Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns launch diary: How to fix an expansion iteratively

I know I promised you an entry that focused on the changes to the in-game economy as my next installment to the Heart of Thorns launch diary, but a juicy post went live last night on the Guild Wars 2 website that I couldn’t possibly postpone commenting on, so I’ve put my economy entry on hold while I take a look at the iterative development process that drives the expansion. Within a week, we’ve seen several tweaks to the mechanics that were introduced with the expansion, and the latest news is that the ArenaNet team has again addressed player complaints with an iterative development approach. In this launch diary entry, I’ll take a look at the team’s iterative approach and highlight precisely why this is a fantastic way forward for the game.

Another point I’d like to note before I talk about the topic at hand is that I’m now in the original Massively Overpowered [MVOP] guild and am looking for company. Any reader can join us by popping his or her account name in the comments below or in an email, or alternatively you can message me in-game by contacting Tinabeans.8064. Please note that I’m on a free secondary account, so I can’t reply to your in-game mail or whispers unless we’re mutual friends: Don’t panic if I don’t write back!

I’m delighted to see ArenaNet’s proactive approach to fan feedback — both positive and negative — and I really love that the players have a voice in the future direction of the game. Within five days of launch, the ANet team has scoured the expansion feedback on the official forum and even the game’s subReddit in order to iterate on the launch build of Heart of Thorns. I believe that the speed of iteration and corrective patching is in no small part facilitated by how smooth the expansion launch was: Relatively few major bugs marred the launch, allowing the team to quickly get to our concerns and make amends.

specializations

Getting on the right side of the fine line between progression and grinding

The first notable change that came as a direct result of player feedback was to the mastery prerequisites for the personal story, as I highlighted in my previous entry. Players no longer need to push to train a tier four mastery to progress with the expansion’s storyline, which is a widely welcomed change that makes the whole experience much more fluid. This was welcome news for me because one of my largest gripes with the expansion was the story’s reliance on mastery training because of how jarring I find it to have to set down the story in order to train up my character.

As welcome as this first change was, ArenaNet realised that there were plenty of other areas in which a little iteration could warm the playerbase to the new expansion and the unique mechanics it has brought to the table. The most significant complaint I have seen within our comments here on Massively Overpowered and in map chat is how long it takes to earn the required amount of points to unlock a character’s elite specialization, especially since each character on a player’s account must separately earn this. Players found the thought of raising 400 hero points on each one of their characters more than a little daunting, so ArenaNet decided to act before those players dropped off and lost heart.

In the latest news post, Game Director Colin Johanson admits that the team were largely responsible for the elite specialization backlash because the true cost of training those specializations was never made clear during beta:

We always viewed the elite specialization as one of the major rewards in expansion—but between the betas and lack of unlock info, we didn’t do a great job properly aligning expectations on how your elite specialization is earned. This left some players in a position where they expected to have their elite specialization very early on (or immediately!) in Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns. Our goal was always to have elite specializations as a part of character progression, but it’s clear that a segment of our players was so excited about the elite specialization system and abilities that they really wanted to experience most of the expansion with them unlocked.

As much as I appreciate that the elite specializations represent another form of horizontal progression, much like the mastery system does as I alluded to before, I did find the hero point cost to be unreasonably high, so I most definitely welcome the drop from 400 points to a much more reasonable 250. Players who have already unlocked their elite spec will receive a refund for the excess hero points for future use, so at least nobody is permanently disadvantaged by the swift backtrack.

shroom room (1)

Adventures will be much more accessible in future

One of the issues caused by having such a multi-layered, vertically dense map is that sometimes activities conflict with one another, meaning that some form of compromise must be reached in that some activities must temporarily be suspended when others are in play. The new Heart of Thorns adventures are brilliant fun and each medal earned comes with a sizeable chunk of much-needed experience that softens the training of masteries, so you can imagine how in-demand these activities are. Adventures, however, are frequently closed because of event chains in the surrounding area: If an event is open on top of the adventure, it is closed to prevent it breaking.

