GW2: Social Dilemmas in the Ruins of Lion’s Arch

To take this screenshot, I had to be a bad person and not rescue any citizens...

I wonder if Guild Wars 2 players ever feel that they’re just taking part in one grand ol’ economics experiment?

Be it by accident or design, the devs who created the Escape from Lion’s Arch activity of this latest update seem to have stumbled into another one:

The Public Goods Dilemma

The Public Good Game has the same properties as the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game but involving more than two individuals. A public good is a resource from which all may benefit regardless of whether they contributed to the good. For instance, people can enjoy the city parks regardless of whether they contributed to their upkeep through local taxes. Public goods are non-excludable: Once these goods are provided nobody can be excluded from using them. As a result, there is a temptation to enjoy the good without making a contribution. Those who do so are called free-riders, and while it is rational to free-ride, if all do so the public good is not provided and all are worse off.

— From “Social Dilemma” on Wikipedia

Citizens rescued are the public good in this case.

Selfless individuals who choose to lower their personal reward (of bags collected, and potential rare/exotic drops) in favor of reviving and escorting citizens to safety contribute to a collective counter of citizens saved.

A communal reward is given to all in the map at 100, 300, 600, 1000 and 1,500 citizens saved.

The arguably best reward is at 1,500, where one received an Ultimate citizen’s bag that has a chance of producing items from a previous Living Story update.

So far, I’ve managed to get a Recipe: Superior Rune of Antitoxin (valued at 14 gold if anyone ever buys it off the TP) once, and 4 pieces of Salvageable Aetherized Metal Scraps (worth pretty much nothing) another time, plus all the extra goodies of the current update (found heirlooms, children’s drawings, dragonite ore, yadda yadda.)

Meanwhile, thoughtless individuals who act in rational self-interest are liable to glom onto zergs, seeking the highest reward achievable for the least effort and risk, spamming 1 to win the standard flow of bags and loot, while benefiting from whatever level the citizen counter happens to hit.

Or they’re running around by themselves, skipping past mobs they either can’t kill (elites) or can’t be bothered to kill (everything else), rummaging around in rubble piles for found heirlooms, creating a stunningly realistic simulation of looters profiting from disasters.

This is the problem of the free rider.

I played for over 2 years in A Tale in the Desert. Social dilemmas fascinate me.

It’s been interesting to observe how devs and players are responding to this turn of events in GW2, though I have a distinct feeling that the casual time-starved are the group of players losing out in this particular situation.

For instance, the update launched with what appeared to be a bug for citizen count reward as opposed to what was released in the patch notes. Rewards were being given out at 100, 500, ? (probably 1000), 1,500 and 2000 citizens.

Players managed to rescue 100 and got a small reward that didn’t seem worth it. Zerging around never got past 300-400 rescued, and thus 500 seemed impossible, prompting pretty much the entire populace to drop citizen rescue like a hot potato and spam 1 to win instead.

I’m sure it didn’t help that the standard scaling for events was creating a wealth of veterans and champions with their standard loot drops, while unintended bugs were doing odd things to the citizen counters in main maps (first never resetting per attempt, and then resetting completely unpredictably.)

With the immediate feedback of immediate loot, and completely unreliable feedback of what one might achieve by hitting 1,500 citizens, the bulk of players responded appropriately.

ZERG ZERG ZERG 11!111111!11 ZERG ZERG !1111!111

Okay, so this is a lousy screenshot of a not very big zerg. I'm carrying a loot stick (guardian staff) though! In my defence, too busy spamming 1 during the really good mob spawns to worry about screenshots.

Okay, so this is a lousy screenshot of a not very big zerg. I’m carrying a loot stick (guardian staff) though! In my defence, too busy spamming 1 during the really good mob spawns to worry about screenshots. This was merely downtime between dolyaks.

Probably to the immense horror of the less cynical designers involved in the effort.

Oh, it’s not that other players couldn’t see the intent.

