Wednesday, 22 October 2014

[GW2] Here's your feedback - The Gem Store

For a TL:DR (and particularly if you are an ArenaNet dev) see the bottom of the post.

The Guild Wars 2 gem store has always allowed players to convert their in game gold into "gems" which they can use to buy items from the gem store.
This system has worked in tandem with the ability to buy gems with real money.

Before this latest update players could choose the amount of gold they wished to spend to buy items.

Need a key for 125 gems? Then buy 125 gems! Need an outfit for 700 gems? You guessed it, buy 700 gems!

The new system works like this:

Need a key for 125 gems? Buy 400 gems and have 275 left over! Need an outfit for 700 gems? Buy 800 gems and have 100 left over! Because reasons!

Players can now only convert their in game gold to gems in increments of 400. Once again ArenaNet's justification for this change has been: new players found it confusing and as veteran players we wouldn't understand. 

"Hey there,
Here are a few tidbits from the team:
  • A lot of newer players had trouble with the interface. That doesn’t apply to you, you’re veterans who have been around the conversion block a time or two. But newer players will benefit from the updated system.
  • The goal was to make the Gem Store more like other shopping experiences, and if you think about it, there is more of that feel to it now.
  • You may be surprised to know this (I know I was) but very few people bought gems at smaller denominations than the first one offered in the new system. That’s not to say they never did, nor that there wouldn’t be the desire to do so. But overall, the current options were selected based on player purchases in the past.
  • The team is going to listen to your feedback and, if and when it’s practical and desirable, they can look towards adjusting the new system to better meet your needs.
So please keep your thoughts coming on the new system. Feel free to make suggestions but please, keeping them constructive would be very much appreciated."


This is an argument they've used before, and I've written about here.

As one eloquent redditor quite rightly put it: "Bullshit". First off, if the interface is confusing players - then change the fucking interface. This has nothing to do with the ability to convert however much gold you need. The interface is just the way the player interacts with the system, not the system itself.

Second, which "new player" has the gold stashed away to be able to convert gold into 400 gems anyway!? At the current conversion rate that equals 75 gold! I played for a good 6 or 7 months before I had that kind of currency lying around, and even then I wouldn't have thought of converting all my worldly possessions into gems to buy a cheap looking outfit! There is nothing about this update to this system which is helpful to new players, in fact it isn't even a system which new players will have the option to use because they simply will not have the gold to buy the required 400 gems.

I'm afraid the actual motivations for this change are very thinly veiled. Before you might convert a small amount of gold into gems to buy a Black Lion Chest Key from the store, now you are far less likely to have the spare change required - so instead you BUY the gems with real money. That's the reason this change  has been made - the only thing confusing is why ArenaNet are so brazen about it. It is mind boggling.

So, just to spell it out for ArenaNet - feed this back to your team:

There is absolutely no way that a new player will have the in game gold to buy 400 gems, so they will spend real money instead. This is NOT a system which is friendly for new players, it is absolutely the opposite. This is a system to rinse more real money out of new players. You. are. fucking. it. up.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

[HS] Seatstory Cheerleaders Tarnish the Event

One of the first big flashy Hearthstone tournaments ever held was the ESGN Fight Night series first held in January 2014. It was run like a big-budget TV show, with a colourful studio set up, interviews, animated player profiles and, most controversially, boxing style "card girls" who would saunter across the stage at the start of each match with the "Game Number".

The girls were an effort on the part of the organisers to inject a flashy sports-style professionalism to the broadcast, but what it ended up being was an embarrassing mess. Viewers and players broadly criticised the decision. Dressed as "sexy schoolgirls" (a still relatively unnerving, though not uncommon trope) aside from the actual gameplay, the girls were the element of the broadcasts which attracted the most attention.

The whole debacle was not helped at all in that there was not a single female player in the whole event. I don't believe that is unheard of - whatever stats you believe about the percentage of gamers who are female, it can't be argued that they are relatively underrepresented in pro-gaming. During and after the event, criticism ranged from "they don't add anything to the show" through "they didn't even speak to the players" and up to "its pretty much straight up exploitation". 
I was a little disappointed when a number of the players, talking on the popular "Turn 2" podcast after the event, did not seem to recognise the sexism argument and as Wunder (at Liquidhearth) recognises:

"It doesn’t help that Ek0p, one of the members of Dogehouse, said on Turn 2 that you should consider them “decorations or something, to make the show prettier”. Now, he goes on to say that not all women are decorations but that was the purpose of those two girls’ existence."

Wunder goes on to note that though the girls were only a very small part of the show, if that was the case, then why include them at all? Why alienate such a large section of the Hearthstone community? It's only anecdotal evidence, but Hearthstone does seem to have a large proportion of the playerbase who are female (perhaps more-so than other games) - so why risk it? Its simply the most blatant form of objectification, the girls existed simply as an attractive sign-holder, nothing more.


It didn't even achieve the purpose of making the event seem professional and sexy - all the players looked awkward and uncomfortable. It would have been interesting to see what the reaction would have been if the sign-holders were muscular gentlemen in hot pants and crop-tops. Perhaps the male members of the community who defended the girls' inclusion as being "all part of the fun", would re-evaluate their opinion if they were faced with some well-toned man meat in between each round.

