Never before have I seen Guild Wars 2’s Dry Top and the Silverwastes hive with such activity as we’ve seen this week. In case you’ve been living under a rock since the announcement, the bright sparks at ArenaNet decided to make gaining access to the next round of beta testing a little more interesting by introducing a rare portal item drop from enemies and event chests in both zones that guarantees beta access. The quirky level 80 zones mentioned above aren’t exactly my favourite spots in Tyria (read that with a high-pitched Irish lilt that’s dripping sarcasm, folks!), so high-tailing it through these areas most definitely feels like a grind to me.
In this issue of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’m going to talk about my views on the RNG method of assigning beta spots and a brief synopsis of my portal-hunting strategy. For full disclosure, I’ve put two days into scouring the area so far but have had no luck in looting a portal just yet; there’s nothing you can do to absolutely guarantee that you’ll find a portal, even if your methods are solid. If you’re still searching too, perhaps you’ll find my ramblings useful as you go! Good luck with your search, and happy hunting, everybody!
R(i)NGing in the beta: What is RNG?
I should start by weighing in on the RNG debate that is currently bubbling away everywhere you see the beta portals mentioned. It’s certainly not the most conventional method I’ve seen employed to cut the wheat from the chaff and hence narrow down the beta pool. Beta selection is usually random in MMOs, but this is typically abstracted away from the player’s view in the form of random selection from active newsletter sign-ups or a list of players who signed in within a set timeframe. Players also accept the abstracted RNG selection used by random signup or login selection more readily because of the low amount of effort involved.
We’re slapped in the face with this form of drop-linked RNG selection employed by ArenaNet: You need only check out chat in either zone to see the majority of beta hunters mourning the time they have lost in search of the elusive drop, but you’ll also see the inevitable gloating shares from those who insist that 10 minutes of effort was all that was required to secure their beta access. Who has the right of it? Is the drop difficult to come across, a lost cause that isn’t worth the time it could take to farm, or will a better farming strategy make the portal hunt easymode?
Well, both scenarios have the potential to be the case since that’s the very nature of RNG. Like any random occurrence, every single instance that triggers said occurrence has the potential to be successful. Let’s get our geek on and think of it like this: I have a Bag of Holding and it contains 100 potions labelled “ultimate potion,” of which 99 are placebos sold onto me by a very dodgy apothecary and the other is a potion that will grant me demigod status for one hour. If I reached in there to retrieve just one potion, I’d have a 1% chance of becoming a demigod just in the nick of time before meeting my untimely death at the hands of a gold great wyrm dragon. If I were to pull 5 potions, however, my chances of reaching near-godliness would rise significantly, since each potion I drew would have an even better chance of being the real deal. As much as I can draw the correct potion on any given potion retrieval, it’s more likely to happen later rather than sooner.
What’s the problem then?
In the example above, there is a finite number of placebos and only one real potion, so we can do the math pretty quickly: We can see that the pool gets smaller and our chances get higher as we proceed to down the potions. The problem with ArenaNet’s method is that we don’t know the drop rate to do the math for ourselves, and we also don’t have a finite pool of loot to go through before we are guaranteed to find what we’re looking for. We have no idea if the number is time-limited on top of being RNG, and we also have no idea if there is a hidden finite number of portals that can be found.
The uncertainty breeds contempt among the playerbase, separating off the successful and unsuccessful as one group explains how easy it is to find a portal while the other gets increasingly frustrated that it hasn’t happened for them. We can also say for certainty that every player who searches will not find a beta portal: Such a “rare” drop (we cannot say how rare without figures on the drop rate) combined with the fact that the farming zones are level 80 is a clear indicator that ArenaNet wants a more manageable testing population.
True, levelling in Guild Wars 2 isn’t the most taxing MMO experience I’ve ever had, and it’s not a wild stretch to reach level 80 in a matter of days. The zonation will still put off a significant group of players simply because levelling presents another layer of arbitrary hoops to jump through, so newbies will have little input in the beta. That’s before we even consider the otherwise-active level 80 population that can’t stand Dry Top or the Silverwastes. The areas are not particularly hospitable, and both are best tackled with friends or a casual group. A substantial amount of work goes into the Siverwastes event chain, and learning tactics is vital, which isn’t for everyone.
With so many diverse types of content available to the level-capped player — fractals, dungeons, PvP of all kinds — I’m not surprised to see gripes about the particular application of the in-game RNG beta pool selection. Many people are complaining not specifically about the method of selection but about its implementation and how it inhibits their usual activities as they sacrifice their gaming time to the Wastes or Dry Top.
So why choose drop-based RNG distribution?
Despite the grievances listed above, there are actually some very compelling reasons for choosing this method for assigning beta access, I promise! The first, which I think could perhaps be ArenaNet’s most pressing reason, is that the two newer zones that drop the portals are more indicative of the feel the team are going for with the Maguuma Jungle. The zones are not just geographically close to Heart of Thorns‘ jungle playground; they’re also developmentally closest to the content we’ll be exposed to in the expansion.
Can’t stick the Wastes? Perhaps the developers think you’re then not going to enjoy the Jungle. This is a way of selecting those who will be most likely to enjoy the beta, making it a more active beta and hence a better experience for the testers. It also helps ArenaNet get that little bit more organic hype about the expansion: When people have fun, they’re much more likely to get excited and share that information.
I also think ArenaNet uses the random system to diversify the beta pool in order to gauge the reactions of the wider level-capped GW2 playerbase. It would be a wonderful world if everyone were rewarded for his or her proportional effort, account longevity, achievement points earned, or any other mark of dedication to the MMO, a wonderful world indeed, but how beneficial would such an elite beta pool be in terms of statistical analysis of the wider in-game population? Collecting a drop shows activity and a desire to test the expansion right now, and players who span many different demographics with a vast amount of unique perspectives will be called upon to test HoT. ArenaNet would run the risk of catering only to the most hardcore players if it decided to skew the droprate to reward the dedicated, and the developers would inevitably suffer from the lack of input from other key audiences that don’t measure up compared to the seasoned veteran players.
If you’re still searching for a portal and are desperate for a beta invite, I’d suggest just going out there and having fun! If you don’t like the idea of RNG beta selection though, just remember that people will also be called upon from the newsletter database. You shouldn’t go grinding if you find it totally irksome simply because there’s a fancy carrot being dangled in front of your nose. That’s not fun, and it’s not what GW2 players are typically known to do. If you do go a-huntin’, there is some very solid advice provided by Aaron Heath at GuildMag. It’s roughly the same instructions I employ in my portal search: Prepare well, venture out methodically, focus on tagging as many events as possible, and then repeat. I’ve made a fair bit of gold on my circuits, so if nothing else, your character will at least leave the search better off!
I decided to focus my beta-searching efforts on the Silverwastes since the events chain together very neatly and players can make some quick cash there while searching. Besides, my climb-or-whoosh-across-all-the-things manual dexterity skill isn’t as good as it should be for easy Dry Top runs. I spent about half an hour there before remembering how much I loathe it, forcing me to switch up my strategy before the swear words started flying ever upwards faster than my character could with the jump buff. If you have any advice of your own, don’t be shy: Leave it in the comments below for those of us who are still searching.