It’s just that the long-term reward was too slight and far-off a chance of gaining something really good, versus the larger chance you’ll get nothing worth mentioning, plus the attractiveness of the short term reward.

Stealth tweaks were made as patches popped in to fix the more egregious bugs.

The most obvious is that the citizen counter went back to rewarding 100, 300, 600, 1000 and 1,500 citizens saved. A zergy overflow map now has a better chance of hitting the level 2 or level 3 group effort communal reward, though the later two rewards are still pegged at a level that requires cooperation and coordination and organization from at least half to a majority of players on the map.

Less obvious is that the number of mobs produced in response to scaling has dropped on particular dynamic events. The Black Lion Dolyaks used to produce an incredibly insane number of veteran aetherblades in response to a big population gathered in the vicinity, and spawned quite often. That has now dropped a tad.

It’s still been interesting to note that a percentage of players are simply quite blind to these subtle tweaks. They gather together because numbers = safety in their mind, and because big bright orange circles on the minimap called them to the area, regardless of what is actually happening.

Only 10 mobs spawn? Nevermind, we’ll try to tag them anyway! Some will win, others will lose out.

30 Elites have spawned and are pwning the zerg together with extra anti-zerg AoE effects? Obviously, we need to throw MORE bodies at it to defeat them! Meanwhile, I’ll just lay here dead and beg for a rez from people busy struggling to stay alive themselves, and whine that no one cares about me.

Of course, it’s been interesting as well to note the other side of the equation.

For whatever reason moves them internally, a few people are choosing to act altruistically, rezzing players and citizens alike, either doing their best in whatever zerg they find themselves in, or seeking out an immersive solo or small group experience in the disaster zone that is Lion’s Arch.

Others, driven to frustration by the rapacious hordes, and most likely motivated by greed for a potential big payoff, respond by seeking out their own organized collectives and communicating for better coordination.

Most notable is a lovely map created by Rainwhisper and posted on Reddit, which clarifies visually for those who are willing, but running around lost looking for citizens, as to where the largest groupings are.

I snuck in my party of five strategy in that thread, formulated by many instances of fighting to build continous citizen chains at the Crow’s Nest Tavern/Coriolis Plaza and White Crane Terrace, where one or two people could be overwhelmed by stray elites, but five can easily clear mobs (thus still maximizing personal loot) and rescue swiftly.

Someone else also made a grouping map that covers the obvious areas, though folks haven’t really taken to using it yet.

TTS has made their own forays onto the map. The first few attempts got close at 1200 citizens twice, another scraped close at 1451 citizens (with 1/4 of TTS stuck outside the overflow griping at those noncontributers taking up space within), and the last three rounds have cleared 1500, albeit on a less populated server map at off hours.

1535 citizens

1535 citizens and counting, my group stationing themselves at the Crow’s Nest Tavern

1544

1544 citizens and counting, this time in another group at the White Crane Terrace

I find it quite intriguing to read Reddit reports that the EU equivalent of TTS, TxS, has apparently gotten more closed off as time passes. It seems to imply what I’ve always maintained about game difficulty rising to ‘raid’ level. When the coordination and organization required rises beyond casual levels, it’s super easy to slip into an elitist and exclusionary attitude.

Personally, I have been guilty of it in this update.

Stuck outside on one TTS attempt, I spent much of my rising blood pressure alternately cursing out the damned noncontributing PUGs and PUGmander trying to zerg on an overflow going for a 1500 citizen attempt, spamming my mouse button to death to try and get in, wishing one of the free riders would crash the hell out of the game, and wishing for a private overflow that only our megaguild could access.

While being as much use as a block of wood in the overflow I was sitting in, spam clicking “Join Party Member in Overflow” by the entrance.

Me, the champion of inclusion.

If this isn’t an example of slippery slope, I dunno what is.

An even more interesting development has been the formation of a new guild, MEDx, dedicated to saving 1500 citizens. Their success rate has been improving as their ranks start to fill, enabling them to squeeze more of their number onto one overflow…

…despite a seriously broken overflow accessing system.

