[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] This thing you never saw is similar to this other thing you never saw

Guild Wars 2 ran a press beta weekend last week, where press is defined as a mix of fansites and paid press. We’re seeing posts about people’s first reactions now, which are (unsurprisingly, since a large proportion of the players were from fansites) very positive.

Initial impressions from betas of long awaited games are often highly positive. People are so happy the game exists at all that they focus on the strengths of the game rather than the weaknesses, and beta players are generally more upbeat and co-operative than players in live games. Sad but true.

In this case, a lot of the interest is in the GW2 world vs world PvP setup. I find this intriguing because I like the idea of fighting other servers. And also because I have played DaoC in the past and remember what the frontier zones were like. Think huge expansive zones with objectives to hold but where you could also set up ambushes, get eaten by monsters, or go gank unsuspecting players from the other faction (note: there’s a limit to how unsuspecting they would be since no one ever HAD to go into the frontier zones.)

I see some of this enthusiasm from Keen, who is clearly imagining the GW2 WvW as being like those frontiers. (Note: what he really wants, clearly, is DaoC frontiers again.)

ArenaNet is giving me everything I want in PvP.  I don’t even care about their PvE game anymore.

Syncaine is imagining huge PvP-oriented guilds might take over some of the servers and use these mechanics to fight each other when they’re bored of playing EVE (or whichever other game they’re in).

I have no idea if any of those things will happen but clearly it has sparked gamer’s imaginations, and encouraged them to start comparing the GW2 setup with games they have played in the past. In Keen’s case that’s the DaoC frontier zones and in Syncaine’s it’s the 0.0 space in EVE. I’ve also seen people compare with the WAR open PvP zones, but they’re less enthusiastic. This is because DaoC and EVE had better PvP setups than WAR so the players who have seen this kind of open zone with objectives work really well in the past are likely to be more positive about it in the future. I just emphasise this to show how our experiences in the past with games affect how we feel about seeing features repeated in future games.

What I’m mostly relieved about is that apparently RP servers will be in the same clusters which means it’ll be possible to not have to PvP against the big old school PvP guilds who want to take over entire servers if you don’t want to.

My feel for GW2 from the demo I played last year is that it’s still a very themepark type of game, albeit with a heavy emphasis on dynamic events and an unusual class setup. So the best thing to expect would be another evolution on themepark MMO design, rather than something completely different.

Here is some more feedback from the weekend:

Ravious, who has been tooting the horn for Arenanet since forever, loved the game and offers to answer people’s questions in comments.

Massively has a couple of beta impressions.

Mike Fahey at Kotaku describes how he spent an hour trying to fall into a hole and die. I’m sure we’ve all been there (or am I the only one who always tries to jump off high things and die in new games?) It’s a good roundup.

For me, while I’m still keen to go play with snow leopard cubs with Arb, I cannot get excited about WvW because I’ve been there before, done that before. On the other hand, the class and group design sounds like a lot of fun. It sounds as though they have some interesting plans for guilds, also.

Another thing to note is that several players have commented on how large the world is, but no one has said anything about mounts.

[GW2] Open Beta to start in March

Do you believe that Guild Wars 2 is going to be the saviour of the fantasy-themed diku-based-but-with-a-few-tweaks FTP AAA open-world-but-also-themepark-kind-of MMO? Will it be be too WoW-like to please the Guild Wars fans? How do a  plant based people have sex anyway (OK, maybe I was the only one who wanted to know that)?

Get ready to rock, GW2 fans, because Arenanet announced today that Open Beta will start in March. They also have a cute ‘year of the dragon’ post to match Chinese New Year. Why oh why do MMO devs never announce a year of the haggis to fit with Burns Night ….

[SWTOR] So the NDA is down, ‘open’ beta weekend looming. Also GW2 and Torchlight 2 delayed. What’s a girl gonna do?

I’ve been racking my brains on what to say about SWTOR as the fansite NDA went down last week and my RSS feed filled up with previews and opinions from people who have already experienced the beta.

I’ll link to a few here, it’s just a subset of the many good posts out there since most of them reiterate similar points.

Randomessa’s reflections (she discusses why she won’t be playing the game when it goes live.)

