Thursday, 3 December 2015

Questions, questions, questions #TSW

I bought The Secret World in the recent Steam sale and I've already racked up more hours than I did in either Wildstar or Blade and Soul. I literally didn't get the point of those games. It was XP and gear for the sake of it. So far I don't feel like TSW is like that.

I would have liked my first post to be about the things I like so far but, as usual, it's much easier to identify the things that I'm struggling with than pin down just what makes it feel so good!

Firstly, there is the suggested difficulty levels presented in the game. I just don't get it. Some quests are marked as "Very Hard" but are actually simple. Some are marked as "Very Hard" and are apparently impossible. So, that's frustrating.

The mob "con" system is confusing too. Without levels, it's hard to understand what you are capable of taking on and the tool tips for each mob, again, don't seem that representative of the actual challenge.  Of course this all comes down to your build and skill but it's quite a learning curve.

Last, and certain not least, I'm stuck on the Story Mission already. That's not actually a problem in itself; I was stuck on a side quest for a few days until I figured it out. The problem is that I'm not sure why I'm stuck. In other words, I am I just doing it wrong? I'm not sure if I'm not high enough "level" to get to the area I need to go to carry on (I can see some badass mobs around); if I've missed side quests that lead me to the right places or if I'm just being too much of a wimp to get out there.

I don't want to been spoon fed, or ride on rails, and maybe it's just a question of adapting to the game, but I do feel a bit lost. It's not necessarily the lack of direction but the apparent lack of means (or ignorance of their existence) to find the right direction.  Fortunately, I'm absolutely happy (at this point) to keep plugging away but I can understand the attrition rate being very high.

I guess I'll just stick at it!

Friday, 13 November 2015

Paid Beta: problems vs genius #GW2 #GW2HOT

Lewis at TTH has just posted what looks to be a decent article about how HOT could be improved. I don't have HOT so I can only guess how accurate the article is but it looks sensible enough.

However, as I just said to him on Twitter, I have to take exception to the opening line:
There's no doubting that Heart of Thorns is a fantastic expansion pack
I have doubts. I have such strong doubts that it's even a decent expansion pack that I haven't bought it. Maybe my expectations were too high? Who could be to blame for that?

Anyway, the 2nd closed beta for Blade and Soul starts in an hour or so and I'm lucky enough to have a key, so I'll be taking a look at it. Sadly, that's not something I had the opportunity to do with HOT. Lewis did get several looks, even prior to the beta, and I'm not saying that biases him but it might have helped to temper and balance his expectations. For everyone else you had to buy the product.

OK I concede that, in retail, that's hardly exceptional, but it's pretty exceptional for video games. Demos or trials have been around since I was buying magazines with cassette tapes sellotaped to the cover. And it's all to encourage you to buy the full product. I really don't get why Arenanet shunned that tradition.

The exclusive paid beta means that people like me (cynical, "miserable", thrifty, old) didn't "test" the game. Or to put it another way: the only people that "tested" the expansion were the people that thought they'd like it enough to buy it.

It should be obvious why that's not a good thing UNLESS your business plan is to literally double-down on "fanboys", thereby ensuring that you're only listening to people who have already decided to back you and tailor your product to them. Is that a bad strategy? Well, again (as I so often say!), no it's not. It's probably quite smart. It avoids that whole "trying to please everyone" trap that I think many developers fall into.

Of course, the other way to avoid that trap is to have some creative integrity: decide on a direction and stick to it. However, this is clearly NOT part of the Arenanet business model and I think that, ultimately, without that clear, uncompromised developer vision, Guild Wars 2 will always rest in popular mediocrity.

But, again, that's hardly a bad place to be, is it?

Friday, 30 October 2015

The other thing I was doing

I've been "training" to run 5k! My first official 5k is on November 22 and I'll be raising money for charities under the Movember banner.

I can keep this very short because there isn't much to tell. As I said in my last post, I decided I needed to get fitter, and started off by trying to lose some weight. I knew it would take more than that so I decided to invest in success and bought the Couch to 5K (tm) app (C25K) on Android. And... well, that was it. I started doing it.

It's taken me WAY longer than 8 weeks (3.5 months!) but I have stuck at and I have one more run to go before I graduate. The GPS on my phone went nuts on my last run out so I have no idea how I did but I think I'm VERY close to running the 5k in 30 minutes. I'm absolutely delighted with that!

Again, I've kept it simple. I haven't invested in loads of gear. I use an ancient HTC Wildfire with the C25K app and some music on. I wear an old pair of jogging bottoms that I bought last time I thought about getting fit (nearly 4 years ago). My only real investments have been a proper pair of running shoes (health and safety first!) and a lurid yellow running jersey (health and safety second!).

C25K is a walk-run programme and in the first session the run segments are 1 minute. 1 minute. That first session I ran just 1km in total and I found it SO hard. I mean, checking my pulse, "am I going to have a heart attack" hard. Now, I'm running 5k. I'd find it hard to believe if I wasn't there when it happened.

The potential of the human body to adapt is really astonishing and, again, it comes down to willpower. The C25K programme was amazing for me. I very rarely ever felt that I couldn't finish the segment I was on. Most of the time I found it quite comfortable but even when I didn't I never gave up. I did repeat a few sessions because I wasn't sure I was ready for the step up to the next level but that's cool. After all, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon*. I really do recommend it.

What makes all of this all the more strange is that I actually hated running. With a passion. I found it boring and hard. Now I think about going for fun. For fun! Crazy stuff.

* It's a not a marathon - that's just a phrase. A marathon is 42km and those people are idiots.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Completionists win #GW2HOT

I've cool my heels a bit on Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns and decided that maybe I could get on board with it.

My current GW2 playtime consists of logging on to my level 24 norn Warrior, harvesting my home instance and logging off. That's it. On most days, at least. If there is a Mystic Forge daily I will throw watchwork sprockets in to get Blade Shards. That was until I realised I don't want the Ascended Spinal blades (crazy expensive) and then realised I had enough Blades to complete the Exotic version already. Doh.

So, I'm not playing GW2 by any reasonable definition of the word. I went into this holding pattern when I got my 10k achievement chest. And the reason I stopped there was because, with the annoucement of HoT, I knew there was nothing but achievement grind to do until release. This has been my main beef with the expac all along.

As a result of my uninterest in HoT I haven't been following the news at. A few headlines but no in-depth readathons. I have heard about the disatisfaction with unlocking the Elite specs and seen the word "grind" bandied about. It always puzzles me when people complain about having to DO the new things added in an expac.

Having decided that HoT might be worth a bit more of a look, this morning I decided to explore some of the new stuff added to the character UI on my way back from the Forge. I noticed that new Achievements had been added to categories I had completed and I realised that some of these were linked to Masteries. Full realisation dawned and then I got angry.

So "Masteries" are Achievements 2.0? "NO," the fan people cry! "You get abilities instead of items! You can grow your character!" Yeah, but to do what? Unlock more Mastery points that are "gated" behind obstacles that can only be passed with abilities you get from Masteries. That's a genius system for long-term player buy in. But actually it's just a massive facade of busy work.

Before I go on I just need to make a critical point: if you are still enjoying the gameplay of GW2 there is nothing wrong with this system. If you can go and kill Tequatl every day and enjoy every battle, then HoT must be right up your street. If like me you don't enjoy that gameplay and were looking forward to something fresh in HoT, well, forget it.

I'm not into Achievements. I never have been. I was delighted when I Anet broke the Achievements away from the story in Season 2 of the Living World. Now, looking at the UI, I can see Mastery points attached to all that crap I have zero interest in doing. Once again, it's a great system: force players to do content that you already built instead of building new content. Genius.

But you can grow your character! Well, no, that's actually impossible in GW2 because everyone can do everything. Because those same people that are complaining about having to unlock Elite Specs would NEVER allow a situation in which they cannot obtain ALL the Achievements. So you will never be able to differentiate your character in terms of abilities. Hence your character never really grows; there's no richness. When every PC can do everything you don't have an RPG. What you actually have is closer to a MOBA. I could write a whole post about how GW2 is cleaving closer to a MOBA philosophy than an MMORPG philosphy with each release but it should be obvious to anyone that gives it any thought. Yet again, that's probably very good business!

As someone with a pretty busy lifestyle, being a completitionist would mean a life of disappointment. So when a game becomes about completitionism at it's very core, it becomes impossible for me to engage with. By ensuring that everyone can do everything, and that the only differentiation between characters is how much of it they have done, Arenanet have ripped the heart out of Guild Wars 2.

