For those of us who remember the Wizard of OZ, among the protagonists were the scarecrow(who desires above all things a brain) and the Tin Woodsman(Tinman) who desires above all a heart.
This blog is predicated by the fact that our Dorothy and her merry band have not yet reached the wizard and are still following the yellow brick road of iteration, beta testing and improvements.
Another warning, this is a very long article so while I sometimes see the value in a TL;DR in this case I believe the whole thing should be read and considered as ultimately the questions it asks will affect in some way every single player in GW2.
However, there is a summary at the end of the article, which hopefully will help.
People will indeed be amazed and sucked in by the fantastic stylised graphics, emotive Jeremy soul soundtrack and visceral gameplay and questing and won’t spare a thought for the more human side until that buzz has worn off. By then it will be too late, people will have splintered off into islands of friends and that sense of being part of a larger something will be gone.
Needless and Alarmist? Well perhaps, but surely it’s better to provide feedback and thoughts now, rather than wait. I also hope to try and give logical and sound reasons for these thoughts. Fingers crossed 🙂
Before I continue we need to determine what I mean by brain and heart. Brain is game mechanics, in-game systems that make the game tick. I.e I’m not just talking about PvE and PvP content, but also about trading, teaming, the chat system, guild management, in game mail and the server structure.
For heart I am talking about the in game community and social aspect. How easy it is to make and play with friends, hold guild run events, contests, tournaments and play with guild members etc. The Human factor if you like.
Now Arenanet is very aware of how important people being able to play together is (as shown in this PC gamer article http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/05/08/guild-wars-2-wants-you-to-play-with-friends/ )
Our fictional GW2 Tinman thinks this is a step forward, or for those used to GW1 a de facto way of playing so it’s great that this has been incorporated into GW2. We’ll come back to this article later though.
Arenanet stated here http://www.arena.net/blog/building-community that they are a community building company rather than a mere video games company and that they are looking outside of the traditional methods of building them and indeed this is a wonderful and fantastic goal.
However, you can have all the official forums, social media and fan sites you like, if the game does not allow communities to fully express themselves in game then well.. what’s the point?
It’s by this statement we should hold Arenanet to a high standard (as challenged here http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/03/27/arenanet-president-talks-microtransactions-and-the-risks-of-going-subscription-free/ ) and ask ourselves and Arenanet ‘Seeing as you are a community company who happens to make games, does game mechanic X meet your aim of being a community building company?’
I would contend that in many areas of GW2 the game mechanics as we have currently seen them hinder if not actually prevent communities from flourishing in the game. In other words GW2 is, just like the Tin man, a game looking for a heart.
How dare I make such an assertion? Well, if you are still reading(and hopefully you are) I’ll break down some key things in game communities do, and give examples where GW2 does things right, and where I think more work and thought is needed.
1/ We need to talk
So.. What’s so important about being able to talk to each other in game anyway? Aren’t there such tools as forums, mumble, C3, Twitter and IRC we can use instead of in game chat? After all Arenanet’s community article suggests an increase in use of social media so this is a good thing right?
In game chat is, I believe a vital asset in building and maintaining a healthy community of any size. People can ask for help, receive it, be alerted to DE’s ‘Shatterer event now starting!!’ comment and debate aspects of the game, share favorite sights and sounds and even just use it to chill out.
Well, why can’t they do that out of game?
It’s all about ease of use and speed of response.
To use an out of game chat method I need to periodically alt-tab from the game to keep an eye on chat thus leaving my character/team or whatever without an active participant(or probably several as they’ll all be doing it). Unless you have a multiple monitor then this will break up the flow of whatever you are doing, give delays and generally disrupt the entire operation of the guild. Nothing will be in real-time, important chat, advice, offers for help will all be missed or uselessly delayed.
In short it would be like trying to communicate in real time via email rather than IM.
Can’t we use voice chat instead? Sure, if you equip every member with a headset and assume they are happy to talk. Also important sound cues, advice, the wonderful soundtrack etc. will be blotted out by several people trying to talk at once.
The other great omission is the fact that currently there is no ability to create custom chat channels. These are an ideal way to create custom groups of friends and guildies alike, as well as giving the RP community a great tool
This lack of communication should the limitations discussed below remain and there continues to be no way of mass communication across guilds will, very obviously divide players, create organizational chaos and erode whole gaming communities. It’s simply unavoidable that this will happen.
2/ Communities play together and join in things.
GW2 does casual communities very, very well. The no groups needed mechanic is just great as is the no trinity structure. People are not yet excluded due to profession or build, nor are they left hanging around LFP.