It’s hard to know the proper solution for these dilemmas.

Give us the private instances we want, and you’ll never see us again interacting with the hoi polloi.

People would end up feeling forced to join up to progress their goals, as opposed to the current system which allows for chance encounters and the instilled desire to join up based on a good experience with the guild.

Yet if we go without, the designers are limited to only creating encounters for the lowest common denominator, zergfests of loot pinatas that crumble to 1 spamming, fun in their own way, but whose novelty wears off fast.

(I remember how I ultimately got bored of City of Heroes’ standard mob distribution: 2 mobs 1 lt. or 3 mobs per solo spawn, big clumpy mass of 2-4 bosses and lt./minion mix for 8 in a team. No variance = yawnfest.)

I suppose it’s never a dichotomy.

In a way, it’s nice that the two can exist alongside each other. Coordinated attempt giving a different type of payoff as compared to a more zergy casual style. The trick is making sure neither side feels like they’re losing out or being affected overly much by each others’ choice of playstyle co-existing on the same map.

I mean, I play both ways as and when I feel like it. Some days, you just want to zerg. Or spend an overflow hunting rubble locations for the once daily heirlooms. Some days, you want to make a serious attempt at 1500 citizens. But it would be way too stressful to HAVE to play that way all the time, in order to get any reward whatsoever.

With some irony, I note that in between my first drafting this post and going off for a nice extended weekend breakfast/lunch outing, a patch has apparently been released to once again ratchet down the number of civilians required to: 100, 300, 600, 900 and 1200.

Is anyone else getting the feeling that they started with the goalposts at a very hopeful and optimistic distance, and are now adjusting it incrementally downward until they hit a sweet spot?

Still, time will tell whether this lowered number will prompt more people to step up on their own, and seek out and rescue citizens by themselves as the counter creeps closer to a good reward, or whether it encourages more folks to sit back and engage in social loafing, presuming that someone else will do it and they can reap the extra rewards from farming and the group reward to boot.

I suppose part of the problem is random overflows. All the servers are mixed together as strangers, who may never meet again, and thus owe no allegiance towards each other. Iterated prisoner’s dilemmas can never happen, since no one might encounter each other again, and the rational choice becomes to defect all the time.

Within an organized guild, or with familiar people, more people are inclined to cooperate, as there is a larger guarantee that the group will be working together as a collective towards the big payoff, rather than being the one poor sap taken advantage of by free riders.

Perhaps a nice first step before any more “social coordination” challenges are made might be the introduction of better tools for organizing a map of random people.

Different colored commander tags… Ways to see and assign various parties, or see and direct different squads of people to certain areas… A district system a la Guild Wars 1 where specific numbers are assigned to overflows and people can queue up in orderly fashion like in the new and improved WvW maps of today… Less fanatical map channel suppression for people actually trying to give directions to a map…

…Alliances and alliance chat…

… maybe the ability to ACTUALLY SEE CHAT FROM ALL THE GUILDS YOU’RE IN, AT THE SAME TIME?

…Stuff like that.

GW2: Accessible, Approachable – Which is More Important?

Neither approachable nor accessible and ohhh so alone.

Stubborn has been musing about exclusivity and accessibility in WoW, and as usual, I end up seeing parallels in the game I’m currently playing.

He says:

I can pretty definitively say that… you’ll never please all the people, simply because of the players’ feelings about two mutually exclusive desires.  Every player either wants accessibility or exclusivity, and never the twain shall meet.

Those two polar opposites exist on an axis, sure, and people can exist towards the middle of the axis, but in the end, every player will prefer one of the following two options:

A game where everyone can participate in all activities
or
A game where merit earns you special opportunities

Sure, we can have deeper conversations and talk about points at which one opposite might be more important than the other, but in each player’s heart, one eventually trumps the other, and those feelings are what drives the whinefests associated with game changes.

Finding a good balance along this spectrum seems to be something that GW2 is also feeling its way towards with each episodic Living Story update.