Friday, 23 October 2015

While I wasn't playing MMOs

In the last 3 months I've lost about 10% of my body weight. Fortunately, unlike in late 2012, this time it was entirely deliberate. I just want to take a few minutes to say why I did that and how.

When the summer came around and we started playing outside again I quickly realised that I couldn't actually play with my kids. I was so unfit I got out of breath and physically tired playing a 2 minute game of tag. The time had absolutely come to stop talking about it and do something. But I still didn't. Then one day the scales told me I'd hit what I'm pretty sure is my highest weight ever. That really shook me.

I've always maintained a fairly steady weight. I found by being a careful for a few weeks I could get occasional blips, like Christmas, back under control quite quickly. It seems those days are behind me! I also partial blame learning to drive. Obviously I was walking a bit less (walking distance trips are still done on foot mind!) but the biggest problem was that any food I desired was a short drive away. So, it started to mount up.

The first thing I did was cut the following from diet completely:
  • most fizzy drinks
  • chocolate bars & other confectionery (I miss you Starburst!)
  • desserts (yeah)
  • lattes
  • pastries
The next thing, in collaboration with my wife (who was also trying to shift a few pounds post-pregnancy), was to reduce portion size in our evening meals. It's very easy to over eat. This is relatively simple to deal with and we follow the "GI diet" recommendations, which is something like 30g of pasta and 40g of rice (that's dry weights). We'd done that in the past and noticed it made a big difference.

Before this starts to sound too preachy let me tell you want I do still eat:
  • takeaway chinese and curry
  • Lilt and Sprite
  • Chocolate Frogs
  • americanos (mainly decaff)
  • sugar (a bit on my cereal and a bit in my tea/coffee)
On weekdays I eat what most people would consider to be a normal (British) packed lunch: sandwich, apple, bag of crisps. And for dinner we have totally "normal" things, like spaghetti bolognase, chilli, fish fingers and chips, sausage and mash. We just eat a bit less.

My trick has been to find snacks or treats that are under 100 kcal and limit how many of those I have a day. I normally aim for 2 at the most but sometimes it's 3. And I spread them out: never eat two together!

Basically, it comes down to: don't eat shit. We eat so much crap. There's almost no nutritional benefit in most of it, it's just extra calories. My favourite example of this has become Starbucks. Apart from a small selection of sandwiches literally everything they sell has no real benefit. It's just extra calories. What makes Starbucks even worse is this, we don't even notice we're eating these things!

And, that's it! I just stopped eating things I didn't need to eat and eat a bit less of the stuff that I do. Of course it takes willpower but that's all it really takes. There's no need to follow some complex diet plan. Eating better is mainly about stopping doing things, rather than needing to do anything differently.

Of course, none of this actually made me any fitter but it made the other thing I've been doing that it easier.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The real audience for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar #AoS #WFB #Warhammer

Since the announcement and release of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar there have been a lot of posts about dumbing down of the old rules, the ridiculous new unit specific rules (see image below) and the removal side-lining of the, frankly pervy, Slaanesh Chaos deity. The culprit responsible for these heinous crimes is apparently children, a.k.a kids. That's bollocks.
It should be absolutely clear simply from the cost  of the new scenery pieces from Games Workshop that they are not trying to appeal to a younger audience. Even the most profligate parent would balk at those prices. GW themselves have talked at length about becoming a company that produces miniatures, not games, and that "Warhammer" is more about collecting, painting and modelling. Again, the audience isn't kids. So who is it?

It should also be obvious to anyone with some sort of social life that the changes in Age of Sigmar actually make it a much better game to play with your mates (plural - it's no longer two player) while you have a few beers. This perfectly explains the need to a) make the rules simpler and b) the addition of the stupid rules, which, quite frankly, you need to be drunk to appreciate.

It's as simple as that. The audience for Age of Sigmar is the well paid, bearded, craft beer-sucking hipster that "got back into board games a while ago". Board gaming is experiencing a resurgence of social acceptability and, generally, being a dickhead's is now actually cool. GW is simply trying to piggy-back on this revival. It also explains the Slaanesh thing.

The whole concept of Slaanesh is based in some weird succubus-related wish fulfillment, spawned from a generation of men that really didn't understand women. I don't mean role-playing/table-top nerds, I mean the 70s. And, quite frankly, the whole "daemons with tits" thing is embarrassing. Thematically, I love the idea of how Slaanesh fit into the original Chaos pantheon, the Dark Eldar (this short story is amazing), etc but I'm not sure it really has a place in a modern, mainstream gaming product. It's a niche and basically sexist anachronism and we're in an age where even a whiff of sexism is bad.

So, again, the down-grade of Slaanesh has got absolutely nothing to do with children and damaging their young sensibilities. Want to know what adds even more weight to that argument? Well, I've read "The Gates of Azyr", the novella that accompanied the launch of Age of Sigmar, and that ain't no kids book! It's bleak, violent and horrific. On reflection I actually really enjoyed it.

Oh, I almost forgot. A few weeks ago I passed (what turns out to be) the Warhammer Flagship store on Tottenham Court Road. I knew GW planned to rebrand all their stores (and I guess themselves eventually) as simply "Warhammer" but until then I had no idea how that brand looked.

This is the current/old logo:
This is the new one:

One of these is a modern, minimalist brand designed to appeal to a sophisticated demographic. The other one looks like something you'd see in a toy shop.

Get the picture?

Friday, 17 July 2015

Have I been wrong all along? #GW2 #FFXI #FFXIV

I came to Guild Wars 2 from Final Fantasy XI around August/September 2012. My relationship with FFXI was always mixed. I played with a bunch of great people (that I miss even today) and had a very strong bond with my character (Dibble). I'm not a huge FF franchise fan but I loved the world of Vana'diel too. What I didn't love was that the mechanics of the game never really changed with the times, development was slow and communication from the developers was terrible. It was also unforgivingly hard and anything worth doing needed a group.

But looking back at my blog from those times I'm overwhelmed by how positive most of what I wrote was. I did things in FFXI that I am still proud of today. An anecdote about how we were once pursued across a whole zone and slaughtered by an angry sheep even made it into my speech at my brother's wedding. Yes, really. It was subtle but it was there.

Hindsight is a great thing. When I switched from FFXI to GW2 it was if the lights had been switched on. Frustrations that I had had with FFXI vanished in GW2 and I wondered why I ever spent a good 5 years playing it. Admittedly my personal circumstances and expectations changed a huge amount over those 5 years of play and I think, ultimately, it was the birth of our first child that really put the nail in the FFXI coffin for me. The need to group, the gear treadmill, the sub: none of these things gelled with having a new baby. But as we approach the third anniversary of GW2 I'm starting to wonder if I did FFXI and Square Enix (SE) a gross disservice.

When I started out with GW2 buy-to-play seemed like the greatest thing in the world. I didn't have loads of play time so the amount of content was more than enough to keep me busy. At one point I was evening complaining that we had too much content. However, we've now been talking about an expansion for about a year and when, seven months ago, it was confirmed the content all but dried up. If GW2 had kept it's Living Story model I think I'd probably still be playing it. I never wanted an expansion and as soon as one was announced there didn't seem much point doing what I'd been doing as it would all change come release. That was a pretty astute prediction on my part.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I'm starting to wonder if B2P is suddenly not actually all that. I'm looking over in the direction of FFXIV and thinking the same as everyone else: it's bucking the subscription model trend. It's not just bucked it, it's out of the corral and over the fucking hills. From a distance it looks like SE has addressed most of my FFXI bug bears and assuaged my greatest concerns about FFXIV: that they weren't responsive enough to the player base and that they didn't communicate what they were doing at all well. They've not only sorted that out but they're a strong candidate for MMO PR done right. I guess they did have that blip with the housing...

This has all made me look back at FFXI and the time and money I spent in a different way. SE may not have gone about it in the best way but they RELENTLESSLY delivered more of exactly what people wanted. The amount of content in FFXI today is mind-blowing. The contrast with GW2 is stark and the most obvious difference is business model. Subs (should) mean content.

But then you have WoW. Millions of subs, zero/shitty new content (apparently). I think Blizzard's problem is plain greed. They're so used to having all that cash that they'll do anything to tap new markets and I just don't think it's working out for them in the long run. FFXIV seems happy to have a small player base that the devs completely understand and can meet the needs of. By necessity GW2 is in the same situation as WoW; they want new players. The new Adventures detailed yesterday? I don't even begin to understand who they're trying to appeal to with that.