However, as witnessed in the BWE these impromptu teams seldom really communicate, the wide range of the /say chat, the don’t dare stop to type else I’ll be killed combat style and the somewhat chaotic nature of the DE’s don’t really allow friendships to form as easily as the traditional grouping system.
Now this isn’t to say we need to go back to the traditional party structure, not at all. The GW2 way is brilliant. Will friendships still be formed this way? Of course they will, we are social creatures after all. We just need to be aware that in general this system creates a ‘one night stand’ mentality among the players.
So who wins the casual community ‘fight’ GW2 Scarecrow or GW2 Tin man. Well it’s hard to say. Tin man likes no one is excluded and groups can form easily for as short or as long as they like. Tin man doesn’t like, based on the BWE’s the fact that chat and team working are non-verbal and that you don’t really get a sense of who you are teaming with.
3/ Communities band together to form Guilds
I’m sure we can all agree that most players will be in one or many guilds. For sure, some love the lone wolf aspect and indeed that’s perfectly fine. Tin man likes people to have the choice.
Now there are as many sorts of guilds as there are people, and this is where the multi-guild system is such a great thing. If you are in a PvP mood, flip to your PvP guild, if you want to hang out with friends flip to a casual guild or if you want to hard core dungeon raid flip to that one.
But seeing as most people will be in a guild of sorts, let’s take another look at some key points and let Tinman have his say on each one 🙂
As of the BWE 27-29th April the hard guild cap was 100 accounts and there was zero ability to communicate to other guilds outside of the whisper and say to everyone mechanic.
Our GW2 Tinman hates this idea with a passion. Here’s why.
- It rips apart gaming communities, many of which have been friends across multiple games for many years. A large guild does not always equal a Zerg guild. It can just have started small, and grown over many years.
- With no alliance chat there is no easy way for groups of friends to just chat, help out or offer help. I.e. it cuts people off from their friends, people to team and do DE’s with or even just chat as they play.
- It puts pressure on leaders to fill every slot with members who will contribute influence, thus negating the whole point of multiple guilds. E.g. I only have 100 slots all of them full , I have 5 people who play more way more than 5 people who spend part of their time in other guilds. Guess who gets kicked.. This will totally detract from the multi-guild system and will foster a not very Tin man friendly ‘represent or be kicked culture’.
- It puts additional pressure on guild leaders to plan to move their guild to GW2. Who do I take? Who I can make officer, How many guilds do I need, how is it all going to work. The last thing we need is to find the cap is still 100 on release day and somehow I still have to find 400 more slots for people.
- People Gravitate to larger guilds anyway, a small guild cap won’t stop them doing it. Influence isn’t like faction in GW1. No one’s name is in lights if you don’t get lots of it, and smaller guilds won’t take long to get there anyway.
- 100 players in a guild is NOT a Zerg. Not all of them are going to be on at the same time, especially if they are multinational. You’ll average between 20 and 50 players on concurrently.
I’ll go into more depth now (hold your breath and hope Tin Man doesn’t rust 🙂
3.1/ Stopping the Zerg, Aka world Domination?
In a few forum posts I have seen the objection that this stops Zerg guilds forming that will dominate a server, which on first look seems a reasonable assumption.
However, setting the guild size to 100 does not stop people Zerging. Said mega-Zerg guild can simply arrange a date, place and time to meet up outside of game and go rampaging across the map anyway.
Also one can also create a Zerg by lots of smaller guilds linking up and doing the same sort of thing as a single large one. In short the number and play style of players define a Zerg, not the guild tag.
The very best way to stop Zerg behavior is by game play mechanics such as objective based combat, participation caps and mass AoE damage items to split up the Zerg. GW2 has great Anti-Zerg mechanics already and as demonstrated above the 100 member and no chat functions does not prevent Zerg guilds from doing what they do.
We should be able to conclude that it’s positive effect will be limited compared to the damaging effects it will have on many, many players.
3.2/ External Influence
Another objection for raising the guild cap is that of influence, that mega guilds will be able to steam ahead and get far more influence in a shorter time than a smaller one.
This again I think is based on false assumptions. Firstly influence gain is not a contest, no guilds will have their name in lights, nor will they get access to special elite areas as Guilds did with faction in GW1
Also while there are small benefits to having a lot of influence none of them are game breaking or affecting to point where a guild with maximum influence will be able to outperform one with barely any on the battlefield. Influence is for fun and fluff.