Every few weeks, we sway back and forth between hard, difficult challenges with exclusive rewards and accessible content that can be done by most or all, with a veritable whinefest – or more charitably speaking, bountiful feedback – about that update’s activities.

At heart, I’m still a City of Heroes player. The original game was a magical collection of friendly, generous souls who formed a very strong community with a forums presence to match – folks thought nothing of throwing heaps of influence at random passing newbies to help them buy their next level’s upgrades, teams formed with little to nil picking and choosing of classes or levels (thanks to sidekicking and marvelous group synergies,) and the forums was filled with many helpful people writing guides on various effective ways to play each powerset, and relatively calm and rational discussion regarding the value of each class and the game’s various quirks.

That approachability and accessibility drew me and kept me playing.

Years passed, the developer helm changed hands and with the changing of the guard, there was also a noticeable change in design philosophy. Loot happened. Ways to upgrade one’s character to higher and higher tiers of power made hoarding money and items a lot more important. Rising power levels made the concept of “team” more redundant, and more about each individual and how fast missions that made money could be completed. The introduction of raids set a minimum gear level on participation, and even led to forced grouping for a while there.

You know what? In my opinion, the community went downhill fast.

The exclusivity gave rise to elitism. People got more insular and attacked any dissenters on the forums. A subset of players were all about the speedruns and played all group content that way, with beefed out characters that could pretty much solo the entire chain of missions. To heck with the team, and it came through loud and clear in their attitudes.

There is a reason why I choose not to play World of Warcraft.

The game leans too much over to the exclusivity side of the spectrum for my tastes by making raids the primary end-game activity.

To me, accessibility means inclusiveness.

I should not have to pick and choose and reject any person who is somehow “the wrong level” or “the wrong class” or “the wrong something” for a piece of content. I should not have to look upon any player as a potential impedance to my goals (consensual PvP excepted) and feel hostile towards them.

Players should not feel left out or blocked from progress due to a particular playstyle preference (eg. group or solo, easy fun or hard fun, liking a particular class, etc.) as this discouragement tends to lead to frustration and not wanting to play the game any longer, which whittles away at the community and game population.

And it should take a reasonable amount of time (and/or RL money) to reach an even max-level playing field. New (or poor) players should not be left behind in the dust by veterans who started the MMO at the dawn of time (or rich people with more money than sense) because that again leads to rejection of disadvantaged folk and gradual erosion of the playerbase.

So what about Guild Wars 2?

Well, I’m still playing it.

For the most part, GW2 remains a very accessible game.

Take leveling. There are multiple ways of gaining sufficient xp to reach 80 – the PvE open world (also known as hearts, DEs and map exploration, and/or mob genocide), WvW, dungeons, and of course, crafting.

Equipping yourself as you get to 80 also has multiple options – karma vendors, cultural stuff for coin, dungeon vendors, drops from mobs, crafting it yourself or, of course, the TP. One can pick between blues, greens, yellows or even orange, depending on how affluent one is feeling, and even blues will eventually get you through the content, though greens are the best compromise in terms of stats and affordability.

Once you get to 80, there are again multiple options for “max level” gear (here defined as the orange exotic baseline.) Karma vendors, drops, the TP, crafting, dungeons, WvW, pick your poison. If one finds themselves unable to afford this just yet, level 80 greens and yellows are sufficient to get by until one can work towards this goal.

Ascended items (or the max + 1 level) are meant as a medium term goal to work towards incremental improvement of a character. Again, there are multiple options, if more limited in nature. Laurels, or faithfully completing dailies, will yield an item after 25-40 days, depending on if one supplements them with badges of honor or not. Attending guild missions, which normally span a two week period, will yield an alternate means of nabbing accessories via commendations. Completing a fractal above level 10 will allow one to work towards rings, either via a lucky drop or patiently plodding through ten character-days’ worth of fractal dailies via pristine relics.

It is not unreasonable for even a new player starting from scratch today to reach a max level baseline which is functional and accepted by a majority in a month or two, or less.

