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[GW2] 4Q17

The fourth quarter results are in for Guild Wars 2: 34,903 million Won.

GW2_Chart2

What does the above tell us about the health of GW2? Well… there might be cause for concern.

Revenue for the two quarters encompassing Heart of Thorns was 67,888 whereas Path of Fire is 55,048, a decline of about 19%. A more concerning factor, IMO, is how these last two quarters encompassed the release of mount skins in the Gem shop. Based on anecdotal evidence, e.g. in-game observation and Reddit threads, the mount skins have been one of the most lucrative additions to the Gem store in months. The Gliders released in HoT were cool-looking, but only seen when, you know, actively gliding. Meanwhile, people are on their mounts a good 90% of the time these days. There are 50 total mount skins, and even if ArenaNet severely bungled the distribution thereof, it’s clear that they are hot items.

Despite that, the 4Q17 results barely moved from where they were in 4th Quarter 2013.

GW2_Chart_Bar

Bar Chart, if preferred. (source)

Having said all that, the situation is not dire per se. If you enjoy GW2 as I am at the moment, there is no particular reason why you could not continue for quite some time. Even with a lower player population, you are unlikely to notice a decline, as players are funneled together into event zergs, and the Diablo-esque loot (99% useless) pinatas keep the dopamine high.

What we are likely to notice is exactly what we are seeing today: a renewed focus on fiddling with Gem Store items and services. The Mount skins were a start, but have continued into the Black Lion Chest “upgrade.” The Fashion Wars endgame remains largely P2W, with rewards for actual content-clearing relegated to the junior varsity artists. And everyone is fine with that since there is no “power” being sold… only motivation. And besides, if you farm enough gold and convert it into gems, you can reap the rewards yourself!

Sigh.

The funny thing about it all is the fact that while you can purchase Gems with Gold relatively effectively over time, the biggest cut for GW2 is actually the Gem to Gold conversion. For example, as of the time of this writing, the conversation rate is 100g = 356 gems. However, if you wanted to buy gold, the conversion is 19g per 100 gems. So, basically you get only 2/3rds of the value buying gold. This means that ArenaNet should probably be encouraging more tradable (and thus sellable on the AH) items, rather than a laser-focus on Gem Store exclusives.

As an example, the legendary greatsword, Twilight, is currently selling on the AH for 2750g. If I really wanted that item right now, I would have to buy 14,474 gems and convert it to the necessary gold. That’s $180.92 worth of gems as of today. Or I could decide that that is absurd (it is), and start off on a journey to craft the Legendary myself, which could be a year-long endeavor that requires touching every part of GW2’s content.

Or, you know, buy an similarly cool-looking greatsword (or bow) skin off the Gem store for like $10. Either/Or. It is becoming increasingly apparent which one ArenaNet would prefer.

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[GW2] Balanced Gameplay

Yep. Just another day, trying to cap a ruin in Guild Wars 2, when…

Now, I knew I was dead as soon as I saw another player. I’m there to complete my daily quest, the Roamer is there to Roam. That’s cool. What’s less cool was this:

One-Shot

Balanced!

For those playing at home, that’s a total of 29,073 damage unloaded within… what would you say, looking at that footage? One second? One point five? Less? The two actual damage abilities would have left me with less than a hundred HP, if not for the Steal (which teleports the Thief 1500m) or the Lightning Strike, which I believe is a weapon enchant proc.

If you were wondering about buffs, this is a closer look at the Thief:

GW2_Buffs

Possibly fair? I dunno.

It looked like the Thief popped something as he crossed the ridge. Is it captured in the buffs up there? I’m not super familiar with all the icons, and GW2 does not have any feature to look up other characters, so I’m kinda stuck.

Still though… in what particular universe would something like what happened be okay? I’m not in full Ascended gear or anything, but I doubt the gear difference would have gotten my HP above 29k, which is all that matters in the literal second it took to down me. Maybe the particular build the Thief has to use to achieve this level of absurdity makes them less useful in zergs?

To which I would reply: again, how is this okay?

