Category Archives: Guild Wars2

Off the Chest: Unlearning Convenience, One-time Events and what would you do in a Sandbox?


It’s one of those days where I have too many thoughts on different blogging topics which don’t warrant a blogpost of their own but still, in my mind, ask for more dedicated commentary. I tend to leave longer replies on my fellow bloggers articles for this reason and often that’s good enough; yet for a while now, I’ve been thinking about a format or style of post that allows rambling on various topics that have come up, vexed me and yet didn’t quite make it into a single post – usually because I feel somewhat late to the party or then I simply cannot bring myself to present you with anything less than a WoT. It’s true.

Be that as it may, I herewith introduce “off the chest” as my on-and-off, multiple-subject (and likely ranty..ier) commentary, where articles are shorter wrap-ups or openers to bigger subjects and where I get to be wonderfully incoherent. Summary posts can be quite enjoyable, so maybe these can deliver some information or entertainment to somebody sometime (or else they’ve just been of highly cathartic value for myself)! Without further ado, three topics I needed to get off my chest for a while now, in no particular order.

Unlearning Convenience

One of the fascinating things about the mixed MMO community in Guild Wars 2 is that you can tell who the ex-WoW players are after a while, judging by the degree of convenience they are used to or rather, the degree of discontent they voice in that particular area. After an era of WoW and not GW, I absolutely am a spoiled MMO brat: for example, I expect a lot of menu choices and customizability for things like name tags or combat info (ally healthbars anyone?), I want the market place search to be refined so it’s actually functional (armor class search?) and I expect a quick disconnect/relog from WvW not to throw me back into a queue of doom with no way to rejoin my team mates. Stuff like that, missing polish like that, is just horribly frustrating and it gets more frustrating the longer ANet take to fix it. These may be small(er) issues and not top prio in a launch week or even month – but come on, address this shit already!

How long is the average MMO player of today willing to ignore disfunctionalities or little bugs after a fresh MMO launch? How long is your personal tolerance span? Rather than Halloween content I would’ve welcomed some long overdue fixes, some of them as old as open beta! And I haven’t even yet mentioned the camera / first-person view, botting or culling problems. These are not “aspects of GW2 that are just different”, these are issues that need fixing ASAP in any MMO! /GnaRghL

One-time Events

Speaking of Halloween, GW2’s one-time only Halloween event of this Sunday past has sparked quite some debate and of course both negative and positive reactions. This is an incredibly interesting subject because it shows us just how ready today’s MMO audience really is for the often hyped “unique content” and “meaningful impact”. Or to quote a passage in my last post’s comment section:

I think we do not need to content ourselves with impact only ever existing in offline/single-player games. like you said, GW2 makes some good attempts – but they could be much better even. I think MMOs need to lose the idea that everything is always available and repeatable for everybody. much of the generic feeling comes from everything that players do happening over and over, respawning, resetting….why? why not make some events more unique? what if somebody misses them – so what? you could add small content patches for this on a fortnightly base, like I suggested a while ago in an article on expansions. give players a real sense of story progression, unique experiences and impact. let them change things permanently!” (Syl)

That’s the thing: you can’t have it both ways. You can experience triggered quests that are available all the time, or more random events to which you are sometimes too late or early. You can finish quests with zero to marginal impact on the world and people around you – or you can witness really memorable events. Once in a while. And you can most certainly miss those. There is a flipside to that coin of memorable and special MMO moments that gravitate towards simulation and open world a lot more than towards gamification.

I actually missed this Sunday’s Halloween event in GW2 as I was on holidays in France; and yes, I am a little sad about that. On a less personal note however, I am very happy ArenaNet made this decision. Maybe next time I’ll be around for it. Either way, now the community has something to talk about and tell each other! Missing the Mad King’s appearance in Lion’s Arch or having to re-watch it on youtube is a price I will gladly pay for MMO worlds to become less generic, feel less repetitive and predictable! But that’s me and my idea of games worth playing. And living in, really.

So, what would you do in a Sandbox?

It’s become a trend of late to invoke the mystical spirit of the sandbox wherever MMO players feel the blues and are simply unhappy with their choices in current games on the market. I get that dissatisfaction and I’m in fact more than up for future MMOs to revert to a more open world state of play, with less orchestrated content. Still, I wonder how many players have truly ever experienced a sandbox game, stuck with a sandbox game? And what is it exactly you wish for, from your next sandbox MMO. Do you know? I’m not so sure we all mean the same things when we talk about sandbox elements (worth having).

