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The Casual Life by Wintyre Fraust

An older, casual player's perspective on MMOG's in general and GW2 in particular.

Author: Meleagar

Understanding the Difference Between "Casual" and "Hardcore"

Posted by Meleagar Friday December 14 2012 at 10:00AM
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I've come to a much better understanding of how to meaningfully define the term "casual" and "hardcore" since playing (and debating about) GW2.

To make it really simple: casual players, as I'm defining them for this blog, are players who fundamentally consider MMOGs to be experiences to be enjoyed and not games to be won.  They will not do things in an MMOG that are not fun (at least not much of it) in order to pursue some kind of "win" or achievement.  Wins or achievements are, to a casual player, an added bonus to their enjoyment, not something to be pursued for their own sake via otherwise unenjoyable content.

Hardcore players - again, for the purpose of this blog - are those that primarily play to win some kind of identifiable, meaningful achievement.   They are there to have a top-level character in top gear and having acquired all significant achievements. Wins, top power or achievements are, to a hardcore player, the only reason to play a game.  Everthing else in the game is, essentially, "fluff".

For the casual player, the fluff is what is of primary concern; for a hardcore player, the fluff is irrelevant.

Let me explain "fluff"; it is more than just fancy clothes and hairstyle and sparkly ponies in an MMOG.  For instance, when a casual player can wade into a huge boss MOB fight and get to loot the shiny chest at the end, what they are getting from the chest is not important; what is important is primarily being able to be involved in such a battle and being able to loot the chest at the end. 

You see, all of that is the "fluff" - even the loot, unless the loot is something that a hardcore player specifically requires to "win".  The boss MOB battle is just what the hardcore player has to go through to get the "win"; it doesn't matter if the hardcore player has to grind dungeons, grind crafting, grind resources, grind map completion, jump puzzles, WvW, PvP .. all of that, to a hardcore player, is just disposable, interchangeable window dressing - fluff. What matters is the "win" - some form of power progression for their character. 

To the casual player, though, even if the chest at the end just gives them a pile of stuff they're going to sell, it doesn't really matter, because they didn't do it to get the shiny "win" item at the end; they did it to experience a huge, monstrous battle and contribute enough to be able to loot the chest.  They're not grinding the shiny loot at the end; they're enjoying a huge boss MOB fight for its own sake.  For many casual players, such an experience has been out of our reach ever since EQ vanilla came out.

It doesn't matter how many hours you put into the game, what defines you as either a casual or a hardcore player - IMO - is what motivates you as you play. I don't see either playstyle as "wrong", but simply rather as two entirely different demographics that developers should consider in the developmental process.

GW2 has a lot of great casual-friendly features that most other MMORPGs just don't have and future MMORPGs should certainly emulate.

Why I Still Play GW2

Posted by Meleagar Monday December 10 2012 at 9:38AM
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I'm not going to lie to you: I still play GW2, although not as much as before, and I haven't spent any money in the cash shop since they put Ascended gear into the game.  Yes, I do feel betrayed by the insertion of a gear treadmill, I feel let down by the horrible state of content added after launch, and I believe that NCSoft pitched  their Arenanet devision to the cash shop wolves to satisfy investors.

However, finding out that Anet did in fact make comments about adding item progression and higher character levels as early as September of 2011 has softened the sense of betrayal.  I'm at least partly to blame for my expectations of what GW2 was going to be, even though I and many others reasonably (IMO) believed there would be no power creep (considering 7 years of "no power creep" philosophy in GW1).  The fact is that if I stopped doing business with every company I felt did something unethical or produce some shoddy work, I'd probably be unemployed, homeless, naked and hungry.  I'm not going to deprive myself of the enjoyment of entertainment I've already paid for just because I dislike the company. I also don't trash my televisions just because the manufacturer or retail store does something I don't like. That would be rather foolish.

I'm still looking and advocating for a non-vertical MMORPG, but while I do so I still find GW2 reasonably fun to play, and the reason I do so is because GW2 still provides me with several things I - as a casual player (and by casual, I refer to playstyle, not time spent in-game) - never got from any MMORPG before.

First, GW2 allows me to fully participate in raid-style boss MOB fights.  As a casual player having played over 10 years of MMOG including the launch of EQ vanilla, I've never seen anything like the massive battles with Dragons that I've participated in with GW2.  I've never looted those kinds of end-of-the-battle chests before.

