Saturday, September 25, 2021

It's Beta, Baby! GW2's First WvW Alliance Test Goes Down In Flames.


For once, when I woke up this morning I had something of a plan. I was going to log in to Guild Wars 2 to take a look at the first of what's set to become a series of beta tests for the proposed World vs World Alliance system.

For those who haven't been following the plot, which would be everyone in the world who doesn't play GW2 and most of those who do, the idea is to remove the "Worlds" from WvW and replace them with "Alliances". This dates back at least four years and was originally supposed to have happened in a matter of months. 

It was always a timeframe that even the most wildly optimistic among the WvW community found hard to accept. As things turned out even the most wildly pessimistic of us underestimated ArenaNet's ability to do absolutely nothing at all for years on end. 

I thought it would take at least a year, maybe two. After two years I was minded to believe it would never happen. After three I was certain.

So now it's happening. It took several changes of leadership, the re-hiring of some key personnel who'd been let go and, I wouldn't mind betting, some firm direction from somewhere outside the company but for now, at least, Alliances are very much back on.

It's a very, very complicated and ambitious program. Having read countless forum posts and threads on it over the years and having heard it discussed at length inside the game I feel confident in saying many, possibly most, active WvW players don't fully understand even the intent behind the change, much less the details of how it will actually affect them.

I'm not claiming I do, either, not least because the whole thing has been in flux forever and elements of it keep changing. Add to that the new emphasis on consultation and iteration and it's plain that whatever we end up with could be very different from what's been proposed so far.

I have no intention of attempting to explain any of it here. I possibly could but no-one who doesn't play WvW is likely to care and nor should they. If anyone reading this does find themselves burning with curiosity about how the whole thing might work, I direct them to this exhaustive official announcement from a couple of weeks ago.


 

The first of the scheduled beta tests was due to go live last night at reset, around midnight my time since I play on North American servers. EU reset is a few hours earlier so they were due to start first. 

Before any of that, earlier in the week we all had to select a guild as our official WvW choice so the new mechanics could sort everyone, like first years at Hogwarts, into newly-devised "Teams". Since the proposed system operates on a multi-level sliding scale of Teams/Alliances/Guilds/Players and players can be in up to five guilds and guilds can be bigger than Alliances (?!), this was always going to be interesting.

Mrs Bhagpuss and I had a brief chat about it and decided to put our characters who had the option into the now dormant but once dominant WvW guild we'd been inducted into back in the days when Yaks Bend was an actual force in the game. The other accounts we left in our personal guild of two.

I was very curious to see how this would work out. That big guild is very quiet these days. All the leaders have long stopped playing and although most of the people who were ever in the guild are still on the roster, with the option of five guilds not many choose to rep that tag. 

This morning, after I'd eaten breakfast, had a bath and done some much-needed housework, I sat down at the computer to see how things were going. Before I even went to log in I thought I'd check the website I've been using for almost as long as been playing GW2 to see how the current matches were going.

I didn't know quite what to expect. A whole bunch of new "Team" names, maybe, although that was optimistic. More likely a slew of "Red" "Green" and "Blue", the default colors for the three starting positions. Most likely of all, a broken website with a lot of gibberish, which is what happens most time ANet change anything.

What I didn't expect was the exact same set of world names as yesterday, albeit in a slightly different order. Everything looked exactly the same as it would on a regular, non-beta Saturday.

Maybe it was just the website, pulling old API data that hadn't been changed for the test. I logged in to find out. 


 

Everything in game was just as the tracking site said it would be. I wandered around for a minute or two, waiting to see if anything felt different. It didn't. No-one was saying much and I didn't want to be that guy who logs in and asks the same question the last twenty people asked so I did my dailies quickly and logged out again.

From there I went straight to the forums, where I found my answer. Yes, the beta test had begun on time, at EU reset. It was supposed to run for the whole week. It lasted two hours. 

Whether it was a complete, unmitigated disaster or a highly useful and successful test run depends where you stand. From what I read on the forum it seems pretty much nothing worked as intended and much didn't work at all. 