Players were disappointed by the conflicts, so the team has decided to open the adventures that are less susceptible to event chains more often, only closing them when map-driven activities such as getting the camps through the night are occurring in order to keep player attention on the more pressing events when their help is needed. The blog post takes a sensible approach: Players should have reasonable options open to them as much as possible, but I see the logic behind not opening fun adventures in times of distress in a zone.

event

Map filling bugs are being squashed too

One of the most fundamental iterations to the expansion will be the improvement of the megaserver map generation. Low population maps have been responsible for the new zones being that much harder to run as a solo player, and before I realised that the issue lay with a map population issue, I was genuinely concerned that in the quest for a challenging endgame experience, the team at ArenaNet had overshot the difficulty mark for which it was aiming. I know several readers have mirrored my concerns in the comments, so I’m most definitely hoping that iterating on the map generation system will help.

Right now, safety in numbers is a large part of surviving the challenges thrown at us in the Heart of Maguuma, and the event chains centre on gathering the players within each zone to rally against the forces of Mordremoth. When we play on low population maps, we lose the ability to join forces with other players to face the challenge collectively, which can at times push the challenge into the unrealistic category. I’ll be glad to see higher populations and a higher potential for a comfortable solo experience for those who prefer it.

tiny tiny

Why an iterative approach is best

If you’ve ever checked out my game project, you’ll know that player-led iterative development is a must-have on my list that elevates a good game into the great game category. Sure, there has to be a line between rolling over to every player’s individual fleeting whim and actively iterating on your project to suit the audience at hand, but it’s very seldom that a project has too much player involvement. Listening to those who are most engaged with your product is, in my opinion, the only way to develop: The trust and improvements made are totally worth the effort of exploring feedback to find trends in opinion.

Iterative development gives a development team a vital opportunity to modify approaches and systems that switch off the target audience, and for this reason, it’s even more important once you’ve just released an expansion, and also when you have players’ money in hand and want to keep them playing for longer. Losing a proportion of the playerbase because of an initial problem within a system is a preventable shame, especially for an MMO in which the game’s long-term success is determined by the activity of its audience.

ArenaNet is fantastic at keeping its ear to the ground, and I think this is one of the biggest reasons for its relative success. I’m sure that we’ll continue to see this iterative approach to the expansion’s ongoing development as more features are released over the next few weeks and months, particularly when it comes to the team’s new pet feature, raiding. I’m hoping that together we’ll make it an experience to remember.

Check back soon for the promised entry on the shifts in GW2‘s economy since the expansion’s launch caused by fractal, dungeons, and crafting changes, and be sure to read back on previous entries if you’ve missed them up to this point:

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Code of Conduct | Edit Your Profile | Commenting FAQ | Badge Reclamation | Badge Key

LEAVE A COMMENT

130 Comments on "Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns launch diary: How to fix an expansion iteratively"

Subscribe to:
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most liked
LokiGamein
Guest
LokiGamein

Loki.1520

padreadamo
Guest
padreadamo

I am on Anvil Rock server. I don’t think I can join the guild :-(

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

Note to self: We’re caught up to here now! :D

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

Caught up to here! If we missed you, I’m sorry — post or ping us again. :D

TBPlayer2112
Guest
TBPlayer2112

breetoplay Could I get an invite when you have the time? TBPlayer.1503
Thanks!

Marcade
Guest
Marcade

Memitim Marcade  That’s good to hear Memitim.  I haven’t ventured into the GW2 expac yet.  If you are messing with the SWTOR Expac let me know.  I was playing ESO, and suffering from population withdraw.  I’m pretty sure that’s because most folks are in the new area.  Personally I like checking out the story lines.  I have found some nice folks in ESO though that will group and make the playing experience very enjoyable.  A couple weeks ago , someone ran all of the open world bosses with me.  I hooked onto SWTOR because the update looks very good, and have been playing it since.

Jeeshman
Guest
Jeeshman

“Within five days of launch, the ANet team has scoured the expansion feedback on the official forum and even the http://reddit.com/r/guildwars2 in order to iterate on the launch build of Heart of Thorns. I believe that the speed of iteration and corrective patching…”

I consider myself a computer geek, but since I don’t actually work in the Information Technology field sometimes I don’t understand terms.  The standard definition of “iterate” or “iteration” is to repeat a process in order to arrive at a particular goal.  Does it mean something else in this context?  In the above quote, it seems like it’s being used to mean “respond to user feedback.”  And the term “iterative development” to me (as a lawyer with an English degree) would mean “lots of development,” which doesn’t seem to be the intended meaning in the article.

TLDR, what’s “iterative development?”

