Monthly Archives: September 2011

Guild Wars 2: Power shift and server pride with the new guild system

(This entry is part of Guild Mag’s Blog Carnival! Check it out if you want to read more opinions about GW2’s upcoming guild system.)

It’s been a while since we’ve seen so many different views and opinions about a topic like we have when the guild function for Guild Wars 2 was announced. Not much is known at the moment. You can find all the relevant information on the official Wiki. The most prominent change is that you will be able to join as many guilds as you like. At any given time, your character represents one of those guilds which also ‘activates’ this guild’s chat.

Bookahnerk and I have had our share of discussions about this new system. In general: I’m more skeptical than he is. But we both see good and potentially negative points. The “TL;DR”-version would be: We will have to see how the players adapt to this system and how the guild environment changes to see if it’s a change for the better or not.

We read several blog postings and forums to see how other players react. We found lots of opinions and arguments for liking and disliking the feature. A few general ‘themes’ appeared quite often. The number one concern we found was ‘guild pride’ and the lack thereof when people can just hop from guild to guild and be in whichever guild gives them the best features, events, etc. at any given time. Right now, you’re either in or out. People recognize a guild tag and might know what the guild stands for – if it’s a well-known/established guild – and know its members. People in those guilds “are somebody” and have a certain reputation. They identify with their guild and are loyal to it. Those people, fortunately for them, can still behave the way they do now. Joining more than one guild is a feature but not a must. The same goes for those people who do not have much time for more than one guild. Look for one that fits the best to you and your playstyle, join it and hope it was the right choice. It would essentially be the same as it is right now in other MMOs.

Kind of belonging to the first argument of guild pride and being loyal to it is the fear that people will hide in another guild as soon as things aren’t rosy-peachy in your guild. Some players already do that now by hiding on alts or – especially with the uprise of more and more f2p games – they hide in other games. With the multi-guilds feature in GW2, people can still play their beloved ‘main char’ and just go to another guild. On the other hand, would you want those people in your guild to begin with? Those people who leave as soon as there’s the slightest hint of trouble on the horizon? Those people who demand lots of things and aren’t willing to give the tiniest bit back? With the multi-guild feature, people have the freedom to go and leave and on the other hand, it might show a guild leader a lot faster who’s a loyal guild member and wants to help out and work on the guild being a great one. Also, if your members are leaving faster than you can jump over an Asura, there might be something wrong with your guild and you’ll probably get that feedback immediately when your members are all hanging out elsewhere.

As ArcherAvatar said in a comment on Massively’s entry about the multi-guild feature: “The few details we’ve been given so far indicate a shift in ‘power / control’ away from a guild and towards individual players.” and “How does the proposed guild system encourage better behavior? Flexibility and power shift towards the individual. Guilds / groups with excessive amounts of ‘guild drama’ will quickly find themselves with members who aren’t interested in that sort of thing leaving more frequently. Why would they leave more frequently? Because there will be a significantly easier access to alternatives.” – This, on the other hand, also means that a guild leadership will have to work even harder to keep their members and make them happy. You will have to make sure that there is an enjoyable environment in your guild and that there is something that will make the members want to be in your guild. They will not just have the choice of leaving and finding another guild. Chances are that they have already gotten to know other people and that they already are a member of other guilds and can compare those guilds with yours. And if your guild doesn’t live up to people’s expectations, then they will rather go somewhere else.

Then again, small and social guilds could have an advantage here compared to the one-guild system. Currently, as seen in Lotro with our kinship, people do not necessarily want to join our kin even though they’d really like to be with us. But joining us (a small social kin) would mean giving up the chance of raiding (because others only want to raid with people who are members of their kinship). So instead of being with us for the social factor and going raiding with the others, they rather stay in the raiding kin and chat with us when they have the chance (on an alt, for example). That means that two of their characters are in two guilds. One for raiding, the other for socializing. What would be so bad about being able to do the same thing as we can now but on one character? I’d imagine that some roleplayers would also very much love that: Be in one guild with their fellow roleplayers when they feel like roleplaying and switching to their group of PvPers when they feel like PvPing (I assume that not all roleplayers enjoy PvPing and thus, the split would make sense).

