Tag Archives: servers

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

Heart and Soul: The Guilds of World vs. World (Part 3)

For a game called Guild Wars 2, there is very little emphasis on guilds within the game. While guild missions exist, and there are dozens of perks to being in a guild, very few things are a reason to be together as a guild beyond a bigger friends list.

WvW didn’t get that memo. Guilds based around WvW get together for “raids” all the time, picking fights and achieving glory in dozens of different ways every night. How they raid can be anything from havocing the countryside, to simple duos and trios of roamers, to a few dozen people ready to find the enemy’s massed force and break it into bits.

Guilds provide so much to WvW that the mode is reliant on them for its success. Despite the lack of updates, the miserable state of balance, and the constant movement of players among servers, WvW continues. Guilds are the reason.

DISCLAIMER: All mentions of guilds in this post presume a WvW-focused (or at least, groups for WvW regularly) guild.

The Rallying Flag on the Battlefield

Guilds are known names in WvW, a group of players with the same tag prosecuting the war against the enemy. And just like actual military units with uniforms, a pile of similar guild tags following a commander becomes a place for anyone not in the guild to rally.

When a guild (or guilds) is actively fighting on a map, players who would have logged off for lack of anything to do stick around. And over time, especially if a guild is consistent, that consistent presence alone will increase the number of people playing at the same times, because players know that the guild will be there.

Commander Training Ground

Commanding takes practice. A lot of it. While some people have a natural talent for tactics, or strategy (or even both), fine-tuning it requires not just consistent practice by the commander, but a consistent group of people to practice with. Guilds provide exactly this. They are also a number of people that the commander can rely on in each and every fight.

Additionally, “PUGmanding” is a hard, demanding, and very difficult job to start. Rather than the presumed group of guildies who will raid alongside all but the most inept commander, a player attempting to command PUGs has to contend with people joining or leaving based on the outcome of each and every fight*.

*Granted, if a player can persevere past being an unknown name, they will have the same “pull” as a guild commander. But it takes far longer, and rarely happens.

Player Training Ground

Guilds also provide lesser-experienced players an ideal opportunity to learn alongside more experienced ones. Just like commanders, players themselves are able to learn and grow amongst a consistent group of people.

This also highlights the role of guilds as a trove of massed knowledge about WvW. Players who know what’s going on group together, and someone newer that gets in the same guild as them gain the benefit of their knowledge, no guides required.

A Reason to Stay

Guilds provide one of the most solid reasons to continue playing WvW: a like-minded community. Servers ebb and flow as transfers take their toll, a zerg of players one night likely won’t all be there the next. But a guild provides people to play with, to enjoy the game with.

“Succeeding” takes an immediate back seat to “enjoying.” Players spend less time comparing things like “rewards” to “time spent,” and cherish the time spent laughing, joking, losing, and winning amongst friends. And social interaction with friends is the core draw of MMOs as a concept. All other features are reasons to bring together friends*.

*This is rabid idealism speaking. The original core draw of MMOs was exactly that, but many features and systems in modern MMOs focus on providing individual enjoyment, rather than giving groups a reason to get together.

Further, server names are almost always followed by the major guilds currently on them. And as a group of guilds stays on the same server for an extended period of time, the server picks up their identity. While some server communities still hold their own identity, as more transfers have occurred, guilds have replaced that general server identity.

The Backbone of Activity

Piling onto all of these is the simple fact that guilds are the basis of WvW activity. They spend more time in WvW, bringing all of their advantages to other players along with them. Generally, the more active guilds on a server, the stronger that server is on the battlefield.

Likewise, a server without guilds, or one that abruptly loses a lot of guilds, though it may have WvW activity, has far less, to the point that many servers are declared “dead” by the WvW community.

Guilds are the Core of WvW

With all of these advantages, the importance of WvW-based guilds should be without question. They function as the very center of everything that happens, with other players, guilds, and even servers steadily bending to their movements.

The current system presumes that servers function as the center, but that has never been true. The structural problems that WvW suffers will not be fixed by focusing on servers, because they aren’t guilds.

With this in mind, any new system that seeks to solve the problems plaguing servers should be based not on servers, but on guilds. The proper foundation isn’t new, and dates back to the original Guild Wars: alliances.

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

Unbalanceable Problems: Why The Server System Cannot Work (Part 2)

World vs. World has rarely, if ever, been balanced. At present, the only exception to the rules is Tier 1 of North America, where a consistent detente of sorts has reigned for years. This lack of balance is the result of the server system.

Servers are an approximation of a massed fighting force, with the ability for any number of timezones to be represented by people. And while this approximation was very useful early in the life of Guild Wars 2, its use has been outlasted by its weaknesses.

Population Shifts

The core weakness of servers is how prone they are to wild, inconsistent changes in population. This manifests in three, interrelated ways.

Fairweathering

MMO players like to be rewarded for their effort. They really like to be extremely rewarded for their effort. For some, that means that when their server is winning, they show up in droves to secure the victory.