Second, it gives me (through my characters) a true sense of power.  I love wading into a bunch of MOBS that are a higher level then me and being able to dispatch them all with special video and sound effects that make my characters feel awesome.  In EQ and WoW, I'm used to characters that could barely hold their own against any smilarly-leveled creature. In GW1, I can tackle a Veteran 2-3 levels above me an, if I play it right, own them. I can show up at an outpost that has been ovverrun and save it, single-handedly. It is very satisfying.

Third, it gives me plenty of content and stuff to do that is really meaningful to my characters. At over 500 hrs played, I still haven't seen over 50% of the map on any character, nor have I come close to finishing any storyline.

Fourth, it gives me great diversity within even a single character and many different ways to play that character - I'm not stuck doing one thing one way every time I log in with that character.  

There are a lot of things ANET did right in GW2, even if they got some things very wrong since launch. I give them credit for that and I'd love to see that kind of appeal to casual players going forward in future games.


Do MMORPG's Need Power Creep/Gear Treadmills?

Posted by Meleagar Thursday December 6 2012 at 7:34AM
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Most games that have ever existed were designed around a fundamental concept: a fair competition on a level playing field.  They existed almost universally for thousands of years as an entertaining, fun, competitive activity.  There was nothing equitable to a "gear treadmill" or "power creep".  In fact, the idea that someone in the game would have a significant artificial advantage over other players, or over the materials that served as the playing field, would be contradictory to the fundamental concept of a "game". Even most video games do not employ power creep or vertical progression.

Yet, the MMORPG genre is comprised almost exclusively of games that employ ongoing power creep and gear treadmills, even though there is nothing inherent in the concept (or even the name) of the genre that implicitly or explicitly refers to vertical power progression. I will agree that the roots of the genre - fantasy role-playing - did employ some limited power progression, but that progression was hardly the defining characteristic of the genre.  The changing, fluid interaction of game-master created environment, including clues, puzzles, and conflict, vs the intelligence, wits, and luck of the adventurers in meeting interesting and challenging environmental goals and problems more defined the Dungeons and Dragons concept than what is now simply a gear-grind for it's own sake.

For whatever set of reasons, the concept of a gear-grind power creep took hold in the MMORPG genre and essentially took it over, to the point that those who play, and those who develop games for the genre, apparently cannot even imagine an MMORPG being successful without it.  We're all familiar with the term "content locusts" - players that consume vertical progression in a game and then either complain that there is "nothing to do" or move on to other games. Developers often attempt to keep up with vertical progression content locusts by churning out more vertical progression every few months.

Obviously, thousands of games have been successful without power creep or gear treadmills. People pour millions of hours and billions of dollars into games that have no power creep gear treadmills. So why the myopic and obsessive focus on that particular mechanic in MMORPGs? It's obviously not necessary for a game to be successful, and you can make a pretty good case that it drives a lot of potential customers away for many reasons:

1. It destroys any sense of "fair competition" between players.

2. It "forces" players to do things in the game they do not want to do (hence the term "grinding") in order to stay competitive.

3. It forces players to play the game as if it were their primary job in order to stay competitive.

4. It funnels game structure and design concepts down a very narrow path, basically making the game all about the grind, regardless of what else is offered in the game, which is psychologically off-putting for players that don't want to grind to stay competitive.

5. It biases development time towards trying to keep content locust type players satisfied, which is off-putting for those who are not interested in grinding.

6. It ruins many other potentially profitable and fun systems thout could be in such a game, like WvW or PvP that is competitive from a player skill point of view.

I'm not saying that developing a game that serves the content-locust mentality is a bad thing, nor am I arguing that being a "content locust" is in itself a bad thing. All I'm asking here is: Why is the MMORPG genre so obsessed, from a producer/developer standpoint, with a game mechanic that is a very marginal concept when it comes to the gaming industry as a whole, when there is absolutely no such limitation/focus inherent in the concept of an MMORPG?

It's like the genre has put itself in a power creep/gear treadmill straightjacket for no good reason and cannot conceive of anyone that wants to play an MMORPG without the strraightjacket on.

