[GW2] Pre-Order vs Pre-Purchase, or why only badly organised people pre-purchase

So Guild Wars 2 went on sale yesterday. You won’t actually be able to play the finished game for months, although they’ll let you in for the odd beta weekend, bugs and all. But if you pre-purchase then you will have paid full price already. Let’s run that by again. You will have paid full price for something you can’t use properly for months, at which point you may also be able to buy it cheaper. Congratulations on making a poorly thought out purchase there, dude.

When even Ravious is saying that this might not be a great trend (and he never criticises Arenanet)  it’s worth paying attention. Clearly MMO devs in particular would love to jump on the pre-purchase bandwagon. Of course it’d be better to get people to pay while the hype cycle is in full swing and any balancing/ content-free/ or endgame issues haven’t yet come to light. Meanwhile, you the consumer have spent that money on something you aren’t going to be able to use yet. I suppose that won’t matter to people who don’t have to live on much of a budget, which is the market for these offers. For any fans, there is no reason at all not to wait until launch, buy the game then (for the same price or possibly cheaper) and all you missed out on are a few meagre beta weekends. Anet still get your cash, you still get your game – we can call this novel purchasing model “the exchange of money for goods.”

The other thing he said that surprised me was that Diablo 3 was also available for pre-purchase. Now why in the name of anything would anyone do that unless it was part of the WoW Annual Pass (which I’m also dubious about)? I pre-ordered Diablo 3 when it was announced, got a really good price on Amazon, and I can still cancel the order if I decide before launch that I need the money for something else. THAT is what pre-orders have always been about. What exactly is anyone getting from the pre-purchase that makes it worth more than that? (the answer is either nothing, or perhaps the ability to download it instantly on release if that’s a big deal to you).

You could make the same argument about Kickstarters but they aren’t typically mass market AAA affairs, and need your support to make the game at all. It’s a different type of consumer experience. They’re designed so that fans can support their favourite creatives, and typically offer plenty of insight into the creative process so that funders can feel involved. (Also, we don’t know whether Kickstarters/ crowdfunded as a concept is just a flash in the pan and people will get bored of them after awhile.)

But meantime, pre-purchase is not so much F2P as pay to wait.

[GW2] Paws-on at Comic Con

Starting with some admissions:

1. I very very very very rarely actually watch any pre-release videos or trailers these days, am a bit strung out on hype for MMOs

2. I’m in a massive MMO rut at the moment due to extended periods of back pain and 8 weeks of physio when I was told not to sit upright for more than 30m, this has made me as disinterested in games as I’ve ever been (thus the lack of blogging)

3. Have never played or seen Guild Wars, know very little about it. Knew GW2 was upcoming and lots of my friends were starting to get excited about it, but have been far too lazy to read ANYTHING about it.

4. Of course, I still told people I’d go to the Comic Con Guild Wars 2 panel, but it clashed with a TV show one I /really/ wanted to see, so I bailed on that promise, and just read Spinks’ live-tweets of the panel. Sounded pretty good.

When Spinks joined me, after whatever I’d been doing and told me about her Guild Wars 2 hands-on, I was intrigued. I still didn’t know much about the graphics or background to the game, but it was enough to colour me intrigued. And though I was fairly sure I wouldn’t get a chance to spend 40m playing the game, I kind of wanted to for the first time. I think the fact they gave you 40m to play, and I’d had a 5m look over people’s shoulders the first day was what really caught my attention.

Bex Sat 061

And on the final day of Comic Con, when the queues for the panels we wanted to see were heinously long, we decided to revisit the Exhibit Hall. First to see how crazy the SWTOR lines were first thing, and secondly to see if I could play some Guild Wars 2. SWTOR had a 2h wait, so we dashed over to Guild Wars 2 – which was actually a LONG WAY away. While Spinks was looking over some shoulders, I, with ninja-reflexes honed on the London Underground, spotted a free demo computer and scuttled in – then yelled at Spinks to come join me (after I’d created my char, ofc).