Pure sandbox games ask a lot of a player base, both in terms of time and commitment The feeling of freedom or impact doesn’t come for free. So, if by any chance you belong to let’s say a player demographic depending on a) linear progression, b) endgame, c) set achievements or d) in fact any kind of pre-conceived content….I have bad news for you: you won’t like a sandbox! You won’t thrive there. If you already felt that GW2 was “finished” after four weeks, if you lament endgame and progression and ask questions like “what to do next?” in an MMO, the sandbox is not for you. While we’re at it: there’s no “rushing through” or “winning” a sandbox. There’s a lot more in terms of self-defined progress, achievement and goals than in a themepark or playground or whathaveyou MMO. 

Can you deal with that? If so, I hope you’re also up for outdoor PvP and griefers. The big, shining beacons of sandboxy gameplay currently out there, such as EvE Online or Darkfall, are basically MMOs that revolve around the simple principle of “building clans and defending clan bases” and then “warring against other clans and clan bases” (terminology may vary). This is by the by, what the sappy memories of vocal UO and DAoC veterans are made of: strife. Territorial (or resource) warfare with all its little neat side-effects. That’s also why community building was so important in these games to begin with. Sure, you could do many other things too, but erm…..territorial warfare impacting on you! 

So, just in case any of the above gives you headaches but you still yearn for the sandbox…well, I keep my fingers crossed the next such MMO comes with big enough safe sectors! Or alternatively, still deviates enough from its predecessors to accommodate you. A real sandbox is about building your own little castle just as much as it is about destroying your neighbour’s. And it most certainly isn’t going to present you with linear progression and endgame. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

My oh my, what a wonderful day!

[GW2] Timing is everything. And a good thing too.

Much has been said about the dynamic shnynamic events in GW2, to a point where I have indefinitely banned the term to the same corner as “hardcore” and “casual” for MMO debates. There’s been quite some praise of course, yet as usual the whining has been the loudest on the message boards I frequent. Personally I think most of the negative critics are missing the point here completely, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

It’s true: the nature of dynamic events in MMOs is that you can be too late or too early, just being “on time” making for the perfect gameplay experience. It’s true too that it feels somewhat disconnected storywise to blunder into an ongoing event without much context. Alas, that’s an issue MMO players have to cope with – unless you prefer not having these types of more random mass-events at all, or only get phased variations thereof. Phasing wouldn’t work the same way for many reasons. Phasing really isn’t an answer to most common MMO questing/adventuring issues, to be honest.

More importantly though, I love that I can be either too early, too late or just on time for events in GW2 – the fact that stuff is happening out there whether I am a part of it or not. The fact that the world doesn’t only spring to life as I push the button since I am so horribly important. Strange things are afoot in Tyria. The world feels alive and yes, “dynamic” because of it. Even if I miss an event or only observe other players running it from afar, I enjoy that. I can try revisit that place later or join anyway and investigate. And when I actually do arrive on time and things start to magically unfold around me….well, there’s absolutely nothing that compares to that feeling in MMOs!

A year ago I read a splendid Skyrim review that captured precisely what makes that world feel so wonderfully open and alive. Unfortunately I cannot for the life of me remember the site. Anyhow, a game journalist talked about his most epic gameplay moment there, when he experienced the perfect dragon encounter somewhere on the road, after pursuing a wild horse that had raced off in terror. There were all kinds of hints like that one, foreboding the incoming dragon attack, NPCs running his way screaming just as the first huge shadow fell over his party and the dragon’s metallic shriek rang through the valley. Skyrim’s magic lies in moment such as this: when everything clicks and it feels as if the world was truly alive all around you, and you are just an erring traveler chancing on whatever lies around the next bend of the road. It’s a magical thing if videogames put us into that removed, immersed state of mind for a moment. It’s a rare and beautiful thing – a memorable thing. It’s the perfect simulation. Real life doesn’t happen according to your agenda all the time, either.

That sensation can never come a dime a dozen though and it shouldn’t. I don’t want to be on time for all the dynamic events in GW2. I want to be early and too late, so that when I am on time at last the scenery will take my breath away. Syp calls experiences like that “just an awesome moment“. To me they lie at the heart of the MMO experience. It’s why we need more randomness in games, more opportunities to be failed or missed, so that we may succeed and when we do, succeed with flying colors. If the minstrel tells us stories before a burning camp fire at night, they will recall most memorable moments and wondrous, rare encounters. And those are worth waiting for and certainly worth having.

And then, suddenly…

[GW2] 80 Elemental Ponderings

So I finally dinged 80 with my Elementalist in Guild Wars 2 yesterday, which has been my main character and class since the open beta weekends. Even if GW2 inspires alting more than other MMOs ever did for me, I can’t change my basic nature of being a very dedicated main=me player. That will probably never change…even if I am also leveling an engineer and hunter slowly on the side and really enjoy how different every class feels in playstyle and mechanics (and Elems actually get a bit of them all via conjures, hah!).

