The Guild Wars 2 update experience

Last night was the first time I’ve really focused on being online for a Guild Wars 2 patch and I noticed a lot of differences from my experiences with other MMOs and wanted to talk a little bit about them.  This isn’t a guide, so much as an opinion piece.  I like to ramble.

Down with down time
The first thing I noticed was that there was no real down time.  Other than the moment where you had to restart the game and do the actual download, you could continue to play.  If you were in an instance at the time of the patch, you could carry on until you had finished.  There was no scheduled maintainance and I was out of the game for just a few minutes.  This was great and meant that they could patch the game in all areas at the same time (unlike WoW where one area always gets a ‘head start’) without interrupting the gameplay of one or another area significantly (SWTOR I’m looking at you here).

It wasn’t all good.  I would note that having every player try to download at once did cause connection issues.  I imagine these would become a problem over time if the game were to grow significantly.  There was also no option to pre-download anything which is a great way of spreading the load for people with a slower connection.  I was grateful for my fibre broadband.

Who doesn’t like surprises?
I will say not all of them were good.  I had no idea when the patch would be during the 24 hour window given, but when a 1 hour warning came up I was part way through my daily.  I tried to finish it, but of course I didn’t have an hour.  It wasn’t ‘in’ 1 hour, but ‘within’ 1 hour.  So I had to restart my daily. *Grumble*

But that was the worst of it.  There were features in the patch that were announced very late or not announced at all.  The patch notes were made available just a few hours before the update and nitty gritty detail of class changes only appeared then.  The day of the patch ArenaNet announced the removal of paid tournaments, since the matchmaking system made them redundant.  And when the patch appeared, it was complete with the ability to track achivements.  Not just dailies, but any achievement.  This is a particularly nice feature that was given no coverage at all.

Even features that had been announced brought only limited information.  No one knew what the cost of Guild Quests would be, or what kind of options the choose-your-own-daily would give you.  The update to Ascalonian Catacombs was mentioned only via interviews and had no detail (the Spider and the Gravelings seemed harder, Kholer and the last boss in path 1 seemed easier).  And there was no Player Test Realm which is a staple of many MMOs.

Game update philosophy
I watched the State of the Game video on Guild Wars 2 Guru the last time it aired.  They mentioned there that they sometimes ‘stealth’ updated content.  I found that an interesting concept.  Changes would make it into the game with barely any notice.  Now I see it in practice with this latest update and it interests me.  My previous experience is with World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic and they approach updates quite differently.

WoW tends to warn people well in advance of what is coming.  Notes are compiled and updated for weeks in advance.  Players have the opportunity to test content and give feedback.  SWTOR has adopted the same pattern.  This has its advantages – players test the content, they report bugs and get them fixed, they do their best to break things and let Blizzard know what ‘creative use of game mechanics’ might be coming next.

What seeing this patch made me realise, however, is how much else there is to this process.  The update process used in WoW and SWTOR tends to generate hype.  There are a whole bunch of people right now waiting for the next update to come along and make things better for them, by adding new content or fixing things that are broken.  They are excited by the big announcements, and by the trivia of class changes and quality of life improvements.  This will generate subscribers which will generate revenue.  It is also the process by which players get to feel included in the design of ‘their’ game and by which people get an opportunity to prepare themselves for change.

It is this last feature that most worries me about the GW2 approach and which recommends it to me.  On the plus side of the WoW approach preparing people for change is good.  People in general do not like change.  You repeatedly hear the nostalgia many players have for their original incarnation of WoW.  Changes to the game are blamed for their gradual disillusionment (though I believe they are rarely the actual cause, but that’s another post).  I quite expect that in a couple of years time GW2 players will regale you with tales of how back in their day you couldn’t take a step in Orr without 10 mobs pouncing on you.  Never mind that the change was greeted warmly by the community today – it will be the great game breaker in years to come for some people.  By not preparing people for changes, ArenaNet risks people reacting badly before they have a chance to change it back.

On the other side of the fence, however, it brings back some of the magic of the game.  It was nice to be suprised.  It was nice to know generally what was going on.  It was nice to track down every detail I could in advance and it still not be the whole picture, or even close.  It was nice to not be bogged down in details that might change.

I think there are some reasons, but I’m not going to start picking them apart further here as this post is quite long enough.  Instead I’m going to go and enjoy my game and the mysteries it has to offer.

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