So I made a female norn, for mostly the same reasons as she did. The humans and charr all started at higher levels and I wanted to see if the new player experience was as cool as she’d said. Yeah, sisters – we’re suspicious of one another until proven otherwise. I can’t remember all the bits I picked for my character, except it involved being drunk, losing things and then.. I made her a ranger. No idea why, I’m totally not a ranged dps kind of gal, but of the options available I figured it’d be easy to get to grips with. I didn’t fancy a warrior and I don’t generally like casters much, and as I knew Spinks had tried the engineer. And so Nim the Norn was born. Best initial bit, they asked what animal companion I wanted between bear, wolf, and snow leopard. As anyone who knows me will attest, this was NO-CHOICE. There was a large cat, and it got picked. This pleased me right away (though honestly, I like wolves and bears too!).

I think honestly, that Spinks probably has more of a sense of what I did than I did. Which actually bodes really well for the game for me, and also backs up some of her comments. I know I intended to pick up a bunch of quests at the first hub and go do them. This got immediately derailed when I was handing in my first quest and one of the next questgivers asked me to help him guard some booze which he was transporting on massive cow-like-thing to a nearby town. Guarding booze? Right up my alley, and one of the options was ‘I’m ready to leave now’.. so without thinking about my original plans, I just set off. We killed stuff, I marvelled at the giant cow-like-thing, and as I killed stuff some ‘events’ got updated (to kill x number of bad faction people – yes, deal with it, I remembered NO names), but I didn’t even feel like I needed to stay and do the event – I was far too focussed on delivering booze safely. Which we did. Heroism = booze delivery!

GW2

Then, I explored a little randomly as I got a bit turned around and lost trying to find something on my map. I left the demo zone a couple of times and got warned to turn back, so once I got the hang of directions, I headed firmly back into the zone. And that’s when things got super cute. I found a hill with a Shaman of Snow Leopard on it, asking me to honour Snow Leopard.. I was very much in the ‘blah blah, skim read, do stuff as quickly as possible’ mode when I realised one of the text options was ‘transform me into a snow leopard’. And there were snow leopard cubs around me. Oh yes, I found a quest to be turned into a snow leopard and perform tasks which would honour my totem; by cuddling cubs, killing wildlife, or reviving injured snow leopards. This wasn’t a ranger quest, but available to all. It gave a kind of faction bar, which I could increase by doing any of the tasks mentioned. I, of course, cuddled LOTS of cubs. Spinks said at this point I actually just grinned at the screen. But more sensibly, I was really impressed I could mix and match the tasks to fill the bar, and it didn’t take very long at all either.

After this excitement, I only had around 10m left and decided more random quests were in order, though I started off doing the next one I was given by the Shaman.. which triggered more events, and which I was idly doing just to test out my skills. My pet died a few times, but I blame it much more on my actual skills and not paying attention than anything else, since I actually had a self+pet heal ability! While exploring some caves for this event (another kill x thingies quest), I saw I was down to 5m and also found some water. Knowing only that underwater was a whole ‘cool’ thing about GW2, I readily dove in. Yes, I got a face mask immediately, which let me breath underwater. Loved it. Got new skills too, relevant to underwater, and a quest to pick some underwater flowers. Now, I’ve played a fair few MMOs, and I found the swimming very easy to get a hang of. I didn’t have anything to fight, so unfortunately didn’t get to test out any skills, but we did get to see some swimming at least, so I was quite proud of myself for that.

Overall, I came away with a kind of glowing feeling. The 40m sped by, and I’m excited that in a live game I’d have time to really build my character and learn a lot more about it and its skills. It’s a very pretty game and plays nicely, it felt extremely intuitive – which is what I need while in gaming doldrums. From being remotely interested in the game, it’s become a must-buy for me. Of course, there’s no guarantees I’ll love more than the low level game, but what the hell, I’ll take that right now. I know Spinks commented that for her it was like the WoW beta, for me I felt a twinge of Dark Age of Camelot. No idea why, but I guess that was the fierce loyalty I felt almost immediately and for no tangible reason.

