During a recent conversation with Colin Johanson (informal I might add) we found ourselves on the topic of 2014 and what it holds for Guild Wars 2. The question arose as to what I thought the year would hold for the game and what was the greatest risk to the product. In all honesty, it’s something I hadn’t really thought about, primarily because the MMOG’s arising in 2014 are distinctly different to Guild Wars 2 and certainly when it comes to The Elder Scrolls Online, ArenaNet have absolutely nothing to worry about.
With the exception of WildStar, my greatest fear for Guild Wars 2 over the next 12 months is the Living World model and the deployment of it. It’s unquestionable that the Living World model has demonstrated ArenaNet’s ability to deliver content at break-neck speeds to which no other developer has rivalled and yet I also think it’s unquestionable that the majority of the Living World content has been poorly received or is a replica of what came before it.
This cycle of bi-weekly content (although sometimes a little longer) that sees the release of a new temporary fixture, a series of new meta-achievements followed by a themed gem store item is getting incredibly old, incredibly quickly. The primary reason why is the fact that while the enemy or location you encounter is different - all loosely held together with the haphazard storyline - the fundamentals of what you’re undertaking remain exactly the same.
The highlights of the Living World model have admittedly still borrowed heavily from this formula but where they excelled was allowing yourself to be immersed in other activities or to forget entirely about achievement chasing or bloody Scarlet. The single greatest addition to Guild Wars 2 since its launch was the Bazaar of the Four Winds. Not only was it visually stunning, but it brought with it a whole host of excellent mini games, wonderful level design and a location that felt just “right”. I’m still wounded by the fact it’s temporary and look forward to it making its return, but I’m confident if ArenaNet were to ask any player as to their favourite Living World content, it would undoubtedly be this one.
My original hope for Living World content was for ArenaNet to implement something (anything) in the game world that would be permanent, original and which provided enough to do to justify the development time. There wasn’t ever a need to absolutely-categorically link this new content to an on going story, though that would, inevitably, be a bonus. Most importantly of all, I never envisaged that the Living World process would result in content so quickly, if anything I was expecting Living World updates once a quarter (to justify their size) while the rest of the time in between was for polish and updates for other areas of the game. I really couldn’t have been more wrong and I think that it’s a shame we’re trundling down the path we’re currently treading.
If we’re to truly analyze Living World, we need to weigh up the good and the bad:
- New “content” every few weeks.
- New achievements for players to complete
- New cosmetic items for players to obtain
- Allows for players to experience a continued story arc
- New locations for players to explore and participate in
- Great PR
- Huge resource drain on ArenaNet for content that can often be completed in several hours (and sometimes significantly less)
- Diverts attention away from other areas of the game that need TLC
- Places players under pressure to complete the temporary content for fear of missing out
- Alienates new players as a daunting experience (too much to do)
- Temporary content makes any Living World disposable
- Repetition of content design
Admittedly both of the above lists could be longer on both sides but I feel in terms of raw pros and cons nit from a player and journalist perspective, I’m not sure it makes pleasant reading. My greatest concern with Living World is the fact that it provides false progression. It’s a temporary plaster to the insatiable behaviour of the playerbase in an effort to keep them satiated, without ever truly adding longevity.
I don’t for a second believe that this Living World model is sustainable because not only is it so resource intensive but because of the competition on the horizon. When that fall-off eventually happens (and it will) what will be left for players to sink their teeth into? sPvP is skeletal in its implementation with balance all over the place, WvW maps are too small and encourage zerging (still), dungeons awful, while every person I know who has asked for GvG is still waiting.
Frustratingly and having once asked Mike Ferguson why ArenaNet place so much pressure on themselves to deliver Living World when the player base isn’t specifically asking for it or seeking it, I never actually received a straight answer. I’m not entirely convinced ArenaNet know why they’re doing it, though their coffers bulging from the Gem Store is probably the best incentive.
Coming back to the original question of “what I thought the year would hold for the game” I’d have to simply say - more Living World. I think that’s a real shame, as Guild Wars 2 could truly offer so much more than what we’re currently playing. My fear however is the fact that ArenaNet don't begin to work past this short-sighted development, there'll be nothing with longevity left when players grow even more tired of this content conveyer belt.