And the beauty of GW2 is that they don’t even have to hurry to get there. (With some partial exceptions, there may be some discrimination in dungeons or WvW, and the erratic difficulty level that is the seasonal content of the Living Story may be occasionally frustrating.)

Dungeons are more of a mixed bag, though that’s probably partially the attitude of players who prefer the dungeon playstyle. There seems to be a competitive subset who enjoy speedruns and very specialized builds to eke out the very last scrap of optimal – picking and choosing the appropriate tools for the job and tweaking for efficiency is naturally part of the game for them. There also seems to be another group of players who strive to be like their idols but upon failing miserably to communicate or coordinate, turn on their party to assign blame and play the discriminate-without-understanding and kick-from-party games more than actual dungeon running.

It’s still possible to get into inclusive groups who don’t play in the fashion mentioned above, don’t mind spending a little extra time -and- successfully complete dungeons, so I’d classify them as moderately accessible.

WvW is, of course, one of the more accessible player activities to get into, though one can pick one’s level of dedication to the format through joining various guilds and the resultant community that forms on each server has an impact on how approachable or elitist a server “feels.”

If anything, it’s the Living Story updates that are the most schizophrenic.

One previously controversial update was the Mad King’s Clock Tower, that managed to produce unintended player hostility towards players on Norn and Charr characters.

With the Queen’s Jubilee, we have the Queen’s Gauntlet, which has produced conflict between those who want to farm Deadeye Dunwell for an accelerated gold/hour rate and others who are seeking to complete other achievements. Some players are openly being nasty to others in the hope that this will leave them with a personal arena to themselves for the maximum rate of gold earning.

The champions loot update, while pleasantly rewarding the task of defeating champions across the board, has yielded the unintended ember farm – a dynamic event which produces 20-30+ champions via scaling – whose successful cycling in 5-10 minute intervals is contingent on failing the timed event. This has suddenly produced conflict between those who want the event to succeed and those who want the event to fail, with resultant nastiness across map chat (from non-well-behaved parties of either side) can be more eye searing than the slideshow framerates.

The temptation was too great. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

The temptation was too great. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

With some irony, I note that the Queen’s Gauntlet is not very accessible (in terms of skills/builds needed) and the ember farm more so (though there’s still calls for grouping and staff guardian preferences,) but both are yielding the same presumably undesired consequence.

An unpleasant community is not an approachable one.

Not being approachable turns people off from wanting to join in and participate in the first place.

And even if they do, thanks to dangling low hanging very desirable fruit, they’re not really enjoying the experience beyond self-centeredly staring at the shinies in their own pocket.

That focus on self tends to lead to exclusive and elitist atitudes – disregarding other people’s preferences or discarding them after using them for selfish purposes.

Which fucks up the community even further in an ever vicious cycle.

I think ArenaNet had the right idea early on in their iterative design process where they tried to make sure that all nearby players’ interests were in alignment with each other. Dynamic events were crafted so that whatever actions players took were working towards completion, and not griefable. Dynamic events are supposed to be completed for the best rewards.

Given a chance, players can and will attack each other. It takes design to create a friendly, cooperative experience where additional players are only welcomed, not looked upon with suspicion.

It’s my hope that future Living Story updates will give a lot more thought back towards their original manifesto. Enough with the individual or dissimilar goals trying to interact in the same space – save those for private instances. Craft us shared goals, provide opportunities for players to help each other, eliminate ways players can grief each other.

And give us back our social cooperative world.

GW2: Fixing the Fractures

At the moment, it's ugly as sin, but there's always hope for tomorrow...

I still can’t stop thinking about fractals.

But rather, it’s nagging me at a deeper theoretical level.

Design is so important to a game. It’s so easy to nudge players into behaving one way or another, and inadvertently, I fear Guild Wars 2 has let players slip back into some of their older, negative gaming habits with how effectively current day fractals are -fracturing- the community.

Everyone knows the gathering node example by now. If two players are set up in competition for that one resource, very quickly, people start cursing that other bastard for ‘stealing’ ‘their’ node.

