Monday, October 1, 2018

WvW Is Not Fight Club: GW2

Over the years, ArenaNet has made a series of very poor decisions concerning World vs World, the mass-combat siege warfare mode originally intended to provide the PvPvE endgame for Guild Wars 2. Probably the most infamous disaster was the imposition of the Desert Borderland, a "feature" of the Heart of Thorns expansion that halved the active WvW population overnight.

Much less talked about, but arguably just as damaging to the long-term fortunes of the game, was the banning of so-called "match-up threads" on the official forums. For the first year or two, every week would see the creation of a new thread for each of the tri-partite matches. Forum warriors would then slog it out with insults and zingers while armchaire commanders offered predictions and analyses of the results.

Even with ANet's hyper-aggressive moderation (there's an automated feature that turns every conceivable pejorative into the catch-all euphemism "kitten", for example) these threads often turned nasty. Rather than try to keep everything civil, which would have required even more moderators taking an even more pro-active stance, ANet decided they could do very nicely without the hassle, thanks.

Ever since then any post that even mentions the names of two different Worlds is as likely as not to receive the stern response "Match-up threads are not allowed", whereupon the entire thread will be locked. This heavy-handed behavior has led to the closure of any number of perfectly innocuous discussions but the decision itself is emblematic of a much deeper problem: ArenaNet simply don't understand the needs of their own players.

Inc to defend Hills (by air)

When GW2 was new it attracted a very significant number of players who were looking for the next Dark Age of Camelot or Warhammer Online. There haven't been all that many MMORPGs that set out their stall based on "Realm vs Realm" but there's an established audience always on the lookout for the next one that tries.

The buzz and hype didn't last long. The lack of permanency was a factor. The game-mode had originally been predicated on matches lasting two weeks. That never happened. Eventually ANet settled on week-long matches but before then there was a lengthy sorting and data-gathering period using shorter periods, which made for a fractured and disconnected start.

Weekly resets didn't help but the main reason ex-DAOC and WAR players were unimpressed with what they found was probably the perceived pointlessness of the whole affair. Where DAoC had access to the Darkness Falls dungeon to fight over and WAR had structured progression both in land ownership and gear acquisition, WvW relied on a basket of buffs doled out to the entire server according to how well the world was doing in its current match.

Most people never even noticed those buffs, except when a normally dominant world slipped and PvE players logged in to find they'd lost a chunk of hit points. That was popular...

All of which left one overriding motivation to drive participation in the Mists: pride. For a while, server pride was undoubtedly real. In the same way true sports fans will support their team - and only their team - regardless of how badly the players play or what jackasses the coaches are, so GW2's hardcore WvW aficionados battled for nothing more than the pride of the name.

Inc to defend Hills (on foot)

The coming of Multiserver technology poked a hole in that balloon. Where it used to be common practice for a beleaguered world to send someone to Lion's Arch to rally the militia over map chat, multiservers meant such pleas reached the ears of every server in the region. It quickly became both embarassing and unproductive and no-one did it any more. (The repeated destruction of Lion's Arch and the concomittant loss of a generally-accepted hub zone didn't help much either).

Over the years, ANet have tried any number of gimmicks to encourage players into The Mists. There were the Tournaments, which I loved but which had the unfortunate effect of initiating severe burnout in commanders. There have been numerous "special event weeks" - there's one on right now - and various carrots in the form of Ascended and Legendary armor have been dangled.

Nothing has made much of an impact on the steady decline in numbers of people logging in to fight over structures that don't matter on maps that never change. In a last-ditch attempt to keep the game mode alive we now have the doomsday proposal on Alliances that will rip everything up and start over.

Maybe that will work. Maybe it won't. What it has done, amazingly, is revitalize WvW for those who expect the worst.

In preparation for the new system (even though we have no idea when it will come or much of a clue what it will look like) a bunch of self-selecting heavyweight guilds decided they'd give the Alliance thing a go right now. That resulted in worlds thought dead coming back from the grave.

Guarding Hills (the spare one)

Something I didn't know when I wrote about the phenomenon a few weeks ago was that the bulk of the carpetbaggers who resurrected Anvil Rock were guilds from Yaks Bend, my own server. Because I haven't bothered to sign up for the new YB Discord I missed all the drama but apparently Things Were Said that cannot be unsaid and Claims Were Made that must not be allowed to stand.