It's Time For Purely Horizontal MMORPG

Posted by Meleagar Friday November 30 2012 at 8:24AM
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In another post, I explained why a vertical progression hard cap is so important to many players, and why the perception that it was part of the philosophy of GW2 led to such an uproar when an item stat progression system was intiiated by Arenanet.

Playing GW2, I realized one of the problems with any vertical progression whatsoever is that, after you do it once or twice, after that it largely becomes a chore when all you're really doing is trying to max out different characters to play with different professions, races, builds, etc. If there is ongoing vertical progression, it becomes  grind trying to keep all your characters maxed out.

So, why not a purely horizontal MMORPG, or an HMMORPG?

Picture this: you log into the character creation module, and part of that is a weighted stat distribution system. You get to not only pick your race, looks, etc., but  your stats, traits, skills, etc.  You also get to pick your gear, which has strength and other stat requirements (to create a trade-off system for gear & stats). IOW, you get to custom design a fully maxed-out character.

When you leave the character creation module, you can either log into the world, or log into a training area to test out your build and practice with it.  You can to into WvW, PvE, or PvE areas.  By playing in those areas, you can gather up various kinds of rewards with which you can buy different traits, skills, weapons, gear, and other horizontal commodities.  Let's say that when you log into any action area, your character is committed to 10 traits and 10 skills with weapon-swapping ability.  Let's say that when you first log into character creation, you have 30 traits and 30 skills available, and an assortment of standard weapons and gear (that all have a max distribution of stats).  You can pick from the starting variety to initially build your character from.

However, by playing PvE, WvW or PvP, you gain rewards that can be used to purchase more traits, skills, different kinds of weapons, different kinds of gear; you can unlock many cosmetic variances, animations, more dye control, a wider range of pets both useful and cosmetic; keys or passes that can take you to different areas of the game, mounts, player and guild housing - all sorts of horizontal content.  A lot of this can also just be bought from the cash shop.

The trait and skill system would be based on the use of "non-comparables", much like the League of Legends system, but instead of each character being locked into a certain set of non-comparables, the player can custom-build his or her characters however they find suitable, mixing and matching stat distribution, skills, traits, weapons and gear. They can collect a stable of characters (or character templates) to use as they see fit in the game.

The beauty of this system is that developers would no longer have to figure out how to keep the non-end-game areas relevant, because in fact the whole game (outside of the optional training area) would be the end game. No more starter or mid-level areas to get your character "leveled up".  You can just start in a single city (whatever your race) and head out any direction you want, go anywhere you want, because the entire game is designed for max-level characters - which you start the game with.

Another key aspect of this is that the developer could initially create a relatively small world because most of what now occupies MMOG worlds would be unnecessary; areas for leveling your character up. Like League of Legends, they could even start with relatively few initial traits, skills, weapons, gear, etc.  It could be modest start-up to test the market, and then easily grow by adding to the existing game.

Think of  League of Legends in a full 3D world like GW2 or Rift but with PvE and WvW and fully customizable characters and zero vertical progression whatsoever.

It might only be a niche game - or, it could be as popular as LoL. It's time a developer looked into making an HMMORPG.


After GW2: What Next For The Non-Vertical MMOG Market?

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday November 27 2012 at 1:49PM
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After the AMA on Reddit yesterday, many players realize that GW2 is not going to be the game they had thought it was going to be. I've already aired my views on the matter of ANET, their manifesto and what happened. It's time to move on.

One of the good things that came from this whole fiasco is that many of us now have a much better understanding of what we want - and do not want - in a game, beyond the terms "casual" and "hardcore". It turns out that there are much more quantifiable and objective game design commodities that divide the potential customer base than simply "how much time you play".

IMO, "how much time you play" isn't really a meaningful or significant issue post-GW2.  There are a few game-design issues that more realistically and functionally define the divide in the desires of gamers and potential gamers.

1. Stat-progression vs Stat-capped end game

2. Gear-gated content vs non-gated content

3. Grinding vs non-grinding

4. Vertical progression vs horizontal content

After reading the 11,000 post thread in the GW2 official forums, it is my view that a financially feasable section of the market (myself included) wants an online, persistent, massively inhabited fantasy world experience that has permanently capped stats, no gear-gated content, and no grinding. We want endless horizontal content, not endless vertical progression.

