Tag Archives: mercenaries

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

The Case for WvW Alliances (Part 4)

World vs. World needs major changes, and while the recent announcement of WvW upgrade changes (and associated guild upgrades) could be a part of that, it doesn’t address the structural issues of WvW as a whole.

To recap on why, consider the unbalanceable problems already present in the mode. They’re the same problems that have existed for years, and no number of upgrades, maps, or similar feature changes are going to fix them.

Ultimately, the problems are present due to the focus on servers, a fluid collection of guilds and players, rather than the actual core of the mode, guilds themselves. For all the advantages guilds provide, including WvW’s very lifeblood, they have far too little focus.

Enter: The Alliance

Alliances, as I will present them, aim to reduce (or outright eliminate) the structural problems that WvW suffers from, and provide a system that caters to both the hardcore and the casual player of WvW.

Alliances have three facets: a maximum of 10 guilds, a consistent ladder, and regular seasons.

Maximum of 10 Guilds

Alliances can be of any size, up to a limit of 10 guilds. Guild membership limits functionally set the maximum size of an alliance. In other words, an alliance can have anywhere between 1 and 5000 people in it. While on the face of it, this sounds hopelessly imbalanced, hold that thought.

Every alliance needs to register, with any member guild starting the alliance and inviting the other guilds into it. This could either be done on a website (easier to implement), or in game (easier to utilize).

Guilds not within a registered alliance are considered mercenary guilds. More on that later.

Consistent Ladder

The existing server-based system shows a consistent ladder, but limited to only 8 (or 9, in EU) tiers. Simply put, matches will always pit 3 alliances against each other. However, the number of matches dynamically changes based on the number of alliances present. For example, if there are only 9 alliances, only 3 matches are available, but if there are 42 alliances, 14 matches will happen.

This dynamic expansion allows for alliances to create their own experiences. Smaller alliances that want to do small-group tactics, roaming, and the like, will be able to exist, without being pressured by the fixed number of matches into zerg tactics. And of course, Tier 1-type matches with masses of players capping out every map will also exist.

If there isn’t an evenly divisible number of alliances, the 1 or 2 “extra” are considered mercenaries as well. “Extra” is determined by age of alliance; the newest alliances are mercenaries.

The ladder itself can retain a Glicko-based rating system, with specific adjustments made for the possibility of alliances collapsing, or several alliances forming from match to match.

Once a match starts, an alliance and all its member guilds are locked to that match until it ends. Even if a guild moves to another alliance, it won’t move to the new alliance until the next match begins. This is critical for balance and reducing population-jumping exploit scenarios.

Likewise, the players in each guild are match-locked. If they move guilds during the week, they don’t change who they fight for until the next match.

EDIT: Multiple Memberships and Alliances

Since players can have as many as 5 different guild memberships, there is the possibility of being a member of multiple alliance-affiliated guilds. For balance, a player can only participate in one alliance match. As such, a player with multiple guild memberships has to note which one they fight for week to week.

Similar to the match lock, if a player changes their fighting guild during the week, it doesn’t change their match until the start of the next one.

This could be implemented as either the guild they are representing at the time of reset, or a specific checkbox added to the guild UI.

Regular Seasons

Seasons are a great idea at their core, but they have always stung due to population imbalances that trump competition. Overall, the point of having regular seasons (perhaps, twice a year in spring and fall) is to create competition beyond the typical ladder matches. League size should adjust based on the number of alliances present, with overall 6-9 alliances being in each league.

Season-based rewards should be a mix of goodies for all players of WvW, and prestige-based rewards exclusively available to alliances and their members. To steal an example from the previous seasons, Mistborn Hero’s weapons for all players, and finishers and guild hall decorations for alliances.

Once a season starts, all alliance guilds are locked to that particular alliance (and their matches) for the duration. Members, however, retain a match-based lock.

All three of these aspects create a solid environment for hardcore, organized WvW play. Further, it’s play not just for maximum-population alliances, but also deliberately smaller ones.

But what about people who like dabbling in WvW, or don’t want the commitment of signing up for an alliance?

Mercenaries: The Fighting Reserve

Mercenaries augment alliance matches. They also provide a system for non-hardcore players to enjoy WvW without forcing them into Edge of the Mists. Anyone not in an alliance at the beginning of the match is considered a mercenary*.

*As noted above, guilds not within alliances, and alliances that are “extra” are also considered mercenaries.

Whenever a mercenary player queues into WvW, they are given an option of which match to play. Upon picking a match, the server compares population numbers for each alliance and slots that player into the least-populated alliance. Once selected, that player stays with that alliance for the remainder of the match.

This sounds restrictive, but a mercenary has the choice of every match being played. Potentially, this can include “free for all” sorts of matches similar to Edge of the Mists where mercenaries are fighting against each other*.

*One aspect to consider is how mercenary match locking will work with guilds and parties. One possibility is having the first person in a guild to queue in to a match locking all other guildmates, whether or not they queue into WvW. Another is less ideal, but maybe unavoidable: each person gets slotted by the balancing algorithm, regardless of affiliation. This leads to players getting separated from their friends, but is simpler to balance.

However, alliance members hold priority to queue into their matches. This means that if a map is capped and there are mercenaries within that map, an alliance member queueing in “bumps” a mercenary out.

Bumping should not be instantaneous. Rather, all mercenaries not in combat with enemy players when a “bump” signal is sent will get an option to switch map voluntarily for 30 seconds (perhaps with a minor wXP bonus for doing so). If no one volunteers, one is selected at random and given a 5 minute timer before they are removed from the map. If the selected mercenary dies, they are kept from reviving or waypointing, and told to switch.*

*Also, if more than one volunteers, they all get the bonus.

This gives priority to alliance members to decide their own match, but prevents mercenaries actively engaged in fighting from getting an unwelcome zone back to Lion’s Arch.

Mercenary Matches

Mercenary matches function similarly to the existing Edge of the Mists: a free-for-all set of maps that have no bearing on an alliance’s score. The difference is that while Edge of the Mists can create (and destroy) infinite copies, mercenary matches should be restricted to a small percentage of active alliance matches and persist throughout the week. This provides an incentive to seek alliance matches, as well as prevents ghost maps from happening.

Aside: Population Balancing Data Analysis

Mercenaries present a unique challenge and opportunity. Ideally, they function as population balancers, filling in minor gaps in coverage or capability, while still leaving the onus on each alliance to show up and win over their opponents.

But to do that well requires capturing and analyzing data of both alliance and mercenary activity. Which mercenaries go to which alliance is a very important question, because done poorly it uses data that bolsters imbalances, rather than smooths them out. At minimum, I think the following data should be used to decide where mercenaries go:

  1. Average alliance population per hour, per day (establishes the baseline of possible imbalance)
  2. Average mercenary population per hour, per day (establishes how much is available to balance from)
  3. Historical scores and PPT per hour, per day (counterbalances, using cases where fewer, more skilled players outplay more, less skilled players)

Using these three factors, with statistical analysis and data over time, should provide a solid basis for balancing mercenaries into alliance matches.

Conclusion

Alliances, in concert with the mercenary system, provide opportunities for both the hardcore and the non-hardcore. It gives those who know exactly what they want out of WvW the freedom to do just that, while offering those who aren’t sure yet the ability to dabble.

Furthermore, as I’ll explore tomorrow, alliances address all of the problems that the server system has suffered from, either eliminating or reducing each and every one.

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