The specs we played on, for reference:

Bex Sat 059

6 Rules for Enjoying Hype (and some cool videos from GW2 and Clone Wars)

Some people just don’t deserve hype.

Here we are, stuck in the doldrums of the MMO year and going through the motions in games or expansions where the shine has long since worn off. You’d think that injecting some optimism and excitement about upcoming games would be welcomed with open arms, right?

But some players (and bloggers) seem to take it personally every time their expectations are raised and then shattered on the jagged rocks of a cruel reality that may ship with bugs and not offer some random class/ race option on which the player had set her heart.  This is precisely NOT the way in which to enjoy well presented hype. It’s a thrill ride, a trailer, an insight into the hopes and imaginations of the artists and producers. That’s all it is. Not a promise graven in stone.  Sometimes it’s more fun to go along with the ride and then – just like a rollercoaster – enjoy the inevitable emotional fall through the floor later on.

Film style trailers have become a big part of game advertising. They range from gorgeous high budget “artists impressions” that bear no resemblance to the game, all the way through to Bioware style mini-documentaries about how some part of the game was made. I think the Mythic crew have a lot to be proud of in the way that their regular videocasts used to promote different aspects of Warhammer Online and why fans might be excited about them before that game was released. It has obviously had an effect on the rest of the industry.

A couple of trailers released this week did a particularly good job of capturing my imagination:

  • Guild Wars 2 Manifesto – manifesto implies some actual promises and debate and the GW2 team don’t disappoint. It is also gorgeous. The game looks as though it’ll be great, although I don’t quite understand (from the voiceover) how if you love MMOs you’ll love it, and if you hate MMOs you’ll love it too.
  • Star Wars Clone Wars – this is SOE’s Free Realms style Star Wars game that is launching next month. This trailer sold me on it and I’m definitely going to check the game out. It just looks FUN.

But what happens when hype seems to promise something that no real world game can deliver? Whose fault is it really if people are disappointed when they see the real thing and it fails to live up to their hopes? It’s our fault. We are not naive little flowers. We know how the media works. We know how advertising works. We know that trailers intended to sell you on an idea and a setting may not be 100% game accurate.

So here are some basic guidelines to help you enjoy the hype for what it is, and not let the hype ruin your experience in the game when you see it later on.

  1. Enjoy playing the game in your head. Trailers are meant to be inspiring and to encourage you to imagine how the game world might be. If one catches your imagination then enjoy the ride.
  2. But play the game in front of you when/ if it arrives. You can choose to either look for the fun in the game you have, or complain about all the ways in which it fails to match the game in your head.  For example, people who complain because hunters in LOTRO don’t have pets, ignoring the fact that there is another ranged class which does have pets that they could also play. Sometimes you have to either say, “No this is not the game for me, I must have a bow class with a pet,” or “OK, I can change my concept a bit.”
  3. Don’t take the trailer too literally. Just because you thought you saw a blurry shot of an elf with a broadsword doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to play elf fighters as PCs. A dev team may also not be able to implement everything exactly the way they would have wanted it when the trailer was released. It’s not a guarantee.
  4. Take the trailer literally. Don’t assume that it implies something which the narrator didn’t say or show. For example, Gordon wonders how much instancing will be used in GW2 to let players feel that they affect the world around them. We don’t know the answer to that yet (although he’s probably right), as the trailer didn’t touch on it.
  5. Enjoy the emotional journey. We’re fans. This is our hobby. Getting worked up about trailers and arguing the minutae of minor lore details is what we do. If you read general MMO blogs you’ll notice that a lot of bloggers position themselves quite early on in the hype cycle as either fans or cynics. That’s the most fun way to ride the hype out. (I’m a huge Bioware fan, for the record. They won my heart with DAO and I can’t wait to play a smuggler in SWTOR. So I’m not going to post anything too dismissive of that here.)
  6. But don’t take it personally if you later change your mind. It’s OK to hype a game and then find, when you actually see it, that you don’t enjoy playing it much at all. Laugh and move on, on to the next wave of hype.

