Jul 302013
 

The Living Story is meant to be one of the big selling points of Guild Wars 2, in that it presents customers with an ever changing world in substantial regular updates. The idea of treating game updates like a TV show is an intriguing one, but does it actually work?

In my opinion, no, and putting my gripes with the execution aside that are well documented by others, it’s as much to do with how our expectations with TV have changed even over the last few years. In my lifetime (and I’m under 30) TV has gone from something that you see when it’s on, record to watch later or maybe buy the VHS to watch when you like, to something you don’t actually need a TV for. The On Demand format has put end to the days where you needed to wait until the TV channel deigned to release the series on a physical format. These days not having a good way to catchup is just a recipe to be the most pirated tv series in the world.

As things stand, the Living Story is executed like TV scheduling was in the 1990s. If you aren’t in at 8:30pm on Tuesday, sorry you missed the show. Being able to record TV helped with some of the issues (if you could work the VCR) but there’s no such luxury with gaming. And even if the various documented problems with the Living Story are addressed, and the changes outlined a couple of weeks back are introduced, this central issue won’t be resolved.

If you catch episode 5 in a series and like it, chances are you want to go back to episode 1 to see how it began (unless it’s Star Wars. Don’t do it with Star Wars). If the TV station doesn’t have on demand, other services are available. In Guild Wars 2, players who are joining in half way through or take a break have no means to catch up on the story, the main reason for this delivery system. I think that is a real shame, both for the players and for the developers whose work has been relegated to the delete bin.

Things have really changed in TV in the last 2 years, with social media becoming part of that “first watch” experience (TV speak for this is “second screen” if you haven’t heard that banded around yet). This phenomena highlights how much of storytelling is a communal experience, and this is something I strongly think that all storytelling has lost sight of.

For all the technical hardship of the karka invasion in November, it was memorable amongst those who attended because it was communal. Fighting shoulder to shoulder with your friends, making new ones, is meant to be something that MMOs do best and is something I think Guild Wars 2 has lost sight of. It’s hard to feel like everyone has been through a great event when you’re the only player character there. Guild missions are a point of where the game gets it right, especially when you run into another guild doing the exact same thing as you and everyone benefits.

My other problems with the Living Story have already been expressed brilliantly by Sypster so I’ll refrain from retreading that ground here. I’m looking forward to seeing how things evolve and while there’s indications that some elements may be improving, I feel like there’s a massive gap in the plans when it comes to fitting in with the individual schedules of players.

Communities and Barriers

 Posted by on January 31, 2013  Feedback, Guild Wars 2  4 Responses »
Jan 312013
 

For all it’s done to remove barriers between players, Guild Wars 2 has some odd eccentricities that pull people apart in weird ways. Allow me to explain.

I’m going to start with a situation that isn’t unique, but won’t be a problem that everyone faces. As a guild leader of a small to medium size guild (up to 18 online concurrently, 60 active members), dungeons are both great and a pest. Our members love them and do them daily. But because they require exactly 5 people to complete, they tie up a relatively large number of online members with consequences for others wanting to do other content with people. And given the horror stories (and experiences) with PUGs, there’s an understandable reluctance to go there, which presents a problem.

There are currently 2 ways forward; to grow the guild or make connections to other guilds and share members. The former isn’t really an adequate solution as it changes the nature of the guild. The latter is the better way forward (it worked for Guild Wars 1) but the game limits this kind of integration. The makeshift solution at the moment is to be a member of multiple guilds, but the 5 guild limit causes problems for leaders and officers looking to network.

In an ideal world, I’d love to see alliances return. A communal chat channel for multiple guilds, with the ability to name the group would do. Alliances allow guilds to make up for their individual deficiencies by complimenting each other. It’s a win win scenario. In the meantime, I’d love it if an account could join 10 or more guilds to stitch together these spider web alliances, even if there was a gold fee involved in doing so.