The upshot is that Yaks Bend is at war with Anvil Rock. And by great good fortune, since the split, we have found ourselves in the same match a couple of times. Suddenly we have something to fight for once again: pride.

As Wilhelm has frequently demonstrated in his tales of EVE Online, there's nothing like a grudge to get people to put in the extra hours. The Imperium took a thrashing and Circle of Two did a few things that won't be forgotten and all that fed months of economic grinding and a whole new War in the North.

EVE players, rightly, may regard most other MMORPGs with systems of territorial acquisition as something less than child's play by comparison, but children hold grudges too. The first week we played Anvil Rock was widely believed to be one of the most exciting Yaks Bend has had in six years. This week, the rematch, is pretty good too.

When the half-dozen or more sizeable and active guilds (aka "The Traitors") were with us I rarely saw full zergs on YB outside of weekends. With those people gone, we have them often.

We have commanders working in series to maintain "raids" for 10, 12, 24 or even 40 hours. I was in a squad last night where the commander tag hot-swapped twice without my even noticing, a practice which successfully keeps people following the tag for longer. I see names playing now that I haven't seen for years. The atmosphere is vibrant and exciting and the result is that I have played more WvW in two days than I normally play in a week.

That's a lot of work for 10 AP!

What's more, we are winning both the territory-holding game and many of the big, set-pece battles. And I'm killing a lot of pesky AR. I'm still working on getting my Ultimate Dominator title by completing the Realm Avenger achievement, for which I need to record fifty thousand player kills. After six years I'm up to 36,200 and I got almost 900 of those on Saturday and Sunday evening. Nine hundred kills in two sessions!

As I type this, Yaks Bend holds every structure on Anvil Rock's borderland. We have waypointed all of their keeps, which was the plan when I logged out last night. While most servers like to waypoint one enemy keep for convenience, waypointing all of them - particularly their Garrison - is considered bad form by many. It's something you do to make a point.

The point in this case is that, contrary to the exit line taken by the Traitor guilds, Yaks Bend has not "fallen apart without them". Rather the other way around, if anything. And this is what competetive games are all about: pride and rivalry.

Pride and rivalry will motivate more people for longer than any amount of rewards. People will stay up late and go into work without having had enough sleep if it means they can hold their heads up and wave their colors high. It's not pretty and its not nice but it works.

Which is why ANet should never have banned match-up threads.


  1. As someone who's never played GW2 I always find you writing about WvW fascinating, because you often talk about it being in decline but still seem to be having the time of your life, heh. What effect does decreased participation have on WvW? Are there just not enough people to fight or are there things like objectives you can't complete if there aren't enough players around?

    1. That's a really good question. I could do a whole post on that but I'll keep it to a comment for now.

      If you read the forums you'd get the impression the game mode is in the final stages of a death spiral. It's certainly true that the current WvW population is much smaller than it was a few years ago and, apart from a blip when the "Pip" system (rewards leading to the acquisition of Legendary armor and, particularly, a Legendary backpack), the trend has been downwards for a very long time. The number of Worlds (servers) in the North American league more than halved as we moved to the Host/Guest system, which was a clever variant on server merges.

      In the first half of the life of the game so far, WvW was popular enough that the main problem was access. Each match can hold somewhere around 1200-1500 players provided they were evenly distributed. Outside of that players go into a queue for the borderland of their choice. There was a time when a World might often have queues of 50+ for all four of the maps. ANet dealt with that by adding the Edge of the Mists map, which would spin up more instances, unlike the regular borderlands, to act as a waiting room.

      When people say that WvW is dead, those are the times they are benchmarking it against. Even in Tier 1 these days I doubt most people see queues for more than one or two maps at a time and then mostly only around the weekly reset and at weekends. On Yaks Bend, playing out of primetime, I rarely see queues (although we had them this weekend).

      None of that, however, impacts the viability of the game mode - yet. Playing in EU hours on a US server I can virtually always find at least one commander tagged up to follow and we usually have a zerg of 20+ running even at dead of night U.S. time. At weekends and later in the evening we often have a couple of zergs on different BLS. This week we've had the rolling raid which has kept a near-full squad of 50 people in circulation throughout my entire play hours, and there have been guild squads of 20+ runing as well.

