Slow-Burn

There is a slow-burning dumpster fire in the Guild Wars 2 subreddit, and it seems to have been set by ArenaNet.

For those just coming onto the crime scene, the stage is set thus: GW2 appears to be in decline. Revenue is down. ArenaNet lost ~35% of its staff in February of this year. While there has been semi-regular Living Story updates, the last full expansion was released almost two full years ago. So when there was an announcement countdown livestream event on Twitch, the dedicated fans were hopeful. Maybe there would be a new expansion? Or new elite specs? Or some WvW/PvP love?

Nope.

It was not a complete nothingburger, but it was clearly not at all anything that a worried fan might take solace in. Living Stories are now “Living Sagas,” there are some new Masteries coming, and… 10m starter raids called Strikes? When you lose a third of your entire workforce six months ago and leave an awkward silence to the question of whether your company can even handle another expansion, people start using phrases like “maintenance mode.”

The Content Marketing Manager response over this holiday weekend has consisted of… throwing around lit garbage.

Hey friends, this industry can be a weird one to work in and this year has been an especially roller-coaster-y one for lots of companies. A couple of important things to remember: (1/5)

If you’re abusing your fellow human beings because you’re mad about your game, that’s not “passion”. You’ve lost perspective and crossed a line. It doesn’t matter why you think a game has wronged you–attacking devs or your fellow community members has no excuse. Ever. (2/5)

“Be professional” is not code for “I am allowed to heap every vile treatment I can think of onto your head, and you are required to thank me for it, ask for more, and always treat me with the utmost deference. If I even THINK you aren’t, there will be hell to pay”. (3/5)

If you have to resort to hyperbole, snark, fact omission, mild truth-stretching, creepy comparisons to Hitler, or metaphors about “It’s like if you paid the bill but they turned off your heat in winter” to explain your fury, perhaps the situation is not as dire as you say. (4/5)

Save the “But you have to understand” devs deserve abuse. I’ve been working in this industry for 10 years and playing in it since I was a little girl. I’ve been Mad At A Game. I never *once* exhibited the vile behavior I see daily. It can be done. (5/5)

This has been received by the GW2 Reddit community… poorly. Even though she later clarified that she totally wasn’t talking about reaction to the ArenaNet event – that rant was apparently just apropos of nothing – it became somewhat emblematic of developer communication these days. Specifically, react and pontificate on the toxicity of your game’s community instead of addressing the root causes of ire.

I mean, what does this Content Marketing Manager expect to occur as a result of her posts? Has there been a single successful chastisement in the history of the internet? Even if it worked the end result would still be Reddit threads filled with polite questions and criticism and radio silence from the company that absolutely wants you to continue giving them money but won’t give you a hint that it’s secretly cratering and can’t possibly swing an expansion anymore. Which, okay, business is going to business here – why tell players the $5 (character-specific!) bag slot they’re about to buy will never contain new items when you can say nothing and keep the money?

Nobody wants to upgrade to a 1st-class cabin on the Titanic. At least, not after it hits an iceberg. And make no mistake, Guild Wars 2 has hit an iceberg. Probably a few. The remaining crew yelling at the panicking passengers is the exact opposite of constructive. Something useful would be informing them that additional lifeboats (expansion) are being constructed as we speak. Here are some life jackets (elite specs). There’s a nice band playing over on Deck 7 (WvW stuff). You know, anything to make the transition a more pleasant experience when it is literally your job to do so.

We’ll have to see how ArenaNet management react when they swing back into the office today. This tweet-storm is not on the same level as the Jessica Price fiasco a year ago, but it’s in the same neighborhood of dumb. Why people keep insisting on driving that route, I have no idea.

Posted on September 3, 2019, in Commentary, Guild Wars 2 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. It’ll never happen but I think a lot of MMORPG studios really need to start looking outside of their own corporate bubbles. There are a few examples at least of mostly positive dev-community interactions, of PR events that aren’t met with disappointment and boos – take FFXIV and their event earlier this year. That’s not to say Square don’t make a hash of things sometimes, but compared to them Arenanet really seem to be on another planet. These days Blizzard isn’t looking much better mind, but Classic may be a trump card to win back a lot of player goodwill at least in the short term.