In future posts I'm going to tackle those issues and more, define them meaningfully and explore how they might be implemented in future games.  I'm also going to take a look at some of the things that GW2 got right which should, IMO, be carried forward to new games intended to appeal to what I call the "hon-vertical MMOG market", or the NV-MMOG


Why The Stat Cap Concept Is So Important To Many Players

Posted by Meleagar Thursday November 22 2012 at 8:07AM
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For many players, vertical progression of stats, however it is achieved, is a commodity that is necessary for them to enjoy playing an MMOG. I don’t believe vertical progression is an inherently bad thing (although some make that case), or evil; that’s just what a lot of players like, and IMO there is nothing wrong with that. There are literally scores of successful MMOGs that are predicated upon that philosophy, including the 800 lb gorilla known as WoW.

Indeed, in the weeks immediately after launch, we saw quite a few posts in these forums from players that had maxed out vertical progression and complained that they had “nothing to do”. They loved the game graphics, the DE’s, WvW, the lore, the map checklist, but unless there was vertical progression in the game, the entire rest of the game became boring and not worth playing; that is because, for those players, vertical progression is the ingredient that makes all those other features of the game ultimately enjoyable in the long run. It’s like taking the necessary, special ingredient out of a recipe; without it, the product is edible and visually appealing, but not worth going out of your way for.

Now, flip that concept over. For many of us, permanently capped vertical progression is that special ingredient. No, it is not how most MMOGs have been baking their cake over the last decade, but there is a number of us who have been looking for, and waiting for, just such a game. Some of us are casuals who are tired of playing games we have no hope of ever maxing out characters in. Others are more hardcore players who are sick of the gear-progression treadmills and want a more relaxed, less time-consuming MMOG experience. Still others are those who want an MMOG where competition between players is not permanently skewed by never-ending gear score differentials. Many others are frustrated with gear or stat-gated content that prevents them from experiencing areas or events because they don’t have the best, or specific kinds of gear. Whatever their individual reasons, many players either stopped playing MMOGs entirely or were tolerating their current MMOG, waiting for some AAAMMOG title to come out that baked the cake their way and capped vertical stat progression entirely.

Stat-progression players may not understand why stat-cap players would want to play in a stat-capped game, but the least they can do is accept and respect that a permanent stat-cap is what we need to enjoy an MMOG. In the same sense that without ongoing stat progression many players lose interest in a game, many of us have no interest in playing a game without a permanent stat cap regardless of what else there is to do, regardless of how gorgeous the graphics and regardless of how interesting the lore may be. We were willing to tolerate an endless list of game issues because, frankly, we have no place else to go. This is the only modern, full-featured AAA MMOG that had promised a permanent stat cap.

When you attempt to make the case that GW2, up until level 80, was always a stat-progression game, you miss the entire point. We were willing to tolerate a relatively easy (or at least realistically attainable) effort to get to max stats as long as that was the end of it. Many of us would just prefer zero leveling and stat progress whatsoever. I’d personally rather just be able to log in, dress up a max character from the get-go, and then go have fun pursuing horizontal content (cosmetics, non-comparable skills, lore, titles, event leaderboards, sideral progression systems, PvP, WvW, etc.). However, I and many others were willing to tolerate vertical progression up to a point because we knew that it would end and we would eventually have maxed out characters to dress out in various costumes, gears, weapons and builds and enjoy Tyria in a leisurely manner. That was the whole thing for us. That GW2 also had amazing graphics and a variety of other revolutionary and evolutionary concepts baked in was icing on the cake – but the most important ingredient by far was the stat cap.

This system of easy progression to a permanent stat cap to pursue horizontal content is a monstrous success in League of Legends. Games like Oblivion and Skyrim and the massive mod industry that sprang up around them show that players are very interested in exploring horizontal content even after vertical progression ends or becomes meaningless. GW1 showed that such an MMOG could be viable. To argue that MMOG’s should have endless vertical progression, or always have had vertical progression, is to address the very same fundamental perspective that GW2 was supposed to break free from and be a radical departure from.

A permanent stat cap is as important to us as ongoing stat progression is to many others; without it, there’s no reason to play the game and no significant enjoyment to be derived from it, regardless of what else might be in the game to do or enjoy.

