in back of every aspect of the hobby from competitive PvP to solo questing.

Some developers make a huge effort to equalize the playing field within the game itself. All kinds of mechanics get a run-out. PvP matches impose a standard gear set, instances cap or snap to level, smart systems run buff checks and remove the ones they don't approve... It's a long list with a clear intent : get as close as possible to player parity.

Only no-one and nothing pays much attention to what's going on outside the game.

There's an event in GW2 called The Frozen Maw. It runs once every two hours in Wayfarer's Foothills. Like many of GW2's regularly-scheduled open raid events it's developed a culture and traditions all its own. As the pre-events conclude and the evil, dragon-worshipping shaman makes his awkward, egotistical claim that he can handle us all with a little effort, people begin quoting their frame-rates in chat.

Small turn-out today.

All big events have a tendency to drop frames but for some reason this one is the worst. As the shaman struggles to complete his ritual to summon the giant ice elemental that will never appear (I've seen the shaman win - nothing happens) the screen fills with flurrying snow. This is what usually gets the blame for the slowdown. As the snow thickens and more snow dervishes spawn frame-rates drop to single figures. Well, mine does.

My PC is getting on for five years old. It was low-mid range for a gaming rig when I got it. I've upgraded it somewhat over the years but I am guessing it would now class as straight entry-level as far as gaming goes. I was going to replace it this Spring but it still runs everything I want to play smartly and efficiently so I've put the decision off for a while.

As I'm strafing around, dodging and rolling with my 9FPS, frankly I can't tell much, if any, difference. Everything looks the same as it did when I had 40FPS, which is about the best I ever get. I read once that the human eye can't distinguish frame rates faster than 30 per second although I've since read that that's not true. Either way, any difference escapes my notice.

Meanwhile, however, there will always be some bright spark claiming 80FPS and listing all the components of his rig so we can admire his good fortune and good sense. Or, really, just his disposable income.

For PvE events taking place under the auspice of ArenaNet's All Must Win Prizes ethos this really doesn't matter. In WvW yesterday, though, a discussion occurred that pointed up how sometimes spending more money really can give you a direct competitive advantage, even in as forgiving a game as GW2.

Yaks Bend had a defensive trebuchet placed in what was supposed to be an unassailable spot inside a keep. Fort Aspenwood attacked and somehow took it down. This lead to the usual, inevitable accusations of hacking.

There used to be a widely-used software hack that allowed you to see further than you should have been able to and thereby to place the targeting circle over things that ought to have been out of reach. This practice, known as "zoom-hacking", largely disappeared when ANet added a first person view. They changed the whole way the camera works, expanded the field of vision and it became possible to do just about anything zoom-hacking used to do by using the legitimate in-game controls.

Extreme close-up!

The treb that got downed by an arrow cart, however, seemed to be beyond even the new, wider FoV. Except someone on our side knew better. He explained that it could be done by playing the game in Windowed mode and stretching the image across multiple monitors, thereby extending the maximum possible field of view.

I don't know if that is an accurate description but if we take him at his word it would, surely, make what happened a legal and legitimate tactic. No third party software or other is being used to alter GW2. There was a video demo of the practice on YouTube way back when the game was in beta in 2012.

So there you have it. Pay to Win. Spend more money out of game to get a clear in-game advantage. Buy a better graphics card, a faster CPU, a topline gaming mouse. Set up multiple monitors. Hire a masseur to stand behind your swivel chair and massage your shoulders as you play. The only limit to your potential advantage over other players is your wallet.

By comparison, a mere selection of codified official advantages, available for nominal sums through the official in-game cash shop, seems hardly worth complaining about.


  1. I can understand what you are saying. But there's a big difference between players scrambling around the fringes of the game trying to scrounge whatever advantages they can get by extra-curricular means, and developers giving pay to win official sanction by instituting a cash shop which sells power advantages over other players. Call me old-fashioned, but I still think it is important to distinguish what a game is, and what it ought to be.

