That popularity, however, doesn't seem to be mirrored by the GW2 bloggers and commenters I read. Some have dropped out altogether while others still post but frequently grumble (guilty as charged). That might be just the insular nature of the little pond we all swim in, though. I took the trouble to click through Hunter's GW2 blogroll this morning, which is a list of blogs most of which I've never read or even heard. Some of them are shuttered or haven't posted for months but quite a few have posted recently in pretty positive tone.
Clearly GW2 is working very well for some and less well for others. Today I read an interview with the game's Head Writer Bobby Stein that goes no small way towards explaining why that might be. The full interview is here and it's well worth reading. As usual the subtext tells almost more than what's being said out there in the open. Here are a few highlights, with gloss:
"...with multiple teams producing thematically connected stories in short development cycles, it's often stressful. But now that we've gone through the motions a number of times, it's getting a little easier to manage."
Ironic understatement. Always one of my favorites. So are you managing it or aren't you? If not, when do you think you might get on top of things?
"To put it into perspective, our first two Living World releases, Flame & Frost: Prelude and Flame & Frost: The Gathering Storm, had extremely short development cycles. The common misperception about these two releases is that there was supposed to be a huge narrative component to them when in reality they were meant to provide context for upcoming releases which would have much more gameplay and story. In essence, we were rolling out the Living World story in small phases while our tech and design were being solidified."
Testing in a live environment with players as the test subjects, in other words. I don't object in principle. I played five years on EQ2's Test server after all, but it had a population in double figures for most of that time. Paying players generally do not choose to play in unstable environments. But then, we're not paying, are we?
"I’m happy to say that our latest designs will go a long way in solving many of the usability and contextual issues that players are facing when trying to experience the Living World story."
I like the use of the future tense there and the flurry of adjectives and descriptive phrases setting limits on what might be achieved. Let's not over-promise or over-commit, eh? Still, Syp should be happy to hear a fix is incoming for at least some of the problems he so eloquently highlighted.
"We've had to rethink our methods of story delivery post-ship...I was not directly involved with the core Guild Wars 2 story, so I wasn’t privy to all the decisions and ideas that formed the final product at ship...Now that my team is actively writing story content, I’ve worked with people in various departments about the ways in which we present story to our players. We no longer use cinematic conversations for exposition."
I'm in charge now. All that stuff those other guys spent five years on? Dust in the wind. Although I tend to agree that those puppet-show cinematics never worked and no-one's going to miss them, it does make me wonder what else from the ancien regime may now have become that of which we no longer speak.
"world dynamic events are very good at conveying and reinforcing themes, but aren’t necessarily great for character development. They’re non-linear by nature in that they run independently of player progression within a linear story path..."
If you give people toys sometimes they don't play with them the way they're supposed to. For god's sake, sometimes they just kick the ball about and don't even keep score!
"Our players want to be entertained. If a story resonates with them, they’ll appreciate it. If it’s poorly executed or gets in the way of their adventuring and exploring, then they’ll have something to say about it. But story and characters provide the player with context and without them, the game is reduced to its core mechanics."
Fine. Only first off, much of The Living Story has been poorly executed and secondly, context is Background while the mechanics you're introducing are Foreground. Our adventuring and exploring trumps your narrative. Always. Or it should do.
Well I certainly can't vote over a hundred times for the same candidate in the same election in real life, I'll give you that. Not if I want to stay out of jail.
"Players will soon understand where these characters are headed, and how these seemingly disjointed events fit together and tie into the larger narrative. So while it may look like we’re playing catch-up, we’re actually ahead. It’s just hard for the average player to make sense of it all since we’re pacing it out in two-week increments and we don’t yet have a mechanism to log what’s past and what’s to come. That’s slated to change before the end of the year."
"Soon"! Great to see you again! By the end of the year it is then. Just another eight or ten bi-weekly episodes of The Living Story to go before it starts making sense. Can't wait. Oh, hang on...
"Any team that has to support a live game is under a lot of pressure to produce great content. We’re certainly feeling it since we absolutely must ship something every two weeks"
My wife isn't talking to me, my children call me "that man", the dog growls when he hears my key in the lock. Just so we get "something" out alternate Tuesdays. This can't go on...
"It’s sometimes hard to process complaints that each semi-monthly release isn’t a full-blown expansion."
What more do you want? Blood?! If I find out who said "Expansion" and "Living Story" in the same sentence, then you'll see blood!
"What we can do is look at what players are doing, analyze those metrics, and make informed decisions so that we’re providing them with more of what they like and less of what they don’t."
No! Seriously, NO! What you're doing is providing us with more of what we're doing, not more of what we like doing. It's not the same thing. Much though I personally disliked the Super Adventure Box, it was possibly the most popular single addition to the game ever. None of us had any idea it was coming. One of your people decided it would be worth doing and he did it and he was right. We need you to make new things, things we don't know we want yet, not just replicate more and more of the exact same stuff you can see us doing already.
"we don’t have the luxury of huge budgets and flexible release dates that we had before launch. In short, we’re forced to be more creative with less resources"
Not much has changed since February, then. I won't hold my breath for a new WvW map.
"Once our Living World tracking system is online, we will have solved the story presentation issues that are currently making it difficult for people to experience the story content in the proper order...In the long term, we’ll have a system to better support the Living World narrative."
Yes, end of the year. You said that already. Until then we'll just kill all the things, tick all the boxes, grab all the loot and forget about the story. You know that's what we're going to do anyway so there's really no hurry.
"Players will soon experience events in the Living World story that will tie things together in a way that is more relevant to their character. We also intend to provide a mechanism that will help players more easily find and experience the story content, though I can’t provide a specific release date for that feature."
Not the end of the year this time, then? That's too specific, is it? Soon come, as Peter Tosh would have said.
"I think it takes a lot of guts to comb through thousands of critical (and at times, somewhat snarky) posts about why a total stranger hates what you’ve spent years crafting."
I think if you're getting "thousands" of posts that say they "hate" what you've crafted you might want to consider the possibility of crafting something different next time, rather than crafting the same thing again and painting it a different color. Is that enough snark?
Taking my snark hat off (I kill and skin the snarks myself, I'll have you know, although I have a little man that makes them into hats for me) Bobby Stein comes over pretty well in the full interview. I'm sure he's doing the best he can. It must be a nightmare of a job, under-resourced, on a frenetic schedule, juggling the demands and competences of four separate teams. I bet he wishes he was working on a nice, behind-closed-doors, full NDA, done-when-it's-done Expansion instead.
I wish he was, too.