Bainwulf
Guest
Bainwulf

breetoplay Could I get an invite? Thanks Bainwulf.5129

DevinDaniels35
Guest
DevinDaniels35

ReaperOfPoverty.7132 I’d love to join! <3

joshua12jd
Guest
joshua12jd

Ravare.5261

Radfist
Guest
Radfist

breetoplay Yeah I was surprised when I logged on after HoT and could see chat in a guild I no longer repped (but still got invited to groups from).  Makes having multiple guilds useful.

Memitim
Guest
Memitim

Marcade We’ve all said it at some point hehe its just that its kind of a dead horse at this point, doesn’t mean you’re wrong though, it took me 12 months to hit 50 on my first char, devs wouldn’t dream of releasing a game like that today but that is partly a good thing…I still have nightmares about grinding those trees…. :S

Grimmtooth
Guest
Grimmtooth

ok next dumb question/request. 
Is there a public Massively Overpowered TS/Vent/Mumble channel?

ScottFAndrews
Guest
ScottFAndrews

breetoplay Grengarm.4691. Thank you!

Grimmtooth
Guest
Grimmtooth

Yea I’m in the guild.

After doing research the El Capatin upgrade was a big mistake for me.
I need to back up about 2-3 os versions down to mavericks or maybe mountain lion.
But that means format hard drive & clean OS install to get it back to old world playable till I can get new computer

This what I get  for trying to play on a 6 year old mac

Princess Claude
Guest
Princess Claude

breetoplay Could you add me as well ? Boxy.3824 Thank you :D

SomniumWintersun
Guest
SomniumWintersun

breetoplay I basically just log in for the daily rewards (and for the foreseeable future…too many games), but my characters all happen to be on TC so figure why not get an invite as well, lol. Somnium.3527

Craywulf
Guest
Craywulf

Superbrak Look, the bottom line here is anytime you have a system where a player has to meet a quota of xp to unlock or advance any statistical advancement…you’re going have grind efficiency gameplay. The mere process of accumulating xp is broken.

Belcross
Guest
Belcross

Ohhhh is Massively building a guild just for Gw2? If so I may be interested in playing again. All my guilds dismantled and logging in felt overwhelming without people to chat with and quest.

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

Hey guys! If you posted your GW2 name below this, you should now be invited to the guild, even if you were offline. It’s [MVOP], and you can accept a pending invite from your guild panel. The only person who couldn’t be added was RheemOcturis.5301. I don’t know why; it says you don’t exist! :D
If you emailed Tina, you’ll have to wait until she logs on to invite you. If you don’t wanna post your GW2 username publicly, you can also just send us a tip and one of us will get you added.
Regarding how big the guild is: Big, but that’s because it’s old (from the 2012 launch). I seem to recall there are a couple hundred people listed, but when I’ve logged in, there are a few on. I suspect most people no longer play, but that’s OK. This is not a hardcore guild with lottos and mandatory raid night. :P It’s just for fun. One cool thing people pointed out to me? You can see guild chat from all of your guilds now! So even if you don’t want to rep, you can still join and hang out.

breetoplay
Guest
breetoplay

Serrenity Kalamari It’s in NA, yup. Tarnished Coast. :D

Superbrak
Guest
Superbrak

Craywulf Serrenity I can see both sides of this. Just grinding xp leads to players camping CoF for hours to unlock masteries in ways that don’t make sense. While putting it all behind missions makes the masteries just feel like a checklist of tasks to some. I think ideally it’d be a bit of a mix between the two.
You’d do a story instance where your character learns the basic tier mastery, but you advance it in the open world. I wouldn’t do it just with events and mob xp though.
LIke… you’d select one of the masteries and xp accrued would go towards it, just like now. But at the same time every time you jump on a mushroom, glide around, or talk to a frog, the appropriate mastery ticks up a bit whether its selected or not. Maybe add bonus xp for visiting preset locations using shrooms or gliding (not just POI ding xp), or by talking to a certain number of individual frogs.
This way you still can grind out mastery xp doing all the Hot content either grinding it out or by “practicing” the skill if you prefer… encouraging doing events and exploring the world in a way that makes sense to progress.

FeveredDreamer
Guest
FeveredDreamer

So first and foremost, yes an iterative approach to game development is a great thing.  It allows quality feedback from actual players of the game (vs. Beta testers) and shows some measure of genuine responsiveness to the issues brought up by the player base.  I’ve always been surprised more games don’t do this, even more surprised that MMO developers don’t survey the playing population (in game) the way they typically do in beta, it seems like it’d be a great way to get feedback from the population rather than just board warriors.

