[GW2] The ArenaNet Service

I was going to write about necromancers today. ArenaNet decided otherwise. Their public face has swung a gigantic hammer today. Not only do players hear about the next new thing: The Bazaar of the Four Winds, but ArenaNet put up a wave of discussion on the service they want to provide. I highly recommend listening to the Game On podcast at mmorpg.com and reading and watching Colin “The Serious Don’t Smile” Johanson’s official post.

Stepping back to view our favorite genre, MMOs are a service. At the base level the developer hosts a playground. In the current MMO market, the service must also include updates to be a viable studio. Updates are the lifeblood of MMOs. What other genre has fans chomping at the bit to read patch notes? Patch notes can bring swarms of players back to the game. They are like treasures such that people are willing to break contracts to leak them out. For quite some time, MMOs have been living worlds and their living documents have been the patch notes.

In conventional cases, the cadence of these updates is rather slow with regard to the degree that players can consume the content. Usually the stickiness of this content is placing repetition in to this content to require players to re-consume the content. This has caused the pockmarked term “themepark MMO” to become one of derision. How many times must I ride the same ride?

Guild Wars 2 is attempting to change the face of Western MMOs. Every two weeks they want something new and significant. In this two-week cadence, for example, there is a new, difficult dungeon, a treasure hunt to return to out-of-the-way places, and a new, permanent jumping puzzle. Last bi-week there was a festival and small, personal story. Next week there is new zone, PvP map, mini-game, and a significant update to the achievements/reward system.

I say Western MMOs because I’ve heard that the Eastern MMOs coming out of Korea, China, and Japan already have an MMO culture where content updates are expected at least on a monthly basis. I wish I had a concrete article to cite, but I’ve heard it mostly through the grapevine. Oh and I’m just about to lose my mind. Where was I?

The interesting buzz word I see emphasized in this crashing wave of publicity is “permanent”. I know when I decide to romp through Southsun to get a few daily achievements and flowers, I feel a slight pang of loss. This land was active and good, until the next update attacked. I think there was a small backlash with all the non-permanent additions that people could miss. Now, the July 9th release is stacked with permanent content in addition to non-permanent.

Now in my opinion this is the kind of service I would expect from a subscription MMO where an automatic tithe was withdrawn each month from Uncle Amex. So far ArenaNet has not required any sort of DLC purchase or anything similar to play the game. This is amazing, and also a little worrying. It really puts the onus on players to have to decide themselves to support the game. I usually spend about $10 a month on gems. I also usually ask for gem cards for gifts. I’m sure there are a multitude of active players that have never bought gems in any fashion. It is a good idea to tip your server.

With this constant update schedule, I know that some other second-string MMOs I play and love have simply fallen to the wayside for now. I still haven’t decided whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I am loving the freshness that ArenaNet brings to Guild Wars 2 nearly every week.

–Ravious

28 thoughts on “[GW2] The ArenaNet Service

  1. João Carlos

    IMHO, a lot of GW2 features will be added to other western MMO, sooner or later. And not only the living content.

  2. bhagpuss

    By complete co-incidence I wrote earlier today about the pace of updates in GW2 and their somewhat confusing tone and range. I hadn’t either heard the interview or read the PR pieces at the time. If I had I might have framed some of my observations and concerns a little differently.

    I thought Chris Whiteside came over as particularly involved and motivated in the podcast and it’s certainly a very ambitious schedule they’ve set themselves. Apart from the risk of lack of focus such a firehose of updates might bring, I have to say that from my own point of view I’m far from sure I want substantial new content dropping every other week. I guess that’s really going to depend on what the content is. Chances are there will be more and more that I’ll just skip.

    It’ll be easier to do that, too, if significant updates really do appear like clockwork every second Tuesday. When an MMO only updates in a big way every two or three months most people playing it will be hungry to sink their teeth into whatever comes along; on a two-week schedule it’s going to be a lot easier to take a glance at the list, pick a couple of items and let the rest slide.

  3. kichwas

    Its a big worrying… Every 2 weeks means too much for many to keep up with, and the risk of quantity outstripping quality: something we’ve already been seeing.

    The counter point is that the game won’t ever feel stale.

    But the biggest risk I see, even if they can overcome the other hurdles, is that it will mean no big changes. Big changes as in… that Expac we’re all waiting for… Or the return or Elona and Cantha.

    A lot of changes to the water in the fish tank is great an such… but we’ll still be in the same 5 gallon fishbowl…

    1. gwj

      Who said they won’t be doing expansions? They mentioned they’re increasing the size of their team, and I doubt that’s so they can continue the same content cycle they’ve been running for the past year.