Among other things, players were sorted into different Teams from those they'd nominated, there were multiple instances of the same borderland maps running simultaneously, there were massive queues that didn't resolve properly and didn't reflect in-game populations and there were multiple display bugs that meant players couldn't even tell what was going on, right or wrong.

After a couple of hours of that ANet pulled the plug. They kicked everyone out of WvW and reset the mode back to its pre-beta state. Only EU players ever got to see what could have been. By the time NA reset rolled around our test had already been cancelled.

Opinions on the forums range from "What did you expect? It's ANet" to "What did you expect? It's beta." My feeling is much closer to the latter. You run tests to find out what doesn't work much more than what does. As Josh Davis, the WvW lead dev said in the thread

 "Obviously things didn't go the way we had intended, but it was still an incredibly valuable exercise for the team. We learned a lot, to say the least. We aspire to have our testing environments mirror the Live servers as much as possible, but there's nothing like having thousands of real players crash into a system all at once to expose issues!"

My main objection would be to the terminology. Clearly this wasn't any kind of "beta". As several commenters suggested "alpha" or even "pre-alpha" would have been more accurate. We're clearly a very long way indeed from anythihg you could justifiably call a "beta".

Ummm... where is everyone?

 

Other than that, I imagine it was immensely useful, if frustrating for the team behind it all. I imagine they'll have a much clearer idea now of what they did wrong and what they need to do next. How long that will take them and how successfully they'll be able to fix things is another matter entirely.

This, after all, is just a test of the most basic element of the new infrastructure, the sorting of players into teams. If that doesn't work, nothing will. On the other hand, once you've got the foundations down you can get on with building the house.

It's clear from some of the comments that there were people who expected the entire new Alliance system would be up and running in a couple of tests. ANet never said that or suggested it. It was always my expectation they'd aim to have the thing running smoothly by the time End of Dragons is ready early next year.

Whether this will set that agenda back is impossible to say. If I had to bet I'd say the thing will either be operational by EOD or we'll never see it at all. And given the big statements of commitment to WvW they've been tossing around recently I don't think they can afford for it to be never.

For now, though, it's everyone back to the worlds we know. Matchmaking goes on as before. New links, which should have happened last night on a normal cycle, will come next Friday. If anyone still cared about any of that I'm pretty sure they don't any more.

I know I don't. I do care that the double xp event is staying for the whole week, though. I'd like to be as high a rank as possible when/if the Alliance sysyem does arrive, just in case they end up incorporating that into the sorting process, somehow.

At this stage, frankly, they could do anything and no-one would raise an eyebrow.

2 comments:

  1. Hmmm, I normally expect "beta" to mean "we've got something that pretty much works. I mean, it's quite possible you'll find something that breaks but please, take it for a test drive"

    By the sounds of it, ANet was doing something more like what we call "testing in production" where I work. If you propose testing in production, it gets viewed as if you'd just uttered vile heresy, or suggested carnal knowledge of underage farmyard animals as a fun teambuilding exercise. As someone who used to have the job of signing off testing strategies, the response to testing in production for anything remotely complex or likely to impact customers was to send them away to rethink their approach. But this is fine, it's not as if completely restructuring WvW counts as complex...

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    1. "Testing in production" is literally ANet's policy for stuff like this. They have no equivalent of other games' public test servers or of the kind of short-term, project-specific beta servers EQ and EQ2 use in addition to their permanent test servers. They do internal testing, sometimes with invited guilds, and then they throw it on the live servers to see what happens.

      By that point its usually an official release so whatever goes wrong is just hot-fixed. Only for expansion-related stuff, where it's really part of the PR build up, and for specific projects like this and some PvP maps I remember them testing once, do they actually call it "beta testing".

      They've been doing it that way since launch so I guess they think it works. Evidence suggests otherwise but then in my not-so-limited experience games that do use test servers don't tend to do a lot better. Testing mmorpgs is hard.

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