Naturally, I have started to try grasp the deeper complexities of my chosen main in GW2 over the past days and weeks. If I am going to play this, I want to play it right – and the Elementalist happens to give a lot of merciless feedback like that. It’s true that this particular class doesn’t make for the easiest ride of the lot; that is not to say that combat and leveling are hard, but there are many occasions playing your Elem solo in PVE when you feel things aren’t going so smoothly. This also changes gradually during the journey to level 80: there are highs and lows in terms of pacing and character progression/power during some level spans, which makes you lean towards more glass or cannon at particular times. What is probably true is that you need to be in love with the class, its basic premise, playstyle and versatility, or you won’t stick to it very long. All Elementalists will experience the following in various degrees while leveling:

    • Dying quicker than most, especially when compared to your other scholarly peers
    • Feeling damage and survivability drops sometime after level 30ish. I experienced an incredible low during my mid-levels which only got better towards level 65 or so, making it impossible to kill groups and struggling with higher lvl mobs in general
    • Underwater combat sucks. It keeps sucking until you reach proper high level. Also: Air is your friend here.

While weapon choice matters, I would go further and say for this class especially, keeping gear up-to-date at least every 10 levels (including gems, sigils etc. on all slots) is crucial – and so is spec. When comparing myself in combat with my partner’s Necromancer, I could only gape and the sheer amount of buffs and debuffs he had going on for himself, when I had erm…one to two. This made me start looking into my traits very hard, asking myself about my synergies and where are my boons?? Elems don’t have that many debuffs going on as some other classes do, but they can certainly unload some burning and bleeding. To make your buffs and debuffs effective though and help yourself to become more powerful, harmonizing your traits, skills and gear stats is of the essence. And this is where it starts getting complicated.

Wrapping your head around skills, traits, stats and gear

If I thought gearing and optimization became somewhat of a headache in WoW between WotLK and Cataclysm, GW2’s many different stats combos, item enhancements and synergies are proving a real challenge the deeper you delve into them. Having explored multiple guides of late, my two big recommendations for getting to grips are Tasha Darke’s guide on attributes and equipment, combined with Talk Tyria’s post on understanding basic naming conventions in GW2. While the marketplace is still far from functional, that second link will help you with the general gear chaos you’re facing.

I have now started to experiment with different specs, supporting traits via gear and skill choices. I leveled full fire for a very long time until it started to feel incredibly weak around level 40. My stats were all over the place and due to survivability issues, I used quite a lot of vitality gear. I had pretty much zero boons going on for myself and no traits to support my chosen utility skills which are mostly glyphs and signets (I don’t use cantrips, conjures or arcane skills much). Not great.

Much of that is now off the table. I have invested heavily in Air and Arcane traits, boosting my crit from 14% to 40% with trait, skill and gear adjustments (minding set bonuses and including interesting sigils or runes). Arcane is a great support tree in general for synergies and boons and worth looking into with any given attunement combo. I dropped healing stats entirely and started improving my health via traits rather than gear. That last point is still under heavy scrutiny right now as I am still feel too squishy; I might need to revert some of my gems sometime to address this. (How are you other lvl 80 Elementalists out there handling the survivability issue: traits or gear?)

…All this wild brainstorming really brings me to the heart of the matter though, which is understanding what you’re doing. Do you know how tougness and vitality differ in benefit, for example? Do you understand set and rune bonuses and what sigils and runes can do for you? Do your traits support your utility skills? Would you rather stack condition damage or crit, for a consistent damage debuff-heavy build or burst damage build respectively? Do you know your boons? Do your trait choices reflect your playstyle? Et cetera.

Getting to the bottom of these questions will greatly affect your character’s performance, Elementalist or other, and ultimately affect your entire gameplay experience and enjoyment in the game. It’s been said that GW2 is that MMO with the casual leveling and grouping mechanics, but by now I disagree quite a bit with that, having played my Elementalist in many different situations. The game might not punish you in the same way as others do and within a group individual weaknesses are less apparent. But you will need to address spec and gear questions at higher levels (Orr…uh oh), certainly for solo play and harder dungeons, as well as PvP encounters – and the ins and outs of character optimization in GW2 are not to be underestimated.

While it’s hard to find more concrete theorycrafting and build suggestions (few more in-depth discussions can be found at GW2 Guru forums) at this point in time, I encourage my fellow spellweavers to experiment and make use of the trait calculator. For a more basic intro to the class, there is also a great two-part Elementalist 101 guide over at Talk Tyria. In closing, I still greatly enjoy playing my Elem in GW2 and consider its shortcomings a challenge. I love the versatility of the different attunements, the mighty AoE and general “feel” of playing the class. As for all the open questions I currently still have, I fully intend to get to the bottom of them all over the coming weeks and months – Fire, Air, Earth and Water, I can deal death with any of them!

