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The Mechanic's Workshop: What World vs World Wants

January 11, 2013 - 1:31pm -- innuendo

A few months ago, in response to exploits and abuse, ArenaNet made what was on the surface a relatively minor change to World vs World. I wrote about it back then (in not so nice words), and I think it’s time to reflect on that change, and what it has meant for my favorite game type. 

The State of Things

I play on Sanctum of Rall, which while not the top tier server around holds it own most weeks. I’ve watched the server transition from obscurity to prominence in response to the fallout of the major pre-launch alliances that had dominated the WvW scene the first month of the game. As a result, I’ve gotten to play against a good deal of servers and see a lot of the evolution of the WvW meta game. And while the gameplay is and has always been amazing, the strategy is truthfully lacking.

I think I can sum up the meta right now in the three main tactics most servers who are playing to win seem to use. 

  • Flip capture points around the time the clock ticks over, or anytime you have a numbers advantage. 
  • Engaging the enemy’s main zerg does little to help your chances to win since it ties up resources not gaining points. 
  • Use supply camp flipping to deprive your opponent of points and supply.

That’s a generalization of course, but I fail to see how the strategy required to succeed in the long run deviates much from those points. I think the reason is twofold. One is the personal risk/reward systems that punishes players for traveling in small groups and dying too often. Why would I risk a huge armor repair bill scouting ahead alone when I know any moment I could get picked off by a traveling zerg? There is no personal reward for doing those things and being a good server member.

Second, and more important, is the scoring system in the game is so offense focused. It takes less time to flip a tower than it does to amount any sort of defense. Why would any smart server dedicate resources (people/supply) to a lengthy defense when you could simply wait for the attacker to claim the tower and then immediately flip it right back? There is very little to gain by wasting resources defending when they could be off flipping a tower of their own.

And to the point that got me thinking about all of this to begin with. I really think the meta is hurting from the loss of Orbs of Power. There is a great monotony to the strategy now. There is no planning. There is no overarching objective that ties all of my serverite’s actions together. Sure, pushing on the borderlands can divert some attention away from the Eternal Battlegrounds. But nothing like when making a push at an orb did. Those battles mattered. And the defenders had good reason to dig in and stay to defend. Because losing the orb could mean hours of advantage for the attacking side. Nothing in WvW matters like that anymore, and it’s a shame.

What Can Be Done

What I think we need to do is tackle both of the issues separately. From a player standpoint, we need to incentivize smart, server focused, play. Why is staying and defending a camp worth nothing to a player? Staying lookout has value to the server as a whole, but no value to the player. Anytime there is a mismatch like that ArenaNet needs to add incentive to help the server. I understand why they removed escort quests from dolyaks, but I honestly think defending supply, even when there is no immediate enemy presence should reward players in some way. At the very least give them activities to do that can be rewarding to the whole. 

Imagine after taking a supply camp (and at regular intervals there after), a small dynamic event kicks off that is “prepare the camp” and if players complete it , supply production rate at that camp speeds up for 10 minutes. Little things that reward sticking around. I also think players should be rewarded for paying for upgrades for locations. The “shared benefit, solo sacrifice” is just not working in this regard. Adding reward to doing good behavior is just smart.

What about rewarding players for scouting ahead? I don’t need to get into the math of all of this, but a simple “spot” mechanic would do wonders. Most MMOFPS’s have this feature where one player can use a button to spot an enemy player and put them on everyone’s map. A system like that where a player could spot an enemy group and flag the map with their location would do wonders. Simply make it so the same group can’t be spotted more than once every minute to prevent abuse. Then make sure the player who spots them gets a little karma/gold reward. Now gathering enemy intel is an integral part of the game.

Much Ado About Scoring

What about the other issue? The issue with score keeping. I think the single largest factor in why we see the flip and forget tactics is that defending a point is objectively less beneficial that making excursions and taking undefended points. In the time it takes to defend a single keep, a smart commander could capture supply camps and a keep of his own. The solution to this is honestly incredibly straightforward.

Make towers and keeps held longer worth more points over time. Add another upgrade path to each keep and tower (and Stonemist) that increases the point value of the location. Make that upgrade path free and cost time only. So if you hold a location for an hour, it automatically is worth +5 points per tick. If you hold a location for 5 hours, it’s worth +10.  Hold a location for a whole day and it’s worth +20. And let every player who defends these locations get scaling rewards based on what rank the location has reached. 

You might think this would lead to increased flipping as players try to stop opposing locations from ranking up. But what should happen is savvy commanders will quickly realize that dedicating players to defense is now worth more over time than simply directing them to attack. The meta should shift to more careful advances and players really caring about holding certain locations. Imagine the defense players would muster if a keep was worth +20 points it’s normal value, and they got 20% increased drop rates from defending it. Those battles would be grand. And more than anything, what WvW has been lacking since the removal of Orbs of Power is a sense of grandness.

This system would also reward an undersized server. Instead of having to spread out and thin there small ranks, a server in off hours could focus on defending their highest value locations. This gives the “night crew” as it were for most servers a goal other than “wait and watch everything get taken before we can take it back with a break out event.”

I think WvW is a masterpiece of a game mode. But small systems, and minor changes since launch have really dragged the game mode into stagnation. The things I listed above are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you could do to make the playing field more dynamic and interesting. See you all on the (eternal) battlefield.

Ayelet
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The problem isn't really that the rewards are bad for defending a tower it's that the play is bad.  It's boring.  It's monotonous.  Its isn't play.  Unless there is someone actively attacking the tower or keep I might as well be watching a load screen.  Extra karma and gold isn't going to fix that.

innuendo
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Yep. Which is why I activities like "prepare the camp" would be important. I didn't want to expand into what that would look like for keeps, but you are exactly right. Players have to choose between doing something fun and getting rewards, or doing something that might help the server. And that's really the root of the problem. That in WvW the player's interests and the servers are not in alignment.

chaosgyro
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Sitting around and waiting for stuff to happen is nothing new in open world pvp.  I remember gate camping for hours upon tedious hours in EvE.  "Defending the alliance's space" wore thin quickly when it meant you basically turned into an unpaid security guard. :P  

More to the point I think WvW competition *should* be completely revamped.  It's not going to happen, but ANet should remove scoring entirely.  DAoC got by just fine with no numerical scores.  Just let the orbs, or their replacements, and Stonemist Castle, be the rewards in and of themselves.

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