Bookahneer’s Geekwatch: EU Fan Day!

ArenaNet just announced the EU Fan Day on Twitter, taking place on April 2 – April 3 in Brighton, UK.

Guess who’s going to be there? Yes, ME! Well, technically, either Bookahnerk or me were invited but Bookahnerk let me go.

Of course, I’ll write about this event once I’m back home and I’ll even try to add German translations for all our German readers! :) Oh, and while you’re at it, you may want to follow Talk Tyria as well because I plan to do at least one post for that website, too.

If you’re on Twitter, consider following the hashtag #EUFanDay :)

I’ve never been to the UK. Too bad the first trip is so short and I doubt I’ll see much from the country. ;) But hey, it finally made me go see a doctor about my ear problems (the last time I took a flight was 2004 and I tried to stay away from planes and from the doctor because I was afraid he’d tell me I have some permanent damage. Turns out I was overly paranoid or it might have healed in those years because everything’s fine! Now I’m just very excited and hope to have a fun trip. And kudos to ArenaNet and the EU Community managers Mélanie and Aidan for hosting this event. I can’t wait to meet them in person!).

Edit: If you have any questions that you want me to ask while I’m there, just post them here. :)

Guild Wars 2 and its lack of PvP servers

Some time ago, a friend asked us about “open world PvP”. When we told him that there won’t be any PvP servers like you have them in World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic, he was upset. He couldn’t imagine a PvP game without PvP servers. For him, PvP isn’t fun without world PvP.

The question is: Why doesn’t Guild Wars 2 have PvP servers and is this good or bad?

What we would gain from having open world PvP on every map would certainly be more excitement and a more dangerous atmosphere. It doesn’t really work in the existing game, however, because there are no two (or even three) factions battling each other. As those of you who have been following the game for a longer time already most likely know, the world of Guild Wars 2 is threatened by the Elder Dragons. In order to survive, the peoples of Tyria need to stand together and just can’t afford having a war with each other. Of course, there are rivalries and more. But all in all, having two factions fight against each other wouldn’t make much sense in this world.

From a gameplay perspective, it’s nice not to be divided because of that. How many people who play(ed) World of Warcraft would have loved to play (insert chosen race) just to have their friends tell them that this isn’t possible because they play the other faction (in this game’s case, Horde or Alliance)? This won’t be a problem here. All races fight on the same side. There will also not be dueling in the game. At least, not at its release… but that’s just as a side-note in case you were wondering. ;) Back to the actual topic: There will be no ganking or fighting people from your own server. This ultimately means that the players on your server aren’t part of “the other side”. They’re on your side. They’re not the enemy.

The whole game’s concept seems to revolve around this idea. If there’s a gathering node, don’t hurry. It will be there for you even if a zillion other players are running towards it at the same time. Everybody gets to gather from it. If there’s a mob, don’t worry if somebody else hits it and loots it. You will get the same XP no matter if somebody hit the mob or not. You will get the same loot that you would have gotten if you had not had somebody help you. Other players aren’t competition. They’re on your side. I know I’ve had it happen (in World of Warcraft), that I’d wanted to get to a mining node when a player from the other faction arrived and wanted the node as well. As we were on a PvP server, they attacked me. While we were fighting, another player from my own side came by, saw us fight and took their chance: They gathered from the node and disappeared. The node was gone, I was dead, and the player hadn’t even thought about helping me. They’re not required to do so, I know that. But the game actually rewarded him (with giving him the mining material from the gathering node) by not helping me. So when you can’t fight – over loot, mobs, gathering nodes – the game at least doesn’t encourage selfish gameplay.