I won’t be surprised if (or should that be hoping that) at some point in the game’s life players are able to hire NPCs for dungeons. They’d be great for that last spot or two in the group, even if they cost a few silver to hire. Sure, you might not want to do Arah with them, but it’d allow you to do Catacombs without bringing a PUG. A pie in the sky idea maybe, but I think it could work.

A scenario that may be more common to others is grouping in the open world. You’ve got a few friends and you’d like to enjoy a shared experience exploring the world. Trouble is there’s 7 of you, not 5. You have to split into 2 groups and hope you manage to stay together and I can tell you that isn’t what happens. One group is inevitably faster than the other, and as there’s no quick way of locating them on the map, the groups start drifting apart until they’re have 2 separate experiences. I’m bewildered by this because most events will happily scale past 5 people while remaining a challenge. This is especially true in Orr, where taking the god shrines is a fantastic guild event that takes a large number of people to achieve.

The WvW commander book comes in handy for these kinds of events and is exactly why we had a whip round a couple of months ago so I could get one. In my experience in PvE, squad functionality is lacking. The only kind of interface is using /squadinfo (which isn’t detailed in game) which tells you who is in the squad and how much supply they have. There’s no way to remove someone who has joined, or way of seeing where others in the squad are. The only real benefit is that everyone nearby gets a beacon as to where the squad leader is and a shared chat channel.

Uncontesting Orr

MYST Uncontesting the Dwayna shrine in Orr

The functionality has helped us when it comes to big events. In December we ran an event uncontesting all the shrines in Orr which we loved and gave us a bit of love from others nearby. But becoming a commander is a heavy handed solution to the problem. I wouldn’t know where to start in WvW and would rather not have that functionality, but there aren’t any other options and I think the game would benefit from them.

Generally I think it’d be great if you could see people on your friends list who were in the same zone as you. I understand the overhead may be high for this though, so I’d like to also suggest either a modification to squads in PvE to make them a little more in line with parties (e.g. kicking abilities, tracking where others are). I think there may also be an argument for party boosters which allowed you to have (for example) 10 people in any party you lead for 24 hours. Of course, if you tried to enter a dungeon it would tell you you couldn’t unless you had 5 or fewer people – no unfair advantages wanted here.

Allowing larger party sizes might also be an advantage in WvW. ArenaNet have made some grumbles to the tune of wanting people to zerg less and party more, but 5 isn’t enough for many objectives in WvW. Being able to have parties of 10 may encourage people to split up into groups more. Or allow commanders to access the squad abilities without broadcasting the tag to others so they can lead people without inviting a zerg that draws more attention.

Ultimately however, the combat system is the biggest limiting factor to socialisation. Combat is so much more intense than other games that there is no time to type during combat (I’m talking about level 50+ here). Players get tunnel vision on the mob they’re fighting and the next one ahead, and forget there’s a box in the corner to speak to people. This first came to my attention during the various server surveys I did before release – people noted that the servers were quiet even though people they met acted in a friendly manner. People didn’t need to speak because the game let them play together without barrier or need. It’s gotten worse as time went on.

Yet I am happy that this is the cause of so many problems, as intense combat leads to a more engaging experience. If it leads to a more entertaining game is up to the opinions of individuals. This does bring a temptation to put more emphasis on voice communications within a guild but this brings more problems. Not everyone has the means or wants to sit on a voice server all the time they’re playing. And when you consider how many times you talk to someone you randomly meet going about your daily business, it’s more an echo of art imitating life than anything wrong (in my opinion).

So there you have it. My take on why Guild Wars 2 drives people apart as much as it brings them together. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so please do leave your comments below or get hold of me on Twitter.

Aug 122012
 

It’s no secret that when it comes to MMOs, I generally play a ranger class. In Guild Wars 1, I’ve spent over 6000 hours in the company of my Ranger – nearly half of all the time my main account has accumulated. I’ve played one in Aion and cobbled one together in Rift. Generally, I love them with a passion that’s only occasionally rivalled by healing classes. I also haven’t exactly been quiet about how disappointing my experiences with Ranger in early demos of Guild Wars 2 were. Frankly, I felt like the heart had been ripped from the profession I loved. I was not, to put it lightly, a happy bunny. But that was all a long time ago now, so on Friday night during the stress test I figured it was only fair to give the Ranger another shot. Would the changes, balances and tweaks have made my experiences better?