NCSoft Sold Arenanet and GW2 Out For Nexon Investment

Posted by Meleagar Wednesday November 21 2012 at 1:07PM
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First, the pertinent facts: In March, Arenanet hired a new "monetization manager", who immediately made some unpopular moves for the cash shop of Guild Wars 2 even while it was still in Beta.  This "monetization manager" was Crystin Cox, a former employee of Nexon who was famous (or infamous) for many Maplestory cash shop items. In June, Nexon acquired a 15% interest in NCSoft (of which Arenanet is a subsidiary).  Did Nexon insist that NCSoft hire a Nexon-friendly "monetization manager" with authority to oversee GW2 before they would purchase 15% of NCSoft's stock?  Seems likely.

It can be safely inferred that it was about this time that the majority of programming for the "Lost Shores" update began as it takes several months to create that kind of content.  Since NCSoft and Arenanet had been promoting the anti-gear-treadmill philsophy throughout 5 years of GW2 development, and had not violated the gear stat cap of Guild Wars 1 in the 7 years it has been running, it is logical to assign a causal connection between the Nexon purchase and the sudden, complete change of fundamental game design philosophy. Considering the big, steaming pile of lagfest, bug-ridden compost that was the "Lost Shores" event, and the total disregard for off-prime-time servers, and the pitiful communication about it, the implication is that Nexon had a heavy hand in pushing through the monetization scheme as quickly as possible.

Whether or not you enjoy a never-ending stat-grnid treadmill is not the point.  Whether or not  you think MMOG's should have such a treadmill or not is, again, not the point. Whether or not you like GW2 more now than before is, once again, not the point.

The point is that shortly after Nexon and Crystin Cox arrived on the scene at Arenanet, that company threw 7 years of game philosophy (whether you agreed with it or not), trust, and credibility down the drain in order to, apparently, introduce a gear-treadmill monetization scheme that would require people to either endure a massive grindfest to keep up with top gear stats, or pay to keep up by buying gems in the cash shop, converting them to gold, and then buying Ascended gear and infusions off the trading post.

Essentially, the game has become a pay-to-win scheme.  With an accessable stat-capped system that Arenanet originally promised, one could liesurely advance their characters to top-stat status and then liesurely play those characters to eventually acquire cosmetically variant skins; after a certain level, there was nothing one needed to "keep up with" in order to have a maxed-out character.  IOW, with everyone eventually hitting the same cap, there was no "win" you could pay for, even if you bought boosters all the time. 

After the introduction of the "item progression initiative", players will never (not for long, anyway) have a maxed-out character, so unless you invest enough time in-game to keep up, either by constantly grinding ascended [EDIT: Ascended materials] and infusions or by grinding gold to buy ever-increasing [materials for] ascended and infusions, your only option is to simply buy gold via gem purchases or off the black market.

Now,  how does this make anyone happy? How is Ascended supposed to be meaningful to those that grind for the prestige of having hard-to-get, superior armor if anyone can just pony up some real-life cash and buy the same outfit off of the Trading Post? Hardcore gear-grinders don't like pay-to-win cash shops, and casual gamers don't like being forced to grind. Perhaps it will make very casual players with a lot of disposable cash happy, because they can just wait for the gear to appear on the market and buy it either with legal or black market gold. 

I can see it now: teams of gold sellers running fractals for ascended gear [materials] and infusions, then selling them on the trading post for gold, then reselling the gold while hardcore gear grinders move on to other games that don't have a pay-to-win system built into the Cash Shop.  Arenanet/NCSoft/Nexon will have monetized the gear grind and will even be making a cut off of black market gold sales as long as there are plenty of honest players paying full price for legal gold.

Hardcore gear-grinders generally don't want to gear-grind in a pay-to-win cash shop game.  Casuals generally do not want to play in a game where they can never keep up or reach equality via playing casually. WvW players don't want to have to PvE grind anything. Who is this system serving? It is only serving to completely monetize the GW2 system, anchored by the ridiculously low amount of silver one earns while playing the game.  You've been wondering why it is so low? This is why. And if you sPvP players think you are immune to this, how long do you think you have before Crystin figures out a way to make you pony up?