Amazingly these problems really haven’t effected me much at all.  I’m not super-into any of the specializations, and I’m just swimming/drowing in the new content at the moment.  Too busy playing to worry about stuff really.

Craywulf
Guest
Craywulf

Serrenity It’s doesn’t have to be exclusively tied to missions. It could be events, it could be adventures or whatever fancy term ArenaNet uses for their content. 

I think too many gamers have been brainwashed to think xp gain is progression. It’s not a paradigm, it’s a sham that designers have been using because it’s effective way of stretching out content and providing the illusion of replay value.

Serrenity
Guest
Serrenity

Craywulf Kalamari I think the challenge here is that you don’t consider the current paradigm as progress, in your opinion, while others (like myself) do.  In my opinion, tying abilities to the story mission seems more manufactored than using XP to gain levels.  
Still doesn’t make either of us right or wrong.

Radfist
Guest
Radfist

Daeth.8912 also :)

raincoat
Guest
raincoat

joshua12jd raincoat Superbrak I didn’t mean that it was a good way to do it by any stretch, just that the info that specs had to be unlocked was out there for longer while the exact number of hero points was released shortly prior to to launch. The issue regarding how many points it took aside, I wasn’t surprised that we didn’t have instant access. I think while it’s entirely fair to protest the number of points, claiming that it was implied that we’d unlock elite specs instantly (which some did) is not.

Craywulf
Guest
Craywulf

Kalamari That’s not advancement, that’s an illusion of progress. You don’t unlock any masteries from completing missions. You unlock masteries when you gain enough xp. You gain xp a multitude of ways, while this sounds like a wonderful diverse way to progress, it still ends up being a grindfest because no matter how small the curve of xp gain is, it doesn’t stop people from trying to advance their characters as efficiently as possible even through repetitive play.

Real progression is when you complete a mission, you legitimately advance your character’s stats or abilities. Not filling up an xp bar. The whole leveling mechanic needs to get tossed out the window. Horizontal progression shouldn’t be about xp gain. It should be task oriented. Meaning you do something and in return your character gains an ability (mastery).

Wooooood
Guest
Wooooood

zaimoku.3854

MassivelyMacD
Guest
MassivelyMacD

plynky12 They already gave in  to a vocal minority when they decided to introduce raids. And that is more annoying since it eats up a significant amount of developer time for a thing, that is supposed to be doable only for a tiny fraction of the player base by design. How can you do such a thing?

Kalamari
Guest
Kalamari

Craywulf you know that you get extra xp for the masteries when you finish the story missions? so advancement through story is already there.

ColdinT
Guest
ColdinT

Goronmon Yeah. Kind of very little for the old GW2 player if they don’t own HOT.

DanielCulbertson
Guest
DanielCulbertson

WandaClamshuckr KenAddeh Thank you! ANet has the worst communication of any mmorpg I have ever played, and ultimately that is what drove me away. I have never SEEN a company more terrified of being held accountable for their own words than ANet.
It’s great that they responded to feedback THIS TIME, that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about all the times they went radio silent on issues that people were asking about over and over. I don’t reward companies that deliberately ignore their customers whenever it suits them.

Radfist
Guest
Radfist

woolydub Yeah I wasn’t looking forward to running my alts all over the world, most were levelled from PvP tomes.

Radfist
Guest
Radfist

Vorender That is just a strawman argument. I could do the reverse and say that people who wanted the 400 point cost to stay are the vocal minority.

Radfist
Guest
Radfist

One thing I liked about the expansion is that I can now see guild chat for guilds I am not representing. Makes it easy to maintain multiple social groups :D

brittlebullet
Guest
brittlebullet

Brittle Bullet.4312

Craywulf
Guest
Craywulf

FoxBat I probably should have been more clear, my comments were not exclusively about expansion’s story but rather the game’s entire method of progression. But to respond to your statement, I will say that there’s no reason why completing each story chapter or doing a Maguuma event should unlock a mastery. 

In the base game I should be able to do 80 different events and reach match level, or gain a level or two for each chapter in personal story. My time is far too valuable to doing repetitive gameplay or filling an xp bar for single click of personal progression. 

Progression should feel personal and there’s no better way than doing a storyline or completing an event. But instead everyone farms and grinds the most efficient way of leveling. If you could kill 20 rats to progress faster than completing a chapter or event you would do it as long as you could tolerate the grind.