Looking at it all from a distance I'm starting to see the huge benefits of the sub model and the obvious weaknesses of the Guild Wars 2 B2P model. I daresay The Secret World's B2P model would have been a nice fit for GW2 but it's too late now.

I've dabbled with the idea of re-subbing for FFXI for a month (especially now I have 37 "meg" broadband) but the barrier to entry is colossal even for me not just in terms of content and gear but the interface is actually archaic. Instead I'm content to look back today and realise that, far from being a disaster, FFXI was a great gaming experience and I have no regrets.

Well, not many.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Meat and potatoes #GW2HOT

Having established a bit of emotional distance from Guild Wars 2 I hope I can write about it without ranting.

I read this fantastic article by MMO Arlee about what is coming in Heart of Thorns. My first reaction was "wow, there really is a lot coming!" A lot more than it seems when you drip it out over weeks and weeks, which is why the article exists.

To recap, one of my main concerns about Heart of Thorns is a) "what will we actually be doing with all these new systems/mechanics/traits" and b) "is it different enough to be interesting?"

Arlee's post makes this really easy to get to grips with: it's the whole first section, "The Heart of Maguuma Region." Aside from Stronghold (meh) and the new Borderlands (meh) what are we going to use our masteries and specialisations for?

At the moment, based on the info we have, I'm very much thinking of Wildstar and their Path system, which when announced seemed like it would be a wealth of "content". It's quite telling that the first three links in Arlee's article are to the Youtube video of the initial announcement. We've had very little information about where were going.  I've mentioned before that they might be saving the best for last because I am sure that these aspects are the meat and potatoes to the majority of players. But I am concerned that we've heard so little because, like the Wildstar Paths, the devs have put more time into other things and haven't put much flesh on the bones.

What am I really looking for from this content? To be satisfied it would have to be:
  • at least three to five zones the size of the original zones
  • on three levels
  • with skill points, vistas, POIs (hearts make no sense because they're intended to guide levelling players and we're all 80)
  • have regular, side quest-like, dynamic events
  • have World boss dynamic events
  • have these Adventures
  • have these Quest Hubs (sorry "outposts")
If the Outposts and Adventures replace the Dynamic Event system, that's no good.  If there are less than three zones or they drip feed them in the way they have through Season 2, that's no good. That covers concern a).

What about b)? Well, the specialisations should herald a whole new playstyle for every class. Whether that will be the case remains to be seen. The Condition Damage changes should have improved build diversity but, as I understand it, they haven't. New enemies and encounters in the jungle should introduce new combat mechanics.

I don't know about you but this is all the important stuff for me. Doing the same old sh-stuff just for mastery points is not going to cut it.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

"Change is good, no?" #GW2 #WHFB #AoS

Most of my fears about Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns could be ascribed to simply fear of change. I wouldn't blame anyone for levelling that finger at me. Change is obviously a tricky thing to manage hence Change Management is an entire professional discipline and career itself.

Lewis Burnell recently askled:
My, reply was simply "bad PR". I don't mean in the sense of that whole pre-purchase non-event, where people who'd already spent hundreds of dollars on a game were placated by ten bucks worth of bytes, but the whole information management of this release. As I mentioned last time out, where is the news about the "meat" of the expansion?  I suspect it's all being held back for a big "wow" just before release. That'll prolly work but it seems like a gamble. They have to be banking on people like me who have done nothing but nay say just screaming "All is forgiven!" and buying the expansion in droves when we finally see... well, I dunno what they're actually holding back.

Elsewhere in the world of immersive, time consuming hobbies, the realm of Games Workshop, and arguably wargaming itself, is experiencing a seismic event.

A bit about Games Workshop

In case you don't know, Games Workshop is a wargaming minatures manufacturer based in the UK. It started in 1975 (even older than me) but it was a while before it became the business as it is now known. As a company, Games Workshop is notoriously tight lipped. It has no community team or even a corporate/customer service presence on social media. There is a YouTube channel, which is quite good, but all comments are disabled. The individual retail stores have their own Facebook pages but that's about it.
See? They had geeks in the seventies and, damn, those geeks were chic.
If you venture into the unofficial GW communities you will find a lot of vitriol aimed at the company, generally themed along the lines of profiteering, bait-and-switch, etc. I hope you are starting to see the similarities between the Games Workshop "hobby" and MMORPGs with regard to business modelling and "player" relations. Games Workshop continues to make a healthy profit so it must have legions of fans but I suspect it relies very heavily on the same "whales" that keep the lights on in F2P and B2P games. Like MMOs, Games Workshop is for people with a lot of disposable income or generous parents.

In 1983 Games Workshop released Warhammer, a game of fantasy battles (straight off the box). Warhammer is GW's longest running core game but, by most accounts, this ancient behemoth had been in decline*, especially when compared to it's sci-fi cousin-brother Warhammer 40k. One of the biggest (suspected) problems with Warhammer is that it is not drawing enough new players. This is, again, something we're familiar with as MMORPG players: the business makes the bulk of its money from follow-on purchases, not upfront costs i.e. the box price. You need players to literally and figuratively invest in the game.

In the last few months Games Workshop's solution to the Warhammer problem has been creeping into the light by way of leaks, more leaks, rumour, cock-ups and out right lies. However, at last the truth is in sight: the Age of Sigmar is upon us!

What's this Age of Sigmar, then?

So is Christmas
We're still not absolutely sure but it's either a completely new system to replace the old Warhammer system, or it's a boxed introductory game that will pave the way for a completely new Warhammer system***. Either way the old Warhammer system is done for. It's not the 9th edition of Warhammer.

GW have been building up to this for a while. They had this whole Warhammer campaign thing called "The End Times", which was accompanied by several hundred dollars worth of Black Library fiction alone. There were also some amazing minatures. I don't play Warhammer, in fact I don't play any GW tabletop games, and I haven't read the End Times novels or source books, but I understand that the old Warhammer world was literally destroyed, then some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff happened and boom: retcon of the whole system.
Nagash - because I wanted another image
Now, I am surely not the only person that can see the symmetry of this new Games Workshop release and what we've seen from ArenaNet with Heart of Thorns or even Square Enix and FFXIV:ARR. What happened in Warhammer could have been inspired by what they did to FFXIV for all I know. It certainly proves that this sort of total reboot can work. Two more good examples, with the "trousers of time" in action, are the new Star Trek movies and the retcon enabled by X-Men: Days of Future Past. You should know from my Thunderbird fandom I'm not opposed to reboots that work. Obviously Heart of Thorns isn't actually a reboot but most systems have now been changed beyond recognition from launch. There's been some pretty huge changes when you think back.

Needless to say this reboot/relaunch/retcon has got the Warhammer community in a right two and eight. Some people are pretty optimistic. They see the need for the game to draw new players and accept that some change is inevitable. Others are in a wtf-bbq, table-flipping rage. Others still are just a bit sad.

Where has PR gone wrong? Has it gone wrong?

I can't help but think that an MMO-esque community team could have paved the way for Age of Sigmar release a bit better. I don't understand why Games Workshop have (officially) kept EVERYTHING under wraps until pre-order day (4th July) when everything will apparently be revealed in White Dwarf. On the surface it looks like Games Workshop's notorious secrecy may have backfired (again?)

Personally, I'm excited to see Age of Sigmar. For me, Warhammer has always had a high barrier to entry but then I generally prefer a board game. I can appreciate the sentiments that, in short, this is the Warhammer 40k version of Fantasy Battle, especially when you see the "Sigmarines" (clever that), but do existing 40k players really want to play two major systems? Is this really aimed at them?
A Sigmarine
The real question is have they completely alienated the tournament-playing Warhammer core? In terms of keeping veterans on side they have done a smart thing. The rules for the new system will be completely free, as will everything you need to play the new system with your existing Warhammer armies. They have also promised that all existing minis will be supported, though I suspect a statute of limitation applies. Huge, innit? Existing players don't need to buy anything, at least that's how it looks at the minute.

With regard to Heart of Thorns, well, I've been predicting the ongoing "PR" fail but I don't think I believed it would just run and run. Just when will they announce that killer tidbit that makes HoT a must have? How much longer do they really think they can string people along for? It boggles my mind. A vocal part of the player base said GW2 desperately needed an expansion and, lo, one was provided but, damn, those vocal players were bored THEN! I have no idea how they must feel now. I actually think the pre-purchase nonsense actually helped ArenaNet. I think they've probably earned some goodwill back after that and it was a small concession for them.