Our own guild, Nerdy Bookahs (which will be a smallish social guild), will probably have an easier time recruiting players. We want to foster a cozy social environment where you log on and chat with others and actually know who those people are. But that only works if the guild’s relatively small. We have such a small kin in Lotro but as mentioned above, one of our friends is only in it with an alt because he doesn’t want to leave behind the opportunity to raid once in a while. New people also don’t want to join our kin because we are small and not as active. But they would enjoy the comfortable atmosphere and chatting with us or going to an instance once in a while. Still, they rather join a bigger, more active kin instead because they can only be in one kin with their character. Of course, the bigger one will usually win. But if you can join and then switch to another guild when nobody’s online in ours or when you don’t feel like chatting but rather want to get something done with a huge group of people, then you can do that and come back to us later when you just want to chat while crafting… or something like that. ;)

Spontaneous events, on the other hand, might be harder to start with such a system. When you go online and see nobody from your current guild is there, you switch to a more active guild and go do something with them. Then somebody else comes online and asks in guild chat if others want to join and do something – but hardly anybody is there because those who are online switched to other guilds. Then again, thinking about it further: Why don’t you do the same? Or ask around – I’d assume that friends lists are in the game anyway, so you can just ask friends if anybody’s up to something. It’s not the guild’s sole purpose to make sure you’re properly entertained. It helps but a player should also be willing to organize something or go and look for fun in the game themselves.

Let’s do something else. Let’s try to imagine we’re Asuras. We like to think big and in order to come up with inventions and new things, we need to think outside the cube! Let’s take that step and imagine what this new system could mean and what it could be used for in Guild Wars 2. In our opinion, all of the above arguments and thoughts feel inconsequential now.

What Guild Wars 2 does is that it a) gets rid of the need to group with their open-world dynamic events and b) it throws us into a 2 week long PvP fight with our server against two other servers. Where in those scenarios are guilds a necessity? Everybody from your server can participate in PvE events. And in WvWvW, your whole server will be needed. Yes, a guild can claim a keep. But will they be able to succeed against two other servers? Probably not. But your server as a whole, fighting together, can! People need to collaborate and work together. People won’t just hide in one single guild. If a person can be in several guilds with the same character, then chances are that people will be connected with each other more than they currently can be with the one-guild system.

Bookahnerk likes to remember the ‘good old times’ in Ultima Online where he was ambassador in his guild and spent quite a lot of his game time chatting with people from other guilds organising and negotiating etc. With this system now, lots of players would work as ambassadors in a way. There wouldn’t be as much “Do you know anybody who’d like to come with us?” answered with a “No”. Instead, there could be lots of “Yes, I can ask in my other guild!” replies. Because more people will have other guilds and will know more people that way. And guild pride will switch to server pride the way that we’ve seen people ask for over the last few years (well, mostly old DAOC players, but still! ^^). Every player needs to work together. We need to change the way we play (from sticking to one guild to opening up to include the rest of the server)!

What we would still like to know more about is how exactly the communication will take place. We know that you’ll be able to access your current guild’s chat but not the chat of your other guilds. But will there be an easier way to communicate with your other guilds’ members? Like an extended/organizable friend list that automatically adds those people? Communication seems to be important and with WvWvW, a good communication system seems to be the key to success (more so than the guild system probably ;) ).

Star Trek Online: TaH pagh taHbe’

The announcement I have been waiting for ever since Champions Online went f2p finally arrived (some days ago. Hadn’t had the time to ramble about it earlier ^^): STO will go f2p as well. Cryptic has also added further details by now. The one thing that’s probably the most important: What do you get for free? It looks pretty reasonable to me. In fact, I think it might sound a little too good, actually. Why should I pay a monthly fee? ;)

If you’re wondering why Klingon content gets pushed back to when you’ve reached level 25 with your Federation character: They apparently want to redo the Klingon content and I assume it’s not a good idea to have a zillion new f2p-players hop onto Klingon side to find out it’s not really good. ;) There’s a new Q&A with the game’s executive producer Dan Stahl who’s also answering a few questions about upcoming changes.

I started playing in May but quit again about 1 1/2 months later. I liked it but in my opinion, it’s not worth a monthly fee. I loved the character design, though. So that is one of its big plusses. But character design alone doesn’t make a good game, right? So what does Star Trek Online have to offer apart from that?

There is space combat and then there’s ground combat. I played before they changed ground combat. So I can’t talk about how it’s now. I didn’t mind it before the change, though, and from what I’ve read, it’s become better. So if you ask me, it can’t be bad now. ;) Space combat was… nice! You have your ship and fly through space. Usually, I’m prone to motion sickness (or simulation sickness as it’s called in video games, I think). But here, that’s not an issue (Star Wars Galaxies, on the other hand, led to me being very, very sick for more than an hour after watching 5 minutes of its space combat): You can zoom out pretty far and you’re moving rather slowly. That might be negative for other people who want fast and action-packed combat. I love the look and feel of flying through space with your ship. And I love how you can even change bits and pieces of your ship’s design and its colours. That’s all very important to me. The missions themselves, while being fun, get boring pretty fast. The biggest issue I had was the repetitiveness of them. I always felt like they consisted of the same thing: Get into a sector around a planet, kill the 1 – 3 spaceships that approach, move your spaceship a bit further, kill the next 1 – 3 spaceships. Rinse and repeat. *yawn* It’s fun once in a while but I found myself not being able to do more than one mission a day. Then it didn’t take long and I spent days not logging on at all. Then I did one mission and exited the game again.