For the record, this occurred last week, so the recent balanced changes were not involved.

Every Day Jugglin’

With each passing day, I am falling into a familiar trap of trying to juggle all the things in GW2.

My primary objective, always, is to complete the main daily quest. This rewards 2g straight up, not counting any other bonus loot from the component quests, and represents real, long-term wealth. Maybe there are better gold-farming techniques, but this is the best I have at the moment. Thankfully, the daily is not quite as onerous as it once was, between familiarity and Bhagpuss’ guide to completing it in WvW.

The secondary objectives are where things fall apart.

First, I would like to experience all of the story content. That includes the vanilla story and then, of course, the expansions. I kind of jumped ahead on the HoT story because I needed to unlock Gliding, but I do want to get back to the normal order of things at some point.

Second, I want to unlock the Elite specs for the classes I play. GW2 has a pretty asinine system by which you basically have to complete the expansion content before unlocking the Elite spec that came with the expansion, but there are ways of getting around it. Specifically, there are WvW items that drop which you can convert into a currency, which you then use to buy another item, which then randomly completes a Hero Challenge in one of three broad areas. It’s as convoluted and nonsensical as it sounds, but a side-effect is that it’s forcing me to do all the “easy” Hero Challenges, so that my random completion item is more likely to pop one that, say, normally requires a group to finish.

Third, I want to progress my character in general. And, perhaps, this is where things truly fall apart. If I am just doing my thing and notice that there is a Commander on the map with a zerg in tow, I drop what I’m doing and follow the zerg. Not doing so means I will miss out on the free loot of whatever encounter the group is about to breeze through. Plus, considering GW2’s “Mastery” system, it’s kind of required that you join these zergs because otherwise your ability to work your way through the expansion content will be that much harder and longer.

At the same time, I’ve been reading up on getting better gear once you’re at the level cap. Ascended gear is the highest-stat gear in the game, and has been for years. The best way to acquire a bunch of those pieces is to farm the Season 3 Living Story maps on a daily basis. I kinda lucked out because I was logging in regularly during LS3, so I get those “episodes” for free. But I haven’t been doing them, because I’ve been trying to do the Story in order. But by the time I get around to it naturally, I could probably have farmed all the necessary currency to get the Ascended gear, so I should probably be doing that right now. But that means doing even more story out of order, and skipping zergs…

What ends up happening is a pretty classic case of Analysis Paralysis. Unable to choose between all the things, I end up choosing nothing. Well, I choose the Daily, then nothing. Gotta get those dolla bills, y’all.

Airspace

Has there ever been an interesting and/or fun flying mechanic in any game?

I keep asking myself that question, as my eyes glaze over while holding Shift + W in an attempt to get somewhere in Ark on a flying mount. Flying anywhere in Ark is especially egregious, as not only is there no auto-Run/Sprint, letting go of the W key will cause your mount to stop moving altogether. Flying is not particularly engaging in WoW either, but at least you can hit NumLock (or other keybind) and then Alt-Tab for a while.

Which then begs the question of why flying commonly works the way it does at all.

In WoW, it is in perhaps its most banal form: a land mount that moves on a 3rd axis. Up, down, sideways, for infinite periods of time. Back when Flightgate was occurring, I was firmly in Camp Fly, but not because flying itself was particularly fun. Back in Burning Crusade when there were actual concerns – Fel Cannons and flying enemies capable of dismounting you – but those have largely been abandoned in favor of… attunements and grinding. Not a particular improvement.

In Ark, things are a tiny bit different. The biggest difference would be the existence of a Stamina meter, requiring one to eventually land somewhere. This need for landing does slightly alter the gameplay of flying, insofar as you must make decisions to, say, attempt to cross the Swamp at low Stamina or rest up beforehand. Otherwise, flying is largely identical, with no real to worry about running into trees or being attacked by really anything (PvP aside).

