I have tentatively begun playing GW2 again. After three years. Here are my (re-)impressions.
Getting back into the game, I am finally beginning to appreciate the concern designers have over the returning-player experience. Remember when Ghostcrawler and friends talked about not wanting to change too many things mid-patch? When I loaded into GW2 on even a low-level character, looking at the Skills page caused a moment of existential panic in which I desired to turn off the game immediately.
Granted, I feel like the GW2 Skill system has always been convoluted nonsense, but it is especially weird now. Weapon skills are now tied to levels instead of weapon use – no more equipping a new sword and having to wail on easy mobs for 20 minutes to unlock everything, ala old-school WoW. So, that’s good. Less good is how the Skill system used to allow you to purchase skills from tier lists, but now they are unlocked in sequential groups. In other words, you usually have to unlock a bunch of crap to reach the skill you want, instead of picking it right away and then not having a use for skill points later. Then there are Specialization paths or whatever. Pick three of six specializations, each of which has three sets of three choices.
No doubt the system makes perfect sense for long-term players, but as someone logging back onto a level 80 character after three years… well, let’s just say that I fully understand why WoW was “dumbed down” the way it was.
Things are now a lot more account-based, which is also interesting. You still have to unlock bag slots per character because $$$, but now even things like gold are shared across all characters. Hell, the shop is even selling additional Crafting slots, so you can have more than the industry-standard two.
Magic Find was also turned into an account-wide deal instead of stats on gear. In a rather brilliant economic move, the only way to increase this stat is to destroy magic gear and consume the possibly resulting Essences of Luck in ever-increasing amounts. This neatly solves the Vendor+1c economic disaster GW2 had originally, all while providing an insatiable lust for dropped/crafted gear. Amusingly, it also squares the circle of the increasing amounts of Magic Find generating more magic items, as you simply destroy those too.
Actually, I feel like there is a entire post that could be devoted to this sort of design solution. Not necessarily the elegance of the Magic Find situation, but rather the kind of design which involves every player having a stake in consuming resources. I mean, look at WoW with all the junk greens and blues that drop. People vendor those all day, or possibly get them disenchanted and sell the resulting dust to either Enchanters or people trying to get cheaper prices from Enchanters. It’s easy to flood the market in those situations, because the demand is concentrated in just a small portion of the entire audience. And then, perversely, it’s nearly impossible to find usable gear at any given level because it’s never worth it to list on the AH due to low demand (and high fees). Lose-lose.
Meanwhile, the market for magic items in GW2 is effectively infinite – everyone has an incentive to get more Magic Find. And that’s a trick, because the majority of players will quit playing, never reach the cap, or whatever, but they have nevertheless drained the economy of those goods. It is the difference between everyone learning every crafting recipe drop they come across versus immediately putting it on the AH to be consumed by a much smaller fraction of players. The latter is the status quo, but the former neatly solves most of the issues that crop up in MMO economies without overt gear destruction.
In my brilliant foresight, I apparently cashed out all my gold before I stopped playing three years ago, so I have 1300 gems and like 8g. This is enough to apparently “purchase” Season 2 of the Living Story, which… makes very little sense to me. Did everyone have to purchase the second Living Story when it came out? Is it necessary to play? I’m assuming not, but who the hell knows in this weird-ass F2P Wild West. Given the horizontal progression touted by GW2, I’m not sure of the benefits. Skins, surely. Plus, you know, plot. But anything else?
It is actually kind of amusing, in a way. People gripe about all the planned obsolescence in MMOs like WoW, but GW2 seems to be the ultimate offender here. Lion’s Arch got destroyed or something, right? I’ve read about it, but I don’t think there is ever a way to see it. Unless it is in the Living Story bundle, perhaps. Someone might be able to breeze through the entire Mists expansion in WoW without leaving Jade Forest these days, but at least all that content still exists. In GW2’s sake, it is straight-up gone like a fart in the breeze.
The likelihood that I play GW2 long-term is effectively zero, as it is with any MMO I fear, but for now, it is something I’m playing. Luckily, I received something silly like twelve level 20 boosters and six level 30 ones, so I’ll be able to get a better feel for the classes without having to suffer through the painful low-level nonsense another half-dozen times.
And, hey, even if I stop playing, the game never had a subscription, so I could just revisit in 2019 and see (or not see, as the case may be) what’s new.
There were two rather important items I would absolutely have been talking about by now, if I was still playing WoW.
Since the introduction of the guild system in Cataclysm, the nature of guild leveling and guild perks has shifted from being a reward for dedication and collective effort, to effectively being a penalty and barrier to entry for new guilds.
