Shifting Priorities

I have written previously about storyline paths differing between development and live teams in MMOs. I find myself looking at recent Guild Wars 2 updates and wondering whether there was a change in development teams or the same team deciding to shift directions. One could easily look at the first year of GW2 and say, “Wow, we made that way too zergy. Let’s dial that back.” But recent content has been not just dialed back but punishing of zergs, which means either they wanted a hard break with the past or someone different took over the reins of design.

On the one hand, some content encourages zergs, other content discourages it. Yes, not everything calls for the same strategy; that’s good design. On the other hand, almost everything did, for the better part of a year, call for the same strategy, so current players feel punished for doing what they’ve been taught to do, and it is not as if a huge wave of players loving non-zerg content will sweep into GW2 because a few updates were not pure zerg. You need to upset the apple cart atop your current playerbase for a long time and hope they stick around while you right it and turn it in a new direction. On the gripping hand, as I said of “punishing,” quite a bit of content did not encourage zergs so much as require on the order of 100 people to have a reasonable chance of success. The content being rebelled against still requires dozens of people but now requires you to herd those cats in multiple groups before the tools to manage that have come into existence. To say nothing of the switch from the original “show up and do what you want” approach of GW2, where content requiring synchronized dancing was hidden in a few instances.

Also, the boss blitz is just bad.

You have certainly seen that changeover in design philosophy, usually coupled with a changeover in design teams. The original GW1 was very different from the final game after the expansions. City of Heroes under Statesman was very different from City of Heroes under Positron, and I am not sure who was helming the switch to Incarnate content around the time I stopped playing. “Trammel” and “NGE” are famous design shifts that veteran MMO players will still debate in some forums given half a chance. A Tale in the Desert saw quite a few design shifts under the same management, but Teppy was always an experimenter; I have no idea where the game is headed under its new management.

Ingress has had a shift in emphasis over time from a geocaching-like game that focused on walking to rewarding car-based play. If you can’t see why that transition could be rocky, remember that my job was analyzing traffic deaths when I started blogging.

: Zubon

Wow, we don’t even have a post category/tag for Ultima Online. Then again, we don’t bring it up enough for me to want to create it.

9 thoughts on “Shifting Priorities”

  1. I suspect a large part of it was feedback from the previous Queen’s Jubilee. There were hints in the pavillion, the area famous for being a month-long farm, that players were supposed to split up, but the mechanics were so weak and easy to overcome that no-one ever bothered. You might remember that as part of that storyline, they introduced invasions all over the map, and players worked out that it was more lucrative to stop the invasion, scale it up, and farm the champions, which dropped tastier loot.

    I think it broke them. I imagine a wide-eyed stare from the content designers and a coffee mug smashed against the wall, because it’s after that update where they started moving hard against zergy content. One of the content designers mentioned the Marionette was explicitly trying to train players to self-organise – that is, to handle a little strategy, to take the raw players in front of them and teach them how to reliably kill a simple boss.

    If I’m right about their intentions, destroying the farm in the Crown Pavillion was a stroke of genius, because destroying the game’s most famous farming spot in the same update that the Queensdale champ train was destroyed sends a very strong signal about zerging.

  2. One of the more common criticisms that GW2 gets is that it is a ‘zergfest’, I don’t see anything at odds with them wanting to tackle that label. Even with the design for this event, it encourages groups of 7-10 which is a nice number where you can feel like you are making a contribution, and the rewards are good for gold completion, even better now with the latest hotfix where getting silver is worthwhile now and was quite achievable with only minor cooperation. Bronze is still questionable on whether it is better to go do something else if it’s only the rewards per time spent that are of interest but I think having that tension is good for the event, it is a much softer ‘failstate’ than the marionette for example.

  3. Another aspect to anti-zerg content independent of the “you need to play like this” motives the designers may have, I think the teams have finally come to the realization very few casuals out there have both the hardware and network feed to handle 80+ player battles. The “server optimization” team has probably fully explained to everyone in-house the scaling of CPU + network traffic on the server side required when you have n+1 players in the same “1200 radius” area madly firing off AOE skills. The player base has been fairly vocal about “culling” being the least desirable “fix”, which leads to reducing the number of players in an area being the other achievable fix.