Hello from Queensdale

It seems I’d made a human ranger sometime in BWE3 to reserve a name, so hopped on and joined some guildmates in Queensdale. I wanted to get as wide a view on the profession by experiencing as many different weapons as possible, so focussed on completing renown hearts and dynamic events, trying to stay in areas 2 levels above my own. By the time I logged off at around 3:30am UK time, my Ranger was nearly at level 11 and I’d already gotten some “favourite” weapons. So, here’s my impressions of the ranger after a relatively short time together.

Let’s start with the pet. In earlier days, I’d found the pet to be more of a hinderance than a help. It frequently got lost and as it was far more powerful than the ranger itself, I felt like a cheerleader

playing it rather than a hero. I’d heard various complaints about the pet being squishy and pointless during the Beta Weekends. This was not my experience during the stress test and I felt that the pet had reached a certain amount of balance with the ranger. While the pet definiately helped with damage output and was use for aggro diversion, I didn’t feel like the pet could take down an enemy solo and I could see the impact my character’s skills were having. The pet was a necessary element of combat, but not overpoweringly so. When the pet died I felt disadvantaged and exposed. Yes, pets do go down quite quickly and switching pets and using their special abilities is something that rangers will need to get used to doing to make the most of combat. But, that’s the same with every profession’s primary mechanic. Also, pets now resurrect themselves out of combat which will most certainly take a lot of the tedium out of being a pet owner. Are they appropriately sentient? No clue. That will need more careful testing.

To the weapons then. I got to try a variety of weapons including dual wielding axes, axe and sword, shortbow, longbow and greatsword. Now, the next bit of the “review” needs to have a major caveat; the manner I was playing the stress test did not lend itself well to getting a good view of melee combat. I was fighting enemies that were over my level and I wasn’t upgrading my armor properly. So needless to say, when I got into the further regions of Queensdale using melee weaponry, I died a lot. That said, there weren’t any weapons I really hated. I had the greatest affinity for the shortbow, I think because the skills it has are similar to how I play my ranger in Guild Wars – plenty of conditions! I probably least enjoyed the dual axes build. Frankly, I still miss the “haha, you’re screwed” feeling that used to come from a well timed d-shot (and have since found from using Static Field to trap enemies in WvW), but I have a feeling that if I keep looking and play around with traits I might find it on the ranger again.

Is 3 and a half hours long enough to get a good view of a class? Probably not, but it’s enough to make up your mind about if you would be happy playing more and I can say that I’d be very willing to go back and give the ranger a bit more time; which I’ll be doing in around 30 minutes! The plan is still to roll mesmer at release, but the ranger may just make it on the alt list.

 

Where’s that humble pie? I need a slice.

Aug 062012
 

In a few weeks we’ll be stepping foot inside Tyria again for real. One important decision everyone will need to make is what server to call home and I’ve set myself the challenge of researching the communities on each of the Guild Wars 2 servers. So after the final beta weekend I asked members of the Guild Wars 2 community for the experiences of their servers. The response was more immense than I could of hoped for. I can only offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the time to fill in the survey and help their fellow players (and myself) out!

 

Gathering information

Using the previous survey as a base and building on the areas that the survey fell short on last time, I built up a short set of questions covering information that included the number of guilds people were a member of, how satisfied they were with their choice of server, their experiences on their servers and the languages spoken on them. The existence of the survey was promoted to my followers on Twitter and retweeted several times by individuals and fansites within the Guild Wars 2 community. It was also promoted on Guild Wars 2 Guru, the Guild Wars 2 sub-Reddit and Guild Wars 2 Nederlandstalige Community.

