Over the past week we’ve seen ArenaNet make a large push to engage the community and lay out their plans for 2013. After a wintersday update that included (virtually) no permanent content, it’s nice to see what they plan to add to the game long term. Here’s the issue though, despite a few confirmed changes coming in the January update, it seems like most of the good stuff isn’t hitting till February at the earliest, maybe even further. ArenaNet wooed it’s fanbase into a chant of “when it’s ready” before the launch of the game, but convincing them to wait months for basic features once the game is out has proved a slightly harder trick to pull.
I want to be extremely clear in my intentions here. I think the roadmap laid out by ArenaNet is stupendous. I even said so myself when they first started discussing it a few days ago. The issue for me has been the complete avoidance of specifics. I respect the fact that if you just don’t know, you just don’t know. I also respect and understand how difficult a path it is to navigate in the public sphere when discussing future plans. And if you dig around for some of my internet personas before I started writing for GuildWars 2 Hub, you’ll find I’m a pretty staunch defender of ArenaNet and what they are doing.
So what’s changed? I’ve been a paying customer since 15 minutes after they opened the presale doors. I waited months from spending real money on the game just to get a taste of a beta weekend. Why should I be upset that now that the game is out and I get to enjoy it, minus a few features that are still a couple months away? The issue isn’t in the waiting, it’s in the delivery.
Before the launch of the game, it was perfectly valid for them to say, “We don’t know when the game will be coming out, so we can’t tell you when all of this will be done.”” But ArenaNet set the clock for themselves after launch when they started down this monthly update cycle. The issue with this seems apparent in hindsight, so allow me to Monday morning quarterback for a bit.
ArenaNet had the luxury of 6 years of soft deadlines. I’m not naive enough to think they didn’t have internal deadlines and goals for the production of the game. But based on their handling of the development and betas it seems abundantly clear that while there were goals, they didn’t have hard deadlines. I think if the game had not been ready to ship on August 28th, it wouldn’t have. It was for that reason I put so much faith into ArenaNet to begin with. It was for that reason I was willing to put down money for a collector’s edition before I ever even played the game. It was because I believed that if something wasn’t right with the game, it wouldn’t ship.
This reassurance by ArenaNet that if something wasn’t good enough for them, it wasn’t good enough for the game, was (and is) the best thing ArenaNet had to offer. It was the unofficial badge of quality to everything that they did. What has happened since launch is what has appeared to be constant fudging of that code of standards to appease a fanbase that from my perspective seemed relatively pleased. The two most glaring occurrences are horses that I have already beaten dead, but they are worth mentioning because I don’t think they are the cause of my recent frustration, but the symptoms of a deeper issue.
Fractals of the Mist launched with so many bugs and issues, to call it “ready for live” is insulting to the quality of the rest of the game. And that quality bar isn’t there by happenstance. The bar is that high because every other feature in the game that wasn’t ready for launch (spectator mode, pvp ladders, guesting, etc.) got cut until it was. That’s not to mention the short sighted group mechanics it uses, something we are still awaiting a real fix for (And I don’t think the changes coming next week are near enough).
Ascended gear was launch right along side Fractals, and apart from the “did they or did they not break the manifesto” outrage that caused, no one would argue they were ready for launch either. Even the studio heads have come out and said they wish they had included them in the core game, and since they didn’t, they wish they had held them for later. Ascended Gear has made it harder to obtain a legendary weapon, not easier, and has lengthened the time it takes for new players to achieve top stats (both negatives in my eyes).
The common thread in both of those red flag events was this. ArenaNet is having to balance two impossible goals. Never ship anything until it is ready, and ship a major update each month. As ambitious (and amazing) a goal it is for them to try and do monthly content, it has only one possible outcome. It will, and has, lowered the bar of quality for new content into the game. As much as I would like to pretend that players could just ignore the parts of the game that don’t live up to that standard, it’s simply not the reality.
If ArenaNet wants to stick to this monthly update cycle, they have to choose. Permit content into the game that simply isn’t ready. Or, and this seems to be the path we are on in 2013, string us along promising the moon when all they can deliver is a slice of cheese. I’m willing to wait for the moon.
I’m hoping that ArenaNet learns from their own lessons and starts being frank with it’s players. It is no accident that so many people defend ArenaNet’s direction. I have and will continue to argue for their vision for the game. But the bar of quality they set pre launch has not been honored since the launch of the game. To recapture that will not require promises of things to come, but open and honest dialog that the issues they face in development are complex and opaque.
Once they can recapture that humble inner dialog. Once they rededicate themselves to being forthright with their community that a feature isn’t coming because it’s not good enough (and then not wavering on that stance). Once they realize that rushing something out the door only serves to undermine the accomplishment of what they have already delivered. Then, I think, we will see an MMO grow from infancy to adolescence.
And if ArenaNet can learn how to do all of this post launch (something they mastered during beta), there is no ceiling on how good this game can be.