It turns out that I simply do not have the patience for staying in one environment that Bioware demands of me. […] I love me some well-crafted and portrayed lore and cutscenes, but at least in most MMOs I’ve played I have a variety of locales I can move through in a relatively brisk manner, or, barring that, a variety of activities I can undertake to advance, even within the same environment.

Keen and Graev on their plans for playing SWTOR but skipping the endgame. (To be fair, I don’t think the endgame was available in the beta so this is based on conjecture.)

SWTOR is worth buying because it has the qualities of every other Bioware RPG.  If you bought Dragon Age Origins or Mass Effect and had fun, and you like or tolerate themepark MMOs, then SWTOR is no different. From what I have seen, I fear the end-game will be just like WoW.  I’m not a fan of raiding for gear and I don’t like repeating the same raid over and over.  That truly is the end-game for me now — that’s where I’ll end playing the game.

MMO Gamer Chick writes a very thorough preview and explains why she loved it, but also notes that it isn’t a revolutionary game.

I’m a gamer of fairly flexible tastes, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I had with this game. Despite some nitpicky issues I had, in general my overall view of SWTOR is extremely positive.

[…] as you level up, the combat gets a lot more interesting. By the mid 20s, I was really getting into it. And by 50, I was having a ton of fun.

[Planets] are HUGE. So huge, you will be crying tears of joy by the time you get to buy your first speeder. Quest indicators on the map are almost a necessity; otherwise, the game is so big you’d never be able to figure out where to go.

Kalliope focusses on the tradeskills:

My overall impression of professions in SWTOR is that they closely model WoW crafting. There are a few improvements such as the reverse engineering ability, the enhancement option and crew missions, but the skill levelling and procurement processes are quite similar. They also seem to have the same gated structure to the levelling process that makes crafting prohibitive to non-adventurers in most games.

Rohan @ Blessing of Kings enjoyed the game a lot but has issues with some of the mechanics. (I think this is pretty much a given for a Bioware RPG.)

The quests and storyline, and general solo play is amazing. I really enjoyed that and I look forward to fully exploring the game when it releases. Also, I’d like to reiterate that I loved Light-Side Sith.

But mechanically, it feels like there are a lot of design issues. These don’t really matter for solo play, but I think the crucible of group and endgame play will expose a lot of flaws.

 

Mostly I am finding that my previous expectations of the game are borne out by players. So top marks to Bioware for sending out the right messages with their hype. All I ask of hype is that it be entertaining and not give misleading impressions.

One note that Randomessa highlights in her post is that the different class storylines play very differently. She was conflicted in that the class whose story she preferred wasn’t the one whose combat gameplay she liked best.

I strongly suggest to prospective players that you pick your class based on the storyline. That’s going to be the strength of this game. Don’t end up saying ‘I played an X even though I liked the story that goes with Y better.’

I know my goal during open beta weekend, if I have time, is to play enough of the classes to get a feel for which story I am going to find most compelling.

Delays in the pipeline

In other news, Guild Wars 2 sounds as though it’s likely to be at least a year out from going live based on comments made during NCSoft’s latest earning call. Although if their beta is still due to start this year, that would leave them with an unusually long beta ….

Torchlight 2 is officially delayed now as well, I wish Runic all the best with the game and look forwards to play it when it does come out. But it’s bad news for them if they can’t get T2 out before Diablo 3.

[GW2] Hands on with Guild Wars 2

In case you are reading this and somehow not aware, Guild Wars 2 is a highly anticipated fantasy based MMO which builds on the lore from Guild Wars but is otherwise a completely different game. Current thinking is that it is probably due out next year.

The first sight I had of the off-site Guild Wars 2/Alienware tent was on the preview night of Comic Con, when Arb and I were searching for the shuttle bus to the pre-registration pickup location. We had walked the length of the convention centre twice and then been sent back to the far end, over the road, across a bridge … you get the picture.

As we finally found the bus stop, I noticed an Alienware branded tent in the car park next door. “No one’s ever going to find that,” I thought. Let’s just say that the exterior location was not the greatest. This worked in Randomessa’s favour as she was able to test out the GW2 demo extensively.

Never mind that, what did you think?

Inside the convention centre, NCSoft had a stand in one corner, near some of the other computer games, where they were running demos for Guild Wars 2 and City of Heroes. The GW2 demo lasted 40 mins so I decided to try to get in as early in the morning as I could and be prepared to wait awhile.