[GW2] Neither Progressive nor Casual enough. Or: Growing (Pains) with your Genre

It is interesting times for us MMO players. MoP has finally launched, putting an end to an excruciatingly long expansion wait time for many avid WoW players. At the same time there is GW2 now, that new MMO somewhere “between the themepark and the sandbox”. One month into its release there are finally solid gameplay experiences, allowing for more meaningful and informed discussions on more longterm and complex aspects of the game. Of course the big topic that was going to come up eventually is “endgame” and “casual vs. hardcore” and other vague definitions that are MMO blogger favorites.

My favorites too – but rather than starting at the beginning and rolling up my usual three-parts argument, I’ll jump into medias res and continue with comments I already left on other blogs dealing with the subject. Before I do that though, let there be no doubt that a) I consider conclusions on all sides to be vastly based on individual player expectations and b) I believe GW2 delivers on ANet’s promises. We haven’t all read the same previews and no doubt readers always project their own wishes into teaser articles; some were therefore completely focused on WvW, others on the continuation of GW’s story, others again were looking forward to a new approach to combat, group play or cooperation. Depending to which camp you belonged pre-launch, your one-month recap on GW2 is going to look very different.

But now let’s look at that endgame / progression “issue” GW2 supposedly has.

Why “endgame” is overrated

Syncaine is vastly disappointed in WvW so far and he’s not alone. And while he regards the “journey between lvl 1-80” in GW2 as quite great, the “endgame” after that is obviously absent and the game “therefore becomes pointless”. Needles to say, this is a very linear and progression-oriented way of looking at things in an MMO that does precisely not build up towards endgame and where leveling is more or less meaningless. The big problem I always perceived is ANet not being consequent enough about that lack of progression: while it’s a viable concept in theory, why oh why could they not just omit levels altogether and opt for a skillbased system? Why not make the world truly flat by abandoning zone levels and rather install different modes of mob difficulty overall? Right now, there’s an upsetting contradiction in the “open world feeling” they tried to create and it’s undermining a good intention.

Where I disagree with Syncaine mostly is not lack of endgame in GW2, but calling classic progression a “necessary feature” of MMOs by virtue of WoW:

“I think you’re going about the completely wrong way to prove why MMOs
supposedly need it [progression] by making comparisons to WoW of all games, which to
this day still has the biggest mass of casual gamers subscribed. Despite
WoW having endgame progression, the majority of wow players are in fact
not progression gamers. Hardcore raiders/pvpers are a very small part
of wow and always have been even if bloggers don’t realize it (most
bloggers are raiders or pvpers or have been). It’s players who are
alting, solo questing, collecting and crafting and looking forward to
pet battles, with the odd PuG run in the mix. Wow’s critical mass are
‘dwellers’ in love with Azeroth.” (Syl)

WoW is not successful in numbers because of “endgame”. Ironically, it was Syncaine’s neighbour Tobold, who recently pointed this out too: “I believe that people who read forums and blogs have a very wrong idea
how Blizzard is making money with World of Warcraft. The bread and
butter of Blizzard is not the people who rush through content, the
high-end raiding guilds, the elitist jerk theorycrafters, or the
bloggers and forum posters. Blizzard is making most of their money from
people like my wife, who was subscribed to WoW all the way through
Cataclysm, and was busy leveling alts.”

As much as raiders like to believe it, Azeroth was not built on their shoulders. WoW is absolutely fine without hardcores and progression-minded players and will be for a long time to come. By the same definition GW2 should be just fine too – but it’s still not going to be as popular as WoW for several reasons unrelated to progression (of which some but not all are included further down).

Neither progressive nor casual enough

One who is probably closer to GW2’s intended target audience, or at least at peace with the way things are in Tyria, is Bhagpuss – finally pointing out the effect of this mixed beast that is GW2 right now and some of the complexities in trying to identify the game as casual or hardcore by traditional standards. I commented as much in his latest article –

“GW2 is not the casual game some make it out to be – it has some very
hardcore features that make even fans of the grindiest grind dizzy. It
has money scarcity and difficult dungeons that are a hell to pug. This
is not casual at all.