Gaming News: Starcraft 2 numbers, Torchlight 2, Gameforge buys majority of Frogster, Google Wave ditched

Starcraft 2 sells well, but not as well as WoW

The SC2 numbers are in and they’re good. Blizzard claims best selling PC Game of 2010 with over 1 milion copies sold within the first 24 hours. Kotaku compare this number with WoW expansions, and finds that both TBC and Wrath sold over twice as well in their first 24 hours of release.

I’m dubious as to how much weight to put on the first 24 hour sales with this game, since it’s expected to have a very long tail indeed if it follows after the example of its predecessor.

SC2 fans will probably also enjoy this article by Sirlin about the game’s online ranking mechanism.

In other Blizzard news, the developer has announced intentions to try to police roleplay on one of the US RP servers. Apparently Moonguard US has zones which are notorious for people cybering in public and some hapless GM/s have been assigned the least enviable job in the community management arena by being told to go in and stop people doing it.

So good luck with that then. And in Activision’s Q2 investor call it was confirmed that Blizzard is working on a new MMO with a new IP. (I’m not sure if this is news, I had thought they already said as much but it’s official now.)

Torchlight 2 announced! Not a MMO but will include multiplayer

Runic Games announced this week that they plan to release a sequel to fan favourite Diablo-alike Torchlight, to be released around March 2011. Torchlight 2 will include multiplayer functionality so you can adventure with your friends, and they also intend to offer a free peer-to-peer matchmaking system.

Also overland areas, more classes, more customisation … and so on. We still have no dates for Diablo 3 so this might well beat it to market. I am curious to hear more from Blizzard on how they’re going to differentiate D3 from the increasingly slick looking competition.

Gameforge buys Frogster

Frogster, best known in the MMO community  for distributing Runes of Magic is now majority owned by Gameforge. Massively have some comments on Gameforge’s current portfolio and where this purchase fits in.

Also in commercial news this week, Google picks up social gaming app/ widget maker Slide. There’s no doubt that they intend to be a major player in the social gaming field, I can’t wait to hear more about their plans.

And in the same week, they announced the demise of the much hyped Google Wave.

So farewell, Google Wave

understood by no one.

You failed to make waves.

‘Never seen that before’ MMO news

Guild Wars 2 breaks the shackles of life, death, and the holy trinity

I feel increasingly that big upcoming MMOs are now marketing to the post-WoW player base. Instead of “If you like WoW, try this too; it’s like WoW with new content/ free,” we’re getting more targeted messages which can be interpreted as, “If you liked WoW but are tired of it, try this; it’s like WoW with a new twist.”

So we have Final Fantasy 14 with the ability to switch classes any time you like. We have SWTOR with the long class specific storylines and smart companions. And then there is Guild Wars 2.

Of all the new AAA MMO devs, Arenanet seem most inclined to pry apart and rebuild their MMO from the ground up. Maybe once we all get to play it, the reaction will be, “Huh, it really is just like WoW with a couple of minor twists. Psych!”  Or maybe they’ll be forced to make the game more WoW-like after taking player feedback.

But the current dev blog slips some intriguing details about their plans.

Always look on the bright side of death

In GW2, there will be a two stage death process. After your character has lost all their health, they are downed. They will still have some special last ditch abilities that can be used in a downed state, so they can still contribute to the fight while hoping someone else will come heal them. If you actually manage to kill an enemy when you are downed, then you recover!

Then if a downed player is attacked some more, they can be defeated – which sounds more like a classic MMO death. You can either be ressed by another player or return via a waypoint/ graveyard (and they will let you pick any waypoint which you have already discovered on the world map which opens up some possibly unintentional opportunities for death travel.)

This has similarities with the current D&D rules, in which a player isn’t actually dead until they are on –10 health. At 0 health, you’re down and bleeding but not yet out.

I find this concept very appealing. I like the idea of having a last ditch chance to throw a rock at an enemy, get in a lucky shot from prone position, or something similar. I do think it will make near death experiences a lot more exciting in the game.

Also, does any warrior not wish they had this ability (given as an example of how some character abilities will interact with the fallen/ defeated state). Res/ rally someone by killing a monster nearby? Yes please!