What I expected of the game was lots of diplomatic missions, lots of exploring planets and all that. So essentially, doing what the crews on the TV series are doing. Not shooting at ships over and over and over again. The most fun I had was doing one player-made mission… now THAT is an area where STO shines. Players can create missions and you can also rate and comment on them (which again helps you as a player to pick the best ones and leave out the still-bugged ones). I played through one (forgot its name) that had almost no fighting in it. Instead, there was a focus on story. That was beautiful! I also loved a regular (that is, done by Cryptic and not a player) quest series on Memory Alpha surrounding a male Ferengi and his two brothers. No fighting there either (well, unless you count them bickering at each other, of course ^^). I really wish the quests/missions consisted mostly of doing stuff like this and less of fighting. Yes, I really want to play an MMO where I’m not forced to fight and kill all of the time and can still advance my character. Is that really too much to ask for? ;)

As mentioned in my character creation blog entry, another highlight was finding a tribble! What I want to do once the game’s free to play is try to breed them!

I know I’ve probably listed a lot of bad things about the game and not so many good things. I do not think the game’s worth a monthly fee! Which is also why I quit the game again after less than two months playing it. I do, however, think that they didn’t do a bad job and want to spend more time in the universe. I’m a “moderate” Star Wars fan (watched all the reruns of The Original Series and got into the Next Generation a few years ago. I’ve seen most of the movies but not any of the other TV series) and I loved seeing the world in an MMO setting. I just wish that apart from stuff like tribbles, Ferengi etc. I’d get more of a “Star Trek” feeling. Less fighting, more exploring, please! Getting to play this game once in a while (maybe once or twice a month, for example) sounds really good to me and that’s why I’m absolutely happy about the change.

While playing the game, I was also annoyed to see so many things behind a “paywall”. I am paying a monthly fee, why do you want additional money all of the time? That’s a thing that really annoyed me. I already didn’t like it with World of Warcraft. But there, I didn’t even realise there’s stuff I can’t get in the game because I’d have to visit their web store to see the non-combat pets and mounts. In STO, on the other hand, I saw it constantly every time I wanted to customize something (just so we’re clear: They didn’t ask for money for content. Only for customization. Like TOS-uniforms, for example)… right there in the game’s interface! Without a monthly fee, I think that’s perfectly alright. I am not paying every month anymore and then I’m open for paying for stuff like that, especially if it’s nothing game-breaking that makes me more powerful. ;)

So, in conclusion, I’m happy about the change and if you’re a Star Trek fan (even if it’s just a little bit ;) ), then you might want to check the game out once it goes free to play. They have some very nice things in the game but not enough to make me play every day or even most of my gaming time. It’s just right up my sleeve for playing once in a while, though.

MMORPGs and their expansions

Recently, there’s been a lot of diversity regarding Lotro’s upcoming expansion “Rise of Isengard”. I’m not even going into the pricing “issue” now. But I’ve seen a lot of people argue about “there’s not enough content to call it an expansion” and the other side that says “all I want is in there, so there is enough content”.

I’m curious to hear more opinions and on more general terms (e.g. not necessarily bound to one single MMORPG). What do you want, as a minimum, in an expansion? I know MMORPGs differ, so opinions may also differ here… but still. Or back to Lotro: Are you happy with the upcoming expansion from what we know so far? What else would you want to have to make you happy/happier?

Or, to theorise further: Think about Guild Wars 2. What do you think will be in future expansions or how do you imagine your ‘dream expansion’ here? – Yes, I know, the game’s not even released yet. But we’re playing with our thoughts here anyway, so why not go even further? ;) Would you want extra levels in Guild Wars 2? Would you maybe have loved extra levels in Guild Wars already?