If it’s a shared node, then there’s less of a rush and time pressure, and opens out the option for the two players to cooperate on their way to the node, and harvest it together, both benefitting.

Of course, in practice even in Guild Wars 2, we see a certain subset of players having created their own personal version of rush and time pressure (get as many nodes as possible in a short period of time) and acting selfishly as a result. These would be the ones that ignore the mobs on the way, either using you to fight for them or assuming everyone is equally in a hurry and will run past, grab their nodes and go.

Depending on your expectations of their behavior, you might either get upset by their actions, or just aim a muttered curse in your thoughts in their direction, or shrug and ignore them because you like killing the mobs anyway. Or you may quickly change and adapt and follow their example, snatch the node and head off yourself. Or maybe you and they were on the same page from the beginning and both snatched and went without a moment’s thought that other players might play differently.

Complete unity is impossible. A well-populated MMO naturally contains different groupings of players with differing priorities. It’s quite natural that they will gravitate to those that share their own interests. What is important in the game’s design though is to try not to shove them at each other and force them to accept one group or the other’s playstyle because that’s just asking for a headlong confrontation complete with screaming, yelling and kicking in-game and across all manner of internet channels and bad blood across both divides. (Unless that result is what is desirable for the game for whatever reason.)

Ideally, you might want the different players to still come in contact with each other from time to time and find reason to work together or tolerate each other if the sum contribution is still valuable. GW2 was striving towards this in its world events, where pretty much any body is welcome, an extra hand, to do damage or rez or support, even if some levels are better than others, some builds are better than others and so on.

WvW also still relies on a sizeable militia body as well as organised groups, (if only because no one server can field sufficient organized group numbers 24/7 and maintain that for long),  even if differing values and strategies and opinions and the flood of adrenaline and competition can occasionally lead to some dramatic implosions or fractures in a community.  This generally results in fairly controlled, mostly mature behavior even through numerous disagreements from a majority of players, if only because overall unity is still the only way to get somewhere. But you can see some of the hidden, negative behaviors shine through when the situation breaks down – griefers, forum trolling, exploiters, back seat commanders, commanders turning on each other, individuals fleeing to save themselves, the works.

Failing which, another alternative is to separate out and leave the different players with differing priorities hobnobbing in their separate circles, achieving success in their own way and having little reason to quarrel with each other.

In retrospect, it seems Guild Wars 1 used this route quite considerably. PvPers did their own thing – make a PvP character, get all the skills already unlocked for your meta building contentment and eventually the devs did separate out PvE and PvP skills from affecting each other (there may have been some screaming in the meantime, I’m not sure, I wasn’t paying attention back then.)

For PvE, they included heroes and henchmen, and a very shallow level and stat cap. You know what this did? It immediately allowed all the soloists to segregate themselves and -still- feel like they were making successful progress in their own staggered time. You might race through all the missions in a week or two, I might take a month or more to get there. Doesn’t matter, we all got there in the end, and me being slower does not have to affect you because I would never join your group, my heroes would do just fine.

Of course, the drawback was that this left out the sociable groupers to quite an extent, who complained that it felt too lonely, the lobby instancing made it less ‘world-like’ and couldn’t find groups easily. However, the partial solution for them matched their nature – they could find a good guild, whom they might socialize with, group and play with and progress that way with others. No one’s solved the guild matching problem just yet, though.

World of Warcraft is perhaps another interesting study. There’s the obvious achievement focused hardcore raiders, whom are all found at the max level plateau, happily chugging through their vertical progression ladder of tiered raids and item levels. And, though I’m lumping them very generally here, there are more casual-oriented players who spend most of their time in the leveling game, socializing and what not. What is their unique focus? Chris Whiteside mentioned it in the GW2 AMA and I thought it very intriguing. Collection. They collect stables of alts of various races and classes, god-knows-how many cute pets, mounts, achievements, costumes, etc.

The real fanatics, of course, do both.