It should also be remembered that Activity is the key factor in influence gain, not number of accounts in a guild. For example, a guild (guild 1) of 30 hard core, play 18 hours a day players will earn influence at a much higher rate than a guild of 300 (guild 2) who can only manage on average an hour a day.
I.e Influence=Player Activity X No of representing players. So in the case above guild 1 will have an influence rate of 540 per day, and guild 2, 300. I.e Guild 1 has a 55.5% faster influence gain.
While we are talking about activity, we found in the last BWE that it took between 4-6 hours for a single player to earn 100 influence. This means that the vast majority of items and buffs are well in range for even the smallest, most casual guild once the base requirements(also cheap) have been earned.
It has been suggested that perhaps an increased cap should be an influence purchase (like a guild bank). But there is one thing that our GW2 Tin man dislikes about this idea and it’s this.
If you are bringing over a guild from another game and there are 102 people in it, what are those 2 people going to do while you earn the influence needed?
3.3/ No contest
It’s also been suggested that one of the reasons for such a low cap is that mega guilds will ‘crush’ smaller ones thus leaving a server wasteland. Now I believe this can be refuted by asking ourselves what are guilds competing for? It can’t be for members as a member can have multiple guilds, it can’t be for influence because as we’ve seen that’s just non game affecting fluff. So perhaps it’s for WvW?
To look at the WvW question we need to re-adjust our perceptions of winning. We know WvW lasts 2 weeks, so unlike most pvp we need to take a more long term view for WvW as opposed to most PvP formats. Also remember, even losing servers get some buffs so losing is not an all or nothing exercise.
For example, who is more important? The mega guild that takes Stonemist or the smaller groups that keep supplies going so that Stonemist can be repaired and defended? Or the small guild placing spotters on a hill and directing their larger allies as to weak points or places they need to defend.
Servers and guilds that take a server wide view will do much better than servers or guilds that have mad rush to compete for glory for the major landmarks with no consideration the other factors.
Perhaps this thought is related to number of players in WvW. That a mega guild can take all the spots in WvW shutting the rest of the server out?
Well that is indeed possible, but also remember the contests lasts 2 weeks and even the largest guild cannot keep every single slot locked for 14 solid days. More importantly the 100 cap does not solve this issue either. Because as we saw in the Zerg question all multiple guilds need to do is coordinate outside of game and there we go.
For more formal and structured PvP we can look at GW1 and other MMO’s to see how well larger guilds do vs smaller ones in PvP. By far the most successful PvP guilds are those with small, close knit teams who play day in day out. If we look at the really top PvP guilds in GW1 we can see that the vast majority had less than 20 members. Therefore I would argue that the larger the guild the less competitive it will be in formal GW2 PvP.
3.4/ Technically speaking
Perhaps then, the reason for the low cap and no cross guild chat is technological? This one is impossible to ascertain. However, in general there are few considerations perhaps we should look at. In terms of displaying the guild roster or guild operations there are fewer response time constraints than say deciding to activate a skill. While not an excuse to be wasteful it does mean less criticality for database searches.
While we are on the topic, It would seem to be no different to running 10 separate queries and displaying the results on 10 different roster screens, as opposed to one, one of a 1000 displaying it on 1. Modern Database engines barely break into a sweat at a million row search, let alone 100 or 1000. Neither will any more space be taken up in the database as each guild will have a name and a tag.
Of course, we can’t be sure how this all works, but on the face of it, it looks unlikely there are technical reasons for the cap.
3.5/ A small problem?
The final argument I have seen against raising the cap, is that actually very few guilds will need more than 100 slots so it’s only a small problem.
Now while there are no numbers for GW2, we can look to GW1 for the answer to this. It’s probably true that smaller guilds are much more common than there are those that are the cap, we are forgetting to add the alliance system into this equation.
I would suggest that there are far more guilds in alliances than not, and that the vast majority of these benefit greatly from them (otherwise why would you stay?)
Remember as currently seen there is no way for guilds to easily talk to guilds. This means that even if the alliance is small. They WILL be negatively affected by the current GW2 guild system and which expands the scope of the issue beyond that of the 100+ guild member club.
4/ A happy event?
The other activities players and guilds like to do is participate or run events for others. These can range from a simple party at a secret site for a few friends to full on game wide parties, giveaways and contests.
This is something our notional GW2 Tin Man loves. It encourages generosity, a sense of fun and brings people together for well, just a great time. In GW1 these were a vitally important part of the community and in game scene and Areanet supported these in various ways. From CM’s taking part in the event itself, spawning special mobs and in the case of ‘pink day’ even creating NPC’s and dyes.