    Perhaps I'm just idealistic - maybe it is all about money now, and my feeble protestations about keeping the game "pure" are the last gasp of a dying ideology in the face of a new normative order of pay to win - but the worth of a game for me will remain heavily influenced by how it keeps a game as fair as possible within its boundaries.

    1. I think there's a huge difference between what's allowed or prohibited in something that is first and foremost a competitive game with a clear win condition and what's for sale as entertainment or hobby supplies. MMO developers have blurred the lines between the two to the point that no-one really knows what's appropriate any more.

      MMOs are portmanteau operations that include everything from completely non-competetive, hobby-based activities (eg the books you can make or buy in EQ2 that you can write in) to straight-up sports matches with scores and league tables and cups. Different parts probably need to be regulated separately but even then you can imagine the complaints - some people even see gathering mats for crafting as a competitive activity...

      One of the biggest "problems" is that MMO players constantly make up their own rules about what constitutes "competitive play" and then want to enforce them on other players to whom they are meaningless. There's a good argument to be made that, for example, World Firsts that are recognized by the game itself and which generate achievements or global broadcasts are officially sanctioned competitions and need to be regulated but arguing that someone shouldn't buy an item that let's him level his character 25% faster seems to me to be taking an unreasonable position.

      In the end everyone draws their own red lines. I would not feel happy to see, for example, weapons and armor with the best stats in the game available ONLY through the cash shop. Whether I'd be happy to see them sold in a cash shop as well as being available through normal play in-game... well that might depend on how much they cost.

  2. One (noteable) difference between the two is tht one of them is intended and managed by the designers of the game, whereas the other is accidental and (mostly) outside the scope of the designers.

    I have often seen an argument in favour of p2w that equates the better accessories in for example soccer (special shoes, larger home-stadium, etc), with the advantages you can get in a cashshop in some p2w games. My counter has always been that those accessories are more akin to having better hardware. Its an advantage that isnt as such dictated by the rules of the game, but rather outside the rules of the game itself.

    That said, you are aboslutely right that the differences in hardware can sometimes be a lot greater than whatever ingame advantages you can get in the casshop. But except maybe in case of consols, the differences in what hardware people use seems like something the game designers has very little control over.

    Shandren out. :-)

    1. I almost brought in the graphite vs wood tennis racquet analogy but I wanted to keep things short. Real world sports, though, do regulate the equipment you can use very closely. There have been numerous occasions that even I, as a very moderate sports fan, can think of immediately, in golf, cricket, tennis and swimming for example, where technological innovations in gear and equipment that gave a very definite advantage were quickly regulated and/or banned by the governing bodies.

      MMO EULAs always make a big deal about 3rd party software and also, rather amusingly, they sometimes cover physical attempts to emulate the effects of software, like those crazy devices people build to let them operate six keyboards manually at the same time. I can't recall any ever setting Maximum Permitted Specifications for the computer you play on though. They always set Minimum and Recommended Specs so I can't really see why they couldn't add a top end to those if they really wanted to. Other, of course, from the money they'd lose.

  3. Ahh i remember that little trick.... never did it myself but working with the guild we definitely saw the guilds who would abuse such thing. Mostly frowned upon back then too although abused occasionally. Certain guilds would even have members switch guild names to then do this, thinking it wouldn't be as traceable to them.

    1. I did a little looking into it for this post and I'm not even sure the "zoom hack" was ever against the EULA to begin with. There's a thread on it from 2012 on the forums that never got closed or even moderated and it mostly seemed to be used for harmless PvE purposes. All it really did is what the official camera can do now.

  4. I've been to the Frozen Maw a couple of times. Good times. Very laggy times but good none the less.

    Regarding the pay to win thing, it doesn't particularly bother me since I only really play by myself or with guild mates in PVE. How other people spend their money doesn't really bother me since them having better gear has no direct impact on my experience.

    On the other hand, I can see how someone might care about something like that. Goes either way, really.


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