To be quite frank, there was never any shift; guild leveling has always been a penalty/barrier to new guild creation. You could trace the exact moment when my old guild (Invictus) was on its way out: the night when we no longer reached the daily Guild XP cap. Everyone knew people weren’t logging on as much anymore, but that shaded bar in its purple crassness had a way about it that pierced all illusions. Not only did we understood that the guild was dying, we became acutely aware that we were falling behind. And yet, in a cruel twist, you also didn’t want to leave either. Sure, you could join a more active, new guild… and lose all the bonus Honor/Justice Points/goodies in the meantime.
I am not entirely sure whether any particular MMO has gotten guilds “right.” By that I mean crafting a system that both encourages social activity and doesn’t encourage abuse of its own systems, e.g. in zerg guilds. The most we seem to be able to hope for is for guild systems to get out of the way. Anyone have examples of where guilds were done particularly well?
Second news items is the merging of Alliance/Horde AHs on each server.
This is certainly an interesting decision for Blizzard to make. Some of the detractors focus on their lost gold-making opportunities, while still others take offense on an almost RP angle. My own opinion on large AHs have shifted considerably over the years. While it is always fun to play the big fish in a small pond, small ponds tend to dry out and kill all the fish. There is perhaps nothing as discouraging as seeing a barren AH, as that wipes out entire swaths of gameplay: the AH baron, the farmer, the crafter, the guild selling BoE raid epics to fund guild repairs, and so on. In this sense, I believe it’s a good idea.
On the other hand, something I have found equally (if not moreso) discouraging is seeing the effect of a vendor+1c economy. Guild Wars 2 was my first experience with this phenomenon, but Wildstar has creeping elements of the same thing. The cause is rather simple: bot farmers dumping mats.¹ While even the tiny Auchindoun-US had its share of bots, it was clearly more profitable to peddle their vendor-for-a-profit wares on the bigger servers. In a centralized marketplace, all it takes is one bot to ruin everyone’s day.
In any case, what is somewhat amusing is remembering back to my WoW days and how I very nearly kept a second account running purely for the cross-faction arbitrage possibilities (even on Auchendoun-US!). I have to assume things like the faction-specific mounts will remain faction-specific, but I imagine those hedge market items like green-colored Winter Clothes and such will tank. Meanwhile, I wonder what they intend to do with the goblin AHs…
¹ In fairness, there are likely several other things going on simultaneously. For example, making mats too plentiful, not having enough sinks, having crafting systems that encourage the pumping out of hundreds of identical goods, and so on. Bots will still ruin your day though.
I want to start off with a quote from Ravious of Kill Ten Rats:
“Players are simply wrong when they say Guild Wars 2 has a “failed” economy. Players that claim failure have a misconception of the economy they believe the MMO should have. It isn’t failed because supply and demand are working, just not in final products. The supply of a final product far outweighs demand, even with the trash compacting Mystic Forge. Still I’ve seen plenty of profit that can be made with small amounts of market inefficiency or player laziness. A failed economy would not provide such opportunities.”
My very first reaction was the following mental image:
To be fair, yes, it matters what kind of economy one thinks is appropriate for an MMO. Personally, I am a fan of the whole “labor + resource = increased value.”
The week of Ravious’ post, we got a slew of Guild Wars 2 ping-ponging hotfixes. One of them was a sudden removal of Cooking materials from vendors; prior to this, the game’s only “Advanced Profession” could be leveled 1-400 for roughly 80 silver and a few thousand Karma. Some of the removed items, like the notorious Stick of Butter, suddenly started showing up in copious amounts in the bags of goodies that humanoid mobs drop. While there was an initial panic going from vendor to drop, Butter was quickly selling for 1c because it dropped in 5-8 stick increments and seemed to replace actually good drops 50% of the time. Then you had other crafting mats in the Tier 2 level going for vendor+1c even as their Tier 1 variants were still making bank. At one point there were 8 million Soft Wood Logs on the AH, for example.
Last Friday, ArenaNet’s generically-named in-house economist, John Smith, came out with a similarly generic post on GW2’s economy. The entirety of the relevant bits were the following:
We’ve noticed several markets that are clearly out of sync in terms of supply and demand. It isn’t interesting or fun to have a market flooded with items that contain very little value, so we’re making adjustments to the game every day. Players can expect to see these markets even out over time.
While adjusting the supply and demand will bring markets closer to non-vendor based equilibrium, there is still the matter of massive surplus of some items. To address the surplus, we’ve created some new, limited-time Mystic Forge recipes that use these items. These recipes create boxes that give chances for gold and some cool items.
The “adjustments” they made were recipes that called for 500 Sticks of Butter (Soft Green Logs, etc) + two other items to create a chest that could have up to a 2g vendor item plus some other cosmetic items. As should come to no surprise, the price of Butter (etc) skyrocketed. No doubt a large quantity of these over-supplied items left the economy permanently as people gambled their money away. And I have to hand it to ArenaNet, insofar as utilizing the Mystic Forge as both a hole to throw items into and a money sink simultaneously.
But I have no real confidence that John Smith knows what he is talking about.