Therefore, from past history we can say that Arenanet loves community and large scale, game wide events.
The individual might not be bothered about such things, but I know if they were not possible or very awkward to run to the point of being impractical the community and indeed our Tin Man would be greatly affected.
So how does GW2 help those who want to attend and run community events? Well let’s see
4.1/ Smaller Events
For the smaller scale event, such things as guild banquets are available for a renown cost. It remains to be seen where and how these will able to be used as there are currently no Guild Halls in game, nor have guilds had time to earn them.
Speaking of Guild halls, while these are planned we are told they are coming at some point after launch. Personally I will miss a place of our own to chill out, chat, hold internal guild parties and generally just enjoy.
Often these sorts of places are where guilds and communities really start to bond and thrive and I hope they are included as soon as possible.
Our GW2 Tin Man will no doubt enjoy guild events, especially with the influence based party items. He will, however need to look around for easy, private and nice places to hold them until the Guild Hall feature arrives.
4.2/ Medium size events
These are events that are held for non-guild members, but are perhaps limited to the main home server of that guild. Now my Guild (DVDF) tried one of these on the first BWE to see how well and how practical things would be.
Here is what we found.
In GW1, there used to be Player to player trading. Getting rid of this makes sense from a gameplay perspective(The Scarecrow likes this) We found it:
- Hinders ease of sending prizes. It was more awkward to right click on a recipient, then mouse to the top of the screen, enter a mail subject, drag the prize to the mail and then press send.
- Limits the amount of mails that can be sent at a time. In the last BWE we found we could not send another mail until the previous one had been read. This makes any sort of multiple prize giving or giveaway impossible. As all it would take is for one person not to read the mail to grind the whole thing to a halt.
- Made certain well known games such as using the ‘first person to trade with me’ as way of deciding a winner impossible
We used the lions arch fountain as a test location. We also saw some evidence that towns would get ‘overflowed’ but we couldn’t confirm it. If the overflow system is in effect this could also greatly impact the event to the point of ruining it.
The other aspect that put a limiter on things were soul-bound items. These seemed to be far more frequent than we had anticipated. Now in GW1 very few items were soul-bound. This meant that old items or even prestigious items such as everlasting tonics, tormented weapons and rare skinned weapons could be donated as prizes.
In GW2 tonics, weapons(BoE) and rare skin items were all soul-bound thus preventing them from being used as gifts and prizes. While this is understandable from an economic (scarecrow) stand point, from a community or Tin Man’s point of view it is a limiting factor in player ran events.
All in all we found that server wide events (of a limited nature) were possible, but there are a number of practical obstacles that would need to be resolved to make them truly fun for both guest and organizer.
- Mail system ease of use
- Cannot express generosity due to current limitation of mail.
- Certain game types no longer possible
- Chat limitations
- Possible overflow issues.
This is one case where it seems our GW2 Tin Man is losing out to the Scarecrow of game mechanics.
4.3/ Larger Events
Large scale event are open to the entire gaming community and were extremely popular with GW1 players and developers alike
Imagine what GW1 would be like had there been no Canthan new years sponsoring, no Pink days, No random acts of kindness, no guild parties, no all profession meets and no games with prizes. That means no lotteries, no art contests, nada.
If you never experienced them in the game you came from hundreds and thousands of players would come together from all around the world to join in, celebrate and enjoy themselves. Why? For the fun and joy of it.
In other words, they bought people together, built friendships and made the game a much happier place. They built.. Community.
Many of the mechanisms that will affect single server events are made more apparent here. Let’s take a moment to review them:
- Mail system ease of use
- Cannot express generosity due to current limitation of mail.
- Certain game types no longer possible
- Chat limitations
- Possible overflow issues.
There are some wider issues though these are:
Mail to other servers. Currently it is impossible to send a mail to players on other servers. This makes sending prizes to players from other servers(even if they can visit you) impossible.
This kills any sort of prize giving for cross server events stone, cold dead.
So what about non give away events?
Well, in theory these are very possible. But there is a potential hiccup. In the first article we mentioned above we read
”A player may also choose to play on any server where they have a friend as a guest. We want “guesting” to be an easy way for players to play with their friends from different world”
There has been a lot of speculation around this statement as to if you need a friend to guest you there or not. My reading in this is that, yes you do.
Why even mention a friend if you did not need to? Why not just say “A player may also choose to play on any server they wish” and miss out the friend part?