      1. kichwas

        Split attention – so much attention on pushing out all of these small bits of content distracts away from doing a major piece, and will make it harder to integrate. They’ve brought on 4 living story teams, to do an XPac justice would take maybe twice that manpower or more – and not just coders and one half-brained story writer split between 3 teams like they seem to have now (judging by the poor quality of the writing staff), but artists, and multiple high-quality story writers, and so on. An xPac is less coders, and more artists and writers. They seem to be going more coders, more ‘composite builders’, and less of the other efforts.

        1. Lohrian Airgetlam

          I wouldn’t write off the possibility of expansions so easily, although we might have to start changing our mindset on this as well.

          There is a very interesting phrase in Colin Johanson’s post that really caught my attention: “We’ll introduce new maps and regions to the world permanently, but with a storyline that drives their creation and discovery to make them feel natural”.

          This sounds like expansion but in a more gradual way. It seems like they are still experimenting with their business model which makes sence as they are going where no one has been before. It looks to me they have found out they don’t need (at least at the moment) to sell an expansion in order to make a profit. They are hiring new people which seems to point out that they are making enough money out of the gem store to be able to support the game with biweekly updates.

          Adding new regions sounds like gradual expansions not funded by selling a continent and it’s content in the game but by new skins, mini’s and all they can think of to sell us on each update. And to be honest I even can see how they can use this system to go back to Cantha or Elona. Who said those continents don’t have their own issues or who knows even dragons. But let’s asume it just a matter of a big bad army of (fill in your preferred enemy) having contol of Cantha or Elona and we will have to do an Orr like landing and fight our way through the continent to open up new regions and content. Perfect fit for biweekly updatea if you ask me.

        1. Ravious Post author

          That’s interesting. I’ve always read xpacs weren’t the focus, but he flat out says if they do Living World right, they won’t need one.

          That’s very interesting because xpacs have a high gravitational pull. The bi-week Living World as fun as it is… well the gravitational pull to inactive players is much smaller.

          They are trying to rely on constant pull instead of huge splashes.

        2. João Carlos

          @Ravious

          Teh problem with a huge splash of gravitational pull is taht that will burn out fst. See what happened to the 3 last WoW expansions.

  4. Zubon

    Having started with Asheron’s Call, I just expect MMOs to update monthly. Come on, guys, this is what we do.

    1. Ravious Post author

      I wish I had experienced the glories of AC and AC2 during those times. All I know of Turbine is LOTRO and DDO, which has a pretty good pace on things for their MMOs.

  5. Lohrian Airgetlam

    On the one hand it is amazing to see them pull this off and really create an ever changing world in which there will always be something else to do.

    On the other hand the updates are so fast that I as a casual player (small kids don’t allow for a lot of playtime) don’t have time to keep up with it. Lately i just felt I was chasing the updates and could catch up to the point where I couldn’t do anything else anymore. So I decided to go back to playing the core game and mostly ignored the last two updates.

    Anyways it’s not possible to keep everyone happy and it’s a choice they have to make between making the hardcore players want to stay and having casual players miss out on stuff. It’s something I will have to live with.

    1. João Carlos

      I think the soilution for casual players with really few time is skip some living world content: first go look if the event have any item you are interested to have, then decide what to do and what not to do, sometimes just skip the event compeltelly.

      Sincerelly, all the rewards are diferent skins. The rewards that are exotic can have diferent stats, but are not superior to any other exotic armor, so it is basically a skin.

    2. Curuniel

      I came to the same conclusion as Joao Carlos. My attitude in the past has been that I want to and should at least attempt all event content that happens while I’m playing, and I want to get all event meta-achievements as a kind of proof that I was there! But I doubt I’ll get the Aetherblade one and I’m actually not too worried about it. With new content and new goals up so often, I have to shift my thinking to “what is it this week and does it appeal to me” rather than “omigosh an event, must work through the achievements.”

      1. Vulpis

        So in other words, instead of this becoming new content for the game, it ends up instead as more of a ‘Oh, $deity, what are they trying to do *this* time?’ (That is, something to be ignored/avoided, rather than something that encourages you to participate)
        One other thing that bothers me about this time frame is that it doesn’t leave very much time for actually testing the content before making it live–and given thier already-established track record there…this does *not* sound like a good idea. I’d rather have less frequent, permanant additions to the game that are tested and *work*, rather than a revolving door of semi-tested code that you’ll have to worry about them cleaning up after as much as the implementation itself (I’ve been running into some nice examples of *those* over on Rift, getting Quest items for the middle of quests that got removed several versions back when one of the quest-spawning mechanics, ‘Ancient Wardstones’ was removed). If a company with *great* support has a problem with cleaning up after something they took out years ago, imagine what’s going to happen when ArenaNet is adding and *removing* code every two weeks? Can we get some sauce for that spaghetti?