Few words about the stand: It was never throughly crowded like the Bioware one, but that’s partly due to location and partly due to it not being about Star Wars. The NCSoft staff were awesome – I think as soon as I stopped to watch someone else play the game, one of them asked me politely if I was interested in playing the demo and when I said I was, showed me how to tell how long was left on the current player’s screen. I also like to see female gamers staffing the stall and answering people’s questions about the game, it may be sexist but it makes me feel more welcome as a female gamer even if I never speak to them myself.

OK, back to the demo. Soon enough the guys playing the console in front of me came to the end of their time and I was next in line. The demo offered options to play as three of the races: humans, norn, and charr. Charr started at a higher level for people who wanted to explore that side of the game, Norns started at level 1 in their starting area, and I didn’t bother checking Humans because by the time I got to them I’d already picked my Norn and moved on to the next screen. I swear I’ll get better at reviewing demos but I wanted to play this one.

Norns are a blonde, athletic, viking-type race who follow animal gods and have animal totems. They also drink a lot and live in a snowy mountain area. and the character generation gives the player is quick intro to all of these features.  You are able to pick your name, father’s profession, preferred totem, and some events that happened in your backstory (which relic did you inherit? what exactly did your character get up to at that last drunken revel, assuming you can remember it?). and in the live game there will be plenty of character customisation options too. It seems clearly signposted that all of these decisions will come back to haunt you later as you go through your personal questline.

And then you’re off.

Initial quests follow the familiar pattern of “questgiver marked with an arrow” but very quickly I found that the game has a much better flow than this would imply, even to a seasoned MMO gamer who can see behind the curtain and is already thinking in terms of, ”Where’s my next quest? How much more xp to level 2?”

Just wandering around will uncover goals, which may take the form of actual quests, or may be requirements marked on the map. Sometimes you wander into events, which are handily noted on screen with “An event has started!” Other times you can talk to a scout NPC who will take you to a quest area and help by marking out useful locations on your map. Sometimes you will wander past a world element such as  a shrub or tree that seems to be glowing and when you stop to interact, your character will do something appropriate or you’ll be advised if you need to find something and return.

This makes for a far more immersive experience than it has any right to be. I wandered around, things happened, I responded to them, I have no idea how many of those things were part of dynamically generated events and how many were just there anyway waiting for someone to discover them … and I don’t think I care. Other demo players were in the same game world, I saw some of them running around and stopped to help someone kill a larger mob on my way.

I think Arenanet are on to something very good here, because despite the impression of wandering around aimlessly, there was always a certain amount of direction offered. If I had been really stuck I could have gone back to the core quest and followed that. Similarly, the gameplay feels initially similar to WoW (and WoW-like games) – you have an action bar, you use WASD to get around, etc. This makes it very easy to pick up for a seasoned MMO player, but I feel that there’s a lot more to it, especially once you are able to use more abilities at higher level.

The core personal questline includes cut scenes which are more like stills of talking heads, and seems to be more about your personal legendary journey. I loved the graphics and didn’t feel that lack of animation in the cut scenes was any kind of hindrance. The landscapes are bright and colourful, and I noticed the charr player next to me was wandering through a field of bright flowers in his higher level zone. Also yes, you can jump (people tend to go on about this because characters can’t jump in Guild Wars 1.)

As far as the engineer goes, since I only played it to about level 3 I can’t offer much of an analysis on combat in general or the engineer in particular. My norn started with a blunderbuss which offered two main skills – a regular shot and a net/ root shot. When I later switched to dual pistols, the skill bar switched too, and looked as though it was more AE focussed. I felt very encouraged to move around during combat, not necessarily because I had to (this probably is more of a feature when you are out of the starting areas) but because my main shot was instant.

There will be cosmetic clothing, at least to some extent,  and the basic character screen, once you find it (icons are at the top left of the screen and quite small), offers a choice even to starting characters of wearing adventuring clothes or town clothes.

As you wander around the world you will also occasionally uncover teleportation sites, similar to the stable masters from regular MMOs. Towards the end of my demo, I decided to go check out the norn main city, which is available even to new characters from any teleport point. It looked very quiet and empty with just me and a few NPCs. This also led to one of the NPC conversations which most amused.

