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The Pros and Cons of WvW Alliances (Part 6)

An alliance system for World vs. World is a massive overhaul of the existing server system. But what it provides to the longevity and stability of the mode cannot be understated. For every disadvantage, far stronger advantages are present.

Advantages for the Playerbase

The alliance system strikes a balance between giving hardcore players something to fight for, amongst like-minded people, and allowing more casual players the flexibility to find what they enjoy.

Caters to the Hardcore

First and foremost, alliances provide a simple structure for consistent competition. Hardcore players want the excitement of facing off against a difficult foe, and proving victorious. While karma-training might provide lots of loot, it’s a pale shadow of the joy of beating an equal.

Second, they create asymmetric balance by reducing the amount of imbalance present in the existing, tier-constrained system. Add in mercenaries, and being provided with an equal amount of players to prosecute the war effort is much closer to a reality.

Third, hardcore players get to pick their overall meta. Alliances are flexible, allowing players to organize into whatever size and philosophy they want. Then like-minded alliances end up fighting each other, creating competition at multiple levels, far more than the current “only in the high tiers” server system.

Does not exclude Casuals

Mercenaries, those unaffiliated with an alliance, get to pick their match each and every week. They even get to change matches within a week, dabbling in a siege-based meta one night, and a fight-focused one the next. And if the alliance-based matches are of no interest, they can queue into the free-for-all of a mercenary-only matchup.

And since mercenaries augment existing matches, while giving priority to alliance members, their presence is more often helpful than harmful. No more “randoms clogging the queues” or “the fairweathers went home” complaints on map chat*.

*And if an alliance has fairweathering issues, that can be solved by restructuring the guilds within. No more blaming people who have no stake in the matter.

Creates a Smooth Transition from one to the other

The major advantage of registered alliances is that all member guilds and alliances are known by the player base at large. This allows alliance members to know who the competition is, and gives mercenaries the ability to know who they are fighting with.

Any given mercenary can spend time over the course of a match alongside a guild, learning from them and seeing how they operate. And if said mercenary is so inclined, join that guild and enter the meta and community he prefers.

Mercenaries can also never commit to an alliance, reaping the reward of playing whatever meta interests them at the time, all while not getting in the way of those who know what they like. Mercenaries and alliance members alike get to spend time surrounded by those who enjoy the same things.

Advantages for Developers

Removes the overhead of servers

Named servers only exist, and only matter, because of WvW. Ever since April 2014 when megaserver rolled out to PvE and structured PvP, WvW has come off as the oddball. While elsewhere players can enjoy the game with whoever they want to, in WvW it matters where specifically you are from.

Alliances remove the last reason to keep named, specific servers around. Playing with people is either a simple matter of partying up and joining the same match, or joining the same guild they’re in. Rather than suddenly being unable to play with each other, WvW will act very much like the rest of the game.

Enables easy adjustments based on demand

The alliance system avoids the square peg that server tiers have been compared to the round hole of WvW player interest. Rather than having to weigh server mergers to create “the right amount” of people against a sudden influx of players, alliances make it dynamic.

However many alliances there are determines the amount of WvW going on. While mercenary matches could potentially be a large overhead over the number of alliances, the hardcore player base has always put in the lion’s share of time in WvW. The amount of activity they have is a solid barometer for how many servers should be apportioned for WvW*.

*Before you all skewer me with pitchforks, I mean hardcore in the time spent sense. Those who spend more time in WvW will be more affected by large changes than those who spend less, by definition. Also, the amount of effort and time that the hardcore want to spend on an alliance system will likely reflect the amount of time casual players will want to spend.

Stronger, More Useful Metrics

Alliances also create a much better situation for using metrics. Rather than having to extrapolate hardcore, casual, and other types of players based on overall population numbers, the alliance member/mercenary distinction creates much better data.

Also, the differing metas among matches can show the popularity of certain styles of play. Players can choose what they want to play, and the data will show that.

Simpler ground for experimentation

Alliances are known quantities. Rather than having to push a change or event to every server, whether or not it’s good for them, ArenaNet gets the flexibility to pick specific alliances for test-driving a change, or activating an event designed to switch up a given meta.

Taking it a step further, the developers can straight-up ask alliances “hey, we’re considering doing this, would you mind testing it in your next match?” Put it to a poll, using the guild membership rosters to limit who votes. Add in a minor reward as a “thank you” for testing, like additional wXP gain or a nice piece of gear.

Mercenary matches could also be used explicitly as test servers. One match could be a “beta” server that anyone could join, providing a test within the live environment without forcing those uninterested in testing to participate as well.

Finally, having changed matches occurring in tandem with unchanged matches provides terrific grounds for comparison. WvW changes based on a host of different factors, and seeing both match types at the same time controls for many of them, making the effect of the changes much clearer.