Know something that I do find compelling gameplay? Gliding. A lot of people have gone on about GW2’s introduction of gliding in Heart of Thorns and how great it is, but I’ve never experience it there. In WoW though, the Goblin Glider has been my fam for most of Legion. And don’t get me started on how lethargic it feels to play any other class after experiencing the Demon Hunter for 20 minutes. Double-jump plus glide everywhere? Give that dev a raise.

Gliding has a lot going for it, mechanically. There is the gameplay necessary to get to a high enough location to glide in the first place, for example. Once you actually take the leap, your time is limited in a very real, intuitive way. Stamina bars can technically limit flight too, but only abstractly. There is something engaging about the way you might scan the ground ahead, making minor course corrections, seeking to avoid the dangers at the end of your decaying trajectory. Even if you are not actively moving left or right, your mind is still performing the prodigious, subconscious calculus of triangulation every second. Compare that to Shift + W.

The “obvious” solution is to make flying mounts handle more like gliders. But is that really a winning combination? Maybe.

I think the challenge is the threading of the needle between making flying engaging without it being onerous. Having to press Spacebar for each flap of the mount’s wings is probably not the way to go. Being able to dive bomb though? Catching updrafts? Gliding around obstacles? Having to actually pay attention when flying through forests? That is something I can get behind. One of my favorite mounts in Ark is actually the Giant Toad, as its huge jumps are infinitely entertaining in of themselves. Can you imagine a game, MMO or otherwise, that had a flying system fun enough to be its own reward, rather than merely a mechanism to get from A to B?

If it already exists, let me know where.

Looking Forward

Everything got put on hold due to my Darkest Dungeon infatuation. Now that I might be coming out of that fugue state soon, I wanted to take stock and see where things are headed everywhere else.

Final Fantasy 14

I have officially paid for an entire month’s subscription without logging in once.

The good news on this front is that my miserly ways will allow me to get Heavensward for free should I buy Storm Blood. I haven’t actually bought anything yet though, for the very real chance that I never make it to the original endgame. For example, one of the things that happened right before I drifted away from playing was a 20+ minute DPS queue for a mandatory “dungeon” which consisted of a single boss and no trash. Mandatory. Because reasons.

Guild Wars 2

While I have not logged into GW2 for a hot minute, there was a period of a few weeks where I was logging on everyday to complete the daily quests “achievements” for 2g and a few assorted goodies. Especially the One Free Level books every week or so. It is not as though there is particularly much to do in GW2’s fashion endgame, but it gets really boring running through the same beginning zones over and over whenever you try finding a class that is fun to play.

That said, there is supposedly another expansion coming in the Fall. And just like with FF14, buying the expansion gets you the previous expansion for free. So, no thanks ArenaNet, I’m going to pass on the recent $15 Heart of Thorns deal.

Hearthstone

New expansion comes out in August, and it’s set in Northrend. Time will tell how the new cards affect the meta… but to an extent, it almost doesn’t matter. I never really play Hearthstone more than an hour or two at a time, maybe once or twice a week. Most of the time I find it almost as fun (if not moreso) to watch other people play on Twitch. Say what you want regarding how RNG makes skill meaningless, but goddamn does it make spectating amusing. All of the excitement and none of the salt, because the bad stuff isn’t happening to you!

As usual, I expect to spend zero real-world dollars on the expansion. Gold and Dust should be enough to hold me over, as it has in the prior few expansions.

7 Days to Die

Since I last brought it up, 7DTD has rolled over into 16/16.1 Alpha Stable release. There aren’t any major changes to anything, but this does mean that the dev team can start working on A17 and “settlements,” whatever that ends up looking like. If the devs end up adding actual NPCs into the game (rather than Traders who don’t move from their counter), that will change the gameplay rather significantly. After a while, one gets used to easily meleeing zombies to death with clubs; Bandits with firearms sniping from rooftops would be something else altogether.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I really should go ahead and start finishing this, shouldn’t I? Just to say I did.

Home is Where My PC Is

And that’s moving today. Around three miles away, but still.

It’s a relatively inconvenient time though, with all the discounts and pre-expansion patches and such.