… when a warrior uses “I Will Avenge You,” and then kills an enemy nearby his fallen allies, his allies will rally.

It’s always people who hate healing who want to destroy the tank/heal/dps trinity

Every time I’ve read an article by a player or developer who wanted to destroy the holy gaming role trinity, it’s always been someone who hated healing. Is it really only healers and support classes who benefit from the trinity setup? I always rather liked having such different roles available.

Anyhow, the GW2 devs want to go a different route.

We keep hearing other MMO developers espousing the “holy trinity” of DPS/ heal/tank with such reverence, as if this is the most entertaining combat they have ever played. Frankly, we don’t like sitting around spamming “looking for healer” to global chat.

It might be truer to say that they aim to redefine the trinity and share the responsibility across all classes. So instead of dps/heal/tank, they discuss dps/support/control. I think it’s a great idea to identify tanking with control and share the responsibility around the group.

But their definition of support is focussed on short term buffs and situational abilities rather than healing. I think it sounds fun and fast paced, but not entirely sure how much dedicated support players are going to like it.

Healing is for when you are already losing. In Guild Wars 2 we prefer that you support your allies before they take a beating. Sure, there are some healing spells in Guild Wars 2, but they make up a small portion of the support lines that are spread throughout the professions.

Having said that, the idea of someone at the back of the group casting heal spells while you take damage has never been particularly immersive.

Maybe it’s because I could use a break from the WoW-type formula that I’m intrigued to try this myself. I wonder though whether this new scheme will tend to encourage an ‘each for himself’ mentality in groups as opposed to deep roles for players to learn. It will be interesting to find out.

Does the notion of a more PvP style of PvE appeal to you?

(Hm, I wonder if it’s really a good idea to tag this post with ‘holy trinity’ …)

Make your Google background awesome

googlewarrior

Anyone checked out Google yet today? They’ve gone all bing on us, with eye-bleedingly bright backgrounds.

But it is possible to swap in something altogether better, like the Guild Wars 2 Warrior wallpaper shown above.

googlechange

This is a screenshot of the google homepage, showing the ‘”change background image” option on the lower left of the page.

If you select this you will be given the choice to pick your google background from a selection of pre-approved images, or you can pick something that is on your computer (as long as it is at least 800×600 in size).

Once you have done that, the background will switch over, and the tag on the bottom left will change to show, “remove background image” for whenever you get sick of it.

Or until Google gets sick of messing around with backgrounds and goes back to plain white.

Yes but what about the Guild Wars 2 Warrior?

The GW2 team has been releasing pockets of information lately and this week’s info concerned the warrior class. I don’t have a huge amount to say about either the game or the class yet. Except that the warrior will make every plate wearing, weapon swinging, warrior at heart happy.

Abilities that change depending on what weapon you are carrying, battle shouts, plate armour, shields, everything is in there.

Guild Wars has always had a good reputation for artwork, and the GW2 art certainly doesn’t disappoint. Check out the other backgrounds if you don’t like the warrior one (this one is a female warrior in plate btw, she has a waist.)

SWTOR, GW2: A game trailer is not a film trailer

You know that you have seen a really good piece of game hype when your reaction is not, “Ooo, pretty,” “I want to see more of that,” “great music, I’ll be humming that all night,” or even “I wonder how they’ll balance that?” but instead, “I want to PLAY that!”

It’s a very visceral reaction. It can be illogical. It can be unexpected. But to me that’s how a game trailer should be different from any other kind of trailer. Sure, interest me in the world, the background, the story, and the mechanics. But if I don’t end up thinking, “Yeah! I want to play that!” then it hasn’t hit the spot.

Bioware released a new trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic last week to show off some of the combat moves in the game. I think it’s a fascinating trailer to watch because the graphics are not exceptional. There’s nothing unexpected in there and no real indication of how the game will play. Very likely it’ll be a minor adaptation of current MMO mechanics. You’ll press buttons and use cooldowns. Even the fights they they showed were fairly predictable: jedi with a lightsaber, some cool acrobatics, dual wielding, a cool bit with a big gun, someone casting lightning bolts like the emperor in return of the jedi, some flashy tech gadgets and yet … when that trailer came to an end I thought “Hell yeah! That looked fun! I want to play that.”