The game does have open world PvP! So don’t get me wrong here. I like open world PvP occasionally. So something like this concept is perfect for me. Quite often, I just want to climb mountains, enjoy watching the game’s sunrises and sunsets, go gather stuff, hit a few mobs, do anything BUT turn around twitchily on every corner because an enemy player might be there ready to attack me. The good thing is that this kind of “attitude” is perfectly valid in Guild Wars 2. If you’re in the mood for “just PvE”, then stay in the usual world. If you are in the mood for PvP, go into the Mists (the open world PvP where your server’s players fight against two other servers’ players or go to structured PvP which is something like battlegrounds in WoW or warzones in SWTOR). PvE and PvP is neatly separated which means that if you meet a player from “the other side” (server in this case) on the PvP map, you know that they’re there because they want to PvP. They’re not there to pick up flowers and bring them back to their grandmother’s hut. If you’re in the PvP are, then you have the same goals and want to spend your time similarly: Fight other people.

I just hope that the maps are big enough and the subjectives encourage people to spread around the maps. In Warhammer Online, it happened quite often that we fought zerg vs. zerg and apart from the game not performing well when lots of players met, it was also boring. You just hit whatever was closest but there wasn’t that much strategy involved. I can’t wait to go roam through the maps in smaller groups and have interesting fights! I don’t think I’ll miss PvP servers. If you ask me, I will get the best of both worlds.

Educate the gaming masses!

For a few years, I had been a forum moderator for a forum with a few hundred members (at peak times… not online at the same time, though!). We had members from all over the world, aged 13 to 50-something. We allowed all sorts of discussions to happen on the forum. We did have heated debates about politics and religion (fascinating to watch at times with people being so different like us and at a post 9-11 time). Being a moderator taught me a lot and hearing from others now, years after the forum had its prime time, how they saw me back then taught me even more. Some of the younger members were intimidated by me because I was always so reasonable and level-headed. But what I took away from this experience – and the point of this whole rant – is that explaining and communicating is quite often the best way to handle a problem.

There were rules on the forum. When somebody broke a rule, I sent them a private message informing them about the fact. I always pointed them to the rules and added an explanation why we have this rule. Did I have to? Nope. I could’ve just told them off. But I wanted them to understand why we did something in a certain way. “No, you cannot write in 1337” often led to people feeling provoked to do exactly that and go against what I had said. When I added the explanation that we have people from all over the world whose native tongue isn’t English and that writing like this makes reading and understanding what they want to tell us difficult or even impossible for some usually led them to understand and respect the rule. Later on, I even saw some of the “early troublemakers” turn towards new members and explain to them the rules and why we have them. Always brought a little tear to my eye seeing how they had ‘grown up’ to be responsible community members and how my behaviour (and that of the other moderators) could influence others and, consequently, our whole community.

Now, on to something less happy. I guess lots of us have been there when ArenaNet announced the Collector’s Edition and their game’s prices. We’ve seen it a lot of times before: The dollar sign just gets exchanged with the Euro sign et voilà, the European price. The Collector’s Edition costs $150 and €150. The latter translates to $200. ArenaNet isn’t the first nor the only company to do the pricing this way and as always, there was an outcry. The only reason I’ve ever seen mentioned when companies explained their pricing was “it’s European taxes. They’re higher!” – but how much higher do the taxes have to be for such a difference? We only have 19% VAT so that never made any sense to me.

And then I saw a link to a post on Steam by Double Fine Productions. After having read the posting, it became much clearer. I never knew that in the US you don’t have to pay VAT for online purchases. Nobody ever explained that to me. It still doesn’t explain the whole difference but it gets a lot closer, at least! And it did calm me down and stop me from sulking so much. ;) – By the way, in case anybody is wondering: Yes, I want the Collector’s Edition. But that’s not difficult to decide because I’ll get it as a present. ;)

Back to the topic of educating the masses… Another rather good example is Star Trek Online. Ever since they went free to play, their server (you only have one big server and aren’t divided like you are in games like World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic etc.) has had problems and kept crashing every few days. Naturally, players don’t like this behaviour. So they explained what the issue is. Now I don’t understand too much about all this stuff. But I get the part with “trying to find where the bug is” and adding code to get logs (had to do that with my thesis where I had a web-based training and when the students watched an animation, I was supposed to get time stamps on when they do what – pause, play etc. – and that had worked during all tests I’d done but when it went live, it sometimes didn’t work. Turned out that simply uploading the whole course fixed the issue. We still don’t know what it was but at least, it was fixed! ^^). I wasn’t among those flaming or even ranting when STO’s server crashed again. But I, too, was wondering why it took them so long to “upgrade the server” or do whatever necessary, so it could handle the load.