  4. I see very little evidence of any consistent forward planing or design ethos from the ArenaNet team. They had a very clear plan that lasted until shortly after launch, after which it rapidly fell apart. Ever since then they’ve been in damage-limitation and reactive clean-up mode.

    Successful MMOs last a long time and change substantially and continually. It’s not surprising that GW2 two years out isn’t the same game. What is surprising is that it’s not turned into anything else instead. It’s just a mess that goes on getting messier update by update. And yet, even so, it’s still better than 95% of the competition.

    1. Only in MMO genere. The bigest achievement of GW2 for me is realisation, that MMO evolved into being I can’t stand anymore.
      Reading posts about GW2 is actually more fun than playing the game. The “mess” that You called, became lens for me, lens that let me see only game mechanics and pulls me away from enjoying the world (hard to enjoy Tyria anyway, when Living Story shattered lore to pieces and never bothered to glue them back, no matter how clumsy). The only appealing feature that left was… that I can spend time with my friends online.
      So, I talked with homies, we switched games (“Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura” at the moment) and we are having best time since… I don’t know? Vanilla WoW times?
      One of us forced himself to log in to GW2 some 2 days ago. I think he was jumping through and checking Blitz… and his comment on the matter was “never more! Don’t look back, never look back” (I added some dramatics for the effect ;) ).
      So yeah – it seems that MMO burned out for me, with undelivered promises from ArenaNet.
      (well… that escalated quickly. I wanned to throw my 3 words in answer to Bhagpuss and ended with another rant XD)

  5. Edit: Ahh, sorry, I forgot I have to turn other stuff on to get replies to work correctly. This was supposed to be a reply to bhagpuss.

    I pretty much agree with bhagpuss, especially about the shift in design very shortly after launch, but I don’t find it very surprising that GW2 hasn’t turned into anything else–I think it’s pretty hard to turn it into something else when you add very little permanent content to the game.

    The giant mess with no direction also makes sense to me, though. It’s like they wanted to try all the new things that would have gone into an expansion, but instead of testing and refining them internally before releasing a polished package, they tested and refined them in the live game itself, one at a time, throwing them into the game in whatever form they’d wound up in when the next 2-week deadline was up. By the end they’d learned a lot (we can hope), but it came at the cost of a mess of a living story and very little new and permanent content in the game.

    (I might be harping on the new, permanent content thing too much, but if so, it’s only because I primarily play dungeons and dungeons are primarily ignored.)

    1. Hey, there was a new dungeon path, and only one other path was removed. Having the same number of dungeon options available more than a year into the game is … progress?

      1. Yeah, I still don’t understand removing a dungeon path, although I think aetherpath is a really fun dungeon (if only they’d get rid of the stupid unskippable monologues). But to be fair, they also added fractals, which are fun, awful rewards and stupid instabilities notwithstanding. And the new fractals were a genuinely good addition, too, despite mostly being recycled living story content.

        Sorry, bit of a rant here:

        Beyond not having much new to do for a year and a half now, the more general problem for me is that it just feels like dungeons are a low priority. There’s no dev presence on the dungeon forum, for instance, and hasn’t been since Robert Hrouda stopped posting there (which was itself a little while before he was fired). When they changed one of the bosses in HotW, they literally copied and pasted a mob from AC–it still dropped AC tokens. (I don’t know if they finally fixed this, but it stayed in the game for a while at least.) Slaying potions were known to be broken for months (maybe longer?), but they only got fixed when they added Scarlet slaying potions for the Living Story (and then they got fixed quickly!). They fix exploits for dungeons haphazardly and incompetently–some exploits have been detailed on youtube for months or more without a fix, they often choose to fix things that don’t actually matter, and their initial fixes frequently fail.

        Don’t get me wrong–dungeons aren’t the only thing they’ve ignored. They’ve also ignored mixing town clothes, for instance. And really, these are probably smart choices–they probably don’t lose a lot of players, or at least not a lot of gem store money, by ignoring these fringe bits of the game. But oh well. I still really like GW2’s gameplay (and its dungeons!). I just wish there was a little more, and I have no reason to think there will be any time soon.

        1. Ah yes, Fractals. In fairness, those represent a lot more “paths.” That seems to be the direction dungeon content has taken: 1 variable dungeon.

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