Jonathan Sharp: sPvP, Balance, a Little Philosophy, and Life.

Jonathan Sharp has taken to the official forums for an epic post relating to structured PvP. Having spoken to Jon many times, I know of no one more passionate about this area of the game. You can find a full link to his post here or copied below. 

“Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.” -Soren Kierkegaard

Sup! + Pax


Thanks to everyone who was able to make it to the Pax finals!! It was a blast and getting to meet both of the teams (and a ton of other players) was really fun! It was a lot of work, but the program went pretty well overall. Sorry to both of the teams about the tech issues we were having/sound issues. Those things happen, but I’m still sorry about them.

There’s been a lot of…”fire/passion” on the forums lately so I wanted to take some time to address some things. As I’ve stated before, we’re usually really busy trying to get things (like Pax) to happen, but we love to post when we’re able. We read MOST of what’s on the forums, but we seldom have time to reply to each individual thread.

So, I thought I’d try something. I’m gonna try to address a multitude of issues that have been raised on the forums in this post, rather than responding to each of the threads individually. As you can imagine, it’s much easier to respond to everything in one post/thread, rather than trying to keep up with multiple threads.

I’ll break it up into sections so it’s easier to read, as walls of text have a habit of not being very reader friendly.

LESSGO!

For the love of the game


Some have said that we (the devs) just don’t care about the game. This, I can tell you, could not be further from the truth. We LOVE this game like crazy. You guys may be frustrated that a feature isn’t in, or that something’s not perfect, but it DRIVES US NUTS. It keeps us up at night. We wake up thinking about them and writing “to do” lists in our heads as we drive to work every day.

Unfortunately we can’t just snap our fingers and fix everything. We have to take all known issues, prioritize them, and then start dealing with them an issue at a time. That process looks something like this: we do a design of the feature, requisite resources are requested, the feature is implemented, iterated upon, tested, polished, and then released. For a game the size of an MMO, these things take time. We’re not a small game that can move/change/adapt quickly. An MMO is more like a massive ship – it takes time to change direction. Many systems/pieces/features in the game also impact one another, so we have to be very careful in what we change and how.

We’re very passionate about the game, and we want it to be the best game possible. We love the players and we love the game. Just because you don’t get what you want, right when you want it, doesn’t mean we don’t care. We’re just very busy doing a LOT of things, because a TON has to happen behind the scenes to get an MMO built and updated.

Sometimes it may seem like we aren’t listening, or we don’t respond to your posts. But a TON of things could be at work. Don’t assume that just because we don’t change things exactly when you want them changed that we’re ignoring you or don’t care about your opinions and thoughts.

We aren’t Data


We get tired. Emotional. Fatigued. Excited. You name it. Ask any dev from any game, and they’ll tell you – they’ve been through it all in order to ship a game. And just like you (who are also not robots), we take vacations. We hit caps where we’re just so tired that we need to back off, recharge, take a vacation, and then come back to the project.

We have tough skin when it comes to taking criticism, but an overabundance of negativity on the forums can still take a toll on anyone. This is simply natural. It’s the same for the president (who I’m sure hears a TON of opinions about how he’s doing his job), any athlete who plays in the public eye, any artist, any performer. You want criticism so that you can improve, but you also have to develop a tough skin so that negative feedback doesn’t keep you from being functional. Sometimes this means you take a break from negative sources of feedback.

The Pax event took a TON of time/planning/prep from many people, and due to that, a lot of us are taking slight breaks right now. If you don’t see as much activity on the forums for a bit, that’s why!

Balance


So during the shoutcast, Grouch and I kept joking about the “petting zoo”. It was funny. A lot of people laughed. But in the back of my mind, I knew we already had some balance changes coming to address it (you’ll see those tomorrow). My mentality was: let’s just have fun, and make it as enjoyable as possible for the viewers. I’ve seen posts saying we like that style of play, we want to have tons of AI builds in the meta, and we don’t care at all about balance or how the game looks/plays. I’ve seen posts stating that I think the petting zoo is funny and that we want nothing but AI driven-builds to be played in the meta (or some other crazy stuff). That’s simply untrue.

So the Ranger will be seeing some changes to the spirit build. We’re being very mindful to carefully shave it so that:

We don’t hurt other areas of the game where the build may not be a problem, as it is in PvP, and

We’ve already seen counters to this build showing up (there’s a thread talking about the Warrior countering this build, and to what degree) in the meta.