On the other hand, GW2 can be played without
the usual partying up hubbub, obviously it’s all 5man and there is no
classic endgame or progression. So here, it’s the progression kids
GW2 is in between the themepark and the sandbox, and
it is in between the casual and the hardcore. Casual players will find a
lot more accessibility and overall blingbling and variety of easy fun
in WoW. And hardcore kids don’t get the same chances on progressive
content and server pride than in WoW, either” (Syl)

With that in mind, what is GW2? And whom does it appeal to? I can only speculate by what I’m hearing from positive bloggers, close buddies and my own experiences. I think GW2 is casual when it comes to social dynamics but not in the sense of difficulty. It’s obviously aimed at a playerbase that is looking for changes in certain areas of the traditional MMO routine, but not in others – maybe it appeals most to fantasy MMO veterans who have made the switch from hardcore to more casual, but not trivial. I don’t think GW2 is for genre newcomers, any more than it is for raiders. Then there is the PvP focus which again appeals only to a very specific bracket. From that particular point of view, GW2 expands the variety of AAA+ MMOs you can currently choose from – and combined with its already 2mio sales success, that surely is a positive thing both for players and the market.

Mistaking genre for (inflexible) audience

I always considered the definition wars of “gamer vs. player” or what makes and breaks the “real MMO definition” completely futile. The genre is not what it was 8 years ago, and 8 years ago it was
not what it was 15 years ago when UO launched. I remember it like it was yesterday, when a not inconsiderable amount of vocal UO/EQ/DAoC veterans or so-called “MMO olschoolers”, were avidly mocking that new MMO on the block, World of Warcraft: that easily accessible, casual MMO full of loot,
easy gold and no proper punishments!

Ironically, 8 years later some of
the WoW “newschoolers” have become the “new oldschoolers”, now singing a very similar tune about GW2 because they cannot reconcile this new game with their personal idea of what MMOs are. The mocked have become the mocking and so the
cycle turneth
. Nothing new under the sun.

“Come such a long, long way.”

I loved UO for opening up the world of MMOs to me (and letting you pwn noobs while being morphed into a chicken). UO was great and
also horrible in places. Then came WoW and I loved Azeroth for a very long
time. It was also horrible in places. WoW was no MMO revolution, it was
evolution. I’m completely in love with the things that GW2 does differently today – and no doubt one year from now I will talk about the horrible things
in it, too. All that makes me is an MMO player passionate about this genre –
yesterday, today and tomorrow. And I am not done yet by a long shot.

Chris elaborated on so beautifully, we can make peace with the fact that our first games will never return (including all related effects) or we cannot. It took me a while too, in fact it took me the greater parts of my blogging journey up to now. Along the line though I realized that I would hate missing out on all the good this genre still has to offer, just because my eyes are looking back rather than forward. If the MMO genre is truly in decline, then at the very least let it not be due to my own blindness and negative expectations. “Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread!” (source).

I love to dwell in fantastic worlds. If there’s one universally defining aspect for this genre at all, it’s that MMO worlds are created to be lived in, rather than be played through. GW2 has some gamey aspects for certain but its clear lack of endgame and progression, its attempts at a “flat” gameplay experience maybe more alike to Skyrim, emphasize this very oldschool virtue. Or as commented at Azuriel’s –

“It’s bizarrely inconsistent how the same critics calling GW2 a ‘game’
rather than MMO, are also those lamenting the lack of endgame. One
popular aspect of MMOs is that they make you want to ‘live there’ rather
than ‘play through’. and by that definition GW2 IS more MMO than all
the more progressive MMOs out there which are constantly under pressure
to deliver new content just so their progression- and linearity ridden
playerbase stays hooked. In a way I am glad GW2 is such a disappointment
to all these players right away, making it very clear already at low
level that things wont change from here. That way you don’t ‘waste’ so
much time before moving on or back to WoW.” (Syl)

I’ve written about a related topic before – the vicious cycle of linear content and developers raising a playerbase of hungry cookie monsters in need to feed at ever-increasing speed. All individual challenges and inconsistencies in GW2 aside, which it has at this current early state, I am grateful to ANet for treating their player base more like grown-ups, given little guidance from the very beginning. Don’t know what to do / where to go from here? Well, figure it out yourself!

If you find nothing, maybe it’s because there is nothing. Or maybe it’s because you couldn’t find it. I leave that up to you and whether MMOs really need to ensure a linear path and constant progression rather than just a rich world with cooperative opportunities. Summa summarum, I am incredibly happy GW2 is an MMO that I only ever log on to because I truly want to – and where all paths lie before me with no obvious concept where to go next. That, among several more things, is worth having. For me. For now.

[GW2] A couple of useful links

I meant to post something long and meaningful all night but I’m so mentally drained and exhausted I can’t bring myself to focus. Right now with so many great games to play out there, work really is my biggest enemy. Even my GW2 sessions suffer with my weekends becoming gaming prime time. Is this what it means to progress in your professional life? I think a part of me will never grow up (or go to bed early).

