I know, I know: Solid information about Heart of Thorns is coming really slowly from the Guild Wars 2 PR machine, making for a bunch of very nervous potential players who have a whole list of unanswered questions. The elite specializations haven’t all been released at this stage, and we still don’t know that that “challenging group content” we’ve been promised will look like. There are so many moving parts still whirring along the road to the expansion’s release, each one hovering just out of reach for the eager playerbase. With at most four months until HoT is in our hands and pre-orders already flowing, we really want to know as much as we can about the product we’re spending our hard-earned gaming budgets on.
Having said that, I dislike how we, as a community, are spoiling the moment for ourselves and the team at ArenaNet by extensively datamining for goodies and avidly jumping on the information unearthed. I guess there’s nothing immoral or directly damaging about datamining, but I feel as if we sometimes poke, prod, and shake the shiny expansion-shaped present so much in our quest to guess at its contents that we inadvertently end up tearing the wrapping paper and spoiling the magic. We’re looking at little snippets of an unfinished product that are still largely open to interpretation, and while that’s good for speculation, it’s not so good for gleaning concrete details. For this week’s edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I wanted to depart from my usual content to touch on why I find datamining to be more than a little bit of a buzzkill rather than the tasty teaser it’s usually presented as.
I must start off by saying that the actual act of datamining is only the tiniest bit of my issue, so dataminers aren’t to be seen as the big evil baddies here. While I don’t personally sift through the mountains of data in each game patch, I can definitely see why those who have the know-how and patience may be tempted to delve into them to see what can be found. Make no mistake about it: There is money to be made and internet fame to be gained for the effort, with one or two names in the circuit appearing consistently as a source for datamine leaks.
We need only look to the Guild Wars 2 Reddit to see that every that_shaman post gets a huge number of upvotes and comments: A great proportion of the playerbase wants the information provided, and that demand is met with a steady supply of new leaks. When you combine a growing demand for information with the not entirely selfless pursuit of financial gain or status as a noteworthy contributor to the GW2 community, it’s hard to see the argument for leaving the data alone and trusting ArenaNet to put out announcements when the content is ready for the grand reveal. People are hungry for information, and if they don’t get it from an official source, then we have to expect they’ll go elsewhere.
My first and principal objection to datamining lies not with the dataminers but with the futility of the act in the first place. These little snapshots into the future state of Heart of Thorns do little to really solidify the product for potential consumers because of the piecemeal nature of how the information is uncovered and presented. We might be presented with some images and telling filenames, but details in the realest, most detailed sense are inherently lacking.
Datamined information is also usually provided without the all-important context that the development team would provide in an official announcement. The developers are denied the opportunity to give us their unique perspective on the content and the under-the-hood workings of the shiny stuff we are mining for. The questions we are bursting to find answers to aren’t completely answered, and what we do find out more often than not sparks even more uncertainty. In the absence of some information, players will tend to fill in the gaps, leading to worry about a favourite mechanic or profession. As leaks are unexpected and ahead of official reveals, the developers also may not be able to weigh in and correct wrong assumptions or console those who have perhaps misconstrued a chunk of information.
As a result, negative speculation can persist even when it’s founded on something that’s incorrect or now defunct. Some of the content that ends up datamined may never even see the light of day because that’s the nature of game development. Go back and watch the original expansion trailer and tell me how many little things you spot that are now inconsistent with what we know of the current iteration of Heart of Thorns. I promise that if you look hard enough, you’ll find many, and it’s the same deal for datamined content versus what we actually end up with. Sure, the devs might know enough to want to start putting together a certain aspect of a profession or mechanic, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for all eyes to scrutinise on board the crazy public consumption wagon.
Iterative development is the cornerstone of the games industry, particularly in MMOs. Map zonation and natural content divisions such as PvP modes and PvE content types lend themselves naturally to throwing separate chunks of content at each mini-team to develop and continually polish. It’s really very scary to do that openly because fans who have put time and money behind a project will undoubtedly have strong opinions on where the game should be headed and how development should roll. When we see something that disagrees with our initial vision for Heart of Thorns, we panic. It’s much better to be exposed to those realities with the full context and information available rather than jump to conclusions that can’t possibly be confirmed by the development team.
What really gets my goat is the fact that we know at this point that ArenaNet is very keen to get this information player-ready and out into the public realm. It makes absolutely no sense to hold anything back that’s not story-spoiling or crazily groundbreaking. Story spoiling isn’t a usual tactic of ArenaNet’s since the game sells heavily on its lore, and the crazy stuff is held back only if there’s a big event such as E3 or PAX around the corner. Releasing big news early or in an unfinished state would only grind the hype train to a stuttering halt, and the team is only too aware of our gripes about how long we’re waiting for the juiciest stuff.
I’m sure ArenaNet follows the leaks, of course, if only to know how much the playerbase knows about the upcoming content. Reveals follow swiftly after assets are popped into the build, so we really don’t have long to wait after that content becomes minable until ANet will have an official reveal with so much more information than we could hope to glean on our own. I’m happy to wait for this, especially since I know how much work goes into iterative content creation and content reveals even in my own tiny indie project.
The PR teams at ArenaNet and NCsoft must become very disheartened when they spend so much time drafting a great reveal piece about the most exciting content with all sorts of fantastic new information, only to find that the core of the message has already been heard and people already feel as though it’s old news before their pieces air. The development team that put months upon months of coffee-fueled late nights into the content at hand must feel equally deflated when the official news is greeted with more of a squeaky pop than an almighty bang.
Inaccuracies are also often carried forward even after official announcements are made that contradict them and are notoriously difficult to stamp out because the initial attention span of the game’s audience is already tapped out. Just look at any Reddit thread discussing the specializations and you’ll see people arguing over what’s been made official and what’s still only mined supposition. As the impact of the official marketing wanes, I worry too that marketing budgets could decrease and we’ll then burn out the real stars behind the Guild Wars 2 community that strive to be so engaging and informative.
Over to you!
Every time we make up our mind about a new gameplay aspect based on the details that could be mined, we bypass the community managers and dampen the sound of their informed, passionate voices. I really hate to think of that becoming the norm when we gain so much more from full reveals than from the TL;DR heads-up provided by datamining.
I know that you’re burning up with the urge to either back me up or shoot me down right about now: Datamining is one of those issues that deserves more thought and airtime than it currently gets, which is why I decided to put my case to you. What do you think? Do you leap for every scrap you can get while we wait the long wait for Heart of Thorns, or are you happier to wait for official sources to spill the beans? How much information do you think we really get from datamining, and is it enough to justify our obsession with it? Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments.