Flameseeker Chronicles: Re-engaging lost Guild Wars 2 players

    
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I recently read an interesting opinion piece by Jason Winter that got me thinking about the general sense of apathy that he believes is trickling into the Guild Wars 2 playerbase because of the current content drought. After the Heart of Thorns launch, ArenaNet has been dedicating a significant portion of its man-hours to remedying some major grievances the community has been carrying, especially when it comes to WvW gameplay. Add to that the pressure to start on the second expansion, which is now well underway, and the usual patches that we players expect, and you can see how easy it is to let fresh new content fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Personally, I’m excited for Living Story Season 3 and hope that it revitalises players who have lost confidence in GW2, but I wonder whether ANet could be doing more to incentivise play and shorten those content gaps.

In this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’ll put forward some ideas for improving the activity levels in GW2, covering both improvements to the existing ways in which ANet attempts to keep players engaged and some different tactics I wish the company could employ.

gw2 1A brief overview of the problem

Before I launch into my musings on how to reinvigorate the playerbase, I should detail the problem for those who have stepped away from GW2. Winter pointed to a Reddit thread in which players attempted to get to the heart of their particular dissatisfaction with the progression incentives ANet offers that makes for a neat point of reference here: Recurring themes seem to be the lack of “pick-up-and-play” small group content development, uneven dispersion of development time, and a severe lack of reward for despite significant time grinds. Redditors pointed to the word “apathy” before Winter published his article, so his heartfelt sentiments certainly cannot be brushed off as an isolated feeling with little basis.

In the aftermath of Heart of Thorns (and much of the development that predates the expansion actually), the team at ANet found itself with a ship that had more than a few little holes that needed plugging before they could set sail. Quality-of-life fixes and major overhauls have been hot development areas for so long that players are longing for engaging, challenging, yet immediate new content that doesn’t require a considered time and energy investment to engage with. What can ArenaNet do to alleviate the strain and keep those players on board while keeping up with the necessary fixes and improvements?

gw2 4Make a (rough) long-range content forecast

In terms of new content, players are feeling as if compelling additions are coming much too slowly, if ever. I’ve seen the same line repeated over and over: Even if LS3 is amazing, players are worried that they’ll need to wait another 10 months or so to get anything else once it lands. I really appreciate how dangerous it can be to release hard timelines in the game development industry: Missing the timeline due to unforeseen delays is such a common part of any software development that most programmers break into a cold sweat the minute you mention hard timelines. On the other hand, staying totally tight-lipped to avoid missing projections leaves players feeling unenlightened and frustrated.

The happy medium comes in the form of the road maps that ArenaNet issued: Telling us how development is planned keeps us well enough informed and reassures us that content is coming, making long waits that little bit easier to bear. I would extend the roadmap posts to include a slightly stricter timeline for long-term development that is open to change as development progresses. Much has changed since the initial 2016 roadmap, for example, but setting dates on some of those features would have made players more patient. When I initially hypothesised on the development plan and the rough schedule for this year, I predicted that LS3 would be with us this month, but the roadmap didn’t place even a rough timeframe on the content’s release.

gw2 2More teasers, please!

If content is taking a while and players are getting antsy in the interim, it stands to reason that the hype train is quickly derailing. It’s much easier to keep players excited for future content drops if regular teasers, interviews, and updates are part of the lead-up marketing. ArenaNet is notoriously tightlipped when it comes to story, and with good reason: If the storyline is such a widely enjoyed, integral part of the game, I can see why the team would seek to protect it from being prematurely spoiled, especially since the development of that content takes so much time. Imagine waiting as long as we have for LS3 only to have it be ruined old news before it even lands in our laps.

On the flipside, saying nothing about the story development and direction makes the uniquely MMO-based, effervescent energy that surrounds new content sharply decline, especially when the gap is long enough for players to get bored of other content types. I believe that ArenaNet has recently got this right with the new raid teasers, so I just wish the same sort of updates could be created for the core story on a more frequent basis. Natural drop-off happens in between major content drops, but stemming the flow away from your MMO is crucial to sustaining a healthy in-game population. Equal hype for all types of content would also allay the fears that more coordinated content is taking precedence over more readily playable content too.

gw2 3Help players stay on track with new UI developments

While I’m discussing how to keep players motivated, I thought I’d share a small quality-of-life improvement I would love to see in Guild Wars 2. One of the main complaints my MMO buddies have had when I’ve tried to switch them on to the game is that they have little or nothing to do at endgame and have no clue what they should be doing. I don’t personally find that there’s too much guesswork involved here, but then again I’ve played enough MMOs to get the picture without it being drawn out for me. For what is widely considered a casual MMO for the masses, I wonder if a better information delivery system could be implemented that the occasional piece of in-game mail, forum trawling, and developer news post.

I love how clear the story signposting is in GW2: Those little markers with cookie trails and on-screen explanatory text is go-to questing delivery at its smoothest. Why not allow a player to set custom trails for their chosen endgame journeys and have a list of options available to them? I would love to see an endgame interface that allows you to turn on signposting that guides you through mastering fractals, delving into raiding, fighting the hordes in WvW, or whatever content takes your fancy. Turning on advisory guides for legendaries using the same system could also be possible too. Allowing players to easily see the options available to them wouldn’t benefit only freshly minted 80s; veteran players who are stuck in a rut could set themselves off in a new direction by choosing a new motivation or challenge from this interface too. I’m thinking that if a particular goal is clearly spelt out each time you log in, you might well find yourself more motivated to complete it and not drop off each time there’s a content lull.

Imagine selecting that you wish to maximise your hero points, for instance, and then being guided across all of Tyria to the points that you haven’t yet discovered, or opting to rank up in PvP and having live gauges displayed on the main UI to keep your progress at the forefront. This would give players a renewed focus on bettering their toons and would allow for them to tick off a virtual bucket list, creating their own challenges much like players do in sandboxes. Sharing challenges with other players could be a new way to share in a collective journey that bridges the content gap. I know that I’m guilty of unjustified boredom from time to time, so I’m going out on a limb to say that keeping the options at the front of players’ minds is a good idea.

gw2 5Over to you!

Whatever way I look at it, Winter has a valid point: Players are voicing their dissatisfaction with the lack of fresh content across the board and deserve to see those concerns addressed, and even the most upbeat players are hoping that happens in the delivery of LS3. Apathy is almost more dangerous than the anger we saw emerging at the launch of HoT, so anything that addresses that is welcome in my book. What do you think? Is this sense of apathy being overplayed or do you sense it too? Has ArenaNet got it wrong with the addition of larger, more regimented party content in the form of raids? How would you keep players interested in large content gaps? Let me know your thoughts!

Tina Lauro has been playing Guild Wars 2 since it launched and now pens the long-running Flameseeker Chronicles column, which runs every other Wednesday and covers everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see covered, drop a comment Tina’s way or mail her at tina@massivelyop.com.