FoxBat
Guest
FoxBat

Craywulf The small amount of instanced personal story is the carrot to lure people into the massive open world content, not the other way around… whatever problems there are with masteries, blitzing through all expansion progression via 3-4 hours of story is not viable for an MMO.

Velsin
Guest
Velsin

Ata1 Thanks for the confirmation.  Was leaning that way & waiting until I hit max at least once before buying, just in case I find I lose interest again.

Craywulf
Guest
Craywulf

This wasn’t “iterative”….it was reactionary changes to backlash. Every time they create new content they are going keep facing with this kind of backlash as long as they use the current progression methods.

They need to change the way personal progression works. The personal story prerequisites for progression is good thing, but instead of repetitive play to fill a quota, the individual chapters of story should have unlocked masteries. So instead running around killing stuff to fill a quota of xp, I should be able to advance my masteries through the story chapters. It would made the whole experience so much more personal. 

I am tired of quota filling by repetitive play. I want to progress through storytelling. Each chapter should be worth legitimate progress.

Grimmtooth
Guest
Grimmtooth

I’m excited to heat that MOP guild is a thing. I’ll try to message in game for an invite tonight but by the time I get on it will be past midnight your time.
Now time for the rant post I almost made yesterday.
I’m on an older mac and the back end pre patch stuff that has been added over the past couple of months have made some things unplayable to me. When there were more than 50 people in an area (the Daily World boss or a WvW zerg) all I could see were nameplates & some generic player placeholders. Forget seeing ground effects I dodge when I’m taking damage & hope I guess the right direction so I tend to run a tanker build.

but once HoT went live things got worse. 1st day in Verdant Brink I’m walking around past the 1st camp & bam I’m dead. I saw nothing attack me or any damage just instant death. I lie there for a bit & more stuff starts to render. I see a 2nd person run by being assaulted by a pack of mini raptors, when they killed him they went back to patrolling around my corpse. 2nd day I’m back can see things now as people have spread out to different zones but still lagging a bit…guess what when you lag you fall a bit before your glider deploys, so it makes getting around a bit tougher.

It now takes over 2 min for the Lion’s Arch load screen to process. Got there just in time for mad king says but couldn’t see or hear him for his 1st 2 emote demands.
Looks like I know what I’m asking Santa Clause for but thats 2 months away
Rant Over.
I had planed to spend most of my time farming candy corn this week anyway & that has been no real problem.
I’ll get started on HoT proper next week and maybe I can actually do something once the crush of people have spread out.
See everyone in game.

lambentsoul
Guest
lambentsoul

Pretty sure you can be offline and still get an invite.

lambentsoul
Guest
lambentsoul

Very happy to hear that you’ve started an official guild. Username: luminaire.2479
Thanks!

kgptzac
Guest
kgptzac

WandaClamshuckr KenAddeh This echos my sentiments towards ArenaNet as well.  It’s worthwhile to be reminded that ANet traditionally has been very insulated against listening to player feedback and are generally silent in terms for communicating with the playerbase on contentious topics about game design etc.

tl;dr: If ANet has been reacting to player feedback as well as described in this article *consistently since the game’s launch*, then I’d be still playing this game and the game would be much better than it currently is.

WandaClamshuckr
Guest
WandaClamshuckr

KenAddeh WandaClamshuckr I agree with you.  I could go on, but then I’d become too snarky, and this isn’t the thread for that.

I’ll just let the GW2 fans have their moment.

MrEllis
Guest
MrEllis

Iterative. Rogue-like. Voxel. Indie. 8-Bit. 
I am now prepared to make games. Also, what is the iterative count on this article?

KenAddeh
Guest
KenAddeh

WandaClamshuckr KenAddeh If they do a good  job, listen to the community and change things, I’m always for it. I do however, find it a tad bit odd that “listening to the community so soon after the expansions release” garners so much praise as highlighted in this piece.

I honestly don’t get it.

jsmooth1
Guest
jsmooth1

Kurogane335 BhimaJenkins
I don’t have a crystal ball. But, for this expansion, you have to unlock everything else before you can put points into the elite spec. Somehow, I don’t see new expansions being any different… Might as well knock it out now.

Ata1
Guest
Ata1

Velsin Outside of the new class you will not get much advantage in buying the expansion right now. Most of the expansion content is either max level or is freely available to everyone.

wpDiscuz