A Look at the Great Guild Wars 2 Ectoplasm Bug of May 2013
Not too long ago, Guild Wars 2 had an interesting thing happen to their game – a bug caused a high-level ubiquitous end-game-important crafting item to stop dropping from salvaging items. Those of you who play GW2 know I’m talking about Globs of Ectoplasm, otherwise known as “ectos.” The bug didn’t last long, but it had some profound effects on the community and economy.
The Great Ectoplasm Bug of May 2013
First, let me describe the bug.
Essentially the primary place you get ectos is from melting down rare and exotic with salvage kits—which come in various qualities from crude to awesome (i.e. the Black Lion kit)—causing the item to drop between zero and three ectos. For an average of about .9 ecto per rare item.
The bug, however, caused this drop rate to diminish to almost half that.
When this bug was introduced two things happened: the community began to notice, first through people who just wondered why they weren’t seeing as many ectos drop when they salvaged, some began to investigate and run their own tests on the subject; and second the economy began to reflect this because the demand remained the same although the total flowing into the auction house dropped causing the price to rise.
According to a blog on MiniMaxir written by Max Woolf:
“On May 28th, a player noted on the official GW2 forums that out of 166 salvages, he only received about 80 Ecto, or about 0.5 Ecto/Salvage. This is approximately half of the original rate of 0.9 Ecto/Salvage. Since the rate of new Ecto entering the market was halved with no change in demand, the Auction House price for Ecto began to steadily rise.”
Other players had experienced the same, of course, and began to build the community sensation that something had happened to the ecto drops—some cited the rise in the cost on the auction house, which wasn’t a killer increase but by the 30th they had gone from around 18s to 24s, an increase of almost 33%.
The small experiments already done seemed to be good indicators that something was up. However, if this wasn’t enough for the community, even more people began to pitch in on the forums:
“…players continued to post in the thread and began quoting even larger sample sizes, such as a salvaging 500 Rares resulting in 286 Ectos (0.57 Ecto/Salvage) and salvaging 775 Rares resulting in 402 Ecto (0.52 Ecto/Salvage). With those sample sizes, the probability that the true salvage rate is unchanged from 0.9 Ecto/Salvage is essentially zero.”
As this rising tide of concern built up, ArenaNet’s on staff economist appeared in the forums—I’ve spoken about what John Smith has done in the past when I spoke about his infographics—and noted that the staff was looking into the problem.
The problem was finally patched May 30th, with ArenaNet acknowledging that the bug had occurred and a patch was very swiftly deployed.
At the end, Smith left a final message: “Thanks to everyone for your help identifying the issue and providing great data for me to start with in my research.”
The volume of ectos is on its way to recovering—but the price has certainly fallen back to very close to where it historically has sat before since the fix. (As you could see in the fig 1.1 graph in the video, having some trouble attaching it to the blog post.) Although with a few more months (between the making of the video attached and this publication) it would appear that ectos have an inflationary trend. Starting at around 18s in September 2012 and trending steadily up towards 22s now in August 2013.
Players experience game lifeworlds with expectation of developer impact
I’ve mentioned before that MMO games aren’t just sterile universes built-and-left behind, even as structured cultural spaces they have the implicit give-and-take between community and developers and ordinarily this is invisible. Bugs, especially those that present themselves from the “invisible” mechanics of the game, quickly display how community and devs interact and this is a brilliant example of that.
In a business sense: this is about customer service.
In a cultural sense, this is about the fact that the developers and operators of the world are part of the ongoing construction of the community and how it interacts with the world. For the most part, many players go about their day not thinking about the mechanics or the developers—except perhaps in a superstitious sense of attempting to guide the random number generator or curse the developers when something doesn’t go their way—but when an actual change comes down that wasn’t part of the expectations of the community.
The developers may control the world (and its underlying mechanics) but they’re not wholly separate from the context of the culture within the game and how AreaNet approached the bug—and the community’s reaction to it—speaks to how well integrated they are with the needs and “fun” of the culture they’re attempting to cultivate in game.
Following the discussion that emerged in the forums it started with a single post outlining a single experiment. The evolution of the thread began to wind through individuals checking the math, people noting the changes in prices on the market—and as expected those who framed the discussion as market manipulation. To this end when Woolf writes that eventually even those who framed it as manipulation (and also the ArenaNet devs) saw that the statistics panned out to be true.
The exercise of players seeking information about the game via lived in experience, experiments, etc. is common across communities. As an example the “deep breaths” mechanic used by the dragon Onyxia from World of Warcraft has been used in the past—the “deep breath” has a tendency to inflict huge amounts of damage but according to Blizzard devs its entirely random. This hasn’t stopped players from producing hypothesis that involve player position, gear, attack patterns, etc. Another example of this is Star Trek Online’s battle with Donatra who has a cloaking ship—her behavior with cloak has long been a discussion of players as to what causes her to trigger the cloak sooner. This discussion became so heated that a dev had to respond.
The virtual worlds of games maintain persistent “invisible” mechanics that players use in their everyday activities either intuitively, with gained experience/knowledge, through experimentation, or from communication with other players. As we’ve seen, when these mechanics change—or are perceived to change—there is a demonstrable reaction from the community.
 Stego.3148, et al. (2013, May 29) Guild Wars 2 Forum “Changes to ecto salvage from rares” retrieved from https://forum-en.guildwars2.com/forum/game/gw2/Changes-to-ecto-salvage-from-rares/first
[2,3] Woolf, M. (2013, May 30) Minimaxir.com “How MMO Players Proved that Developers Bugged an Item Drop Rate” retrieved from http://minimaxir.com/2013/05/deep-breaths-more/
 borticuscryptic (2013, July 31) Star Trek Online Forum “Dev clarification needed on Donatra’s cloak behavior” retrieved from http://sto-forum.perfectworld.com/showpost.php?p=11686641&postcount=6