I still believe that community hype is a valuable tool for promoting a product but community hype isn't the same as traditional publicity. If your community hates a proposed feature and starts tearing it to pieces you CAN'T sit back and say "hey, at least they're talking about it!" That's bad "publicity" and it looks worse when you don't address it. In a post-gamergate** world players don't really trust the mainstream gaming press any more. They know it's all spin and expertly worded non-statements.

So, having said that, maybe Games Workshop is actually doing it right. They don't do press. Their own press, White Dwarf, is very little more than a product catalogue. They have a nice steady stream of releases and associated information but they don't drip feed teasers for big releases. There is no "it's ready, when it's ready" because it's all be planned out in minute detail. You have to do that when you have a range of physical products and a supply chain.

Maybe this is the way forward? As video gamers we've all become accustomed to the hype train and the seemingly endless trickle of pre-release non-information. I guess when you don't know when something is going to be finished this is a good model but do they really not know when HoT will be done? I'm sure the investors would want to know so I find it hard to believe the date is THAT fluid. Also, you'll never see GW buttering up the "community" with meaningless platitudes about what a great bunch they are. They simply have customers that they intend to sell a product to. There is little pretence that we're some how part of the team and shaping the direction of the product.

So maybe GW does have it right. Refuse to be drawn into debate, stick to your guns and be honest about what you're doing: making money.

* Personally, I suspect this is due to them getting the Tolkien license and peeing on their own chips. I mean, why have two core systems set in a fantasy world? Especially when one heavily riffs on the other and doesn't have a multi-billion dollar movie franchise backing it up? I expect players will tell me that the two systems are so different they are not even comparable. Well, that's as may be but... new players.
** If you believe it was actually about that, which I don't
*** We know it's the former. A lot happened between 1st and 2nd July!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

GW2 is dead, long live GW2HOT

Today's patch confirmed my worst fears. Up until now a lot of my negativity has been sort of gallows humour of the "wouldn't it be terrible if" variety. I was actually a bit excited when I logged in today. Not excitement of the "OMG I've devoured every morsel of information and can't wait to see it in action" variety, just general curiosity.

Now my (well documented) fears are confirmed. As a veteran player currently without interest in Heart of Thorns I don't want to relearn everything before I can enjoy the three basic game modes again. If I was sold on HoT and intended to head to Maguuma, then, yes, it would make it worthwhile but I'm not. Yes, the meta did need a shake up but that's all it needed. It didn't need demolishing and rebuilding. I was fully invested in GW2 and happily coasting along and all that's gone out the window.  I don't want to start over in GW2, it's just exhausting.

As a veteran player the message I get from ArenaNet today is "HoT or GTFO". And you know what? That's fine. It's a buy to play game. This is how you make money and move your player base onto your next expansion. It's great business. Games Workshop have been doing this for years. Their stated business model is to manufacture and sell miniatures and the best way for them to do that is by changing the rules constantly so you need to buy new models to get the most out of each new iteration. It's genius. Of course the internet doesn't think so but, hey, shareholders are happy.

Suddenly buy to play isn't looking like the panacea it did two and half years ago.

One of the main reasons I'm not sold on HoT (and this opinion I've discovered is shared by many others) is that all these new systems like Masteries and Specializations have been introduced but it's not clear what we're going to be doing with them. When HoT was announced CJ said this:
Now as Mo [Mike O'Brien] said earlier, the maps in the Heart of Maguuma are some of the richest, deepest content experiences that we have ever built in GW2. The game space is tremendous, the amount of space that you can play in, and the jungle is made up of three distinct biomes: The Core (the jungle floor itself), The Roots of the jungle that run deep beneath the jungle itself, and The Canopy, high above, where the remains of the Pact fleet are scattered across the top of the jungle. You're going to get to go and explore all of these areas, from the very depths, to the very top of the jungle, and as you explore, you'll find a secret that the last known good dragon, Glint, left hidden in the jungle for us, right as the story of Guild Wars 1 concluded. And now, hundreds of years later, we will go into the jungle, and find that secret, and find Glint's legacy.
Well, if that really is the case then, damn, they are saving the BEST for last announcements wise because so far I ain't seen NOTHIN' to back that up. I suspect the "content" we're going to see in HoT is going to be no more than 3 zones with lots of "verticality". I could be wrong. If I am wrong I'll be happy. If there is a variety of rich new experiences and zones to explore I might completely change my mind about all this. However, I and many others suspect it's simply Silverwastes in the jungle.

What I DO hope ArenaNet is doing is laying the ground work for all future expansions. That's what they said Heart of Thorns was: "a new framework for how an MMO can grow its universe." What concerns me is that in the 3 years since launch this is the 2nd big overhaul of traits and I wouldn't be surprised if we get to the next expansion and they have changed their mind again. From my experience of logging in today I don't think the new system is "simpler" than the previous one. I hate the fact I now have to unlock skills consecutively (I must have missed that announcement). Yes, it's more like other games but that was what made GW2 great, it wasn't like other games. When I logged on today I had traits equipped in slots where an actual trait I had been using wasn't selected. Whoever derived the logic for the "comparable build generator" is an idiot. Also, I hover over some traits and two boxes come up. I dunno what that means any more. Looking at this as yet another stab at revamping the NPE they've confused me, a veteran player. So, is this a fail right off the bat? Do we now need yet another iteration? Who decides?

May be that's the big question: who exactly is deciding the direction of Guild War 2? ArenaNet, NCSoft or the players? One thing is for sure, as the answer to that question becomes less clear, the worse it will be for the game.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Told you so? #GW2HoT #GW2

I dunno that I did, I just repeated what other people said. That's hardly a prediction. But, yes, GW2HoT is expandalone and current players are upset that they have to "buy" the core game again. Obviously you're not buying the core game since they have all but given away the last few months but still. This makes the most sense for ArenaNet as what they need is new players and this is the simplest introduction for them.

My 2nd "prediction" is that I said it wouldn't include a character slot. I didn't say that here but I had a heated argument in-game with someone about it. They got heated, not me.

As for pricing, well, I was eating my breakfast and it struck me as genius. If you buy Deluxe you would be an idiot not to buy Ultimate since the gem value more than covers the "additional" cost. In UK pricing the gems in Ultimate make it "cost" just £2.50 more than Standard. Since you get an £8 character slot plus extras for that £2.50 it's an amazing bargain. What that does mean though is that the £60 basic Deluxe pack is disgustingly over-priced and it's obviously been priced that way to make the upgrade to Ultimate more attractive. So, congrats on that one Anet/NCSoft!

So, which will I pre-order? Have you guessed? That's right! None of them!

Pre-ordering a game with no release date is an absolute mug's game. Oh, and testing their game for them is supposed to be a bonus? Yeah, you can stick that where the sun don't shine.

I was pretty sure that HoT wasn't a day one purchase for me, now I won't even think about it until it goes on sale.


Friday, 12 June 2015

Before MMOs: Part 1 of 2

I recently changed the title of this blog. My main motivation was to emphasis my advancing years in mitigation of my apparent grumpiness. I'm not unusually old for an MMO player, if you played vanilla WoW at 14 you're now 25. If you played in college, well, you're in your early thirties. I played my first MMO in 2007 when I was 29. At that point I felt like I was pretty late to the game. My younger brother got me into it and I dunno if I should even thank him.

For me MMOs scratched an itch that I'd forgotten I had. Somewhere around 1985 I had a day off school because I was sick and had to go shopping at Havant Hypermarket with my Mum. They had a small book section and in it I found a book called The Forest of Doom (also on Steam). I asked my Mum to buy it for me and she did. I don't remember my Mum buying us a lot of things on the spur of the moment and I have fond memories of this, so I guess it must have been to make me feel a bit better.

This was the first fantasy book I ever owned and my introduction to roleplaying. I absolutely cherished that book and if it ever magically reappeared in a loft somewhere I would be unspeakably delighted.