The current MMO player is exactly who they are trying to attract with this trailer. They’re showing that their game will offer your favourite current combat type. You like dual wielding? How about dual wielding lightsabers? You like ranged? How about a massive gun? Whatever you like right now do not fret because the SWTOR team thought of YOU.

The only curious exception so far is the lack of any pet class. I wonder if a more active use of NPC sidekicks will just mean that everyone effectively has pets.

The Guild Wars Manifesto

We are still mid-election rush over here, so it’s certainly the right season for a manifesto. Arena.net have opened the floodgates on the Guild Wars 2 information with a new blog and a new design manifesto.

This is another document that is aimed at current MMO players. Read it with the thought, “like your current MMO but better” in the back of your mind and you will get the full hype effect.

Main points:

  • It’s an enormous, persistent, living, social world
  • You fill out a biography at character creation time that defines your background and your place within the world.
  • GW2 tells story by allowing the player < to >adventure with key characters, by presenting him with moral dilemmas <…> and by having him live through world-changing events
  • With GW2 <…> you can just naturally play with all the people around you
  • When someone kills a monster, not just that player’s party but everyone who was seriously involved in the fight gets 100% of the XP and loot for the kill.
  • worlds can compete against each other, through the mists that separate them, for scarce resources that benefit an entire world. ((I think this means some kind of server vs server competition))
  • So much of traditional MMO combat is rote and repetitive. <…> we’ve put a huge focus on strengthening our combat, giving the player limitless choices, and providing the thrill and joy of being in combat.

The combat discussion isn’t easy to sum up in bullet points. One of the great strengths of Guild Wars is the combat system. Each character has a large selection of abilities, but must select only 8 before leaving town and going out to adventure. You can freely change which 8 you want any time you are in a town. So players are encouraged to adapt their skills towards each encounter. There is a lot of choice. And this is something arena.net plans to build on for GW2.

There is more on the combat system and skills, if you are curious to delve more deeply into the design.

Again, reading through the documents leaves me keen to actually play the game myself and try it out. I wonder if I am some kind of easy sell with these things … and I’m staying tuned to the GW2 blog to hear more about their plans.

If this talk of Guild Wars mechanics has intrigued you, Steam is having a sale on GW at the moment. You could either get the whole trilogy and start from the beginning, or do what was recommended to me and just grab Nightfall.

Another day, another wallpaper

Yesterday saw two upcoming MMO teams with announcements about classes and races, complete with trailers and fun stuff to download like wallpaper for your PC.

Guild Wars 2 presented a video showing their races. This is fantastically atmospheric stuff with great voice acting (Dragon Age players may recognise Oghren, and fans of The Guild will recognise Felicia Day), and the stunning art direction we’ve come to associate with Guild Wars.

There’s a website also, which is where you can check out what a female Charr looks like and download wallpapers for each race. It certainly did the job of making them all look fun to play, I think I’m torn between the Charr and the viking shapeshifter dudes. I can’t decide also whether people who come from the frozen north should be wearing more clothes — I remember seeing girls walking around in mini-skirts in Newcastle in Midwinter when I lived there, so maybe they just get acclimatised.

The Star Wars team ‘announced’ the Jedi Consular (well, announced in the sense of making official what everyone already knew), a class that looks to be taking silly hats to a new height.

They also offer a wide selection of wallpapers on their site — a couple for each announced class and some pretty landscapes from different planets as well. Although their style is not as high art as Guild Wars, the Star Wars team make up for it with some amazing flash animations of the different classes in action on their class pages – the Jedi Knight is a particular favourite.

So, game themed wallpapers, do you like them or hate them? I am one of the people who rushes to download these things when I find them, and I love having cool game related art on my PC.

But despite the artier Guild Wars pictures, it’s the smuggler who sits in pride of place on my wallpaper at the moment. I admit this is mostly because I find it easier to locate my icons on a dark background.