All kidding aside, to me, it seems they generally do operate in their own little spheres, content to ignore each others’ playstyles. However, it is contingent on the WoW casuals having cheerfully accepted that they will never ever reach the level of perceived ‘progress’ as the raiders. Any discontentment along that front and you can get quite the war.

And it does seem these days that Blizzard has had to stagger things out along a casual to hardcore spectrum or continuum in order to try and make everyone happy, rather than carry on with the bait and switch leveling/raid divide. The drawback in their system? People getting tired or jaded and burning out from running an endless treadmill of vertical progression.

Guild Wars 2 has an exceptionally tricky puzzle in their hands now. Both the Clock Tower and the fractals have demonstrated just how violent the uproar can become when one inadvertently forms and highlights divides in the playerbase (even along arbitrary lines, hello, character SIZE as a discriminating factor? Wow), and how reflexively negative behavior aimed at others can result.

Which is completely counter to the overall goal of having players cooperating and working with each other in relative unity, even if they do have to segregate out now and then into their little ghettos to hang with others of their kind.

We’ll have to leave it in the devs’ hands to see what they will do next.

If it were up to me though?

The first thing that comes to mind is to try and diminish the immediate divides. Fractal levels are way too fractured, and players are only receiving progression benefit from players of their specific level tier (or higher, if they would deign to come down to join the hoi polloi, which rarely occurs.)

The pool of players that can offer each other benefits has to expand a lot more rapidly, including making it easier for cross-server groups or guildmates of currently different fractal levels to play with each other, and indeed, for players to find and draw from the totality of the pool (aka LFG spam is not the most ideal of group finding methods.)

They’ve already said they will be including opportunities to obtain Ascended gear through other activities. Which should help to keep the separate groups happy doing their own thing.

What now concerns me is that the divides have already happened. This will leave scars in the psyche of the playerbase. We might already have gotten meaner, more elitist, less trusting, more selfish.

We’ve already seen most of the world abandoned, except for Cursed Shore and Frostgorge Sound, little comfort zone areas of the farmers – despite tweaks that have made other zones decently viable to run level 80s about in. The profusion of things to do at any one time also separates people – harvest nodes, chase world completion, WvW, PvP, jumping puzzle, umpteen dungeons including an infinite one now, farm DEs for loot, farm DEs for karma, farm mobs for crafting items, I’m sure there’s more I’ve missed in my casual run-on sentence list.

What I’d really like to see ArenaNet focus on in the next few months, or even in the long-term (because realistically, companies can’t react that fast) is to try and reiterate a sense of unity in the playerbase. Make us value cooperation and coming together again, if only for a little while.

I know it sounds very cheesy-Treahearne heal-the-scars-of-the-land at the moment. And lord knows I don’t want another one-off lagfest of epic proportions.

But I’d like to be able to run with a group of 10-20 out in the world again, taking down world bosses, running through mini-dungeons, falling and being helped through jumping puzzles, loling and laughing in a friendly manner with each other, cracking jokes and bonding with each other.

Hell, even a costume brawl. Or revive an interest in Keg Brawl. New mini-game activities of a nonserious non-end-of-the-world omg-the-dragons-are-here nature.

Get a guild, you say? I got one, thanks. And we -do- do this sort of thing in WvW, which has helped quite a bit with my recent morale problems.

But why dump the sole load and responsibility on individual guild leaders and officers and players? Design for the feature and give us players a hand here. Throw us already premade into random groups of 10 or 20 into not-too-difficult fun instances. Help us laugh and have fun with each other, not resort to blamethrowing and shit slinging for whatever twisted behaviorial reason. The dragons are always fun to take down together, but it’s notable that players have had to resort to an out-of-game dragon timer in order to congregate en masse. Guilds might benefit from more tools and features to get their members working together and hanging out together in one place. Hell, if you can solve the age-old problem of player matching with suitable guilds, that would be a design miracle and be ripped off by all future MMOs just like the uber-customizable character creator.

Here’s hoping to good things coming for Wintersday. Toys. Toys equate to casual fun, right? How could they possibly screw this one up?