On The Edge of Irrelevance: Guild Wars 2’s PvP Nosedive

I am going to toot my own horn, but it’s a really sad tune I’ll be playing. I was right, but I really didn’t want to be right about this.

We Saw This Coming

One of the main complaints from the PvP community about the choice of Conquest as sPvP in Guild Wars 2 is the Capture Point rule set. This doesn’t mean that capture point games aren’t common or unpopular, but that they rarely become the accepted test of skill in PvP type games.

And once you neutralize or capture, then there is no benefit to hanging around. There is likely a contested area or node that needs you more at the time. It is possible that you could design your team to have sets of two players who feature a highly supportive and defensive player with someone of decent damage output to take a node and sit on it. The problem then becomes that the battle is a war of attrition. Prolonged battles and over-balance are two of the major reasons the Guild Wars PvP scene died off after being so healthy for years. If your ruleset and map dictates prolonging fights to preserve nodes then it shrinks the type of builds and strategies to use.

In larger head-to-head battles you have more room for builds to specialize into different roles and for players to coordinate their playstyle with the playstyle of their teammates. What this means is that you could have a six on six head-to-head battle with different team makeups on each side, as opposed to a standardized Cap Point team.

In Capture Point, if you try to stick together as a single swarm, then you’ll likely lose. You can’t force large battles in Conquest. If most of your team is at one spot then you give up the other two nodes. Running, delaying and interfering matter most. What the PvP community wants are those team vs team situations where the battle is all out, and it’s a matter of supporting and controlling both sides. Players want to be sized up against the whole of the other side. They don’t want to succeed at their node running, just to realize they’re losing because of something that is happening on the other side of the map for which they have no input on or access to. Players also want the extra strategy of team builds.

What ArenaNet risks by going fully in with just Conquest is alienating the playerbase that would make the sPvP attractive. You can’t be bigtime without the respect of the community because you won’t draw the community to care and be competitive about your game. You will get, and forgive the elitism here, the second and third tier players to fill in the gap of talent. In other sports, there are minor leagues and spinoff leagues. There has been basketball leagues that use trampolines and favor dunking because it has a high entertainment value. These minor leagues don’t ever rise above the level of sideshow because nobody truly respects them. They don’t draw the top talent and thus don’t draw the big attendance. I feel this is the same for E-sports. ArenaNet can’t go out there and try to push E-sports while being PowerDunk Ball.

–  The E-Sports Charade

I wrote those blocks of text over a year ago on May 24th, 2012. It was a warning about the future of PvP in the game if they stuck with Conquest. I think the PvP community will find those “warnings” extremely relevant right now, especially the final paragraph.

The Tournament Finals Swansong

At the one year anniversary bash, ArenaNet held their tournament final between the top European team and the top North American team. If I could describe the feel of everything about this in two words, it would be “awkward” and “depressing”.

The Anniversary Bash stream was above 5k viewers during the early parts of the event. People watched the opening address and the Q&A. The final part of the event was the match between Car Crash and Sync for the PVP championship. At this point, the twitch fell below 5k viewers, and then loss more viewers as the match went on.

However, it was already awkward before that. The devs kept trying to pump up the match, but the live audience issued a muttering of applause, seemingly clueless about the two teams, or just not interested in the event itself. When it came to Q&A time, a lone player from Crystal Desert asked why there wasn’t more modes for PvP in the game, and where the beloved modes from Guild Wars 1 were to be found in the game. In response, the Dev Panel looked at each other, somewhat clueless and scared. There was not a single spvp dev on the panel. The closest person to this was Devon Carter, who handles WvWvW. After the group sat quiet a second, Colin Johannson jumped on the “grenade” of a question, and effectively dodged it with a rambling bit of PR.

Meanwhile, the entire twitch stream was filled with people spamming “GvG” in the chat for the entirety of the event. The entire thing felt like a trainwreck for PvP rather than the showcase ArenaNet intended it to be.

The Victory Funeral

Following the championship, players took to the forums and expressed their issues with the handling of the PvP question, and how generally uninteresting the match was itself.

Players complaining on forums is nothing new. However, long time sPvP player, and large contributor to the cause Xeph announced his retirement from the game the following day. He said his reasons were numerous, but you could sort of tell the Anniversary Bash and its recent news was a tipping point.

The post was deleted, but the damage was done.

It’s Not the Incentives

Xeph felt the PvP lacked incentives to attract players, but that’s never really been a big part of highly successful PvP. Most of the reward comes from winning and the winning actually meaning something. Ultimately, there must be some pride in the accomplishment of winning. Guild Wars 2 lacks that feeling. It lacks is because Conquest mode is Powerdunk Ball. it’s not what people care about, and ArenaNet never listened.

And now their planned high moment is a depressing final death cry.