Oh, and because this just came in and fits rather well: ArenaNet released another blog entry on a rather controversial topic – Mike O’Brien on Microtransactions in Guild Wars 2. So far, they have positively surprised me with the way they have communicated about their design decisions and I hope we will always get such in-depth postings even after the game’s release. ;) In today’s post, there are explanations in there for why they’ve made the decision to allow the sale of gems which are bought with real money and I can only hope it works. Namely: The goal would be to reduce the incentive for gold farmers. You all do know that gold farmers are the ones responsible for hacking your friends’ accounts and stealing all the items they had? Making them jump through a few hoops before they get their account restored (depending on the game and quality of support)? Blizzard actually wrote a nice article about this issue some time ago: Purchased gold comes at every player’s expense. Sorry for only linking to it indirectly. I can’t find the original website anymore. So Waybackmachine has to do. But I remember telling a friend about this after she had told me that she sees no harm in spending money on gold so she could get things faster in game when she doesn’t have as much time as others to actually play the game because she has to go work in order to earn money. I told her about hackers and that this is where the gold she bought could have come from. She hadn’t known until then!

I know that those games aren’t made for a few hundred people like our community was. It is much more difficult and time-consuming. You can’t send every forum poster a private message with details and explanations about what they did wrong and why it’s wrong. Also, our forum wasn’t there to earn money for its owner. Those gaming companies, however, need to earn money in order to afford their staff, offices, etc. ;) And with that probably come lawyers, marketing, PR who all want to have a say in what the company can or can’t talk about in detail or even mention to its customers. Although I really wish they could be a bit more open especially when it comes to decisions that cause outrages (like the US-EU pricing usually does). Educate us, please! Explain to us why you’re doing things the way you do them. It might not stop all people from hating, flaming, trolling. But it might make a few understand.

Blog Carnival: On the edge of diversity

This posting is part of GuildMag’s third blog carnival. Unlike most of the previous postings, we wrote this post together (with the exception of our impressions from ArenaNet at GamesCom which we wrote in just the same way).

Something that annoyed us greatly in the Eligium beta was that we couldn’t choose the look of our characters. All you could choose – look-wise – was the race and the gender. Nothing to set you visually apart from everybody else. We all looked like clones. In World of Warcraft, people also complained about everybody choosing only the “pretty face” (it’s the 3rd picture in the link, by the way ^^) for the female trolls (and there weren’t that many who played female trolls to begin with) which resulted in lots of them looking very similar (there was also one particular hairstyle that was most popular which didn’t help at all). Or think about how players rage when a developer “nerfs” content, so more people can successfully beat it. Some of those who have done the content before the nerf are usually among those complaining. But why? Because now everybody can try and conquer the content and then get the same achievement. Those who have done so before don’t get this achievement taken away from them but it means one less thing to set them apart from everybody else. Something less to brag about, maybe.

In other words: We want to be “special snowflakes”. We want to have something that makes us different from others. In games where choices and diversity are naturally always limited, this seems to be a rather important issue. How can you then set yourself apart from others in Guild Wars 2? What will be in the game that shows its diversity and doesn’t make us feel like we’re taking part in “Attack of the Clones”? Let’s have a look at some aspects!

Guild Wars 2 won’t have the traditional raiding endgame. So we will most likely not be able to show off our great raid equipment and we won’t be able to set ourselves apart from the masses by having some super rare item that drops from the latest boss. Stats can be taken off armor, though, and you can put those stats on another armor piece. So, why should we bother all wearing the best raid equipment that drops (which, if you ask me, doesn’t actually stand for “diversity” so much as for “bragging rights”)? Instead, we have the whole wardrobe that the designers created to choose from. And with that come dyes. Lots and lots of dyes! You will be able to choose up to three colours for each of your armor pieces. In other words, if you want, you can imitate a walking Easter egg! If you want to have a look at some of the known armor in the game, head over to Hunter’s Insight for some pictures from the beta.