    It’s a very complex topic of course: is this just a symptom of these more polarised times? Are standards of interaction online declining ever more? Have MMO devs trained their players to be super-fans to the point that it is now backfiring as those same fans feel no longer well looked after?

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    • It’s funny thinking about Blizzard, because their communication game since Ghostcrawler came onto (and left) the scene is actually pretty remarkable. I can’t really comment on stuff lately – as I haven’t been paying much attention in BfA – but I do know there are vlogs and forum posts and other official information, including regular patch notes and hotfixes. Now, we still boo that information as it comes out, especially when their reasoning seems ridiculous, but it’s a far cry from the “industry standard” of radio silence.

      As for why other companies stay silent, I think it probably comes down to logistics. Does ArenaNet (et tal) even have dedicated communication apparatuses? Are they in a position to speak for the devs? Does this person even have the constitution to tank the community? Is management willing to risk them saying the wrong thing (or even right thing) and lose face in front of their fans? Does anyone actually have any idea of what’s going on from day to day? Unless those sort of answers are nailed down tight, it might be less risky to just say nothing, as infuriating as that can be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I find myself ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, nothing suggests the rep was being disingenuous when she said that the thread was unrelated to the event’s hostile reception. The only thing that links them is the timing. And I do believe in pushing back against abuse, whether or not it’s especially effective. It’s never without some value.

    On the other hand, unlike Price and Fries, Rubi’s job is marketing. If this is a calculated deflection, then there is indeed something deeply cynical both about waving the bloody shirt and about using those amiable gamer-next-door reps as human shields for criticism of the bloodless corporation.

    At least there’s a clear “This is my personal account, I don’t do work here.” note on that twitter bio. Lessons learned! Progress!

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    • Nice catch with the Twitter disclaimer, I hadn’t even noticed that. I wonder if it will be just as effective as those Facebook messages you see people post that say “I don’t consent to Facebook using my photos.”

      Meanwhile, just about everyone in the rest of world is one drunken party photo away from a trip to HR.

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  3. The thing is, they have effectively been doing this for the entire seven-year life of the game. They veer between almost total silence to making a lot of announcements in a short period and devs sometimes interact freely with the playerbase and other times are nowhere to be seen. If you compare it to the complete assurance and professionalism the company displayed for the two years of promotion leading up to launch it’s an astonishing turnaround.

    In the end, whatever pose they adopt makes very little differecne because of the glacially slow pace at which they actually *do* anything. It takes ANet five or even ten times longer to bring any announced or hinted at content to the game than almost any other MMORPG developer I can think of. And when it arrives it’s often buggier than most and frequently is almost the opposite of what the majority of players expected or wanted.

    The only real exception is whichever team knocks out what used to be called the “Side Stories”, small events of limited scope that fill the long gaps between Living Story chapters. Whoever they are, they seem to be able to get stuff out in a timely fashion and have it more or less work at first attempt. They should let whoever’s doing that have a bash at the big stuff.

    I think much of the talk about “maintenance mode” is over-hyped. It’s a seven-year old MMORPG that ANet said would last “at least ten years”. It should make that easily even if they never do another expansion and just filter out content at an even slower rate than they have been doing. They will tick over financially and if they weren’t owne d by NCSoft I doubt anyone would be worrying much.

    As for the future of ANet as a games developer, though, well they are going to need to develop another game pretty soon because their other plan, to run GW2 indefinitely, clearly isn’t going to work. While they’re part of NCSoft, who slashed that 35% of the team, that looks increasingly unlikely. Not sure what other options they have other than to do what they are doing and hope the ultra-casual nature of the game keeps people logging in often enough to spend some money on pixel clothes now and again.

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    • Ha, I had forgot about “at least ten years” part. In that light, ArenaNet would indeed be able to coast on their current level of content and perhaps focus the rest of the team on Guild Wars 3, assuming they are financially able to. And that would be the rub: will NCSoft allow them to coast on declining revenue, or will they be Wildstar’d?