Can it be saved? Sure. It’s not like ArenaNet is facing any real competition in the MMO PvP space. However, they need to focus on what people care about in MMO PvP. Don’t be a MOBA. Don’t spread small skirmishes across a map. People are getting that already, and there’s a whole other audience being ignored. That audience wants tactical, skilfull, and gear balanced team fights. It doesn’t have to be deathmatch. You can establish a goal to fight over, but that goal must involve two teams fighting together.  People watch MMO PvP for the group play, Remember that.

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Prevails

A strange thing happened upon the way to Guild Wars 2’s one year anniversary: it became very successful. According to some research,Guild Wars 2 is the fastest selling MMO based in the Western part of the world. Taking a gander at NCSoft’s quarterly reports, and making an idiot’s guess at the numbers, it seems the game is making ANet about 9-10 million a month.

Also, ArenaNet has moved towards a 2-week update schedule for their patches and Living World system.

But perhaps you thought all MMOs failed. Perhaps you heard that the game was dead. Perhaps you are wondering how this happened. So, let’s take a look at why Guild Wars 2 prevailed where other MMOs failed.

Oh boy, a numbered list of reasons!

    1. Those other MMOs did not fail. This is important to understand. Those other MMOs switched business models, and that’s important to this list, but let’s not continue the chant of “fail”. Many of the subscription MMOs that went towards Free-to-play or Buy-to-play models did so because they could make more money from those models. And guess what? They did. Check out Zenofdesign blog for a look into SWTOR’s tranisition. It’s a good read.
    2. ArenaNet budgeted correctly. Those that have played Guild Wars 2 know the game doesn’t have grand, impressive cinematics. ArenaNet has changed their story presentation in a way to better accommodate the speed of development, but they never spent as much on cinematics as their competitors did.And despite the hype at launch, there wasn’t a lot of advertising for the game. It carried out its message through social media and word-of-mouth, both exceptionally cheap forms of PR. There was a launch commercial made, but it was awful and quickly and quietly done away with. These sort of decisions reduced the game’s development cost.
    3. ArenaNet and NCSoft created a fair Cash Shop.  The MMO community sometimes finds itself stuck in the world of fools and idiots. “F2P is P2W.” You can still people say this phrase even though many former sub MMOs have gone F2P with little change in the user’s experience. However, it was important for Guild Wars 2 to clearly stand in opposition of this viewpoint. To get around this issue, the GemShop was created. Most of the items in the cash shop are cosmetic items that sell o power advantage. Other items are boosters, and account services. Account services have long been a pay-for feature in MMOs, so that’s nothing new. Boosters are also random drops as rewards from chests, dailies, and can be attained easily through food buffs.The game does have a jackpot mechanic in its Black Lion Chests, but there’s never any source of power advantage within the chests. Not losing money on these items is a matter of self-control.Most importantly, the gold to gem conversion allows any gem shop item to be bought with gold, and many have taken advantage of this.
    4. They released a quality game and supported it. Recently, Wildstar and TESO have announced that they will be releasing as sub-based MMOs. Carbine Studio’s Gaffney, I believe, said of releasing an MMO that the pricing model isn’t as important as the quality of the game. Well, not exactly Gaffney. Unfortunately, there’s been some decent to good MMOs released that have struggled to maintain because they were over-budgeted and had to live via subs while there was already a fat, behemoth of an MMO swallowing everyone’s subscription commitment and time, leaving little for the competition to scoop up.The truth is that quality is a pre-requisite for MMO success, but not the determining factor of an MMO’s success. It is something that has to exist at launch, but beyond that an MMO must find a way to get player’s time, and to keep player’s engaged. It’s those last two parts that involve the business model, but also involves updates and support. ArenaNet has found a way to make money with their game without fighting for subs and then support the game with a plethora of updates that feature a variety of types of content. So far, it’s working very well for them.

In Closing, yada yada, and banana turnbuckle.

Guild Wars 2 is different. It was different enough to succeed with its original play while others struggled with their own plan. It could be claimed that Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft are exceptions to the rule about MMOs. However, I feel there is almost awlays reasons why a thing is so. Does WoW decline in players because it’s too casual? No, it was most successful at its most casual. It’s declining because its an old game facing more competition. It’s declining because F2P and B2P models have shown to offer more competitive environments in the East and those models are just now starting to take hold in the west.

So how do future MMOs not crash and burn? My firs tip: dot listen to the MMO community too much. I’ll get into that in a future blog post though.

The Stormbluff Isle Exodus

Recently, ArenaNet implemented their Guesting feature to the game and ended free world transfers at the same time.Considering that it was a promised launch feature, the arrival of Guesting was welcome. The ending of free transfers was also something that the WvWvW community had been asking for so as to stop the bandwagon nature of players trying to join a top WvWvW server, and also a barrier towards the practice of guilds sending a player to a competing server to spy on map chat and player movement. 