I was talking to an NPC and noticed a typo in her response. “Ahah,” I thought, “I’ve found a spelling mistake in the beta, my task here is done!” But as I continued with the in game conversation, it turned out that she was actually ICly mispronouncing the word, which was turned into a source of humour.  It’s a trap for overly keen beta testers!

My overall impression was very good, 40 minutes passed very quickly and I would have happily played for longer. What is harder to put across in writing is that the game has a certain charm to it. In fact, what I’m most reminded of (and don’t hate me for saying this) is how I felt the first time I played the WoW beta ….

[GW2] I want to be under the sea ..

bedknobs-and-broomsticks

I am always taken aback when players rant about how much they hate underwater zones and underwater fighting.

Some of my favourite times in MMOs have been spent happily adventuring underwater. I have fond memories of DaoC’s Trials of Atlantis underwater areas, I liked swimming around and opening lobster traps in WoW’s desolace, I’ve enjoyed underwater questing in Rift, and I absolutely loved Cataclysm’s Vash’jir. For me they combine the fun of ‘flying’ with brightly coloured strange and alien landscapes, and of course fish. It’s an alien world where the ‘mountaintops’ are safe sunlit havens, and the ‘valleys’ are dark depths, full of danger.

I even enjoy the more 3D aspects of fighting, and having to keep an eye on what’s going on above and below you as well as straight ahead.

So imagine my excitement at the latest GW2 dev blog, which is all about their plans to make fighting underwater a big element (sic) of the game. I’ve been wary about following the game too closely because they’ve been making some very expansive claims about how it’s going to shake things up, but …. special underwater combat moves, harpoons, a nod to 3D fighting, sea-monsters, fish, exploration …

And I approve of their decision not to make breathing underwater an issue. Many of the games which emphasised underwater zones gave you a way to breathe underwater to save having to surface every few minutes. This is just another route to the same end.

Targeting and the single Guild Wars 2 player

Upcoming games fall into four categories for me:

  1. DO WANT. Already sold on the game, just waiting for it to be released. Will probably follow the hype, start thinking about the lore and what sort of character I might want to play, friend the game on facebook etc. (This would be where SWTOR and DA2 and Diablo 3 fit in.)
  2. NOT INTERESTED. Not if it was the last game in the world. Maybe just not my style (shooter), not my genre (military) or has managed to irritate me with screenshots or hype already (TERA).
  3. NEED TO KNOW MORE. Could be interesting. Good chance I will try it when available, if I have time. Probably planning to wait for reviews or beta impressions from other people. Not really bothering to read all the hype for a line by line interpretation though.
  4. UNDER THE RADAR. Don’t know much but could be a sleeper hit.

Guild Wars 2 is a solid #3 for me. Everything I have heard or seen of it sounds interesting, but GW never really grabbed me and I have a few reservations about the sequel. So I’m moderately interested but not enough to follow the hype.

Still, occasionally something comes up that catches my eye (and it won’t be the class descriptions.)

Removing allied targeting

In the latest GW2 dev blog, Jon Peters discussed combat in the game. There’s a lot to catch the eye, including emphasis on mobility and encouraging everyone to take a good mix of support skills.

But it was removing allied targeting that caught my eye. This means that any buffs or heals or resses will be done using ground targeting or some similar approach.

There are no skills that specifically target allies. Everything must be done using positioning, ground targeting or other unconventional methods.

What I like about this is that it forces players to be aware of their environment and what everyone else is doing. In particular, it takes healers away from staring at little green bars on raid frames. There is no doubt this is going to be tough on people who like to stand at the back and target their heals with laser precision. Although I have no idea how tricky it might be to balance. Presumably all friendly effects will be auras, AE effects or some kind of cone targeted concept. There will be no single target healing or buffing in this game.

This is going to make support classes rather different in scope to what people will be used to. I’m not sure if the overall effect will be dumbing down support  but there is a precision to making sure a specific person gets exactly the right heal/ buff at the right time that won’t be in this game.

I am also curious as to how they will display group health/ buffs on the UI. If you have all these interesting AE supportive abilities, how will you see where they are needed? It’ll be interesting to see how they go with this.

The other thing I wonder is why, having done that, they decided to leave in enemy targeting. My guess is that it’s connected with crowd control which is supposed to require careful targeting, especially in PvP.