At some point in the not too distant future I came into possession of D&D 3rd edition and, although I don't think I ever played a sit down game of it more than twice, I just loved reading the monster and spell descriptions. I would also have been heavily influenced by the cartoon, which would have been on UK TV in the mid-80s. What I loved most about my D&D books was inventing and equipping characters with lots of magical gear I'd never earned. Around the same time I must have read the Dragonlance Trilogy. I'm happy to say I still have those original books and re-read the first two quite recently. Since I can't have been older than 10 I do remember having odd feelings regarding Tika and being a bit distressed when Riverwind buys it. That was probably the first graphic death scene I ever read.

I then went through a slightly traumatic period in my young life when my parents decided it would be a good idea for us to move house again. For some reason they decided we should change schools first and commute for a time. However, what's never been made clear to me is why we did this a third of the way into the school year. What makes it worse was that it was a hub school and took pupils from around ten smaller schools. If I had started a few months earlier I would have been in the same situation as everyone else. So, late 1988, I was 10 and completely restarting my social life. I remember it being very hard to make friends.

In the summer of 1989, I stumbled across a copy of White Dwarf in a local newsagent. I immediately found it fascinating and the first issue I bought was White Dwarf 115. Now, I know that's never going to resurface because I remember the day I threw them all away but it would be nice to be hold that bundle of paper and know that it changed the course of my hobby interest forever.

Issue 115 was important for several reasons. Firstly it had Heroquest on the cover and a Heroquest feature inside. Secondly, it had rules for additional weapons in Space Hulk (which I knew nothing of at that time). Thirdly, it had a 2 double page spreads on a new game called Space Marine, which promised epic battles from the Horus Heresy (so it was technically W30k) and with which I was, again, immediately fascinated. Lastly, it had a section on genestealers, a "race" that I remain a massive fan of even if it did get retconned into the Tyranid vanguard.

Since the thing I enjoyed most about D&D was reading the rules you can imagine what a mine of imagination and enjoyment White Dwarf became to me. Over that summer, I remember it being hot, I cleaned out several back issues they had still on the shelves and then started buying it on an almost weekly basis. On my 12 birthday, February 1990, my Dad drove me to Brighton for the day and he bought me Space Marine and some paints. Sadly, I remember my first time in a Games Workshop as being a terrifying experience. I remember the sales assistant trying to be really helpful and that terrifying me even more. I was hooked from there. At one point I had two lever-arch folders full of rulebooks (they punched them back then) and I couldn't fit the boxes under my bed any more. The games I didn't have my friends did and there was much borrowing and lending. However, by the Summer of 1993 my interest had dwindled greatly. I probably thought, having recently turned 15, that it was time to grow up a bit.

It's worth noting that during that period, I also got my first console, the Sega Mega Drive. And I think it was probably Christmas 1993 that I played Shining Force, I don't think I even went downstairs Christmas morning I was enjoying it so much. Yup, this is definitely a period where my interests were shifting.

So that was pretty much it for me and Games Workshop until Necromunda was released in 1995.  My brother, having reached 12 had finally grown into a hobby I was quickly growing out of and I have fond memories of playing with him while back on holidays from university. Necromunda was about gang warfare and we each had our own gang.

Then that really was it. For the next ten years I had little more than a passing interest in video games even. I guess I'll make that part 2.

Monday, 8 June 2015

I had a great holiday #GW2

...and didn't think about playing Guild Wars 2 once.

I did see the announcement about Ventari and was trying to work on some sort of "tree-hugging, hippy crap" joke but my heart wasn't in it.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

#GW2 maintenance mode and the anti-grind

During the week I disconnected from all my Guild Wars 2 feeds, stopped following GW2 fan sites and cleared out all of the articles related to GW2 from my Pocket reading list. Why?

Firstly, I love Guild Wars 2. I had two and half good years from that game and met great people. However, over the last two months my play time has dwindled to almost zero. I was still logging in everyday to get my daily reward chest and farm my home instance but now I'm not sure I can even bring myself to do that. I'm about to be away for a week and I haven't given a second thought to be being able to log on. Will I pick back up when I come home?  Probably not.

What changed?  Well, I had a bit of a revelation in the shower one day (I don't get much thinking time anywhere else). It's not complicated, I won't labour this or ramble. Here it is:

Guild Wars 2, as we know it, is in maintenance mode. We're basically in the pre-release period for a new game: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns.

That's it, it's as simple as that. This came to me when I was thinking about what to play instead of GW2. I was thinking about GW1 and realised how ridiculous it would be to log into a game, purely to get achievements in another game I'm not even playing. It was then that the similarities between GW1 and GW2 occurred to me.

Since some of the changes that HoT will bring will be backported to GW2 this is not technically true but it perfectly sums up my psychology. In many ways it's like GW2 will get one last patch and then be done while HoT takes over. The problem with GW2 is that there isn't even a similar incentive to play building to HoT!

The talk of HoT being "expand-alone" makes me grow even colder. The last expand-alone game I bought was Dawn of War: Soulstorm. Expand-alone has a tendency to change things that you love and add little into the bargain. You might even hate the new things. So far HoT isn't offering much to freshen GW2 and the 'anti-grind'. If grinding is defined as "doing something you don't enjoy to get something valuable", does that mean that Guild Wars 2 is about doing enjoyable things to get worthless items? Far from being averse to change, I'm now worried that HoT won't bring enough.

What concerns me even more is that we're looking at two free to play releases from the same publisher in Autumn/Winter of this year. It would be weird to launch a paid expansion against two of your own F2P titles. I think that means HoT will either be here this summer or not until next year. Apparently next year is a popular opinion already (last paragraph). The GW2 content drought stretches on?

And speak of those F2P titles... I was hyped about Wildstar right up until they announced the business model and then my interest flat out died. Turns out that was probably lucky because, from what I have heard, I would have hated the game in the state it launched. But a game with that much character that you can dip in and out of with no risk? Sign me up!

As for Blade and Soul, well, I'd never even heard of wuxia (I'm guessing, based on my rudimentary knowledge of Mandarin, that's pronounced wu-shia) but now I have heard of it that sounds like a blast! Why wouldn't I want to give that a try?

So, Guild Wars 2, I'd like to remember you as you were. I'm not writing HoT off but I've never been one to hang on every announcement of a new game; I've stated previously that I hate all the guessing and speculation. I'm taking my leave and I might be back when all the cards are on the table*. Until then Tyria, I bid you adieu!

* though I'm likely to be playing the slots and not notice.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Thunderbirds Are Go!

I've always been a big fan of Thunderbirds.  As time goes on I find the original series even more astonishing. OK, not everyone likes the puppetry but the models and effects are amazing. Just amazing. Especially when you consider when they were done.

But more than that even the concept is exceptional and, although the time line might not pan out (i.e. no flying cars in 2065), the basic premise of the show is pretty much timeless. Chuck in the stories, the suspense, the music and it was just a winning formula.

In case you need a reminder, here's the original titles for "Terror in New York City" (great episode):

I mean, my son loves the Octonauts TV show and what is that if not a ten minute version of Thunderbirds aimed at pre-school children?  Admittedly, Octonauts has some really interesting natural history information and a dose of environmentalism that elevates it beyond simple rescue missions. My son can name a wide variety of sea creatures I'd previously never heard of.  Being a big fan of the ocean (I was once a qualified wreck diver) I hope his interest continues and we might go to see some whales once day.

It was while watching Octonauts with MY dad that I saw the similarities with Thunderbirds and that prompted me to get the entire original series on DVD. Shortly afterwards I heard that it was being remade. Cue weeping man babies in a very similar vein to the Ghostbuster remake. There were cries of "you're spoiling my childhood," etc. However, with the promised combination of HD digital animation and the WETA modelling, it should have been clear that the production team knew what it was doing.  What do I think of it? It's great! In some ways it's even better than the original because the episodes often dragged but all the key elements are still there.

Here's the titles for the first Episode of the new show, "Ring of Fire":

Thunderbird 2 (always my favourite) has a had a bit more of a facelift than the other Thunderbirds and that's good. I expect the elevation of a female character to a front line role probably upset the man babies again but I like Kayo. I like the addition of Thunderbird S too and I like that (spoilers) she's related to the Hood. The fact that they have apparently ditched the weird psychic powers is good too. I would have liked them to straight up swap Alan or Gordon for a Tracy sister but well, those man babies can be mean. Brains switch to being some sort of south Asian (?) tech genius is a bit odd but harmless and the retention of Parker and Penelope is good. New costumes, great too.

Like the original series the stories vary quite a lot between episodes but I always enjoyed the straoght rescue missions the most. So far I think the episode with the uranium mine, "Crosscut", has been my favourite. Although the two part season opener was great too.