Pondering over this whole economic episode has led me to think about the interactivity between all these moving parts and the unforeseen consequences. For example, I am a huge fan of individual loot and resource nodes; in fact, I think they are one of the best “innovations” of multiplayer games since… well, possibly ever. But if two players tap the same mob/node and get 2x more loot than they would in other games, that means games with individual loot/shared nodes will (potentially) have twice as many items dropping. You cannot just “solve” the issue by cutting drop-rates in half though, or making crafting professions require twice as many resources, because that leads to a dissatisfying single-player experience.
Then you build your game around Dynamic Events with huge, scaled mob encounters with AoE all over the place. Provided you have the chance to deal enough damage, it is not uncommon to go from zero to full bags of gear from just 1-2 of these Events. You are selling bag space in the cash shop, so you have an incentive to keep bag space tight. But being able to sell to the AH from anywhere – itself a supremely good-feeling feature – means players would rather list all this excess gear for vendor+1c despite it being at a loss, simply because a loss is better than destroying the gear entirely.
Nevermind the crafters dumping gear on the AH in 5-level increments, competing not just with each other but with all the generic item drops too. Considering you can get +10 levels worth of XP per crafting profession, and the cost of switching inbetween them is fairly trivial (compared to losing all your progress) there is always an incentive to at least start one or more professions on all of your characters.
This preponderance of vendor+1c gear means the average player can “Lease” upgrades throughout their adventuring career – buy the level 30 sword for 80c, use it until level 35, sell it for 79c, then buy the level 35 sword for 90c, and so on. This leads to the Diablo 3-ification of gear upgrades, making drops/Karma/quest rewards simply vendor-fodder for the 24/7 AH pellet machine. The entire concept of character progression breaks down, generally at the same time you unlock your level 30 Elite Skill and otherwise experience no further change to your PvE play-style.
I do believe Guild Wars 2 brings some extremely nice innovations to the MMO formula. However, I am getting the distinct impression that other MMOs do not have these features precisely because of all the unintended consequences they bring down the line. It is clear ArenaNet believes the Mystic Forge Will Fix It™ but I simply do not see how. Limited Time recipes eliminate surplus stock, but the fire hose of drops (and the roundabout incentives to post them all) continues unabated.
If John Smith can economy his way out of this, without ArenaNet dialing back all the player-friendly features, I will be hugely impressed. Otherwise, their best hope is probably fewer people playing the game.
It may seem a bit premature to wonder about the Guild Wars 2 economy, considering the game has only be out for a week or so. But a comment by Chris K over on Syncaine’s GW2 Review post got me thinking about whether the game’s structure makes the economy unlikely to ever “recover” from its current bizzaro state:
“The trend [of crafting being pointless] will not persist. Currently people are levelling crafting only for the xp gains. It is, essentially, buying levels with gold. When the majority of these people hit the level cap then you’ll start seeing a decent economy forming.
At least I hope so…”
I have reported before that the GW2 devs made it a point of pride that the crafting system alone can get you to level 80, assuming you feed an alt enough mats. But Chris makes an astute observation that crafting, even when the market is vendor+1c, has a point: easy, scaled XP gains.
So think about it. Going 1-400 in one profession will net you 10 levels of XP at increasingly large costs (primarily in vendor mats, but also karma recipes, etc). Or you could simply go 1-40 (etc) in all eight crafting professions and net 8 levels’ worth of XP much more easily. Why wouldn’t you do this on all your alts? Or your main for that matter, considering that you continue earning Skill points for “leveling” past 80 to spend as Mystic Forge currency.
Changing crafting professions to a new one is a completely painless process with no upfront costs, and all your progress in a dropped profession is saved. Switching back to even a 400-level profession only sets you back 40s – not a completely trivial amount at current gem exchange rates, but way less than I expected. There are no profession bonuses that I know of, and even if there are BoP gear recipes, the lack of gear progression at endgame makes it a mostly moot point.
All of this + the global Trading Post + the existence of Buy/Sell Orders makes me think it unlikely that the Guild Wars 2 economy will ever meaningfully mature from its current state. I have every incentive to start all eight crafting professions on all five of my character slots, and so does everyone else. Doing exactly that will continue to put huge Demand pressure on low-level mats, even if gold inflation raises prices across the board. I can maybe see higher level gear selling for more than vendor+1c once fewer people are leveling crafting past 125 (etc), but the moment it does there will be ten thousand wannabe goblins squeezing into the margins.
Not that I am particularly complaining about the ease in which I can finance cash shop purchases here. I just think ArenaNet really screwed up in the incentive department, on the same level and scale as Blizzard did with Diablo 3. I never thought I would look back on WoW’s discrete Auction House markets and extreme Profession-hopping disincentives with nostalgia, but here we are.
If there is ever a Crafting system failure metric, the “vendor+1c” phenomenon is it.