  6. Jeromai

    While I think a quick two-week pace would surely keep things refreshing and novel, I do worry about the number of bugs and broken things that will end up slipping in, even if there are four teams being staggered to accomplish this in a 2-month turnaround period. I’ve fallen into holes in the new jumping puzzle that have required a mesmer to unstick me with a portal, for example.

    A 3 or 4 week update period makes a lot more sense. I haven’t had time to even step into WvW or farm over the last two weeks, between chasing new content and visiting the odd dungeon or two. I really preferred the Secret of Southsun or Flame and Frost pace, even if the latter was a mite too slowly paced.

  7. Machination

    It must be a mentality thing.

    In a themepark, you’d feel a bit robbed if they kept swapping out temporary rides every 2 weeks. What if you can’t make it to the park every 2 weeks?

    In a sandbox, no one complains about missing “content” because the experience IS the content. By definition, every moment you experience in a sandbox is missing out a thousand other possibilities that you could have experienced instead. Didn’t get to visit city X before it was take over by that other guild? Well it doesn’t matter that you “missed” that experience, because now there’s a new experience waiting (the chance to retake the city).

    Now don’t get me wrong, sandboxes have their own unique problems.

    But I think it’s a mentality thing.

    1. Ravious

      I agree, or perhaps in another sense it’s all about expectations. When I poked at themepark MMOs it was because one of the biggest complaints of a conventional themepark MMO. People do expect repetition, but then it’s a complaint for many too.

      The problem of missing content under the update speed of Guild Wars 2 is a definitely viable complaint too.

      1. João Carlos

        @Ravious “The problem of missing content under the update speed of Guild Wars 2 is a definitely viable complaint too.”

        I think it is funny no one see a problem with the content in a sandbox MMO be temporary. In a sandbox, if you were not there, you lose it. And EVE marketing it is based at that fact: “I was there and saw it!”

        If we follow your logic, people need complaint a lot about EVE, because EVE have only temporary content.

        1. Vulpis

          They probably would, if not for the masses of other things to complain about in Eve. :-)

  8. Curuniel

    “tip your server” – I love it. Stealing that.

    I don’t care if content is permanent or event-only, but I think it is going to take some change in expectations for myself and others. Right now I don’t want to miss a thing; I want to get all the meta-achievements and little items just so in future I have something to show for being there. As this moves on, I am telling myself that if I miss a month, there’ll be something else next month; I won’t get everything, but there’ll always be new historical, one-off occasions to attend and treasure.

    ArenaNet seem confident that they can maintain the game while keeping a big enough team to run the living story this way, and that they can make enough money from the gem store to fund it. Certainly I see new gem store vanity items spread through my server extremely quickly. Here’s hoping it remains viable!

  9. bhagpuss

    When I read the claims ANet are making for this schedule I was thinking the same thing as Zubon, only about Everquest. I went to Allakhazam and checked the patch message archive and it’s not nostalgia talking. Patching new content was a continual process back in 1999-2004 and not just bug fixes either. In one six month period in 2003, for example, EQ revamped (very significantly) 14 zones, added three brand new zones and launched a full expansion. We had many, many storyline events, some of which lasted hours, some of which lasted weeks. And we had GMs and guides adding content on the fly almost daily. That was a “Living World” if you like.

    The difference was that the revamps were “permanent” (at least until later revamps) and we had no Achievements in those days so no-one was keeping score.

    And the “no expansion this year or next and maybe never” announcement is the single most depressing piece of MMO news I can remember hearing this year. I’d take an annual expansion over no Living Story content at all any day.

    1. Vulpis

      Hmm. I’m wondering if some of the other commenters are right, and it’s not so much ‘no expansion’ as it is ‘expansion in dribs and drabs rather than one big chunk’.
      Of course none of this adresses the problem I have with this whole scheme–‘You like the content we’re running now? Well flarg you, we’re deleting it next week!’. I commented on this to a friend, and they pointed out that ‘it’s not a problem, it’s a feature.’. Blech…at least CoX had Oroburos.

      1. Curuniel

        Sadly yes, it is a feature. It means resigning ourselves to missing some things, but I think that’s the trade-off for a living world (a concept that I really like) – in a living world, things change, and if you’re not there you’re not there. They’ve already compromised it by moving away from the actual once-off events and adding more instances that are accessible for a week or two, so that you can come in at your leisure during the event to do it. It would be more real-world paced if that wasn’t the case, but players want to be able to do everything – we consider it content we have a right to, rather than events that happen with or without us.

        1. Vulpis

          Well, there’s also the more fundamental problem of ‘Why should I bother playing this, when either I won’t finish the content before time runs out, or the content I’m enjoying isn’t going to be there the next time I play?’ The issue isn’t so much with adding content, it’s with *removing* content.

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