Regardless, as good as the gameplay was (and, to be honest, aside from the girls the event was a lot of fun) ESGN eventually ran out of money and had to shut down. But thats another story.

Fast forward to the past few days and the Seatstory Cup. And exact same arguement emerges. Seatstory is a different beast to the Fight Nights. It's a house cup: taking place in a single apartment rather than a sprawling studio. It still feels just as slick, but the ambience is much more laid back and I believe its an event which many of the players were very much looking forward to due to it being a nice social occasion as well as a competitive tournament. 

Unfortunately, Seatstory (and TakeTV on whose Twitch account it is being broadcast) seem to have learned nothing from the debacle of Fight Night - including scantily-clad pom-pom wielding cheerleaders alongside the exclusively male cast of pro-players. 


The exact same arguments as with Fight Night emerge - perhaps the disbelief is even more prominent here as its hard to believe someone would think it appropriate given the ambiance of the event doesn't seem to fit, and the backlash which emerged as a result of the Card Girls at Fight Night. There has been some suggestion that the girls are an ironic nod to the mistakes of Fight Night itself - but I believe that's a bit of a longshot, and even if that is the intention, the effect is still to alienate the same female audience which occurred in January

Its a huge shame and is astoundingly misjudged especially considering that sexism in gaming is just about as hot as a topic can get at the moment. And this all comes on the heels of a smaller event cast by Kripparian and Reckful where they were accused of sexist remarks towards the female players in the event.

Poorly placed as I am (being male) to effectively communicate how crap a decision this was by the organisers. I thought I'd just post a quote by /u/Shavri on Reddit (emphasis added):

"As a girl who watches HS regularly, this was a 10/10 facepalm moment. I thought maybe after the backlash from the signholders on ESGN people in the community might have realized this is pretty cringe-worthy. I understand that I'm in the minority for the e-sports community, but can you at least pretend there might be some women watching. From an advertising standpoint I think it was pretty insulting to the guys watching too---or maybe I'm wrong. inb4 women-hating/jealousy comments"

Viewers, players, casters and event organisers need to recognise that even "jokey" casual sexism is not acceptable. Not only is it unprofessional, but its damaging to the Hearthstone and gaming community at large. It just continues to reproduce the perception of the gaming community as male dominated, chauvanist and unwelcoming to girls.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

[GW2] Why Your Opinion on the New Player Experience Doesn't Matter

I had a big long post detailing the problems I had with the new update - the fact that it appears to have removed more features than it added, the patronising way it treats new players, the frankly ridiculous gating of skills and gameplay features etc. Ultimately, I just encountered the one single sentence which encompasses it all and it comes from this comment from a new player on Reddit:

"It gave me freedom to play how I wanted, something sorely lacking in most MMOs, which force you to do things a certain way or unlock things in a certain order."

and later...

"What the hell is this! That constant drive for success, and the feeling of connection that the story and world quests combined to give has been skewed to all hell. I tried playing again today, but these changes changed the parts of the game I liked the most, the freedom of progression at your own pace."

And I think ultimately, thats what this update has all-but removed from the levelling process - the freedom to play how you want. Wasn't that central to the all-holy Manifesto? Play how you want! 

Now its: play how you want, as long as you don't want a second weapon set until level 15. 

Play how you want as long as you don't want to customise your stats or gain access to interesting traits before level 30!

Play how you want as long as that involves dying one way before level 5 and dying another way after level 5. 

You can no longer play the game your own way if you're levelling, that feature has gone out the window (its by the bins along with the personality system and the game's eSports ambitions). Play the game ANet's way, please - where skills are unlocked when ANet say you're ready - wouldn't want to overheat your likkle brain by challenging you in any way.

Unfortunately, ArenaNet hold the lion's share of the cards when it comes to this arguement: we've got only anecdotal evidence and experience, but ANet have, presumably, done user testing and those tests have shown that holding an item in your main hand takes up almost 100% of a new player's cognitive capacity, and providing them with an item to feebly grasp in the other is just far too psychologically taxing unless they've been playing the game for a good couple of hours.

I'm exaggerating for comic effect. But the truth is that ANet have already disregarded our opinions on this new experience. We are simply too experienced with the game to have a valid opinion on what a new player's experience with the game might be. Even when we were new players, we weren't really new players like the new players are now - we had watched all the videos, voraciously absorbed all the information ANet were willing to divulge about the game pre-release and then when the game finally dropped we rushed in alongside many thousands of other super-fans and experienced the whole thing together. How could we possibly know what its like to be a player coming in blind nowadays?

Well, a whole lot of us are what can legitimately be called "experts" when it comes to Guild Wars 2 (studies show that someone can be judged to be an "expert" after 7500 hours of interaction with a task or concept) but just because we are experts does not mean we don't know what it is like to be a new player, just like how not being an 8 year old doesn't mean you can't teach an 8 year old the alphabet. It really doesn't take an expert to know that hiding key features from new players so as to teach them how to play the game is just arse-backwards.

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