In lieu of WoT, a couple of useful GW2 links I’ve been collecting for a while and meant to publish in a round-up. Hopefully they’ll be of use to some of you – I certainly learned a thing or two.

  1. Weapon and Armor Stats Explained; I am still familiarizing myself with GW2’s different gear quality/rarity levels. An awesome introduction to different stats and also where to get what equipment from. 
  2. *NEW* Attributes and Equipment in GW2; A great must-read, in-depth guide on getting to grips with speccing and gearing in GW2, understanding basic attributes, enhancements and synergies. Don’t miss this one!
  3. *NEW* Basic Naming Conventions and Runes; this concise overview will bring some light into the gear jungle on the market place and help you find what you’re looking for.
  4. Cultural Armor and Weapons Guide; I always liked the concept of cultural or racial armor sets in MMOs. GW2 has them too, even if they’re somewhat hidden.
  5. GW2 Trait Calculator; while costs for respeccing keep going down in the game, it’s well worth experimenting online first what to go for!  
  6. *NEW* Combo Fields and Finishers; as interesting as combos sound, many players don’t quite grasp how these are set up in GW2 and how to best leverage on them. Find out what combos are available to your class!
  7. Where to find Jumping Puzzles; Hunter has been working on completing an overview to all jumping puzzles in GW2 for a good while now, taking great care not to spoil anything.
  8. Chef Helper and Dyealogue; Aro has created two awesome and fancy tools to make both cooking and dye collection easier in GW2. I wish I had such coding skills!
    1. Minis and their idle Animations; Paeroka published this useful video of 84(!) mini-pets plus animations a while ago. I don’t feel like becoming a big pet collector in GW2, but this overview certainly helps with selecting favorites. 
    2. Guild Emblem Creator; in case you ever wondered what kind of options GW2 offers to guild leaders in this department, there are quite a few. I was personally delighted to find the ape design for my own guild of olde WoW monkeys. 
    3. GW2 Storylines; heavily influenced by the personal choices you make, it’s worth looking into how the system works – especially if you consider running alts at some point 
    4. GW2 “Census”; finally a visualized representation of race-profession spreads in the game. In case you were wondering just how popular your own combos are. Not many surprises there.

    What I’m still looking for is a (more) useful world map and a guide to mini-game locations. That last feature has been completely ignored by myself thus far and seems too easy to miss in the game. Any link recommendations much appreciated!

    That one month into GW2 "Sub Question"

    While many bloggers are posting their one-month reviews and conclusions on GW2, there’s one particularly hot question being asked all over various forums, news and community websites: “If you bought GW2, would you have still done it if there had been a subscription?”

    In the light of GW2’s successful start and over 2mio copies sold already, there is no bigger elephant in the room – of course everyone is wondering how well ANet would’ve done this exact moment in time, had GW2 come with a subscription! It’s an intriguing topic (at a first glance, anyway) and no doubt this MMO’s launch date was smartly set sometime ahead of its other, direct competitors expansions. Unlike with sub games many players will surrender to curiosity and consider “just a box price” tolerable while maybe waiting on other titles (or already paying subs for them).

    So, how are GW2 players and visitors feeling about the sub question, one month into launch? I asked the same thing last night on twitter, on a very spontaneous note. Here’s the range of reactions I got:

      • “Maybe” (Rowan)
      • “Yup. I bought two sets of gems already.” (Pitrelli)
      • “Only while it held my interest” (MantleCraft)
      • “Yes. I enjoy the game. I have passed on other games that have a sub because I didn’t enjoy them enough to justify the cost.” (Jazz)
      • “I would have, though i would prob cancel my other subs to justify” (Psynster)
      • “Definitely. The game has been fun enough that I would pay a subscription to it without thinking twice.” (Rakuno)
      • “Yes, I would have bought the game & then paid a sub based on how much I like it” (Heather)
      • “No. I would not.” (Eivind Johansen)

    Now, I don’t know how representative the quantitative outcome of the answers I received really is, as it’s mostly familiar bloggers who sent me a reply (I did ask in general GW2 channels though). Retrospective inquiries like that are also generally difficult to interpret because once you are enjoying the game a lot, hypothetical choice may be affected by your current, positive experiences. The same bias exists for negative experiences though – and to draw conclusions on success and potential sub failure, it’s the nay-sayers one must focus on. Of course, I followed up that “No. I would not” -reply with a second question: “Are you currently paying for any sub MMO?” The answer was “nope”.

    Well, shoot. I did hope for a different answer, maybe related to how bad this person’s gameplay experiences were with GW2, potentially compared to other MMOs! While you could probably argue that GW2 didn’t fully convince this customer to pay a hypothetical sub, there are players who will simply never pay subs and only ever try B2P/F2P games. That’s that and convincing them otherwise isn’t a realistic undertaking.

