April Feature Pack: Social, account-bound and free

Continuing their coverage of the April 2014 Feature Pack, ArenaNet have released three smaller posts in two days: one on ‘social play‘, one indicating even more things shifting from character- to account-bound, and one announcing free armour repairs. Each of these covers some more basic features that don’t need as much elaboration as previous posts, and while not insignificant I think most of them will come as no surprise to those who’ve been following the releases closely – all of this fits along the same principles as what came before.

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Social Play:

  • Guild leaders will be able to see when their members last logged in (another feature that was requested early on and is only just now delivered; Guild Wars had this functionality and its lack was much lamented).
  • Sections added in the Looking For Group tool for WvW, by each map area.
  • Also in the LFG tool, the ability to declare what language a group will be operating in (language conflicts are fairly common in MMOs generally, so this may be helpful both for people looking for other language speakers and for people who strongly want to avoid them).
  • Some currently unspecified minor improvements for guild members.

Now Account-Bound:

  • WXP (WvW experience) will become account-wide rather than tied to a specific character, reducing the strong incentive to do all one’s WvWing with just one character. WvW ability bonuses will remain character-specific, though, so each character can still play differently – they’ll just all have the same amount of points that you’ve earned.
  • Ascended equipment will shift from soulbound-on-equip to permanently account bound (i.e. you can’t sell or trade it, but you can pass it between your own characters).
  • Legendary weapons will remain tradeable until they have been equipped, at which point they will become account-bound rather than soulbound.

Becoming Free:

  • Armour repairs will no longer have a silver/copper cost.
  • Trait resets (available from the hero panel as explained earlier) will not either.
  • To balance the loss of these minor gold sinks, less silver/copper coins will drop in champion loot bags and as event rewards (to “spread out player activity a bit”; i.e. to discourage event trains a little?).

Also mentioned in this last post is some slight tweaking of outputs from the Mystic Forge (“Please note: the rate of precursors will not be affected,” they hastily pre-empt), which is apparently due for changes in the coming year. The Mystic Forge already gets a good amount of use from high level players, but I don’t think anyone would object to ArenaNet trying to make it more fun to use.

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So, overall we have a continuation of already evident design trends. Removing the gold cost for trait resets enables and encourages people to change their builds and be flexible, as did the ‘reset from the hero panel’ feature (and the wardrobe, of course, in a different way). Making armour repairs free is well explained by economist John Smith: “We feel the time penalty to return and repair accomplishes our goal enough to not need a secondary cost that punishes newer and less experienced players the most.” So, new or low-level players are being supported more – probably sensible for an MMO that appeals to a more casual audience and routinely brings in waves of fresh new players via advertising campaigns.

The shift to account-bound rather than character-bound achievement is already widely noticeable, and in fact has been part of GW2’s design from the beginning, it’s just spreading to more and more parts of the game. This may be an example of GW2 still struggling to break out of the conventions and traditions of the MMO genre. There have certainly been other areas (like the problem of locked-in-time Orr maps in a living story context) where the developers have found that innovation in one area necessitates innovation in others, simply because the standard way of doing things is actually counter to their current goals. Certainly, as an RPG player I find the shift away from characters having to earn their own prestige items strange and perhaps slightly uncomfortable (even if I don’t think it’s a bad thing intellectually) – but the motivation seems to be to remove the choice between one super-powered and fancy ‘main’ or many mediocre, limited ‘alts’.

Plus, still in part due to the lack of subscription fees, ArenaNet actually don’t want to see their players feel obliged to repeat or grind content too much once they’ve done it. In this, they’re fighting against the ingrained habits of veteran gamers who’ve forgotten that it was ever something they ‘had to’ do.

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More feature pack updates to come, and next Tuesday an April 1st patch day whose content remains a mystery and so will probably prove entertaining!

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