Whenever a player starts a new MMO that requires a choice of server there is the possibility for a difficult choice. This difficulty is compounded when a player has been given a leadership role within a gaming community, where that person’s decision will affect a number of other players. Knowing as much as possible about the different servers and the game’s community at large can help make that decision easier. It is with that in mind that following the first Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event I asked members of the Guild Wars 2 community to provide me with their experiences of their servers over that weekend, so that it could be shared with everyone to help people make decisions.
I began by asking my followers on Twitter about their experiences, but was soon overwhelmed by the number I was receiving. I then decided to set up a form on my blog through which people could email me their experiences in a more measured way. I also included feedback solicited by another on the fansite Guild Wars 2 Guru. I felt this was important for getting a fuller picture of how people viewed their experiences on other servers that my followers and readers couldn’t reach, and also to see if people would respond differently if they knew the feedback wouldn’t be going directly to me.
In order to get the maximum benefit from the data, I’ve taken a somewhat scientific approach to collecting, analysing and reporting, but am mindful that this is a blog post meeting a research paper, rather than a research paper. For the sake of openness and fairness I have included every response I received directly, even where I felt that a response was likely to be a deliberate troll (with the exception of one which was someone asking me a question unrelated to this research). I have highlighted where I know the same person has responded on more than one channel and discounted this duplicate feedback from statistical analysis I’ve also removed all identifying remarks in comments including guild names and tags, and fansite names. Where feedback was provided on other sites, I’ve included posts that were direct replies to the original poster. I have not included my own feedback on my own encounters or those of people I was directly in contact with over the weekend.
If you’d like to read the original responses (and I recommend you do, they’re very insightful), there is a pdf of all the responses received (listed in the order they were received, and by server), and some statistical analysis of them. I will refer to specific items of feedback below but if you don’t want to wade through the responses then don’t feel like you’ll really lose out.
Making sense of it all
It should be noted that 121 responses of members of 42 of the 48 servers were recorded. This generated a mean of 2.52 responses per server. Considering each server has a population of hundreds, there is no way that the data gathered can be considered a large enough sample to give a fair and accurate representation of every server in the beta. This can be evidenced by very conflicting depictions of player experiences on the same server (for example, feedback ids 2 & 4, 39 & 42). However since this is likely to be the only place that people’s impressions and experiences of the beta will be shared with the wider community I consider the feedback worth distributing to help people make informed decisions in later beta weekends and on release.
The most responses for a single server were from Eternal Grove (17 responses). This may be because Eternal Grove was the server chosen by the English speaking Guild Wars 2 fansite and bloggers, and many of those people follow my Twitter feed. They’re also active participants in the community and so would have been more likely to come across my pleas for help on one of the channels I was looking for and more likely to respond.
Through reading the various comments across all sources, it is clear that problems with the overflow shard technology had a significant impact on the enjoyment of players over the weekend as it prevented guilds and friends from playing together (feedback id 27, 38). This is a sign of a high population in the same area, and possibly a sign of highly populated servers which is something that was highlighted in Mike O’Brien’s latest blog post. Some of the feedback indicated that by Saturday servers were filling up, meaning that guilds and friends got separated across the divides. ArenaNet have already indicated their intentions to improve how overflow shards function, but perhaps a further improvement would be to indicate how many available places there are remaining on a server to help communities decide if there is enough room for them on one.
Other server issues that were mentioned in feedback fairly frequently included lag (it was not clear if this actually meant lag or fps drop) and server downtime. This is to be expected during the first very large scale beta test and has no direct relationship on the nature of the communities on servers.
Respondents on my blog were asked if they would have preferred their server to be quieter, busier or as it was. Across all the servers, 60% were happy with how busy their server was, while 21.7% would have liked their servers quieter and 17.4% would have liked them busier. This may indicate that a few more servers would have been preferable to allow players to spread out a little more, but the sample size make this hard to say for sure.
Another reoccurring theme amongst feedback is the lack of written communication between players besides general niceties. This seemed to frustrate some players (feedback id 5, 36, 51) who also indicated they were dissatisfied with their choice of server. However this phenomena was not limited to one server or to one continent. The lack of written communication did appear to be offset by feedback of unwritten communication between players, for example people playing cooperatively or ressurecting others with neither party communicating in writing.
This may be explained in a number of ways. Players could be too busy trying to make the most of their brief time with the game to stop and communicate with others. The non-permanent nature of beta events could make the effort required to make friends seem pointless. Or, it could be that the game doesn’t require written communication because barriers between players have been removed. Body language, for want of a better phrase, may have become the primary means of communication between players.
Some commented that the amount of written communication increased significantly during the last few hours of the beta weekend. This could be because people had grown familiar with each other, or that focus had shifted from exploration to anticipating or experiencing the beta finale content. Lack of clear data in this are means that reasons for silence probably won’t be resolved clearly until the game is launched.
It also becomes apparent that this non-written communication doesn’t equate to a rude or uncaring server community (feedback id 20). People noted that they were resurrected by passing strangers who asked for nothing in return, and that people who were resurrected frequently thanked the person who had helped them. There was also one particular story (feedback id 73) where the player had gotten lost in an area that contained content that was too high for their character, and strangers of an appropriate level helped them get back to the right area with level appropriate content. These small exchanges of symbolic gestures often make a large difference in a community and are an encouraging sign.
Some commented that questions asked about the game were answered courteously. Conversely, there were relatively few mentions of especially unpleasant or rude language or behaviour. The feedback gives the impression that, on the whole, Guild Wars 2 servers contain quiet but informed and welcoming players, who were happy to silently and naturally assist or group with players in PvE whilst achieving whatever goals they were aiming for.
This is backed by 80% of blog respondents saying they were satisfied with their choice of server. Reasons for dissatisfaction included picking a server on the other continent (ie being in the US and picking an EU server), wanting a busier or quieter server. The only server that had more than one respondent dissatisfied with it was Ehmry Bay – one person commented that the server was too busy for their liking, while the other found it too quiet. As previously stated it is hard to draw concrete conclusions from the varied experiences people had on these servers, combined with differing expectations and preferences between players.
It is expected that the number of servers at launch will not be the same as the number of servers during the first beta weekend (due to the rising popularity of Guild Wars 2) and that server makeup will change as communities seek to find their ideal activity level. In addition the newer players may have a very different attitude to those who are currently playing on these servers (see the Eternal September effect).
As a result, it is not advised that community leaders use this feedback to decide which home servers to use during the next beta weekend (if a choice is offered) or at release. Rather, it is hoped that this feedback will help leaders decide if their selection criteria should be changed to find a server that would be of benefit to their community (in other words, deciding if the grass really is greener).
I would have liked to have compared the feedback between servers containing the larger generic communities, generic gaming communities and Guild Wars 2 centred communities, but was unable to find the list of who was going where when it came time to do the report. If you have a list of which communities were going on which servers, please contact me on my About Page and I’ll add that comparison.
Hopefully someone will find this useful!