For me, they've absolutely nailed the "remake". I enjoy it just as much as I ever enjoyed the original and I hope it's popular enough that they make a lot more. I just hope they use those episodes to tell good stories, rather than expand on the team. If Octonauts keeps going the way it is they'll run out of alphabet to name their Gups after...

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Music in the movies #MCU

I'm starting to realise (in my old age) that the score of a BIG film can make a huge difference to my enjoyment of it. If I'm watching something with some truly epic action and the music is less than epic, then it just doesn't quite get me.

A good and recent example of this is Avengers: Age of Ultron. After I watched Avengers Assemble I had the theme in my head for days. Subconsciously, I pretty much spent the whole of Age of Ultron waiting for the Avengers theme and I was finally satisfied after the mid-credit sting.  As for the rest of the music in the film. Meh.

Looking back at previous Marvel movies there are some other absolute stand outs.  Firstly, the "Cap on tour" rendition of the "Star Spangled Man (with a Plan)" could be one of my favourite moment in the MCU so far. Then you have the actual First Avenger theme, which, with all the brass and pomp, has a deal in common with Indy and Star Wars. Thus evoking all sorts of happy, Saturday afternoon movie type feelings.

More recently, the Iron Man 3 theme absolutely smashed it out of the park for me.  Is there a better way to follow on from the inevitably "dark" sequel than to stick your tongue a little way into your cheek and have some fun? No. This theme is all about that.  Most of the AC/DC tracks on the preceeding Iron Man movies did a stand up job too.

I guess that brings us to Thor.  Sorry, Thor but... did your movies even have any music? Absolutely none of it stands out in my mind.

Rounding out the MCU, I guess we should mention Guardians of the Galaxy but there's not much to say. It simply has one of the best movie soundtracks. Ever. Which track is my favourite? It's a very tough call between "O-o-h Child" ("I'm distracting ya, ya big turd blossom!" (spoilers) and "Come and Get Your Love", the song accompanying an opening sequence that sets the tone for the whole movie.

Moving away from the MCU, I can't hear "For Whom The Bell Tolls" by Metallica without thinking of Zombieland (and I hear it often). I also have to give a shout out to Michael Giacchino who could be JJ Abrams' own John Williams. His work on Star Trek had me blubbing before the film had barely started and again at the end of Super 8. I'd like to blame being a parent for my (over) sensitivity to those two scenes but since we had our first child in 2012, that'd be a tough sell.

Speak of the great Mr. Williams, it could be the TIE fighters or the Falcon, but I'm pretty sure it's the combination of those AND the music that makes this one of the most exciting things I've seen for about 30 years.

Thanks for joining me for this unusually rant-free post. I'd like to bring this to a close with a less than fantastic movie with an absolutely spot on theme. Ladies and gents, I give you Pacific Rim.

Friday, 1 May 2015

From #GW2 to other things

Having (temporarily?) slipped the yoke of Guild Wars 2 I find myself with an abundance of time to do other things.

My Guild Wars 2 break wasn't an entirely concious choice.  About two months ago I tweeted this:
Since then I have done some stuff but mainly I have logged in for my reward, gathered in my home instance, confirmed that my items still haven't sold on the TP and logged off again. I can't remember the last time I went to a guild event.  I think it might have been a PvP night.

I have some idea of the reasons for my loss of interest.  I suspect the change of seasons has a lot to do with it. I've also been much busier with work and home life. Getting my 10k chest really did close a loop for me and, looking back, obtaining it had been a major motivator. I think the biggest issue, though, is Heart of Thorns.  The more we hear, the more we know that it's going to fundamentally change the game and in some unexpected ways.  In principle, I'm cool with that.  Whether I like where the game ends up in practice is another thing.  Knowing that, I'm not about to invest much more time in pre-expansion GW2.  In my opinion, this is the big danger of announcing an expansion too early.

Financially, and in terms of bank assets, I'm sitting pretty for what ever changes HoT brings. I'm not going to make any big investments in anything as we have almost no idea how the market is going to react come release.  Although it's fair to say that an influx of new players will spike material prices and that will have a knock on effect.

Most importantly my characters are exactly where I want them to be. I have been dissatisfied with my norn Necromancer for almost as long as I can remember.  The size of the model shattered the illusion of detail in most of the armour skins and, well, he looked like he was wearing a dressing gown (bath robe) most of the time.

I resolved that with the spoils from my 10k chest, buying an Identity Repair Kit and assuming the name, gender and appearance of my norn Elementalist (who was deleted having been birthday scrolled to 20 and used as a bank). Behold my Necro reborn:

Tore was immediately reincarnated as a Warrior, with the exact same appearance and name.
This solved my "which race to make my warrior" conundrum but left me an Elementalist short.  However, I'd long since decided that a male sylvari was the perfect choice for that. I don't have any good shots of him at the moment, though!

So, that's where I pretty much left off in Guild Wars 2.  Now, onto other things.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Going off half-cocked #GW2

Here's a tweet from a month ago:
In my opinion, this is the big danger of announcing an expansion too early.  You generate an initial interest spike but as it becomes clear you aren't about to deliver that interest will dwindle. I don't think it matters how clever you think your PR is, I just don't think you can sustain interest, especially when it comes to existing players who have nothing to enjoy in the meantime.

As the time between the announcement of Heart of Thorns and its release grows I feel vindicated in my opinion regarding what ArenaNet were doing. I still believe that the China release was all hands on deck until that was put to bed (May 15 2014).  I think the expansion work started up around the Season 2 mid-season break (August 2014), with the intention that assets would become free to work on HoT full time once Season 2 wrapped up. HoT was announced 11 days after the final part of Season 2 released.  That would mean an August 2015 release gives them a year development time.  I think that adds up.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

We now revert to our scheduled programming #GW2

(I wrote this back at the end of March and didn't publish. Not sure why.  I think I was just a bit sick of my own whining. Reading over it now I can see that everything I said is absolutely relevant a month later.)

So, ArenaNet announced an expansion for Guild Wars 2 and then went back to doing their PR exactly the same way. We're being drip fed the same level of information on about the same sort of schedule we're used to.  Just instead of previewing the next feature pack (or whatever they span it as) or Episode it's now parts of the expansion.  The difference is we don't know when the expansion is coming. More than that our educated best guess is based purely on (korean) financials.  Q1 is done, if they were releasing next quarter they would be  announcing now (or VERY soon) in order to boost Q2.

Personally, I can't see release before Q3. Q2 is surely out since the first "closed beta" was just the demo.  Admittedly, the demo on the live servers with real players, but clearly barely scratching the surface of what has been promised. Has anyone heard anything bad about that beta period? I haven't.  By all accounts people were impressed that they could play it so seamlessly.  So, developmental progress seem solid enough.

Assuming the Anet hype-machine continues to function as normal we can expect at least a week of coverage per Specialisation. I mean you could do a day a week but why clump it all together?  That's basically two months of news items on it's own.

When I think about it, though, what haven't they covered? Masteries, Revenant and the new zones have all had a pretty good chunk of coverage.  The new Stronghold map and WvW ditto.  I guess that pretty much does leave Specialisations and Guild Halls.  But part of me wonders if these Specialisations are even final for each class yet.  We know from the Revenant coverage that they built and abandoned at least one spirit.

I think it's safe to say that we're still some way from release but then why have they announced so early, and with such detail, without a release date? To put it in perspective, Warlords of Draenor was announced November 2013 and release November 2014.  The release date was announced just 3 months prior, in August.  I get the impression from Twitter that people think that Heart of Thorns should have been RELEASED already, never mind announcing a release date. I think the lack of release date is an indication of just how far away it is.

The biggest problem that I have is that, now an expansion has been annouced, Anet are no longer obliged to release any new "content" until the expansion. I said before, and repeatedly, that the expansion to me looks no more than Season 3, the PvP and WvW updates and a feature pack all bundled up with a price tag. I don't have a problem with paying, I just would have preferred to have the content delivered under the old model.

So, why did they announce? Back around the announcement I said this:
It's bad news rather than good. Quite simply there is nothing coming between now and release and there was no way they could keep hiding that without admitting they were working on an expansion.  I keep hearing people say that they have been working on this since release but I very much got the impression that the China release was their main focus from launch (watch the first minute) and it's only since then they have started working on the expansion.  Otherwise, well, why isn't it ready?