How this will affect large scale events is quite subtle but profound. If you need a friend on a server before you can move there then every single event will need for the organizer/the guild to be on the friends list of every single attendee.
This means that an already stressful time (setting up for the event) becomes a spam fest of tells asking for invites, friends lists, spellings of names etc all within a few minutes of the event starting and no doubt progressing thereafter. Players would then blame the organisers, thus resulting in a very un-fun time for all. One in which is unlikely to be attempted again.
5/ What’s the urgency?
For the normal guild member, or even guild leader it may seem as though these issues are minor at best, and irrelevant at worst. So why should we be worried now? Why can’t these things be added after launch?
The answer is straightforward. Guilds and alliances, especially large ones take a lot of planning. Does the guild need one, 5 or ten guilds? How will these guilds be run? Who will run them? Who wants to go into which guild? What happens if they don’t all fit in? How can we communicate now?
Remember, as currently implemented guilds can’t talk to each other. So once you are in your guild you are stuck there. Mutli-guild membership won’t help you talk to your old friends in sister guilds because you are still taking up a slot in both guilds, effectively you’ll be digging a hole to fill one in.
It is unreasonable to ask players, on day one of launch to decide who goes where. Especially if you have say 500 slots to fit into a 100 capped guild.
Once split up in such a way, communities are rarely the same again so quite simply, it HAS to be in before launch otherwise the damage, hurt and stress will make it hard to recover.
Well it’s taken us just over 5000 words to get here so let’s spend a few more reaching a conclusion. Is GW2 a game looking for a heart? Is it the Tin man MMO or are we worrying about nothing at all?
We must now see how Arenanet measure up to their statement “We are a community building company rather than a mere video games company”
Well asking our GW2 Tin Man, we can see he liked:
- On the fly grouping.
- Dynamic non-trinity based playstyles
- Free server transfers
- A casual friendly guild influence system that promotes working together
- Anti-Zerg Game mechanics, that make smaller guilds as important in WvW as larger ones
- Glorious places to chill and spend time.
- The amount of love for the game the developers have put into nearly every pixel.
If we ask ourselves what measures GW2 has for building communities in game alas it seems it currently comes up lacking in many key areas.
- The guild size cap, no alliance chat and in game chat limitations prevent people from playing with who they wish to. Long standing communities of players from GW1 and beyond will find themselves behind a ‘pixel curtain’ of division and enforced separation.
- Guilds and players who wish to donate prizes will find their efforts frustrated by soul bound items, many of which need not be.
- And when they wish to hold celebrations or events both on their server and beyond these efforts are firstly frustrated by a clumsy mail system and then rendered almost useless due to the fact they cannot mail more than one item at a time (until the first mail is read) or across servers
In Arenanet’s statement above it’s clear they have a fantastic goal, but it seems that our poor Tin Man’s needs have been somewhat neglected by the desire to keep our Brain focused scarecrow happy.
So based on the above, what sort of community can we look forward to if GW2 goes live tomorrow?
- Ad-Hoc groups of players will love the game, loners will be able to play to their hearts content drifting from random group to random group.
- Single small guilds will love the game, and will notice no change in the way they play or communicate.
- Small alliances of guilds in GW1 and other games will no longer be able to talk or communicate in game except by whisper or to anyone around them.
- Larger guilds will be forced to split up into many ‘chapters’ again with no in game way to communicate across them. Thus putting clear dividing lines between them.
- In a lot of guilds, there will be a culture of ‘survival of the fittest’ in which the most active will keep their place, the least will be kicked due to the population cap making every spot precious.
- There will be no or very few player run events that use prize giving or give-aways as part of their celebrations and this will be especially true for multi-server events.
- Game types will be restricted, with no player ‘tag’ or ‘first to trade with me’ games possible
The Questions we need to ask ourselves are:
- Is this the sort of community we would like to play in?
- How does this conform to Arenanet’s stated intentions?
- Are gameplay mechanics decisions the only thing that should matter in game development?
- What is Arenanet’s view of community and player run events? Are they still for them or are more out of game methods of community building now more desired?
- Is a single game type worth putting above friendships, playing together and encouraging generosity and outside of pure game mechanic fun?
- At which point in the design process should community thinking come into game development?
There is still time for us and our Tinman to reach the Wizard, but now we are almost all the way down the yellow brick road it seems there is still the clang of metal in our Tin man’s chest and like his quest, Guild Wars 2 seems to be a game looking for a heart.
Hopefully, in the days and weeks to come such things will become clear and explained more fully so that we all can help Arenanet achieve what they say they want to. Build Community.