We know character customization will have options like statue and size. It won’t be as extensive as Aion, but that might not be so bad. You can make all sorts of weird looking characters in Aion. It just wouldn’t work in Guild Wars 2 if you want to recognise a human as a human. And who wants to play with a 2 meters large asura? ;)

One rather fascinating fact is that in World vs. World, you will not be able to see your enemy’s name (an explanation why they decided for that can be found here). They will be anonymous to you. While this may take away some fame (being known and feared “on the other side” for being a great PvPer), it will also mean that you will have to be more creative. Show off your fashion sense and impress the other side with skill and style! They will still not know your name, but you might be “Mr Turquoise-Purple R0xx0r” or whatever else for them.

Just like in many other MMOs, you can try out a rare class/race combination if you want to set yourself apart from other players. From what we’ve seen so far, it seems that asura warriors will be quite rare. As will be female asura and female charr. If you want to have a look yourself – or enter your own dream combination, have a look at GW2Census.

Speaking of races, there are the racial skills that set your race choice apart from others. Let’s take the asura warrior from above who can call a Golem Battlesuit that everybody can use. Other races will have different skills, so only asura can use this particular skill. ArenaNet said that they will be weaker than the class’s skills and you won’t be able to use them in structured PvP. The question is whether those skills will be strong enough so people feel that they’re useful… and, as always, there is the big question how open the game’s community will be towards skills that are “less than optimal”. Because, let’s face it, gamers have a tendency to favor the so-called cookie cutter builds. We’ve seen our fair share of people complaining when another player didn’t have the optimal build because while having it didn’t guarantee good fights, it at least made it more likely that even bad players can play their class adequately (please note that this isn’t our opinion. We’re just stating what we saw others write and use as arguments…).

There will very likely be a lot of combinations of skills to use for each class and lots of situations where, hopefully, different builds will be useful. But how viable will the community think they will be? How tolerant will they be towards people experimenting with builds? How often will they tolerate a “wipe” because somebody wanted to try out something? How many people will be as lucky as we were back in Burning Crusade (World of Warcraft) when our raid leader let Paeroka raid with her frost mage (*gasp*) who had a hybrid PvP-PvE spec (*faints*) because while she didn’t top the DPS charts, she knew how to play her class and almost never died even when half the raid was dead after a boss fight?

So, how much will we be able to enjoy the freedom and diversity that ArenaNet hands us? How tolerant will the gaming community be towards people trying to find their own niche in the game? ArenaNet certainly seems to be about building an inclusive community.

The worst case would be a trade-off for pure efficiency regardless of fun if that means you can kill a mob (be that a boss in a dungeon, in open world or other players in PvP) faster than without the most efficient build.

Guild Wars 2 seems to go in a direction where the player is in the center (no tanks, no healers means there are no required classes, after all… “bring the player, not the class! V2.0”). This will bring diversity in itself. But only if we, the players, accept that not everybody likes playing their character in exactly the same way that we think is the best. Not to mention that some players perform a lot better with a build they’re comfortable with even if it’s not the optimized one. If ArenaNet does their job well, there will not be a single “best build”. But we need to accept that a playstyle that deals 1% less damage is still a great playstyle if it means that the player is having more fun this way.

ArenaNet delivers the tools but in the end, the fate of diversity is in our hands.

Bookahneer’s 1st anniversary!

So, it’s technically not bookahneer’s first anniversary himself. Vekk is a lot older and “the bookahneer” was introduced a lot later. But we just realised that we started blogging with Nerdy Bookahs exactly one year ago!

*throws confetti*

And now, look at my first posting. Ok ok, maybe the second one as that actually has substance. ;) This was also when I was in the middle of studying for my diploma exams. I ended up buying Rift as a treat to play between exams. Worked very well. :)

Anyway, thanks to all our readers (especially those non-lurking ones who comment and show us that they’re not just Google’s bots skimming the pages ^^) and here’s to a lot more blog posts at Nerdy Bookahs!