      That said, if the current plan is working on a sequel/coasting, then I would personally rather uninstall the game now and be done. ArenaNet will likely never admit to either possibility for that exact reason. Alternatively, if they are planning another expansion, then I would start doing dailies again and logging on more, to set myself up to more readily consume said future content – even if the plan is “maintenance mode after 3rd expansion.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good write up — agree with your post and in particular this comment.

        When it comes to GW2 I love it, but I’m rather touristy about it. I keep it installed at this stage largely to login and grab access to the episodes as they release and that’s about it.

        If I had some inkling that something more worthwhile was coming, I’d be entering prep mode too.

        As it is, I’m very cautious about even the idea of investing more time into the title. I’d welcome a GW3 in a heartbeat — but I am skeptical this is a viable prospect for them at this stage.

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      • I think it’s very unlikely we’ll see a GW3 from ArenaNet. ArenaNet is basically dead. They are like Trion, milking their former success and waiting to go under.

        They aren’t able to fix their dungeons let alone even create new ones. They won’t have the resources to create a new MMO.

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  4. As a long time player of GW2, it is crystal clear there are two major obstacles to proper communication from ArenaNet.

    One is ability to deliver – somehow, it might be the game’s spaghetti code or how unfriendly or hardbaked certain things are, but it takes Anet a colossally long time to tweak this game, and then chances are, a whole bunch of unrelated things might break. “Fixed a server crash” is the expected second patch note of every update. The production speed is glacial. They tried the Season 1 strategy of frequent 2-3 weekly content releases and it apparently nearly broke their company internally.

    Two is the company culture, management, etc. Their exterior face stresses their keenness on ‘family’ values, ‘no crunch’ and so on. How far that is true, we would not know, but if we assume that it generally holds, then while this is positively virtuous in an industry full of horror stories and abuse, we can extrapolate that a more lax or relaxed culture abounds, which might not actually help in meeting production deadlines, hence a lot of “we’ll announce it when it’s done” and careful avoiding of any roadmap or -dates-.

    The grapevine also has it that there are…certain elements near the top, shall we say, that are pretty controlling and need to greenlight everything and yet may change their mind or reject things on the drop of a hat. That’s going to add to a lot of potentially wasted work and going back and forth for approvals, adding to the time it takes to do anything.

    Add to that the constant team reshufflings every couple of years.. one keeps hearing of new teams being formed, old teams removed (then there goes that content being supported, eg. guild halls), the Legendary team moved into doing Living World stuff (RIP legendary quest line collections, and those collections turned up in the episodes instead), unsoweiter, and one quickly gets the image of a company with a lot of silos and possibly very good people working in tiny teams with not that great cross-communication between them.

    Such companies are not exactly limited to the game industry, one speaks from unfortunate personal experience. But if they truly can’t coordinate and communicate internally and in a healthy fashion, it would be asking quite a bit of them to communicate -externally- and healthily an image that they are coordinated and working towards something.

    To make their situation a little less tenable, competition from other game developers has set a bar for players of today expect. I’ve gravitated to Path of Exile and Warframe for primarily their excellent communication with their fans, plus that of being decent games in themselves.These are very high benchmarks to match.

    Possibly, the only silver lining in this cloud is the fact that ArenaNet has somehow managed to create a very decent game that attracts a decent (if not fantastic) sized population, -in spite- of their obvious dysfunctionality.

    My most positive argument would be, even if one suspects Anet as a company might be in decline (though they may still be struggling to recover), if one ever wanted to play a particular MMO, it might be best to do it now, rather than waiting for a later future time where that MMO might end up closing shop. That support might keep them going, whereas a negative expectation will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. (For vets who might be bored, you do you.)

    But I wouldn’t hold my breath for improved communication standards from this company – they’ve had seven years and beyond a few short-lived attempts, not much has stuck, I suspect the culture is too ingrained and filters down from the top.

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    • It’s a good point regarding how this has been ArenaNet’s M.O. since the beginning, or at least post-release. As a tourist myself, it can be easy to lose perspective coming back into an established title and wondering why the devs are not on the same cadence of those releasing things in 2019. As you pointed out though, it does ArenaNet no favors to be compared to current competition, but that’s the reality of having an MMO – you have to Red Queen it up just to keep afloat.

      Or, I guess, they can continue doing what they’re doing until NCSoft pulls the plug.

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