I was very, very tempted to pop the first of my nine WoW Tokens (purchased over a year ago) on Monday to ensure I wasn’t holding onto goods that would be deprecated. Then I thought through it rationally. “Okay… so I’d be spending a Token worth X amount to save… what? More than X amount?” A year of “lost” Garrison revenue has led me to believe price inflation would have rendered me non-competitive anyway, assuming I even had the time to spend dicking around the AH at the moment. Which I don’t.

Still, I will be in Legion. I haven’t decided if it will be right at the start, or later on like with Draenor.

Meanwhile, the Guild Wars 2 expansion is currently selling for $25 for another week or so. Although my attempts to get back into GW2 earlier this year didn’t go particularly well, I feel that part of that was due to the lack of buy-in. Not necessarily in forcing the feeling of investment per se, but knowing that next to none of the content I had access to would be new. Want to try the Revenant? Nope. See new zone? Denied. Living Story? Sorry, that’ll be a few thousand gems.

On the other hand, half off something I don’t ultimately end up using is 100% wasted. So we’ll see.

The last deal I wanted to mention was that current Humble Bundle in which they are selling Battleborn for basically $15. That’s gotta sting, yeah? From $60 to $15 in 2.5 months. I was tempted to pick it up… for Borderlands: the Pre-Sequel, not for Battleborn. On the other hand, I’ve mainlined Borderlands 2 to the degree that I’m not even sure I want to play that type of game anymore.

Hmm. Perhaps this move hasn’t impacted my purchasing decisions as much as I thought it has.

PAX Day One: That’s A Lot of People

I wouldn’t say this was the most amount of people I’ve been around, even at a convention, but still:

image

We're going to need a bigger boat.

Place was packed, in other words. To be expected.

I didn’t actually stand in any lines, as while playing the new GW2 expansion sounds somewhat fun, waiting two hours to do so does not. The line for Overwatch was… well:

image

This is the end...

image

... okay, maybe not the end.

I missed a chance to meet some of the Wildstar devs at a local bar, but I’m not too tore up about it. We’ll see if any similar opportunities present themselves.

Crestfall

So everyone seems to be talking about Crestfall Crowfall, the latest unreleased Jesus game from veteran Jesus game developers. Included amongst them is the perennial nostalgia favorite, Raph Koster, bringing up the consultant rear. Or as I like to call him, the M. Night Shamamamalan of video game design. I mean, I’m looking at his Wikipedia and I’m seeing a huge blank starting from around 2006 onwards. I’m not a game designer, of course, but if I were, I would like to think that the people who deserve recognition are, you know, actually making games people are buying. Maybe even in the last five years!

In any case, I’m not exactly sure why we’re supposed to care about Crowfall right now. I suppose there’s a deep, philosophical difference between straight, corporate PR advertisements (e.g. Guild Wars 2 manifestos) and… Kickstarter campaigns, right? It used to be that these companies paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising into the face of a skeptical audience, but now the script has been fully flipped:

As of 10pm EST, 2/25/15.

As of 10pm EST, 2/25/15.

That is an average of almost $92 per backer, by the way.

What I will give Crowfall some much deserved credit for is its very evocative premise:

We are Immortal. The Gods choose the best of us to be Champions. They send us to the Dying Worlds to fight, to collect the souls of Damned. The Mortals fear us. They see us as Executioners and Scavengers. They call us Crows…

That has a lot of juice. It neatly solves the conceptual problems of “why do worlds reset” and “why does my character respawn” and even “why am I doing this?” You can almost immediately hear the fanfiction being written – perhaps you’re not a champion, but a slave forced to collect food for a parasite god. Or you’re condemned to your own Sisyphean torment. And were these worlds “dying” before a bunch of hungry godlings showed up? This description greases the wheels even further: “The Shadow Worlds lie closer to the Hunger, where even the Gods dare not tread.” What do the gods fear from the Hunger that you yourself don’t? Mmmm.