Why does it concern all gamers, whether or not you play GW2?  Well, Nexon/NCSoft is now looking to acquire Valve.  What can we then expect from Valve when Nexon requires them to put in a "monetization producer"?  Even more, they have made it so that we cannot even trust a game developer (Arenanet) with a seven-year track record of not giving in to monetization or violating their niche game philosophy. If even Arenanet sold out, then no assurances whatsoever are good when it comes to public companies.

Make no mistake, Nexon - or some Nexon-like entity - is coming for your game sometime soon. Yes, you can sit by and laugh and smirk at GW2 fanbois, or not care because it doesn't really matter to your gameplay, but what will you do when your game or playstyle is invaded by the Nexon monetization locusts, and they put the very reason you enjoy playing the game into the cash shop and sell it to anyone who has the disposable cash?

What can we do? I suggest visiting the Nexon, Arenanet, and NCSoft websites and finding out how to email them or otherwise get messages to them, and raise bloody hell about what they've done to GW2 (adding ascended gear to a game that was supposed to have a permanent stat cap at exotics).

The more the MMOG industry is consumed by pay-to-win monetization groups like Nexon, the less there will be any meaningful reason to play those games for many of us.  Even hardcore gear-grinders will just be jokes for wasting their time doing something you could just buy out of the cash shop.  At that point, what exactly IS the point?

The GW2 Debacle: More Than A Matter of Lost Trust

Posted by Meleagar Friday November 16 2012 at 10:15AM
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So, to catch everyone up to date that isn't yet aware of it, Arenanet has introduced vertical progression in GW2, and has established a real distinction between "end game" and the rest of the game, which contradicts their manifesto and years of design and philosophy statements. Of course, it isn't shocking or even surprising that an MMOG development company broke the trust of players - that happens all the time.

What is shocking about this development is that ANET has a bona fide track record of adherence to its design principles.  Yes, they made a lot of promises in their GW2 Manifesto video and countless other media releases and interviews during the GW2 development process, but they also had seven years on record as being the guys that actually stuck to their principles. In a sea of unethical behavior and broken promises and shattered hopes and perhaps even outright fraud that is the MMOG genre, ANET stood as llightnouse in the darkness, guiding all those who couldn't stand the infinite gear and progression treadmills to their GW doorstep.

The fallout from this betrayal of trust cannot be overstated.  If one cannot trust a company like ANET with a proven, seven-year track record of ethical adherence to design principle, who can you trust?  Thousands, if not tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of players pre-purchased GW2 in a dramatic show of support for the principles of ANET and the promises they made for GW2, even in an atmosphere poisoned by many recently-released AAA titles that proved uninspiring.

ANETs "rebellion" against the MMOG status quo fueled a hype and excitement levels only matched, perhaps, by SWToR - and that title had a IP franchise behind it that is a worldwide phenomenon.  GW2 launch was a huge success, and going forward they had to add servers and expand capacities. ANET - at least for  a couple of months - actually delivered what nobody thought they would or could - a new kind of MMOG that lived up to their basic principles as promised.  Players indulged in unnecessary cash shop purchases to show their support for this rebel title that eschewed never-ending vertical progression, ad infinitum gear treadmilling and content-gating.  Their motto was "the whole game is the end game", and they delivered.  They didn't want you to have to stay logged in to keep up; they wanted you to feel fine about playing at your own convenience. Again, they delivered, but players stayed logged in because the game was so much fun.

And then, just ten weeks after launch, with no warning or discussion with the public, they ditched their 7-year game philosophy, betrayed all of their long-loyal customers and installed vertical progression, necessary gear-grinding, and gated content (formal end-game).  This kind of 180 degree turn-around  is perhaps only precedented by the SWG-NGE event.  It's nothing short of stunning, as the compiled thread on the GW2 forum suggests, nearing 10,000 responses (far more, if one counts all the comments culled out by the mods), and over 100,000 views. To call the fan base "outraged" wouldn't be accurate; they are devastated.

Why devastated? Because they (and I) believed we actually had a developer we could trust in ANET.  We put our heart, soul and cash into this game because we felt ANET could be trusted - because they had a seven-year reputation that earned them this trust.  Through five years of released info in various media outlets, they stayed true to that vision.  