I just hope this isn't the shape of things to come. Pre-announcment I said that I thought they'd shown that the traditional MMO release model wasn't the only thing that worked but now it looks like they just fallen back to that. Will Season 4 be delivered as a Living Story again?

Oh, and how the hell will they balance a new class and 8 new specialisations across PvE (with new mechanics), PvP (with new mechanics) and WvW (with new mechanics)?

Exclusivity & Entitlement #GW2

I got into a discussion a few weeks ago about reward exclusivity in Guild Wars 2.  I'd like to say it was good natured but it wasn't.  The other party was fairly belligerent and I got quite defensive.  Towards the end of the discussion, amongst other veiled insults, this little comment was tossed in:
What I am questioning is the motive for demanding exclusivity. To my mind, the people on the forums who talk about that come off as entitled children.
OK, so let's unpack that.  It all started when...

I had just over a hundred blade shards in my bank.  I get more every day from my Sprocket Generator.  I was commenting that I was pissed off because I'd never be able to do anything with them because I missed the event itself (yes, I know, read on) while other things that I worked hard to earn through S1 events were now readily available through other means.

Possibly because of prior knowledge that I didn't have, she (I'm assuming a woman because she said husband so I'm going with probability) glossed over the first part. But apparently she has an axe to grind with regard to "entitled children" and began demanding to know why the loss of exclusivity on those items bothered me.

My counter-argument was simply the principle: the loss of exclusivity. What I couldn't seem to get across was that a large part of the value of an exclusive item lies in the exclusivity. Exclusivity is therefore a reward in itself. I mean some of those rewards were so fugly exclusivity was all they had going for them.

But really my "beef" with this is multi-faceted. Having now taken a step back, part of my argument should have been: if I had known I could have got the Sprocket node from a vendor six months later I would never have bothered grinding out the meta for The Origins of Madness. That release was actually the trigger for my second bout of Living Story Season 1 burnout.  I skipped the next three releases entirely because I felt like a hamster on a wheel chasing meaningless rewards.

But I persevered with those meta-achievements because, at the time, it seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity to get those rewards.  And, at the time, I think it was.  I think Anet only backtracked later when people complained about the transitory nature of their content. In a way I guess I feel duped because I really didn't want to miss out and regret it.  Admittedly, I happily avoided doing some of S1 because the meta rewards didn't interest me at all.

My other problem with past rewards being available via a vendor was that I couldn't get the one thing I wanted when everyone else could get the things I'd got.  Turns out (again, see below) I was wrong but the fact remains that some rewards from Season 1 are still exclusive.

Take Mini First Mate Horrik from Sky Pirates of Tyria, the cause of my 1st S1 burnout.  I hated that release. The difficulty of the Aetherblade Hideout was almost unparalleled in the game at that time. People generally "cheat" to get through that fight in Fractals now. So, I never got mini Horrik but, damn, I'd use him proudly if I had.  But if I could just go buy it from a vendor it becomes just a Mini. Just as all the other Season 1 skins have become just a "cosmetic item".  The fact is I benefited from the removal of this exclusivity in that I picked up a Slickpack skin through the last Festival of the Four winds, so I can hardly complain but the principle still bothers me.

As for entitlement...well. Another guild mate piped up and said that people that missed the event should be able to get those cosmetic rewards too.  Why should they be "unnecessarily penalised"? My "opponent" readily agreed.  Well, if THAT isn't entitlement I dunno.

Personally, I can't understand the logic that having a reward for an in-game activity that is unobtainable elsewhere (hence exclusive) is somehow elitist and exclusionary, especially when those items are almost purely cosmetic.  The truth is, when you talk about exclusivity you have entitlement on both sides of the argument and which side of the argument you stand on is never going to be static.

Having read through this post you might be confused about where I stand myself. I guess that just emphasises the complexity of the feeling on the topic. I simply think it should be all or nothing.  Either make them all once-in-a-lifetimes or have them all appear on a vendor after a fixed period. Personally, I favoured the former but exclusivity for limited period is a nice compromise if it's understood that way from the start.

As it turns out

My frustration that formed the proverbial snowball was totally unwarranted.  You can still make the spinal back piece, you just buy the 4 blueprint scraps off the TP and away you go.  I was delighted to hear this because I felt I'd missed out.  I turns out I wasn't the only one, "spinal blade is the only item in [the] game I hate not getting," piped up someone else. I also found out that if you buy the watchwork mining pick you can get even more sprockets to convert into Blades.  That someone else was unaware you could even get the Sprocket Generator with laurels now. So, ultimately, the whole conversation was incredibly productive.

During the discussion most people piped up about how much they dislike the Spinal Blades back.  The truth is, I don't even really like them myself.  I only used the Slickpack skin for a few weeks in the end...but it's the principle, right?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


In my last post I described some people whose opinions I respect as being part of the "community".

I just want to clarify the quotes. I don't understand what "community" means in the MMO sphere. It's not my term. I suspect it is borrowed from some PR asshat who thought you could placate the masses by making them think that they were more than just a semi-random confluence of individuals, with a broad shared interest, each trying to shout the loudest.

The problem is: I believe that in most online communities there is a silent majority*.  And by virtue of their silence the persona of the community is shaped without them and only represents their views by chance**.

And since I am, in the main, part of that silent majority, when I hear developers say "we have such a great community," I think "don't patronise me you disingenuous prick***."

With that in the open, please don't take it as an insult if I describe you as being part of it.

* for evidence, just look at election turnouts in non-dictatorial democracies
** and when I say chance, I mean it in the fullest sense of statistical probability
*** again probability says the developer is male

Why the #GW2 Stronghold beta can go suck a fat one

Today is the open beta for the new Stronghold mode in Guild Wars 2. A lot of people are excited.  I'm not one of them.

Let's be clear, I'm a black hat "thinker", I look at the negatives. Here, in my eyes, the negatives eclipse the positives in such a colossal fashion I can't even see light at the end of the tunnel.

In short, balance. Several prominent members of the "community" have spoken out recently, explaining the problems with PvP in GW2 and the problems they anticipate in Heart of Thorns.

Lewis Burnell said this:
Tough Love Critic has actually written another piece since, talking about how the expansion will shake up GW2 fundamentally. One quote stands out:
From a game meta and structure viewpoint, it’s going to be complete chaos. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun chaos (it most certainly will be)
No, it won't be. I think there is some sort of assumption that MMO players all enjoy this type of change. We don't.  And the degree of change outlined so well in TLC's article, makes me wonder what proportion of players will just give up on GW2 while it meanders through the pre-expansion content vacuum and won't come back.

I just can't get my head round the scale of the balance problem.  As it stands, ArenaNet have decided to combine the following into a single update:
  • a new class
  • 8 (9 if revenant gets one) specialisations
  • a new sPvP mode (not a map)
  • a new WvW map
Where do you even start balancing that? Maybe the fact is you don't.  You just push it out and say "hey, we're aware there are some issues" and watch as the community pans for gold in the torrent from your sewer. I mean, is PvP in Guild Wars 2 even balanced now?

Although today brings "beta" testing, the fact is you'll still be "testing" these changes way after money has changed hands. If not, then release is even further out than I myself have predicted.  And that's even worse.

So, no, I won't play your beta. I won't log in. I won't allow my contribution to the metrics to reassure your stakeholders.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Reading between the lines

Since the announcement of the Guild Wars 2 expansion, Heart of Thorns, I've been involved in two discussions which have left me exasperated by the extent to which people wilfully over-interpret, mis-read and read-into the information provided by Arenanet.

As previously it might look like I'm picking on individuals but they're just convenient examples.  Sorry for picking you out.

The first was this:
"The entire hype of the announcement was pulling the RNG out of precursor acquisition."
I have no idea how you can interpret/extrapolate what Colin Johansen actually said to conclude that there would be no RNG involved in the new pre-cursor acquisition.  Personally, I think it will be very similar to how the luminescent armour is obtained which is VERY heavily affected by RNG.

What CJ said was this:
"The Mastery system will allow you to build out collections that send you on epic journeys across the world of Guild Wars 2, that once completed will reward you with pre-cursor weapons to set you on your journey to building your legendary."
Maybe I missed an additional announcement but there is not even a hint that the RNG has been "pulled out".

Next, Specialization. CJ said:
"The Specialization system will allow each profession to master a new specialization that grows there profession into something new."
The heart of Thorns website says:
"unlock access to a weapon previously unavailable to your profession"
In English "a [noun]" means one. "A choice of desserts" means there are many desserts but you can only choose one of them. If you went into a bar and asked for "a beer" and the bartender asked you how many you wanted you'd think he'd misheard you.