As with the last survey, I have included every response I received even where I felt that response may have been deliberately misleading, and removed offensive words and identifying comments from the feedback. Again, the questions, original responses and some statistical analysis is available in a pdf for you to enjoy (if you enjoy that kind of thing). I’ll refer to some feedback below, and draw out the more interesting statistics.

General comments

There was a far larger response to this survey than the previous two undertaken. Combined with the fewer number of servers provided for the final Beta Weekend event, the responses will give a better indication of what the communities and experiences of people on those surveys were actually like. However, caution must be undertaken when applying the findings of this survey. The ArenaNet blog post What’s New in the Final Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event indicated that “hundreds of thousands of players” were expected to take part in the final event, and the 365 responses are a very small sample of that expected amount.

That said, only 2 servers gave no response at all and there were 13 servers who gave 10 or more responses. This makes this the most reliable of my surveys so far and I am hopeful that people may find the information contained within it useful when it comes to choosing their server for release. However the variety of comments from the same server means that the results must be taken with a large pinch of salt!

 

Game Formats

There are no large differences between the two regions when it comes to the main formats people were playing over the final beta weekend. Overall 83% of responders said they spent most of their time this weekend in PvE, compared with 12% in WvW and 5% in PvP.

When asked about their experiences in the different formats, some interesting differences emerged. There was some irregularity between those who answered “Did Not Play Format” between the 3 questions (for example, some who indicated they did not play a format in one question gave their experiences of that format in the other two). Overall nearly 98% did some form of pve, while only 35% did some form of sPvP. Those on European servers are more likely to do some form of PvP than American Servers – over 7% difference in both sPvP and WvW.

 

Guilds

There was a large difference between the number of people who chose not to be in a guild on the American and European servers, with 13% more Europeans being a member of one or more guild(s).

Across all servers, of those in a guild 79% of those who responded were in only 1 guild. This was slightly lower on American servers (75%), who had proportionally more people in 2 (17%) or 3 (5%) guilds than Europe (14% and 1%).

 

Countries & Languages

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were 10 more countries represented on European servers (25) than on American servers (15). In addition there were 9 more languages seen on European servers (17) than on US servers (8). This diversity showed through in comments about server communities, with some responses expressing frustration at the number of different languages spoken on their chosen server. Some also commented about the overflow servers being grouped together, which added to linguistic frustration. In general these comments did not occur alongside reports of negative server satisfaction.

Even though there was a large variety of languages spoken on the various European servers, each server did seem to have a primary language. English was spoken to some extent on all servers.

 

Sense of Community Throughout the Formats

Trying to measure a sense of community is extremely tricky, but the responses from 3 questions broken by format were used to attempt to get an impression of moment to moment life on a server and in the two regions. The amount of text in the various formats gives an indication of communication and resurrection gives an indication of symbolic interaction while perceived co-ordination gives an indication of working towards a common goal.

By format overall PvE scored highest on the sense of community factors, with more positive responses to the quantity of text communication, resurrection and overall coordination. WvW was positive overall, but less so than PvE. However, PvP scored quite low on the text and resurrection factors, and less positively in cooperation. This may be in part due to the fast paced nature of PvP compared to the other two formats, along with its quick resurrection timers.

The differences in responses between the two regions were highest in PvP, with a less negative reaction overall in text and cooperation on US servers while EU servers were slightly ahead with resurrection. Overall the differences don’t give a clear indication of one region scoring higher in sense of community factors.

 

Community

Just as with the second Beta Weekend, the comments received on community are pretty hard to analyse objectively. Generally speaking the comments seem positive about the communities on all servers, with most containing some form of positive and negative experience. Few of the comments were entirely negative about their server. A number of people commented that they spent most of the weekend playing solo and some of these highlighted a lack of community outside a guild. Others said they didn’t notice any community on their servers at all, which was countered by rare stories of people going significantly out of their way to help their server mates.