Conversely, if their server is losing, other things become more worth a player’s time. Put simply, if the match is going badly, it is near-assured to stay going badly as fairweathering takes hold on both winning and losing sides.

This is most clearly seen in the extreme rarity of last-second comeback victories. Oftentimes, the weekend alone decides the victor, because fairweathering cements the population and strategic advantages even further.

Designated Victor

DISCLAIMER: I did not participate in the third tournament. I was on hiatus from the game at the time.

For both the first and second WvW tournaments, silver and bronze leagues’ winners were known before the season began. When the lockdown period neared, players wanting to win evaluated the strongest-looking servers, and transferred to the best one.

With piles of additional bodies at all hours willing to overwhelm the lesser-populated opponents, victory went from “good chance” to “absolutely guaranteed.”

This was made even worse for the second tournament, when in an effort to “balance out” the various tiers, servers ranked 13-15 were made free transfer just before it. The 13th place server, Henge of Denravi, got dogpiled by so many people that those already on the server ended up complaining about how little WvW they got to do on account of queues. Spoiler alert: Henge of Denravi won silver league by a monumental landslide.

The Transfer Meta

Because of the relative ease of transferring, the most common answer to the question “my server’s WvW is dying, what can I do?” is “transfer to another server.”

And players and guilds do, with regularity. Server movements among the tiers are rarely because of vast improvements in strategy, or tactical skill. More typically, one server gets a lot of transfers at the expense of other servers, and moves up with stronger coverage.

The transfer meta has become more and more ingrained over time. At launch, free transfers caused ludicrous mass bandwagons, but now, players and guilds will build up a warchest of gold to transfer over to somewhere else whenever the fights become less appealing, or the server starts to look dead.

Combine all three of these, and servers aren’t working as semi-stable communities to gather together in the valiant cause of server glory. They are a gems-gated place where players and guilds happen to be at the time. Even the “ideal WvW” North American Tier 1 took 2 years to reach enough stability, most of it based around the idea of simply being how WvW is meant to be played*.

*I’m not commenting one way or the other about if they’re right, but that is their intent. Also, this stability recently changed by, you guessed it, guilds transferring off of Blackgate and onto Yaks’ Bend.

PPT vs. Fights

Another spanner thrown into the works is the chief division in strategic approach. On the one hand, some players who want to win in world score focus on Points Per Tick, the lion’s share of points gained. On the other, some players want to pit themselves against all manner of situations and see if they can succeed against all odds.

And they rarely, if ever, agree on the right way to WvW*. But one thing they have in common is this:

*Necessary caveat: some players PPT (as in, defend and attack objectives) purely to create fight situations, but both hardcore PPTers and hardcore fighters would say they’re “not playing the best way.”

The Nightcap Nightmare

In a 24/7, weeklong war, it’s a given that “nightcapping” is going to happen. People play at all hours, but not the same number of people play at every timezone. Thus, in non-peak times, whoever has more people gets a disproportionately larger slice of the pie.

While it can be argued* that the scoring system could do with some tweaking to better match player effort to their score impact, the strength of off-peak population drives a need to consider PPT at all times. Sometimes, this is to “make up for” a weak coverage area, and others it’s to beef up the lead even harder just in case coverage fails.

*And I and many others have in the past.

This grates on PPT players because in a very real sense, some players are more important than others purely because of what time they play, not because of any strategic or tactical skill they possess. It especially grates on people who want to win on score, as their efforts to siege, defend, and upgrade are more or less erased if they don’t also have a coverage advantage.

This also grates on players who want to pick a good, fun fight because over time, the coverage advantage becomes a stacked deck. Enemy structures are always fortified, and siege lines are always better developed on the opposing side. And oftentimes the joy of victory is erased by the fact that nothing comes of it.

“Just for the Fights”

Taking advantage of the massive combat that WvW regularly provides by seeking great fights seems like a good thing. But with the importance that scoring places on PPT, and thus on ranking, pursuing a “just for the fights” mentality alienates those who feel like they do the drudgework of defending, upgrading, and scouting.

Ultimately, this breaks the server, as people there “for the fights” eventually tire of others raining on their parade, and leave for elsewhere*.

*Consider both Sanctum of Rall before the Season 1 tournament, and Maguuma before Season 3’s.

In the present server-based system, both PPTers and fighters have to attempt to coexist, even when their approach to the game mode drastically differs. The tension of those aiming for a good brawl against those wanting victory in score never stops. And either people quit playing WvW, or transfer elsewhere.

Failing Pride

Despite all these problems, the myth of “server pride” persists. That the massive changes in population caused by transfers, fairweathers, disagreements in how the mode should be played, etc., are somehow staved off by a name. But discarding these, server pride has its own problems.

Servers are Meaningless

First and foremost, megaservers erased the backbone of PvX players who could potentially be recruited to “the war effort.” Add in the transfer meta, and servers as a fixed identity to take pride in doesn’t make sense.

When a player logs out of WvW, they go back to a hodgepodge of everyone, not only their server. Beyond WvW alone, the server is meaningless to the player. Often, servers are chosen not because of their history, but because of their position on the ladder.