    Still, it’s the “noes” that make this question interesting. The above example shows how difficult or virtually impossible interpreting negative reactions to any MMO truly are without much further investigation. In fact, a person leaving a negative reply may represent any of the following rough, five groups:

      1. The Economist: currently paying for another MMO and never intending to pay for two. Will consider playing both though.
      2. The Bored & Curious: waiting on MoP / anything else, only bought GW2 because it was B2P and launched earlier. Will drop GW2 until the favored MMO becomes boring.
      3. The Penny-Pincher: never pays subs period, or doesn’t play often enough to justify them for himself.
      4. The Lucky: didn’t actually pay for GW2 but got it as a gift.
      5. The Disappointed: genuinely disappointed/frustrated by GW2 due to “insert reasons here”.

      Of all these potential nay-sayers, the only one that comes with genuine motivation and therefore also a more meaningful reaction and potentially productive feedback, is the last category. Somebody who was open to pay anything at the beginning but got utterly turned off by some aspect of the game while playing. All the other groups would distort any kind of simple poll ran on the sub question. The outcome would be hard to read for anyone looking for more concrete criticism and potential game improvements. Which must not mean that useful criticism is absent in the other groups – but if you’re presented with an audience that never meant to pay a sub in the first place, you might wanna prioritize feedback of those that would have done so readily.

      Once you get feedback from the disappointed players, things naturally don’t get easier. As a developer you can now try and sort all various issues into those you can change, those you cannot reasonably change and those you do not want to change. What all of this tells me is that dealing with customer feedback is an enormous challenge and that the big “GW2 sub question” really is senseless and dissatisfactory in the light of our vastly different contexts and backgrounds. ANet have launched GW2 in 2012 and must therefore deal with an MMO audience of 2012, including all baggage this brings. Right now all things considered, they’re dealing rather (!) successfully.

      My answer is YES – but not without concerns

      There is no question I would pay for a GW2 sub. This I base on my personal positive experiences with the game, the individual and subjective fun and enjoyment I’m finding in this fresh MMO – just like everybody else does. I’m generally not focused on payment models; whether I pay a sub or not is irrelevant when an MMO manages to inspire me. So, when I refer to “getting my money’s worth” there is a more figurative meaning for me than may be for players that truly (have to) look at costs and put a value on every feature on their pros&cons list. I would certainly question paying for two subs at the same time though, for time management reasons.

      I would pay a GW2 sub too because there’s long-term appeal in Tyria. Having only just hit level 60 with my Elementalist, there is so much more content ahead I haven’t even touched yet and more world and story depth surfacing by the day, as I am progressing through higher levels. All MMO worlds take their time in introducing you to aspects like lore; to me GW2 has only started to bloom in this regard. When I fought in the Battle of Claw Island today, I felt real excitement and sadness over the course of the story. I don’t remember the last time an MMO questchain has inspired that reaction in me, actually I only recall Skyrim more recently.

      That said, my one-month GW2 recap comes not without concerns. While ANet did deliver on my biggest selling points, there are several more pressing and serious concerns I’m sharing with other GW2 players out there:

      • Bad/random dungeon/chest loot and the token grind; there is a particularly scary calculation on exotic sets currently found over at Hunter’s Insight. If ANet don’t look into this matter fairly soon, they can certainly never again claim that GW2 presents no grind of any sort!
      • Izari from Talk Tyria is majorly disappointed by ANet’s shift of stance concerning endgame gear and prestige armor, away from GW’s old philosophy that gear differences should be cosmetic rather than in stats. I was saddened to read this as I’ve greatly looked forward to GW2 taking some of the stats obsession away that I’ve come to loathe in WoW, due to all its technical and social backlash.
      • Now that I’m playing in more high-level zones, I detect a slight two-fold change about leveling up and questing: there are a lot more bugged events – and – as the Brave Elementalist points out leveling speed in low pop areas decreases significantly. That isn’t necessarily a horrible thing given the overall fast leveling experience in GW2, but bugged events need fixing and some of the less well-paced areas need looking into, especially in regard to heart quests (in absence of people to do events with).
      • Like so many others, I agree the WvW queues need fixing a.s.a.p. on individual and group level. While I fondly think back to a time where Alterac Valley queues took half a day, it should come as no surprise to ANet that this prized feature is a big focus, with many players queuing up already at lower levels. While I’m personally not affected too much by the queues yet, this should be one of their top priorities.