How are we supposed to pre-purchase or show support for any company going forward, if not even a seven-year track record can be trusted? Why should anyone buy a game and invest in their F2P cash shop again? How is any future developer supposed to sell a customer base so badly burned and betrayed by ANET on a game they might be developing that promises a similar non-comformist, anti-status quo philosophy?

This staggering betrayal by Arenanet is more than just a debacle for GW2 and Arenanet; they have harmed the entire MMOG genre and have made it very, very difficult going forward for any company to break from the status quo and succeed, as potential customers will be extremely wary and unwilling to invest cash or time right off the bat - something necessary for a new title to succeed.

Arenanet has seriously poisoned the well for all future developers trying to break out of the conventional MMOG box.  They've cut their entire fan base adrift and have made it even more difficult for them to find an MMOG to enjoy in the future, without even so much as a dialogue or a reasonable explanation.  Bizarrely, ANET just gave hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans and supporters the finger and for no apparent good reason.

ANET Is Lying To Us

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday November 13 2012 at 3:51PM
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Linsey Murdock (and thus ANET) is flat-out lying to us.

After having time to reflect, I don't see any other viable, logical conclusion.

ANET reported that pre-launch and launch sales were successful beyond their expectations. This means they exceeded their launch revenue goals - probably by a considerable margin.  Since GW2 is B2P, the only significant revenue they could have expected between launch and the first B2P expansion would be from the cash shop and additional game sales.

Now, they sold so many games that they even suspended digital game sales, so it's hard for me to imagine they aren't happy with game sales.  If you're ANET and you know your main source of income for the next 6 months or so is the cash shop, it seems to me clear that a cash shop expansion based on customer suggestions should be your primary focus besides getting that first B2P expansion ready.

However, 3 months into the game and now we have a new armor tier set that goes hand-in-hand with new content gateway mechanics in the Lost Shores updated slated to go live this week.  This kind of thing isn't something you just throw together at the last minute because some players are complaining about lack of gear progression. Such complaints had to be something ANET knew were going to happen.  It would of course take time for the community to sort itself out, because many, many people were going to log in at launch expecting to find the usual MMOG and would probably be dissatisfied with the lack of the usual end-game grind mechanics.  This is something ANET certainly realized.  They even said that they expected the game population to slack off between expansions as the powergamers consumed the content; it was part of their design philosophy.

It's only logical, given their philosophy, that they should have had a massive cash shop expansion ready to go - new skins, emotes, animations, perhaps an expansion of the dye system, avatar cosmetics, ability to change names, custom dye weapons more bank space, etc., perhaps some new armor drops throughout the whole world, perhaps some new events scattered throughout the zones, a new zone.  But the cash shop expansion should have been on the top of the list because it was going to be the revenue generator.

But, what are we getting? 3 months in - before any cash shop expansion or any other content in keeping with the original design philosophy, we get content that certainly took some time to generate (perhaps months, considering how ANET likes multiple iterations through development) and is clearly in structure contradictory to their core design philosophy as stated.

Is ANET really just schlepping out thrown-together design-busting content generated in a panic by nothing more than a lack of cash shop sales, as some have suggested?  If that was the case, wouldn't it be more prudent to "schlep out" cash shop product that keeps in the design philosophy, even if they hadn't been planning on such a CS expansion all along (and they should have been)?

Linsey Murdock said that this change is due to customer feedback; I don't see how that is possible.  What customer feedback?  Complaints by a group they knew were going to complain all along?  There were no log-in polls or questionnaires.  Is Linsey saying that after a month or two they got feedback and THEN decided to schlep together a philosophy-betraying update including a new armor tier and armor-locked "end game" content? In a month? What happened to that famous ANET iterative process?

No, I don't think so. I don't think that complaints by a group they knew were going to complain anyway caused ANET to schlep together such a philosophy-betraying update 3 months in. That's ridiculous.  That's an obvious lie.

They planned this - this "item progression initiative" - long ago, which is why the Agony system and content is ready to go 3 months into the game and BEFORE any significant cash shop expansion. and WITHOUT any serious log-in polling.  This can't be a direction made necessary by a lack of income. This can't be a direction made necessary by any meaningful "customer feedback" since launch. The "item progression initiative" is just too big and broad to have been thrown together in a month.  Linsey Murdock and ANET are lying.