So, we will be “shaving” the build a little (we don’t want to over-correct the issue) and seeing how the meta adapts.

Here are some other things we keep in mind as we’re balancing things:

Perception of balance. Perception (there’s that pesky word again) of balance is very important. The last major update saw the Warrior getting some tools that we, the balance team, perceived to be enough to warrant their inclusion in the current meta. At first, a lot of people felt they still weren’t good enough. But now, with no other balance work, people are starting to figure out that the Warrior DOES have the tools to help a team, even in a heavy condition meta. The perception of the Warrior changed. This is why we try not to “whack a mole” balance – we like to give you guys time for your perceptions to mature in any given meta, rather than over balancing the game. Are we perfect? Hell no. We try our best to predict where our changes will take the metagame, and then let you guys flow with the game as the meta evolves.

“Bad for the player, but good for the game”. Alright. Story time. The game dev community is a pretty small place, and a lot of devs know one another. We are lucky enough to have game nights with guys from WOTC (they make Magic:TG) and I got into a great conversation with one of their devs. I was talking about balancing an MMO vs a CCG, and we were swapping lessons/ideas back and forth on the things we’ve learned. I asked him about the mana system, mulligans, and how much I hated them as a player. I hate winning because my opponent mulligans, and I hate losing because of them. I asked him what he thought about that. His answer, in a word, was amazing. He said (paraphrasing), “Ya, that random sucks. Mulligans, mana floods (getting too much mana, but not enough “action” cards) and mana screws (not getting enough mana) all suck. But they add this element where anyone has a shot in any game. Basically, those things are bad for the player, but they’re good for the game.” I thought it was a great way of summing up what happens when we, as devs, have to balance various classes in an MMO. It may suck to have YOUR build and YOUR class slightly brought down in power, but, here’s the thing, it’s good for the game at large. So don’t think that we hate X class. We love all the classes. But sometimes we need to adjust a few things in order to protect the health of the overall game.

Shaving vs Whack a mole. We want to “shave” as much as possible, and not do massive improvements/reductions to classes. This means making slight tweaks to classes, rather than massive changes which can upset the balance of the game. A lot of times we use spreadsheets, generate the baselines for a given type of skill, and then bring the outliers up or down, depending on where they hit. Sometimes very slight tweaks can have massive implications.

The 3 different game types and splitting skills. Splitting skills between all 3 of our game types (PvE, PvP, WvW) is very costly – it takes more time to split the skills, and then upkeep the split skills. Instead of upkeeping 1 version of a skill, whenever you make future changes, you now have to make sure all 3 are appropriately balanced for their respective game types. This is very powerful, and something we did in GW1 when we felt we needed it. We just need to be careful not to do it too much, or it means the balance team is literally balancing 3 entire games. As Freamon (from “The Wire”, btw if you haven’t seen “The Wire”, stop whatever it is you’re doing and go watch it. Unless you’re giving birth. In that case…wait until you’re done, then watch it immediately afterwards. Oh, and get your new son/daughter to watch it when they’re old enough.) usually reminded the other members of the cast, “All the pieces matter.” The different pieces of GW2 all impact the other pieces, and it’s something we must always bear in mind.

Chap’s woefully ill-conceived attempt at a metaphor on why we don’t spilt all skills off the bat: Imagine you’re in school, and in order to make sure you learn languages at an even pace, you have to split everything you do into 3 languages. For me, let’s say it’s English, Japanese and Latin (No, Greek, I liked learning Greek more than Latin). You start off answering a question on a test in 3 different languages. You rock. But then you do it more and more often. For every note you take in a lecture, you have to write it in 3 different languages. For every paper you write, you have to write it in 3 languages. For all homework, you have to do it in 3 languages. Every test. Every quiz. It may seem small at first, but if you’re not careful, you’re doing three times the work as normal.

Game types


So a lot of you want new game types. We’ve heard you. We’re prototyping more of them right now. But, as Colin said at the panel, we have to be careful. We learned a lot from GW1. We learned that having too many game types can split up the player base. But, if you’re not careful, just having 1 game type may not be enough variety. You’ve got to find that perfect spot.

