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Surviving the Doldrums

By Jason Winter on October 06, 2014 | Columns | Comments

Surviving the Doldrums

Alternate title: “Does Anyone Still Play This Game?” Yeah, that's a bit of a troll title, usually invoked any time an MMO is going through a slow time, whether real or perceived by a cretin who believes that any time past a game's first week, when the servers are jammed and everyone drops everything else to play. After that, though? “lol, that game's dead.”

Guild Wars 2 isn't dead, but I wouldn't exactly say it's bustling right now. A few months ago, I'd expect to see at least five to 10 people online from my primary guild in the evenings, and it was easy to find a group for dungeons, fractals, or just big events. Now, other than Guild Mission nights, it's rare to see more than two or three others online. My friends list is similarly barren most of the time.

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As for me, personally? I find myself logging in for Guild Missions and to get my WvW weekly achievements, and maybe one other daily per week, and that's about it. My Raptr stats, which I screenshotted on the first of October, show my Guild Wars 2 play time at an all-time monthly low during September.

Hey, L.A. Noire was on sale for $6 on Steam a few weeks ago. And Rome II is much better now than it was at launch.

While these slow times might make the CS staff's lives a little easier, it also has the rather obvious effect of reducing player engagement and, in all likelihood, reducing revenue through the Gem Store. Guild Wars 2 doesn't have a monthly subscription, but active players are far more likely to spend than inactive players, and I'd wager right now that the active player base is at an all-time low. 

This isn't the end of the world. All MMOs go through some doldrums when there's a gap between significant releases. Sure, after having regular Living Story updates for the better part of two years, we probably got a little spoiled and expected that pace to keep up forever. I'm increasingly of the notion that content updates that regular just aren't possible – look at WildStar's rapid about-face on monthly updates – and that the current “pace” of updates is what we'll be getting for the foreseeable future.

That said, I can remember another MMO I played religiously that also had an excruciatingly long time between major releases. Most of my guild drifted away, never to return. I hung on for two more years, but with the reduced population, it was harder and harder to do the things I liked, and I officially quit earlier this year.

That content gap was about 15 months long. We'll have new Living Story in November, so this won't be quite as bad, but ArenaNet would probably do well to try and avoid it in the future, unless their efforts are bringing in players faster than players are leaving.

I think a key to that is producing what every MMO needs: repeatable endgame content, updated regularly. That can take the form of dungeons and raids in most MMOs. In GW2, it can be something like what I outlined a few weeks ago, new fractal levels, or maybe just a new giant world boss or two. Or, you know, that mythical precursor scavenger hunt... but some kind of repeatable content is just needed to keep players engaged. Devs probably can't produce that at a rate fast enough to meet players' needs, but something more than what it essentially one-time content is required.

Whatever it is, I don't think Dry Top is it. It's a fun zone, and I love it, but I feel like I've done everything I need to already. Personally, my drop rate for amber insects has been putrid, so I don't even have the incentive to grind for geodes to make new weapons. Similarly, the new Living Story achievements haven't really done it for me. I tried a couple of them in the early parts of the LS, but having to wait for the conversations to go by when all I want is the gameplay – and knowing that if I fail, I'll have to listen to them chatter again – and getting basically just more crafting materials for my trouble – makes me ill-inclined to keep at it.

Maybe this is all just a lot of passive-aggressive hate for where Guild Wars 2 is right now. I think that, because it is a “different” MMO, ArenaNet is trying some different things to see how they work out. I also think that, for a while, we were patient with them and were OK with them sorting out those issues because we were so head-over-heels in love with the game. Now, two years in, we're all a little less patient. We want to see... maybe not perfection, but a better ability to know what we want and keep us entertained with it. If we can't trust them to do at least that much, how can we trust that the expansion or whatever “big thing” they've got planned will meet with our expectations?

In the meantime, if you're like me and just don't find yourself logging in and playing at the same rate you used to... don't worry about it. Take the time to explore something else for a while. Find a neglected game on Steam, or buy a new one when it goes on sale, like I did with L.A. Noire. (My 19-hour review: enjoyable and cerebral, but could use more variety in the cases.) Try a new MMO, like ArcheAge, or something you always meant to but haven't. Nobody will question your “street cred” if you don't log a whole bunch of hours in Guild Wars 2 this month.

I'd be interested to hear how everyone else is faring right now. Are you still playing Guild Wars 2 about as much as you used to? Or are you like me and your play time has significantly dropped off, hopefully to return with the next update?

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