Well, yesterday’s news confirmed one of my fears for the launch of GW2: guesting will not be available at launch. If you don’t know what guesting is, it’s a feature that promises to let you play PvE with your friends on other servers for free. In a past post I lauded guesting as something that really sets GW2 apart from the antisocial server model of traditional MMO’s that keeps people apart. While they never made a binding promise that it would be available at launch, they certainly intended it to be:
‘When Guild Wars 2 launches, you will also have the option to play with your friends on another world with our free “guesting” feature.’
So this is an unplanned deviation from how ArenaNet wanted things to go. Fortunately, always true to the spirit of community, there will be free unlimited server transfers for an unspecified period when the game launches. This window will close when “server populations stabilize.” Hopefully the end of free server transfers will correspond with when guesting becomes available, but it’s not guaranteed in the post. I find the lack of a timeline a little worrying–the posts gives us no idea whether guesting is weeks or months from being ready. Let’s hope it’s the former.
I think we can speculate with some accuracy as to why guesting was delayed–the ship date. With development of GW2 beginning in the Spring of 2007, the game has been in production for nearly five and a half years. That’s a fairly standard development time for MMO’s–the original WoW and Rift had similar development periods. As much as ArenaNet kept up the mantra of “when it’s ready” and praised NCSoft for the latitude they get to take their time and make the game awesome, pressure to get the game to market definitely entered into the equation this year if not sooner. Furthermore, the fans are getting impatient too. My original estimates were way off–I thought we would have been playing GW2 around this time last year. Delaying the game after announcing the release date is just unfathomable.
The pressure of a deadline forces the developer to prioritize the must-haves above the nice-to-haves. Lacking a must-have feature would leave a gap in the game’s functionality that cannot be filled any other way, while a nice-to-have would be something convenient but can ultimately be accomplished via some other means. With all of the levers available to ArenaNet as far as the number of servers, server population caps, and control over server transfers, guesting must be considered a nice-to-have for launch. If ArenaNet needs to end free server transfers before guesting is ready, they could discount the cost of a server transfer during that period. There’s a lot they can do to keep people from freaking out, and more importantly they seem willing to do it.
Clearly, based on the old blog post linked above, they thought it would be ready. As a software developer, coming up with estimates for how long something will take to implement is an art, not a science, and people of all experience levels can easily get it wrong. Even if the estimates were accurate, more important stuff can come up that must be finished first. When you set your ambitions as high as ArenaNet has there’s always the risk you won’t get to everything you set out to do. And that’s okay. Frankly, when you have to look as closely as I am to find small things that won’t make it by launch, that’s a sign that the game is doing pretty damn well.
The only major consequence of this that I can see is that inevitably some people will be caught off-guard by the switch from free to paid server transfers and will end up locked on the wrong home server. This will result in hurt feelings and some unplanned paid server moves for those people. Ah well–omlettes and eggs and whatnot. The launch plan isn’t exactly what they said originally, but it seems perfectly reasonable.