Deathmatch. I like DM, but I’m much more interested in objective based DM. “Go in a room and kill a dude” was fun when I was playing Doom/Quake/Unreal, but even those, as simple games, still had map control and buff/armor control. Just giving two players the same guns/armors, putting them in a room, and saying “Ok go” just isn’t as fun to play. Those other elements add a lot to the game. The most competitive/successful games in recent history all share these “secondary” objectives as well (they aren’t STRICTLY Deathmatch):

In CS, that was the bomb/hostages. CoD (and similar games) still retain similar objectives to this day. Killing your opponent is still integral, but the secondary objectives “force” action.In RTS, it’s the resources (micro arena is fun, but it’s not nearly as fun to play or watch as having to also manage resources/scout/build the right tech, etc.). The resources force action.In Mobas, it’s all about controlling lanes, pushing towers, and controlling the jungle. It’s not just “go in a room and shoot a dude with your skills”. That’s fun, but I think the other elements add more strategy and tactics to the game, and make them more fun to play.

So for us, when we’re designing game types, we’re thinking about these things. DM is still a fun and exciting part of conquest, but I know you guys want more – we’re working on it.

Sync/CC/The community at large


These guys were awesome. I just wanted to say a quick thank you to the teams (Car Crash and Sync, you guys are amazing), and everyone else who was involved with the tournament (thanks for the help Supcutie!). Everyone who helped with Mist League. Everyone who helps w/ all the podcasts and state of the game. I’d also like to thank all 64 teams that came out for the tournament.

Our game isn’t perfect. There will always be something we want to change, or we want to improve. Contrary to what you hear on the forums, the #’s for the PvP game is actually steadily growing. Some players are learning, but a lot of new players are coming into the game. We’re going to keep working to make the game the best it can be, and you guys have already demonstrated your great love and passion for the game. I know you guys get frustrated and feel the need to vent on the forums. I can see that. As a player of many competitive games, I get that. But we’re going to keep pushing.

We know we wouldn’t be here without you. We know we’re going to need your help and support as we get ready to climb the next mountain. We’ve heard a lot of your ideas and concerns.

We are reworking rewards for PvP.

We’re working on new game types.

We’re planning more tournaments and working with a lot of well-known entities in order to help the game grow.

We’re working to improve the teaching aspects of the game, and to make the game more easily understood.

When I see you guys posting on the forums about how upset you are about X or Y, I know that deep down most of you are saying: “Kitten dang it, this game could be good. There are just these things that are holding it back, fix this stuff please so that this game we love can grow!“

We feel your passion and frustration. We share it. So the next time you make a post and get kitten ed off that a dev doesn’t post, just remember that a lot of times, we’re talking about it at our desks, or in a meeting room, or on our way to lunch. We can’t fix things instantly, but we’re doing as much as we can, as efficiently as we can, with the time and resources we have. At the end of the day, all you can do is all you can do.

I can remember being a kid, sitting in my father’s study, going through his books, trying to understand what he saw in them. On his wall, next to the window which overlooked our back yard, was a framed picture, with this caption below it:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I get it now. And, older than I was then, I realize how little time we have on this planet. So now I’ve learned to pick my battles, and invest my time only in things that I feel, after careful consideration, warrant the coin of my life – my time. (“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” -Carl Sandburg)

I think Guild Wars 2 is worth my passion, and that’s why I, like my fellow devs, work so kitten something that isn’t perfect. It’s still a work in progress, there are still SO many things we want to do with this game, and places we want to take it.

So if you get frustrated at the pace we’re making, or if you just need to take a break so you can try another game, or if you wait on something to be fixed the way you want it, that’s fine. We’ll keep working with our heads down, our minds churning, and our ears open, trying to make GW2 the best game it can be.

And we’ll be here when you get back.

-Chap

PS – Watch “The Wire”.

Notes:

Suggested music while reading http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPWvpDm076o

TL:DR – We love this game. We’re listening to you. We don’t post in every thread because we’re busy. Thank you for being so passionate about our game. Life is short – enjoy it. And you should watch “The Wire”.

This post was written while taking breaks to cut up proxies and sleeve them for a Legacy storm deck (ANT storm), so I can practice for SCG Legacy Seattle.

This post was written while under the effects of Radiohead and tea, earl grey, hot.

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