It’s undeniable that a significant proportion of GW2 fans — particularly those who have bought into Heart of Thorns — are feeling more than a little bit frustrated with the on-again-off-again nature of content delivery, and distrust is spreading because of the perceived non-delivery of ANet’s promises. In this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’ll look at the raging debates happening between the new Game Director and the playerbase, and I’ll weigh in with my thoughts on how O’Brien can win us over going forward to resecure a solid basis to build upon with the second expansion.
Let me first set the scene for those who haven’t been following along with the update timeline and O’Brien’s words since previous Game Director Colin Johanson left. The first thing that was established was that O’Brien meant to start in his new role with a spirit of open communication: An information-packed Reddit AMA saw many burning questions answered that centred on both the April update and future development plans. Right from the off, expectation management seemed to be a high priority, and O’Brien was sure to step away from promising release dates as far as possible so that content quality wouldn’t further suffer due to stiff timelining.
The most notable inclusion in the AMA for me was a full breakdown of the team’s assignments: It was very reassuring to see how the team was split because it showed the manpower priorities of the studio are coming more in-line with those of the vocal fanbase, with solid teams assigned to each area of importance. I also particularly appreciated the candid, unabashed honesty it must have taken to discuss common dev issues that we think only happen in novice or indie studios because most large companies keep them well under the carpet: There were hints of feature creep clogging true development, timelining issues, burnout, and workflow issues that feel all-too familiar to me from my work on Predestination.
Shortly thereafter, news broke that legendary weapon development would be indefinitely suspended so that the six developers assigned to those items could be redirected to pushing more Living World style content. Many players flooded the forum thread with major complaints regarding the lack of delivery on a feature that was promised as a part of the expansion, resulting in an interesting back and forth in the replies. Annoyed fans highlighted the promises made pre-HoT and asserted that the expansion was not as promised and therefore incomplete; O’Brien made various comments in reply that focused on what the expansion did deliver and also admitted that the decision was a harsh one that he realised would upset players.
From my perspective, I can see the amount of assertive damage control that O’Brien is attempting to bring forth here: Players are rightly frustrated by the broken promise and what that might suggest about ANet’s priorities for the game’s future, but I also see that the content drought is a far more pressing issue for O’Brien to deal with. Content for everyone has been a theme this month, which I think is an excellent play after the raid backlash and Heart of Maguuma. O’Brien namedropped the Guild Wars 2 Design Manifesto, and I think that his reference back to a dynamic environment in which there was always something to do is a hopeful starting point for his time holding the Game Director role.
The Mo shakeup continued with a similarly assertive forum post about how the next update is looking as it nears completion, addressing some of the major sore points in the community in one post. The other dreaded f-word was mentioned first: Some fractal tier changes and achievement retirement is on the agenda for the end of the month. Scribing costs will reduce significantly too, thanks to a multifaceted attack on overinflated unit pricing and scarcity of core resources in the update. Referring back to a WvW poll on Desert versus Alpine borderlands, O’Brien announced a half-step toward the community’s preferred option of bringing back Alpine that will see changes made to Desert in the update as a sort of live testing ground before the team is totally ready to switch to Alpine after further player feedback.
I was very intrigued by the pace and high level of fan engagement set by O’Brien here: Locking in these features is one thing, but I hope for the sake of more jaded players that the locked down version of the April update lives up to the same standard. I noted throughout his responses to the community that O’Brien emphasised how his words were one thing but that the main reassurance sought by the playerbase would be found in delivery. “Deeds, not words” was my primary school’s motto when I was a lass, and I think that recipe is the best route forward for ANet too. I’m very eagerly anticipating the Spring Quarterly Update, if not for the actual content then for the proof of the pudding that O’Brien has been baking since his taking on the director role.
As frustrated as I am by the notion that some of the promises players were holding onto won’t be met, I’m still cautiously optimistic about how such a decisive “cut this, save this, emphasise this” mentality could help get ArenaNet out of a rather sticky situation. I’m also encouraged by how warm some of the comments have been in the discussion channels opened up by O’Brien because it shows me that at least some now-retired players are willing to give the game another go should change happen swiftly enough. With enough communication and regular improvement on ArenaNet’s part, I’m confident that GW2 could be stronger than ever before.
I appreciate O’Brien’s stated focus on delivering rather than promising content, but I hope he doesn’t forget that there’s a large variety of people out there to please. Although he may find it difficult to see how players might feel shortchanged by HoT, those players who feel cheated wouldn’t be arguing so passionately without cause. The direction that HoT has taken has largely appealed to my personal playstyle, and I’ve been enjoying the expansion immensely, but I may be a lucky minority. I ache inside for those who once loved GW2 as much as I do and who now feel let down by it, but it’s definitely not too late to redeem the game in their eyes with swift and decisive action. Keep it up and don’t let them down, Mo!
What do you think? If you could ask Mike O’Brien for one thing to be included in the update, what would it be? How fair do you think the playerbase has been? If you’re not playing right now, will a good update be enough to get you back? Let me know in the comments.