Creates the means to be “hands-off”

Above all, an alliance-based system, despite its upfront effort, drastically reduces the amount of upkeep ArenaNet has to do to keep WvW going. Rather than screaming for “new content” every single day, players will have the power to create new situations and new approaches with alliances.

“New content” has always been a bandage seeking to make up for the lack of balance and competition in WvW. Alliances patch up a lot of the balance and competition, reducing the need for something new*.

*Though no one is opposed to new content. It just doesn’t have to happen every single month for WvW players to be happy.

WvW has always been about communities competing against each other in a structured environment. Alliances allow communities to do that, on their own terms. No longer does ArenaNet have to spend time trying to change up all of WvW to fix issues that only happen in certain parts of it.

The Prime Disadvantage

Before I get to any other disadvantages, alliances are player-created, player-managed, player-driven. As such, it can go terribly, terribly wrong. Consider these two examples of alliances going poorly:

Too Few Alliances

If there are too few alliances for the styles of play, hardcore players continue to have unavoidable mentality conflicts. Far from allowing alliance members the flexibility to pick their own meta, it will replicate the existing problems in the middle tiers of some people wanting much different things than others.

Likewise, there won’t be enough alliance matches to allow mercenaries to augment. They could very well overwhelm the alliance itself, purely because there aren’t enough alliance members to set the tone.

Stacking Servers Alliances

And if players stack a single alliance, or very few, trying to create an unstoppable juggernaut, competition vanishes. The existing situation of the vast majority of hardcore players concentrated on a few servers, all battling with queues amongst each other, will return.

Mercenary players will constantly be added to massively underdog alliances, keeping them on the back foot each and every time they load in and lowering their interest. Nobody likes always losing, so they will stop queueing into alliance matches, perhaps favoring ultimately meaningless, but even, mercenary matches.

Disadvantages

Removes the Ease of Servers

Servers are simple, almost foolproof, from a “loading in and fighting now” approach. A player, no matter what server he is on, can pull up the WvW panel, click a map, and be fighting instantly. It’s delightfully uncomplicated.

With alliances, either the player is loading into a specific match as before (happens to be in an alliance guild), or has to pick what match to be in. For a newcomer, that’s a fairly tall order and can stop people before they even start.

To alleviate this side of things, match selection for new players should be automatic for the first few times. Put them where most of their guildmates are, or where their friends or party is, with no prompting. This keeps things simple for newcomers, but retains the flexibility for those with more experience.

Separates Players into Two Explicit Classes

In the server system, players are in the system’s eyes perfectly equal. No one is more important than another; only server choice matters.

Alliances separate players into alliance members and mercenaries, giving specific advantages to each, but not treating them the same. The “bump” aspect of alliance matches, explicitly places alliance members above mercenaries.

This stings, especially when it’s a systemically required difference. For all the advantages of competition, dynamic balancing, and mercenary flexibility, knowing that an alliance member can give a mercenary the boot doesn’t feel good.

The “bump” could be completely removed in implementation. This keeps two classes, but once they’re in a match they’re equal. My concept with bringing in a “bump” aspect is to avoid the opposite of the advantage above: alliance members kept from their only match griping about having to wait for randoms.

Removes Server Culture

Even if server culture isn’t as strong as it could be, it still exists. Switching to an alliance-based system removes name-based culture in one fell swoop, forcing members of those servers to reorganize into an alliance to maintain the culture they have.

This is unavoidable, and while a change to alliances could be broadcasted well in advance, people will still be caught offguard, and very unhappy about losing their server that they’ve been a part of for a long time*.

*I would argue that to make an omelette you’ve gotta break a few eggs, but that doesn’t change the fact that someone’s egg can be very precious to them, unbroken.

Conclusion

Alliances cannot work without the conscious, direct, and intentional effort by the hardcore WvW player base to make it happen. It’s taking all of the tools of community creation and creating competition and giving them squarely to players. It’s a big challenge, and it can very well backfire and kill WvW forever, but if players rise to it, the result will be amazing.

And while alliances do have their downsides, what they provide to both players and ArenaNet is much better than what the existing server system can provide.

As stated earlier, switching to an alliance-based system provides an ideal opportunity to update and enhance rewards. Rather than matches being meaningless, tomorrow I will lay out a possible way to adjust rewards based on the new system.

The Alliances Series

  1. Putting Guilds Back into Guild Wars: WvW Alliances
  2. Unbalanceable Problems: Why the Server System Cannot Work
  3. Heart and Soul: The Guilds of World vs. World
  4. The Case for WvW Alliances
  5. The Alliance Structure: Sidestepping the Problems
  6. The Pros and Cons of WvW Alliances
  7. Rewarding the Competition
  8. Implementing Alliances