The "item progression initiative" had to have been developed long before any unexpected "customer feedback" forced them to come up with a philosophy-betraying update they could throw together in a month or so. I'm not buying that explanation for a second.

Stop lying to us, ANET.

Sadly, ANET Blows It

Posted by Meleagar Tuesday November 13 2012 at 10:05AM
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On the GW2 forums, a poster named Arnath said about the upcoming "Ascended" gear and anti-Agony upgrades to be found in the upcoming GW2 update:

"That blog post would have been written hours if not days before this information was released and before people started complaining, dont get mad at that blog, wait for a new update with more information and then we can have a constructive conversation.

Right now people are just getting upset over nothing."

Okay, let’s look at the most recent blog post the moderator directed us to.

On the official GW2 news blog, Linsey Murdock said: As we watch Guild Wars 2 mature in its Live environment, we have found that our most dedicated players were achieving their set of Exotic gear and hitting “the Legendary wall. We designed the process of getting Legendary gear to be a long term goal, but players were ready to start on that path much sooner than we expected and were becoming frustrated with a lack of personal progression.

This means that hardcore players maxed out their progression, Legendaries were really, really long-term goals and hard to get, and so the hardcore player base was getting frustrated with lack of character progression even after they hit 80 and got their exotics.

Our desire is to create a game that is more inclusive for hardcore and casual players alike, but we don’t want to overlook the basic need for players to feel like they are progressing and growing even after hitting max level.

Now character “progress” and “growth” has been redefined as a “basic need” for all MMOG players in order to justify adding hardcore-specific content to satisfy one particular segment of the player base – hardcore players that burned through the available content in 3 months and are “frustrated” that there “isn’t anything else to do” but the long grind for Legendaries. 

By adding challenging new combat mechanics to end-game content…

This is a devastating phrase, even if it is casually slipped into the post. They’ve clearly given up on the “the whole game is the end-game” concept. By adding unique “new combat mechanics” to specific high-level content, they’ve actually now created a separation between “end game” and “the rest of the game”.

…and ways to mitigate those mechanics through gear progression for high-end players,…

“The whole game is the end game” ? Why rush content in for “high-end players”? This is exactly what WoW and every other game does: try to appease hardcore payers by constantly adding content so they can “feel” like their character is “progressing” and “growing”.

Where are all the new level 1-79 armor skins? Where are all the new city clothes? Where are all the new emote/animations? Where are all the horizontal, non-power, non-combat paths into sideral content? How about new hairstyles, tattoos, dances? How about new weapons at every level, new weapon skills? New traits to choose from all up and down the level ranks?

Oh, that’s right, all the casual players aren’t frustrated and complaining like the hardcores who consumed all the content already, so once again, the hardcores get unique content and unique gear and the rest of us get … what?

The first end game mechanic we will introduce is Agony, which will be encountered in the Fractals of the Mists dungeon, and is mitigated by Infusions.

The first “end game” mechanic? Isn’t THE WHOLE GAME THE END GAME?

As we release more new end game content in the future…

Errr ... isn’t THE WHOLE GAME THE END GAME? Did ANET just forget all of that? This is obviously ANET panicking that they are losing the playtime of hardcores that consume content the fastest, and reaching out to them by promising a future full of item progression.

The new additions in November are just the start of our item progression initiative. We’re going to add tons of new high-level content to Guild Wars 2 in the future. As we introduce the new high-level content, we’ll also roll out complimentary Ascended and Legendary items (to say nothing of the other rewards you can earn by playing the content).

There’s just no way to read this other than: we are catering to hardcore players who demand item progression and figuring out a way to work it into an end-game that isn't supposed to exist separate from the rest of the game. Maybe we’ll even toss in some scrub-sauce for casuals in non-"end game" areas if we have time.

Look over my past blog posts. I was probably the most excited about GW2 and the most happy and satisfied with the game when it came out.  I've logged in over 440 hours and I've spent $120 in the cash shop. Until this news, I was as happy and satisfied with the game, and as excited to log in, as I was the day it released.

Now, I'm just sad and disappointed. What a shame.  They had actually succeeded in creating a different game, a true alternative to the WoW-Clone, gear-progression saturated market, and now they're just blowing it by catering to the hardcore community.