The problem for some servers was the timing of this move by ArenaNet. There had been a lot of server switching by major guilds and a mercenary mindset had set into the community at large. This was the ideally wrong time for these changes to finally come for a server like Stormbluff Isle. 

Stormbluff Isle was a little different from the other top tier WvWvW servers in that it was mostly a large pug with a couple of large guilds, but no greater alliance like the other servers had established. We depended more on individual smarts and paying attention to what others were doing, along with a public teamspeak server for the various WvWvW players to join and hear what was going on with the other players. Since we had no alliance with central leadership, we had to find ways to succeed within our assemblage of pugs.

Surprisingly, it all worked out pretty well. SBI had been a tier 1 or tier 2 server for long than any other server up until the announcement that these changes were coming. We had developed a rivalry with Jade Quarry server due to the both of us always being in the top tiers and continually fighting each other. This even goes back to the initial launch month and the one day match-ups.We would be the #1 server for awhile, drop to #2 when another server recruited more players or established a new strategy, and then fight back to the top spot.

But all of this also created a lot of burnout for various players. Initial word of this burnout came months ago from some of the WvWvW guilds. Players were tiring of the same maps and the same exact matchups. They also were investing money into towers and keeps just to see their holdings evaporate over night. There was no second level to the WvWvW game. You logged in and faced a similar situation and similar goal nearly every day. If you wanted stats on your gear other than toughness and vitality then you had to go do PVE. WvWvW rewards were minor and lacked variety. The game needed a way to organize players beyond Commanders and their massive zerg. The WvWvW game needed updates.

The biggest blow for Stormbluff Isle is when War Machine left not only our server, but ran off to avoid the top tier grind and mentality for a smaller server. War Machine was an old established guild of the Guild Wars franchise. They were a top guild in the first game’s PVP and their presence on Stormbluff Isle brought along some of those same top PVP guilds. Not all of those guilds had an interest in WvWvW, but War Machine was large enough to field an important force in WvWvW. They also established the face and personality of the server with their tactics and persistence. They also worked very well with our pug nature and even soloists like myself came to know the differences and tendencies of their Commanders in spite of the Korean/English language barriers.

There were multiple things pushing War Machine towards leaving, many of which are part of the greater list of concerns that the other guilds have had, but it was mainly a sour reaction with another top tier server that made them decide to pack up and leave. They had become tired of all the exploits used in top tier to sneak into keeps and towers, and how abusing issues with the game had become the standard. So one night they decided to abuse them all themselves, publicly admit it, call out ArenaNet for the lack of fixes, and then announce their impending departure from the server and the top tier.

I’m not interested in lambasting War Machine for their behavior or anything like that. I understand frustration. Whether they should have done it in another way or not, as I said, I’m not all that interested in that discussion. I think the main point is that a guild that had been tied to the Guild Wars PVP scene for so many years would essentially bail out for their own sanity.

Following the move by War Machine, there was some discussion of what Stormbluff Isle would do, but the following difficulties in fielding enough players to replace them began the sentiment of decline for the server. By the time the arrival of Guesting and Paid Transfers was to be near, the WvWvW menality of Stormbluff Isle had depleted to a frustrated yawn. Many of the other WvWvW guilds didn’t have interest in doing what WM did and rebuilding in lower tiers. Most, wanting the pride of being top tier, decided to move to other top tier servers. Some followed War Machine to Kaineng. By the final week of free transfers, Stormbluff Isle’s WvWvW population was nearly non-existent. A panic had hit the other guilds and everyone began to act like dropping a couple of tiers was the end of WvWvW. The responses were somewhat understandable, but also very short-sighted. 

Every problem that Stormbluff Isle had was synonmous with the way top tier play was going. The burnout not only hurt the WvWvW guilds but the strays and pugs like myself who do more than just WvWvW. When the PVE game gets more updates and you also play PVE, its easier to spend time in PVE than fighting the top tier grind in WvWvW every day. Perhaps more than some of the WvWvW guilds wanted to admit, the little people who filled coverage gaps and made distract squads were vanishing before the WvWvW guilds, and the WvWvW game success had depended upon these people more than some may think. When those people began to dry up, the burden of success fell even harder on the WvWvW-only players and this lead to more burnout and frustration. 

The problem with leaving for greener pastures is that every top tier server in the same situation as SBI was. If I had to put money on the next burnout, It would be on Jade Quarry. The situation won’t be resolved by players. It’s an issue of updates and advancement of the game that must come from ArenaNet. The panic stricken exodus of Stormbluff Isle is just a sad tale of a good community growing bitter over one part of the game.

As for SBI now, it still has some good players, but we struggle to fill up maps with enough people to win our current match up. I didn’t leave because I had two guilds on this server already and I didn’t really want to leave a server full of nice people. It’s just unfortunate that the server has been a bit tainted by what happened.