      I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all of these graver issues will be reviewed and addressed swiftly – for everyone out there currently waiting on WvW and also on behalf of GW2’s dungeon appeal and the very significant long-term motivator that is gear/collection in MMOs!

      P.S. I’d still like FP view and market place preview!

      [GW2] Gold, Gems and real Money conversion

      Money is not exactly easy to come by while leveling in GW2, that much has gotten clear to most players by now. While no longer being used to “broke noob level” may play its part therein, it cannot be denied that cash flow in GW2 is considerably slower compared to other MMOs and the usual means, such as trying to make profit over the market place or grinding mobs for gold, don’t work out so well either. Azuriel recently posted a great overview on how to “maximize” your coin for the time being and like him, I am slightly worried if the economy can actually recover in any significant way, given that the MP in GW2 is a global one. If 500+ people are selling the same bow as yourself, how are you ever supposed to make a profit?

      As a natural consequence, the idea of just buying gold via ANet’s gem trading system comes to mind as one possible solution to the current money drought. Only, you couldn’t be more wrong there! You don’t want to trade your gems for ingame gold right now or in any foreseeable future – and that too has me skeptical at several fronts.

      Oh my, precious goldz!

      To start at the very beginning, you probably know that ANet has a rather unique way of handling different currency in GW2 and the way ingame and real money can be exchanged via the gem currency. While there is an item shop that requires gems to shop in, GW2 sets itself apart by allowing players to also buy gems with ingame gold; this means, if you’re a good little gold farmer, you never actually have to spend extra real money on vanity items and other shop bonuses. However, this also means the entire market and exchange rates are heavily influenced by both real money shoppers and potential “chinese farmers”. Due to this rather obscure interplay, exchange rates for gold vs. gems vary on a daily basis, as is displayed on the graph in your ingame Trading Company tab.

      While it’s understandable that ANet want to control the impact of real money going into the game to avoid deflation, I find the currency exchange variables incredibly confusing. Reading up further to get into the whole deal takes considerable time and mind twisting, at least for somebody who isn’t too versed in economic theory. Considering also that the entire balance can potentially get very skewed and discourage players to spend real life money in GW2, which surely cannot be intended by ANet(?), I wonder why they chose this path rather than sticking to a more exclusive shop of real-money-only and therefore cosmetic and soulbound items only? Maybe a more economy savvy player has some insights here for me.

      Either way, I decided to have a closer look at exchange rates and the status quo on my server, Desolation EU. How much ingame gold can I currently receive for gems and what is the ratio between that exchange rate and the real money I spend on buying the gems? I ended up with the following results:

      • 800 gems cost a fix 10 Euros; That’s 3.75€ for 300 gems.
      • For 300 gems you can currently exchange 56 ingame silver.
      • However, 78 ingame silver buy 300 gems

      …See what happened there? While a real money buyer pays 3.75€ for 300 gems, which then yield 56s, a player can buy 300 gems with 78s ingame currency. This means there’s about a difference of 25% in buying power between ingame and real currency. Correct me if I’m wrong!

      Compared to other MMOs, I don’t find this exchange rate erm, “particularly attractive” for potential real money spenders! 10€ for 1.5 gold? You gotta be kidding me!

      The demand for gems is only going to go up as the player base advances and the shop adds more and more goods. What will keep the balance from shifting further in favor of gold farmers or “gem hoarders/speculators” (buying cheaper gems now, waiting for demand to raise)? Money income is slow leveling in GW2 while crafting and items are all quite pricey. One can only wonder how things are going to pan out longterm with these particular economical mechanisms in place? Am I supposed to start hoarding gems now too with the gold I don’t have? …

      Eventually many players will want to buy things like more bank space or extra character slots in the gemstore and for a non-sub MMO (that we hopefully get to enjoy for a long time to come), that is a very much needed and good thing. Luckily, at least the gemstore is not affected by the exchange rates for ingame gold: you can buy gems from ANet and pay for their wares without impact from the currency game. For those looking to buy money in GW2 however, I foresee a longer waiting time; I sure wouldn’t spend any real coin on gold right now and I see little change in that department as long as the general player base hasn’t gotten richer – much richer! 

      There is also the concern that the status quo favors illegal gold sales: I’ve gotten my first ingame mail linking to a shady website today and while it’s beyond me how anyone can currently farm considerable money, ANet might want to tackle the issue of gold sellers beating them on exchange rates. If you’re making currency trade available in your game, surely you want to try and make it a better deal, potentially removing competition?

      I might be under a premature impression here (feel free to enlighten me), but for the moment GW2’s economy seems to invite money speculators and gold farmers more than anyone. While I’m nowhere close to max level myself yet, I am already anxious to hear how the average player is supposed to find a way around the current situation and how ANet are judging the state of their global economy!