For me, I want more than “more of the same”. Yes, slapping extra levels on top together with new quests and new regions is nice (unless it is Guild Wars. Then please only new regions but no more levels – which is the way they went, fortunately ^^). So I’d put that as an absolute minimum for me. But then it’d be a minimal expansion and I’d only be minimally happy. ;) What I want to be happy and a satisfied customer, is something new and fresh. Something that wasn’t in the game before. For example, a new class, a new profession or a new feature (thinking about the heroes in Guild Wars that were added and can be customized while the NPCs cannot). In Lotro, I’m still dreaming about a) overhauls of existing things (housing redesign, for example), b) something new to play with (more hobbies than just fishing, new professions in general, a new class maybe) and c) “more of the same”: new regions with new quests. Maybe not necessarily on top with more levels. Going broader would be nice as well (for example, alternative regions to level and quest instead of Moria).

In GW2, I’m not sure about more levels. For that, I’d have to see the system first. I can imagine that introducing new playable races wouldn’t be too difficult (compared to Lotro where you have a predefined world that Tolkien created, so you can’t just invent new races), new classes like they’ve done in Guild Wars already or adding housing to the home instance. Plus new (old) regions like making Cantha accessible again.

Guild Wars: Character slots, naming rules and their possible transition

When I try to imagine how the naming rules, server architecture, guild limitations and the character slots may be handled in Guild Wars 2 I always reach the point where I have to take into account how it was implemented in Guild Wars, why it may have been done like that and what the benefits of their decisions were. Especially the ones that they apparently want to keep. As an outsider my ideas and guesses are only that. Thus, I would love to read any deeper thoughts or other conclusions and ideas you may come up with!

My guesses put on the table simple, short, rough and maybe a little provocative are:
– Character slots will again be limited per account (not per server) but every character will be listed with its current home server.
– Naming rules are global and unique like in Guild Wars, but this time one word names are also possible.
– The basic game will be delivered with 3-5 character slots, the collector’s edition with 5-8.

If you are now sitting there nodding or shaking your head, rest assured that I can understand both reactions and sometimes have them about my own thoughts, too. Especially when I start listening to the two most extreme oppositional views in my head. ;)

One being overly optimistic, high of anticipation and delusional that Guild Wars 2 does not have to create an income for ArenaNet, dreaming of a world not limited by technical and financial boundaries. The other one being absolutely skeptical and mischievous knowing that there are as good as no companies which would say nay to the highest possible income for the least possible effort.

Please note that in the case of ArenaNet I still slightly tend to listen to the first one. Of all the companies on my personal radar they are the one I have the most confidence in that I will get what I will pay for. The other way around, they very rarely disappointed me. And when they did, there were always fast corrections or transparent explanations I could live with.

It’s my belief that one of the most basic decisions ArenaNet had to make for Guild Wars was how their server network should work to split and balance the possible load. Especially considering the financial and technical challenges an MMO meant at that time. As a result that decision directly influenced what kind of game world would be easier to implement and what limitations came along. I’ll take their decision for an “easier scalable and extendable massive instanced world with the layering in the outposts where many people could meet” as a given and compare some of its aspects to the “persistent world with massive amounts of players in the area simultaneously” to which Guild Wars 2 will belong to.

While with Guild Wars ArenaNet chose the very limiting way for their players in their world, some details show that nevertheless a global approach was important to them and still is. Most other games which are structured in “servers” come with capsuled parallel worlds. Each one with its own economy, own community and your character exclusively bound to one. ArenaNet instead decided to manage your character slots and the in-game NPC market in a global database. So you can log in with each character into any region you want, have the same NPC prices in all of them and can meet your trade partners worldwide.

In GW2 again, at least the new in game trade system will be not limited to your server (exact details and if it has any global or regional limits remain to be announced). While I do like being able to trade in all the regions of GW1 and love to never feel stuck at a server where economy or community sucks, it’s not made that way only for the good of the player. A heavily instanced game world compared to a cohesive one with its many simultaneous players, is so much easier to handle and to spread between an on demand expandable amount of servers. Managing the character slots globally also has the nice side effect for ArenaNet that they are able to sell additional slots sooner instead of letting us use up all unlocked character slots on every single server. While I wouldn’t mind it that much (because for me the lack of a monthly fee makes more than up for that), that’s my main argument why I do see them wanting to keep the globally managed character slots and technically simply add your server choice as one additional variable to each character slot.

Besides the fact that GW1 characters are managed worldwide and you can possibly meet any other player there are no server names to tag onto your name. ArenaNet came up with slightly different but essential limitations to how you can name you characters to avoid ambiguities. While they decided to rule out one word names, you are allowed to use multiple spaces to create your globally unique character name. What sounds trivial and enabled realistic combinations of for- and surname, titles or even seldomly considered foreign names, at the same time opened up the Pandora’s box of “creative” and odd combinations to integrate your overused popular or already taken names. But rating names or creativity should not be my focus in this post. Unique naming per server, region or even globally on the other hand is. Especially when taking into account the announced easy to execute server transfers in the upcoming Guild Wars 2.