      Added to that, there is a huge amount that can be done solo and in small groups. There's a multiplicity of targets from individual sentries and yaks (carrying supply) through camps to towers and finally keeps. Plus, of course, you can just hunt people down and kill them! Everything scales, so one or two people can capture a tower - or even a keep. We even have one person on YB who specializes in soloing keeps - ninjaing structures is a well-recognized tactic.

      There's no real mechanical or structural problem for the game mode with its current population, which probably sees several hundred people active every day out of prime hours even in the lowest tier. The problem, as I alluded in the post, is in motivation. It's been years since more than a handful of players cared *at all* about the score or the result of a match. The whole thing runs on people who play WvW for the sake of it, and time and familiarity whittle away at those numbers.

      That's why the whole thing springs to life when something like the recent guild defections spur an emotional response. It makes for an infinitely more exciting and enjoyable experience than incrementally working towards a set of rewards. The fear among loyalists to the existing worlds, of whom I am one, is that the proposed Alliance system will remove the last vestiges of permanency and pride and the whole thing will become utterly meaningless rather than having the degree of self-imposed meaning that keeps it afloat for the time being.

      We'll see. I think it depends whether the new Alliances can achieve the same kind of loyalty the original Worlds did, but with much more felxibility. I kind of doubt it but I hope to be proved wrong.

    2. Thanks for the detailed explanation. Definitely could have made a blog post out of it too, with that word count. ;)

  2. A while back Raph Koster had a post about the necessity of instability in PvP environments lest the winning group, given advantage by winning, carry on.

    There is a fine line there. Like Shintar, my knowledge of GW2 WvWvW comes mostly from your posts and Kill Ten Rats, none of which really sold me on the idea. The roaming zerg steamroller moving around the map didn't have much appeal to me. But at least dominance did not confer permanent advantage, though ANet suppressing rivalries seems a bit overboard, even if it was a problem in the forums from time to time.

    On the other hand, out in null sec space of New Eden after the thrashing of the north and the driving of Circle of Two from its latest home, there is the question as to where things will go next. The Imperium, through hard work and organization driven by a desire for revenge for the defeat of the Casino War, has emerged as the dominate power in New Eden. At this point I don't think a repeat of the coalition of "everybody else" attacking us could succeed. The last two years has involved building an organization to defend against that. And it worked. We can now choose any region on the map to attack and be confident that we can drive out those who live there or force them to sue for peace.

    What do you do when you've become the only superpower in a video game? On the Chinese server one group managed that and bent the whole server to its will... and effectively killed the game there. What do you do when you've effectively won? And what does CCP do to protect their game? Malcanis has a bad habit of favoring Goons who adapt to the changes in the game that leaves other organizations foundering.

    1. I think this is the problem - or one of the problems - Ashes of Creation is going to have to deal with. As soon as you create a territorial imperative you open yourself to the possibility that someone will take all the stuff - and keep it. And then what?

      Crowfall has a much clearer idea of how to avoid that problem, but there the risk is the opposite: if everything keeps resetting, why should I care? I'm intrigued to see how the balance works out there with the permanancy in the non-combat home instances.

      Of course, one solution to stasis or stalemate in a territorial video game could always be to just add more territory...

  3. This sounds great, glad that you're having fun.

    Lack of proper motivation is the main reason for my never really getting into PvP systems of most games. Back when I still played SWTOR had at least the Imp vs Republic theme going on most maps, but nowadays even that's not a thing anymore.

    I haven't played much EVE during the last couple of months either, and I think this is the main reason. Being a pirate and not caring about anything was quite nice for a while, but just shooting everything that moves without a clear enemy or purpose...well, like you said, it lacks an emotional motivation.

    1. Ye, I had that trouble in every Battleground-based PvP game ever, from the Saturday-night instances I used to do in DAOC through WoW, WAR and Rift just to name a few. It's not that I don't enjoy them - I really like battleground PvP - but after a while it starts to feel like you've eatena whole bag of sherbert lemons - there's a sour taste in your mouth and you feel empty even though you've stuffed yourself.

    2. I actually had to google Sherbet Lemons, never heard of them. :-)
      Now that I know, yeah, good analogy.

  4. WvW has been destroyed.

    GW2 is in bad shape as far as maintenance.

    The story is absolutely crap.

    Forum's are only for those who lick boots - calling out a Dev is ok, unless you are on Anet's poop list and many of us are.

    Yak's Bend has lost more than 500 players in less than six months (very conservative number - most likely more not counting the alts still here).


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