Amongst the various comments, there were a few that spoke of the community in Guild Wars 2 being better than the community in other MMOs, but some of these also mentioned that they felt the community was worse than it had been for Beta Weekend 2. A few comments expressed frustration at being forced to move servers that they had been on for the last 2 weekends to the detriment of the community. Amongst European servers, there were comments of frustration about the number of different languages being used on overflow servers.

Compared to the community responses for Beta Weekend 2, there were more comments relating to trolls on the servers and complaints about being forced into overflow servers.

 

Satisfaction and Server Population

When it comes to server population, there are a few relatively minor differences between the two regions. Those on American servers expressed a higher preference for their servers to be busier than their European counterparts (35.75% reported they’d prefer the servers to be “A little busier” or “A lot busier” compared to 30.64% in Europe). Conversely 15.59% of those who responded from European servers would have preferred their servers to be “A little quieter” compared with 6.70% of those on American servers. Both regions had roughly the same percentage of responses that expressed “No strong feelings” about their server populations.

The overall results between the two regions when it comes to server satisfaction are roughly equal, with there being slightly more people who reported being unsatisfied with their server choice on US servers. 5% more of their counterparts on European servers reported being satisfied with their server choice.

 

Conclusion

When it comes to choosing a server for release, it’ll be up to you to consider what the most important factors are to your in game happiness. The overwhelming outcome of this survey is the variety of differences between all servers in terms what formats the majority of the population play, the language base and the sense of community on the server. Hopefully it’ll be of some use when people come to make their decisions.

It’s unfortunate that some contributors commented that the sense of community had deteriorated from Beta Weekend 2 to Beta Weekend 3 (the final beta weekend), but this is in line with expectations. Further analysis will need to be done to see if there is any statistical evidence to back up these reports. However there did seem to be a better quantity of servers for the final weekend, especially for US servers. Given the comments regarding the language problems on overflow servers in Europe, I think it may be a good idea for ArenaNet to investigate how they are grouping the servers together to try to provide the most harmonious output.

 

Your Feedback

If you’ve found this information useful to you, please do drop a note in the comments below. Currently I have no plans to do any more of these surveys, but if I get enough feedback from people saying it’s worthwhile doing, I will.  Likewise, please contact me if you have any feedback you’d like to give about the content of the survey itself.

Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend – Have Your Say Part 3

 Posted by on July 23, 2012  Beta, Feedback, Guild Wars 2, Oh shit maths  Comments Off on Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend – Have Your Say Part 3
Jul 232012
 

After the last 2 beta weekend events, I’ve done surveys to try and get an idea of the communities developing on each beta server. It’s been really interesting hearing people’s experiences of their servers and I’ve had a great response from the community.

This weekend, I’m doing it all over again. I’d like you to fill in the form below with your experiences of your server this weekend. If you moved servers over the weekend, please fill in the form for each server. Please try to put any problems with the game itself out of your mind, except where you think your server would have made a difference.

Please do share the link around! This kind of survey only has worth if lots of people from different servers take part. Thank you!

Edit: I’ve had an immense response so far, so thank you to everyone who has filled this in or passed it on to others. However there is still more data to be gathered. If you know someone who was one of the following servers, I’d be extra grateful if you could ask them to fill in this survey. They’re the servers I’ve either had little or no response from:

US Anvil RockEU Augury Rock [FR]EU Ring of Fire
US Isle of JanthirEU Boreal StationEU Umbral Grotto
EU Abaddon's Mouth [DE]EU Fort Ranik [FR]EU Underworld

If you’re not from one of these servers, please do fill in the form. You’ll be helping to get a better view of your server

I’ll be accepting responses until 30th July 2012 and hope to publish the results a week later on 6 August 2012. Thank you for your help and for sharing the link to your friends and followers.

Second edit: I have stopped collecting responses to the survey. Thank you to everyone who submitted their experiences – more people have replied to this survey than any other I’ve done before by a wide margin. I will be releasing the results on the 6th August 2012 on this blog.