Victory is Meaningless

Rewards for winning in WvW are terrible. They’ve never been good, even when unbridled karma training is encouraged*. And while it could be argued that mediocre rewards are to prevent people abusing the system for their own gain, that in no way justifies a terrible reward system that almost ignores who won and who lost.

*Here’s looking at you, Golem Event.

Knowing that the only reward is the temporary bragging rights of “we won” excludes a lot of people who would otherwise enjoy the game mode. Rewards matter, recognition matters, having something to show for the effort matters. And at present, none of those really exist for WvW.

Defending is Meaningless

Rewards for defending is even more nonexistent than capturing objectives. So at the very start, players have to weigh “pride” and intrinsic reward against the absolute lack of anything tangible. This is already a tough bar to meet for most players.

Because of the sheer strength of coverage, and the relative ease of doing Player vs. Door in off-peak times, the equation slips even further into the “don’t bother defending” side of things. Knowing that all of the hard work and effort will be removed as soon as people log off all but assures people won’t care at all.

Weigh all of these problems, and how they are closely tied with the server system*, and it’s a huge, unbalanceable mess. Servers are at once too fluid and too fixed, with the overwhelming option when things get rough to leave for greener pastures. Philosophies on how to fight beat out the actual act of fighting. And what little remains of the server definition is undone by terrible rewards and the fact they mean nothing anywhere outside of WvW.

*Honorable mention to the scoring system, but fixing an algorithm isn’t going to change how crummy massive population shifts are for the players, nor the core disagreement on how to fight.

The Myth of Self-Balancing

Many times when server imbalances are brought up, the “solution” offered has been that players need to move around to balance out the tiers and increase competition.

On paper, this sounds great. But players tend to be selfish, even in their altruism. Consider the example of Season 2 Henge of Denravi. Three servers were made free to transfer as an incentive, but only one got stacked, and ended up in the same place post-season as it had been pre-season. People came for their rewards, and left upon acquiring them.

Self-balancing is a chicken and egg problem of wanting competition, but also not wanting to be outmanned by transferring to a less powerful server. Short of a cold reset, there is no way to offer the right incentives to shift people around on servers until most matches are balanced. Again, NA Tier 1 took 2 years to become reasonably stable, and even that changed recently.

Conclusion

Looking back at asymmetric balance, it’s clear that servers fail at both major aspects of it. Resources for some servers are very limited, while for others available in excess. And rather than there being many different options for everyone, the server with more resources dictates what options the other servers get with fully upgraded structures to defend and paper ones to attack.

Servers are not the heart of WvW, and never have been. Focusing all efforts to building a structure around servers, with all their myriad problems, is not the right answer. What should be looked at instead is what has always been the backbone of the game mode: guilds.

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

Putting Guilds Back into Guild Wars: WvW Alliances (Part 1)

World vs. World is a stale, buggy, unbalanced mess. Which is exactly how the game mode launched back in September 2012, minus the stale. Regardless of some minor changes to the format and a trio of tournaments, the only major change slated for the game mode is in the indeterminate Heart of Thorns future. And while that might fix the “stale” and “buggy” aspects, it’s very unlikely to do much about the balance.

WvW is also a ton of fun, with endless potential for unpredictable and challenging encounters each and every time players log in. This is why despite almost no attention, WvW hasn’t collapsed utterly. It offers something that structured PvP and PvE can only dream of at present: consistent spontaneity*.

*Not to mention mass combat, duels, open-field fights, extreme build customization, and straight-up siege warfare.

Yet the primary draw of WvW has been whittled away over time by problems in its very structure, a structure that by definition cannot be balanced. Slapping a new coat of paint on the mechanics via the new borderland map and a few other shifts will not solve the biggest weakness of the mode: the server system.

Over the next week (plus a day), I will lay out why the server system is broken, and what to do to create a better, longer-lasting system that WvW can thrive on far into the future. As a spoiler, it involves guilds and alliances.

But before I do that, I would like to write a quick aside about the concept of Asymmetric Balance, which is key to my entire argument about the server system being unbalanceable.

What is Asymmetric Balance?

Asymmetric balance is providing each team with a limited, but identical set of resources, and requiring the teams to decide how to use them across many different options. This is typically expressed with people, but also includes things like siege, supply, and upgrades.

Realm vs. Realm, World vs. World, whatever the term, thrives on asymmetric balance. It means that victory is determined by who deploys their resources best, either in defense or offense, distraction or brute force.

It does not mean that every fight that occurs on the battlefield will be “fair” in the sense of the same number of people on each side. Asymmetric balance is all about trying one’s best to make it unfair to the enemy team, pulling a fast one around their decisions and outplaying them on the strategic level.

But That’s Impossible!

Yes, it is. However, it is an ideal to aim for. Asymmetric balance can be reduced to two phrases:

  1. Limited resources
  2. Tons of options for using those resources

And these phrases will help illustrate exactly why the server system cannot create an approximation of asymmetric balance, but alliances can.

A look at all the problems that the server system has, and why they are impossible to fix is here.

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