Unique global naming would avoid one of the most frustrating aspects players may be confronted with (besides possible fees) when they want to switch servers or when servers are merged. Imagine the name you feel you have established yourself with and may be famous for is already taken on the target server. Maybe by a low level banking alt or someone not even playing anymore. While that dilemma is avoidable and my thoughts about globally managed character slots should explain why I see them keeping the global and unique naming too, I still owe you an explanation why single word names may have their introduction. I do not see a technical issue to rule them out, the shown demos of GW2 on this year’s exhibitions are still allowing them and I would consider it as a tribute to the e-sport orientation of their tournament PvP part and the habit gamers may have formed in other games. Short and single word names are much easier to recognize and so to build “e-fame” with.

Colin Johanson previously stated that there will be more than two character slots. Based on the foundation I argued till now it’s not that difficult to follow my train of thoughts why there will only be 3-8 character slots coming with the retail boxes (or download versions). As I just wrote, we know there will be more than just two slots. Also in many interviews it was stated that we should not run into limitations that fast. Well, considering that I am an altoholic and have too many stupid character names I come up with, my initial guess should be of at least 20 slots. ;) But thinking about ArenaNet, Guild Wars and the lack of a subscription I have to cut back to a maximum of five or eight slots, depending on the version (standard box, collector’s edition etc.). As a side note why I differentiate between normal and collector’s edition: Till now nothing is known about the content of a CE. But what would be cheaper for ArenaNet than some digital content (which they would love to sell us either way) additionally to physical goodies. So why not justifying a hopefully reasonable pricing of a CE this way and collecting some of the money directly at release which they would otherwise acquire over the next months, years or never?

Back to the still not argued number of five and eight slots. You all know them well. There will be five races and eight classes in the game when it launches. My simple assumption is that they want us to enjoy the game and give us either access to each of the races or to each of the classes or – on the other hand – deny us “full access” as an incentive to pay for character slots. If you want you can use that thought and observe the release of the game. The amount of character slots included at release could be taken as an indicator of how aggressive ArenaNet will be with their shop and how they will limit your content until you pay.

Imagining me buying the basic edition I may be satisfied with three slots but I am sure I would feel very limited by not even being able to play the five different races with their own story from start to end as one of them. Yes, it is possible to venture through the story of another race if you join a friend who plays that race. But for me that’s not the same, especially considering the effort it would take to coordinate. With five slots I guess I have to be happy. ArenaNet for sure wants to earn at least some money and buying slots to play every class I consider as tribute I will have to spend for playing their game without a monthly fee. Let me switch to imagining myself with a collector’s edition in my hands and that is what I actually want to buy. Now I have to raise my expectations. Being able to play all five races “out of the box” I definitely want to see as a given. While they may not use the mentioned opportunity to add digital content to increase the value of the CE I would feel a little unsatisfied if I didn’t get eight slots. In the end, I see a CE as a product for fans of the game, its lore and the world itself, so with less than eight slots I may have the feeling not to have bought the complete game. No, logging into the shop later that day/week/month to additionally buy some slots would not feel the same.

Allow me to use my fixation on the CE to dwell a little in thoughts about the recently announced collector’s editions of Star Wars: The Old Republic and Skyrim. Why exactly those two? Simply because they not only pushed the pricing a little. No, they nearly doubled the amount most of us were used to. How did they argue that? Ah well, I better leave that to the fans who I absolutely wish to have a lot of fun in those games but at the same time I impute them to see the value of their purchase through rose-colored glasses. I hope that ArenaNet keeps up the spirit they often recite that they do want to deliver content that literally earns them our money. So I would love to see a reasonable CE with stuff like the astonishing soundtrack, a book about the world and lore (an art-book would be nice too, but that’s already separately purchasable in their store) and a detailed artsy map of the world. If they want to absolutely stun me, the map would be made of cloth and “Destiny’s Edge” would be included as detailed figurines or a diorama. All that while having the price still capped at 80 $/€. To justify a pricing above that in my opinion there would have to be a fine selection of useful and valuable digital content (*hints at the 8 character slots*). But only to mention, I recommend avoiding content that cannot be acquired later (like the merchant that SW:TOR added) – in my opinion just to raise the pressure to buy the physical CE before it may be “gone” or you lack something that possibly reveals itself as a necessity later on.

Future announcements and further details may show the one or other error in my thoughts and there is a good possibility that I have to rethink some details of my statements or have to define them more accurately. But I guess that’s the risk about making things up in my mind, jumping to conclusions and blogging about them. ;)