The announcement, and subsequent information, never mention there being a choice of new weapons per profession or a choice of Specializations.  "Each profession... a new specialisation." Yet it seems clarification was needed.

I can understand that if English isn't your first language these statements may not be as clear to you but they are actually quite explicit.

For me this is simply a personal annoyance but it's actually bad for the game.  This is exactly why Arenanet clammed up for the last, what, 6 months?  It was because they couldn't say anything without people wildly mis-interpreting what they said, forcing them to make clarifications that revealed more than they really wanted to.  The solution was to say simply nothing at all.

And we all paid the price.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

I despise guessing games

The MMO community and predictions go together like pigs and tapeworms.  It's my least favourite aspect of the community.  That's mainly because a "prediction" is just a guess, which may or may not be well educated.  A prediction could prove to be right but for none of the reasons cited by the predictor.  Worst of all reasons and detailed explanations are seldom given by developers.  So it's all kind of fruitless, self-abuse...

So, to the poorly concealed elephant: the Guild Wars 2 expansion. In the past I poured (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) scorn on the widely discussed notion that ArenaNet must be working on an expansion because only 20 people were working on the Living World content.  In that post I said:
I am absolutely certain that a good portion of Anet's staff ARE working on things for the distant future and that MAY include an expansion.
So, yes, I myself have also "predicted" an expansion. In fact, anything that ANet do from this point on that isn't LW I've predicted. See how easy it is?

Anyway, in my last post, I flipped that LW team argument on it's head and asked the question: what is everyone else doing if not an expansion?  It was intended to be rhetorical but I want to consider that a bit more.

First, I will say that I don't think we're heading for a "boxed" expansion pack. Based on the announcement of the announcement ("a new framework for how an MMO can grow its universe") I think we're looking at self-contained, episodic content with a gem store fee, kind of like that other B2P game, The Secret World, does its updates.

My position has always been that we'll see more of the same.  In short, I believed ANet when they said very clearly a while back that the Living World was the future and they weren't working on an expansion pack. Admittedly that was nearly two years ago and they also said they'd certainly consider an expansion when the timing was right.

However, games like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us have shown that episodic content is a viable revenue option.  The current demand for "comicbook" TV shows (Agents of SHIELD, Gotham, Constantine) demonstrates that the LW release model is in keeping with the Zeitgeist. I like the model and I think it's working.

Maybe the future, story-wise, is similar to Guild Wars 1's self-contained campaigns.  But wait, aren't they generally referred to as expansion packs?  Well, hang on then. The last few Living World updates have added new zones, new content and expanded lore and some people have paid a fee.  Isn't that an expansion?  In writing this it occurs to me that whether GW2 has an expansion or not probably comes down to semantics (mega servers anyone?).

Ultimately, though, I think it's the size of these updates that decides whether they can be described as an expansion.  Since impact is proportionate to size if you want a big splash use a big rock and I think a large part of the pro-expansion lobby is concerned that GW2 needs to make a big psychological splash in the minds of gamers. They think an expansion in name will deliver that.

The fact is, though, that a big portion of GW2 players are from the US and the US is world renowned for being inward looking.  I have actually emailed Massively in the past and complained that they use the MMO term "the West" and "NA" interchangeably.  Well, newsflash, the EU is a Western market.  However, there is also a huge number of second world players that are lumped in as EU that maybe aren't exactly "the West"; there is a massive gamer population sat between "the West" and "the East" (in MMO terms).

I hear a lot of Guild Wars 2 players that want other people to play.  They're concerned that other people will stop playing and that means the game will die. So it follows that they want ANet to pull more people in.  The funny thing is they never talk about quitting themselves.  I'm not seeing people say: "we need an expansion or I'll quit".  They're saying "we need an expansion or everyone else will eventually quit". The psychology is interesting.

"Western" Guild Wars 2 players are thinking we need an expansion to pull people back from say ESO, Wildstar, Archeage or even WoW.  That's their mindset, the MMO market relevant to them.  However, Guild Wars 2 (and NCSoft) is in a global market place.

So, what are ArenaNet busy doing? I don't think they'd put all their eggs in the proverbial expansion basket.

Expansion into new territories is a major consideration, in my opinion.  That takes a lot of people.  I think the China release is what everyone was working on and why Season 1 sort of assumed a holding pattern.  Japan, Korea and Russia are all decent "top of my head" candidates for future expansion.  That's the best way to grow the player base.

Also, some of the promised changes will have deep structural impact on the game.  For example, the promised pre-cursor crafting needs to be handled extremely carefully in terms of the economy.  I don't think Legendary armour will be far behind.  Also, I see a lot of people speculate that people buy gems, to get gold, to buy pre-cursors.  If that's the case expect pre-cursor crafting to tie directly to the gem store to maintain that revenue stream.  Whether it's a legendary crafters license at 800 or 1600 gems or a 125 gem item needed for each of 10 components we'll see.

Legendary armour with swappable stats (aside from skin the only real benefit of a legendary weapon) would mean only needing one set of gear, which means less storage need, again impacting on gem store sales.

PvP has had an overhaul and that will continue.  PvP is the big thing in some markets.  I think changes to WvW are coming.  GvG too. These are all big changes that take a lot of research and development time before any coding even starts.  PvP balance is probably the biggest hindrance to the introduction of new classes and weapons.  Throw in the fact you have to balance across WvW and PvP and that there has been a new PvP mode discussed all adds to the complexity.

What about player housing? Surely someone is working on that?  How is that going to work? People want open world but can a non-sub game sustain the server infrastructure for that?  That would probably mean a gem cost, possibly rental; would people pay it? Research and focus grouping is required.

The overwhelming impression I get from ArenaNet, above most other MMO stables, is that they aren't making it up as they go along.  Developmentally and financially they run a very tight ship. Since launch they have adapted to run all of these development strands concurrently.  I think this will limit the amount of story/lore/zone updates, being just one of many streams. They can't afford to drop everything, work on an expansion for 18 months and then pick it up again.  Also, they avoided layoffs in the recent NCSOft cutbacks? Guild Wars 2 revenues are in decline but clearly there is not much fat to trim.

Having said that, a big benefit of a boxed expansion is you can place it anywhere in your financial year and watch your stock price soar.  Finish the year on a high, have a great end of year report and a fat dividend for your share holders. Make no mistake, this is a business and this is perhaps the most compelling case for a boxed product in stores.

I believe a lot of people think you need an expansion pack with new zones and new story to introduce new classes and races.  That's certainly how it's been done in the past.  My touch stone is Final Fantasy XI and these things formed the backbone of their releases.  Let's look at Seekers of Adoulin, the last expansion.  That added two new classes, new zones and a whole new story line.  But that story line was continued and concluded in subsequent updates over 21 months.  So, the "cost" of that storyline to the player was the expansion pack price + 21 months of sub time.  That's about $200.

Guild Wars 2 doesn't have that subscription business model.  It doesn't need to be sticky it just needs you to buy from the gem store.  So we might see new classes released without any story at all. 1600 gems, please.  A Season 3 season pass.  A 1000 gems, thanks.  Story and Class bundle. 2400 gems, and ta very much.  Some people might just want the classes or access to new weapons, especially for PvP, and I think ANet wants to cater to them.

In terms of AAA popular success, Guild Wars 2 has broken the mould with regard to business model, cadence (even if it isn't every two weeks, fifty-two weeks a year) and actual play style (active combat with no trinity).

Guild Wars 2 is a modern MMO in a global market place and I think we should expect bigger things.  Wildstar failed because it tried to cling to the past in terms of content and business model.  A boxed expansion would be a step backwards for Guild Wars 2.  ArenaNet will not make that mistake and it has two huge challenges.

Firstly, convincing players that content released through the gem store is not a "scam" to get money out of you.  Those sales keep the game going.  It's not double-dipping.  Also, it's a digital market place.  Are you reading this on a phone? Would you prefer to go to a store and buy a cardboard box containing each an every app you currently have on it? It's 2015.

The second, and biggest challenge, is selling their vision to a bunch of people predominantly fuelled by nostalgia for the halcyon days of MMO gaming where everyone came back for an expansion and stayed 'til the next one.  Those days are gone. Long, long gone.

Of course, I could be totally wrong.  It's just guesswork.