But that is where this whole Crowfall hype thing both begins and ends with me. I mean, how many “genre-saving MMOs” are we up to now? Who is still playing ArchAge or Wildstar or whatever? There is jaded cynicism on the one hand, sure, but irrational exuberance (at best) is the other. Maybe everyone is just happy it’s not another endgame raiding MMO, I dunno. I do think we would all be better off pumping the brakes a bit so we can actually see what Jesus features make it off the cross of development.

Talk is cheap. Actually delivering a product that anyone still cares about when released is more difficult.

Or Maybe We Won’t See

Once again, Blizzard has buckled under the weight of people giving them money:

#ZerothWorldProblems

#ZerothWorldProblems

I would call something like this unprecedented, but I suppose I have experienced something similar firsthand back when Guild Wars 2 came out (Jesus, was it really 2.5 years ago?). I mean, it’s one thing to take people’s money and then not let them play because the servers are on fire; it’s something else entirely to not take the money in the first place.

In related news, someone on Reddit provided the following Twitch screenshot:

Rather unprecedented.

Rather unprecedented, I think.

In case that’s hard to see, it says Hearthstone had 190,704 viewers on Twitch.tv – higher than the next two games combined, which were… League of Legends and WoW. At the time I’m writing this post, it has decreased to ~86k viewers, but it’s still beating out LoL by a few thousand. New expansion and all, sure, but that’s still not a bad performance for a “casual app with a PC port.”

Cynical Dynamism

No, really, I was not going to bring it up again. Through a series of coincidences though, I read this post by Bhagpuss (referring to GW2’s upcoming Sea of Sorrows event):

The press release is fascinating, showing, I think, just how extraordinarily difficult it is going to be to balance a genuinely “dynamic” virtual world with customer expectations of a commercial product. Taking ANet’s description of the event at face value, there’s an intrinsic and apparently insoluble problem and in just three-paragraphs they hammer home relentlessly precisely what it is :

we want to make sure that you are not missing out”

“an Event in Lion’s Arch that you don’t want to miss”

“make sure you will not miss it”

“this will only run once, so make sure you will be there!

Whether the event will live up to the hype, whether it will be truly world-changing, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is the insistence that this is something all Guild Wars 2 players must not miss. That raises expectations that simply cannot be met in full. A lot of people aren’t going to be there, no matter how much they’d like to be. The balancing act between building excitement and fostering resentment is a high wire to walk, that’s for sure, and the fall is steep on either side.

Then I received an email notification about this comment from João Carlos:

I am sure Azuriel will go crazy bitching mode when she knows about the one time events at 16-18th…

But I am sure GW2 at XFire will go up that weekend.

As an aside, if I were not actually a dude, I think I might have been offended by the “crazy bitching mode” characterization.

Anyway, mere minutes later, I browse down to NoizyGamer’s latest Digital Dozen post:

Event Aftermath – Another trend is that following in-game events interest in a game tends to decline.  Two games that held in-game events on 28 October saw the Xfire community spend over 20% less time playing those games on Sunday.  Vindictus fell out of The Digital Dozen after a nine-week run with a 22.1% decline following the celebration of the Nexon game’s second anniversary 27-28 October.  The second game, Guild Wars 2, experienced a 21.2% decline with the end of its Halloween event.

So, I would respond to Senor Carlos by saying: I would hope GW2’s XFire numbers go up the weekend of the 16th. Because, ultimately, I think that is sort of the entire point of having these Dynamic Events By Appointment, vis-a-vis to drive engagement and capitalize on gaming news-cycles.

Even if they really are being earnest when they say it is all about making the world feel alive, it begs the question of “what is the world missing, that it needs one-time events to feel alive?”

In any case, this is not an ArenaNet-only thing – every seasonal event in MMOs basically amounts to the same deal – and I am not even saying developers spicing things up is necessarily bad. These sort of events simply hold zero interest to me, even if they were not starting at 3pm EST (are they timing it for the schoolchildren?). I never considered showing up for a raid at 9pm on a Tuesday evening particularly dynamic, and I have to wonder how many scheduled one-time events someone can consume before the suspension on their disbelief finally gives out.

If you made it past 1, you are doing better than me.