Friday, May 18, 2012

Brave New World

This morning, I read an excellent post over at Under the Pale Tree interviewing the writing team for Guild Wars 2 about each of the races in the game.
Angel: I use a key phrase for each of the races that helps me get back into voice after I’ve been writing for a different one. For humans, it’s simply, “They’re only human.” For me, this evokes a sense of vulnerability and potential for making mistakes that is core to this race. They’re tough, yes. Badass even. But, they’re only human.
For charr, I think, “Yes, boss.” It brings me images of militaristic loyalty, which is the glue that holds charr society together. And yet, it doesn’t imply blind obedience, but rather leaves an avenue open for challenge and even mutiny. Among the charr, it’s the strongest leader who gets to be boss.
Whenever I’m going to write for norn, I think, “By Bear’s hairy butt!” and that says it all. It puts me in just the right mood, a little smile on my face, a sense of being a bit naughty, and yet ready for anything. That’s the norn.
With the asura, getting into character is as easy as putting, “you idiot,” on the end of everything I think. It works in the recording studio as well, and we suggest to our voice actors that they imagine “you idiot” on the end of every line they read.
Finally, with sylvari, the key phrase I use to pull myself into their heads is “knights of the round table.” This sends me right into their nobility, their civility, their honesty, and even their sheltered innocence. I sit up a little straighter and write my sylvari dialogue with dignity.
 And now for something completely different.

I've written about this elsewhere before, but one of the biggest frustrations I've always had with MMO's has been the sheer perversity of their incentive structures. You pay up front, spend a weekend downloading a massive client, fork over your subscription fee, and then expect to hop into a diverse and meaningful world, filled with exciting characters and varied experiences that you'll be able to share with other players out to experience the same things.

And therein lies the bait and switch which has been at the heart of the MMO world for over a decade now. We play, ultimately, for the community. Our relationship to that community can vary significantly; to the PvP player, that community is the obstacle to overcome, to a PvE player, that community is an ally to be recruited, to an RP player, that community is a maze to be explored. However, regardless of what our relationship with the community might be, that single fact remains; Community is what differentiates MMO's from every other kind of game.

MMO's have been the hostage crisis of community in the gaming world ever since Everquest stepped onto the scene, WoW only going further and more beautifully into the same idea, and ultimately presenting the philosophy in its purest form. It is gameplay holding community hostage. "If you want to enjoy this community, you will submit to the gameplay."

So, you want to enjoy competitive PvP? Well, you're going to have to spend months leveling a character to the cap, then you're going to grind some kind of currency for months and months just to get the gear you need to play at the highest levels. Congratulations, now you can have fun!

So, you want to tackle some epic PvE battles? Well, you're going to have to spend months leveling a character to the cap, then you're going to grind some kind of currency for months and months just to get the gear you need to play at the highest levels. Congratulations, now you can have fun!

Even then, the "fun" is immensely disheartening. Do you mean to tell me that at any given time in WoW, all of the players who are raiding are only killing the same bosses, in the same dungeon, for six to eight months at a time? Think about the Dragon Soul raid. How often do you show up at the portal, excited for the night ahead? "Woohoo! Tonight, I'm going to use a slightly different build that might increase my damage by 1% so I can meet the minimum required DPS in order to roll against the other players there for a marginal stat increase!"

Even then, the idea of "loot" in MMO's is incredibly demoralizing. Think about it, for just a moment. You are competing, not against a mighty foe that you need to vanquish, but against the other players you're with. I once showed up for a raid, only to find that there was another player there of my class and spec. I wasn't happy;  "Oh great, we've got another player helping us, we'll be more likely to succeed now!" never went through my mind. I was angry. Angry because his very presence in the same group as me meant that any and all of my work that night might amount to nothing. The other players weren't my allies, we were grudging enemies who were forced to work together to achieve shared, selfish goals. And just wait for the loot rolls to start, any pretense you had of being on the same side vanishes immediately.

And that is exactly the way that MMO designers want it to be. The only way to have "fun" is to fight against the other players in your group for limited resources; the allotment of those resources being the primary qualifying factor in your ability to have "fun." It doesn't matter if you're the best Balance Druid player on the server, when it comes time for that Heroic Dragon Soul run, guess who they're not bringing? Maybe your spec is underperforming. Maybe your gear just isn't good enough. Maybe you're unlucky on all the rolls. Maybe you don't have hours and hours at a time to devote to watching a few health bars go up and down.

Any of these things is enough to disqualify you from having "fun."

Their goal, their incentives, are to keep you playing for as long as possible, in order to draw more money from you via subscription. In that case, what good is it to give you all the fun up front? It's far better to give you tiny, tiny doses of fun, and promise that the next one will be bigger, while making it far harder to get to. Desperate for that next dose, the players will put up with all sorts of backward mechanics, horrible loot structures, boring fights, and artificial progression caps; all of which are designed to inhibit fun. Do you really think that running heroic dungeons over and over to grind out reputation with some random faction is fun? Do you really think that queueing for the same battleground over and over again, just so you can get points to buy better armor, is fun?

The honest truth is, they're not. These things aren't fun at all. It's time we stopped pretending like they are.

Guild Wars 2 looks at each of these questions, and answers them completely differently.

So, you want to enjoy competitive PvP? Cool. Why don't you hop over to the Mists once you finish making your character, and jump straight into max level PvP with the highest levels of gear and abilities?

So, you want to tackle some epic PvE battles? Cool. We put a raid boss at the end of the tutorial, have fun taking him down three minutes after you're out of the character creator!

So, you want to be rewarded for your efforts? Cool. All rewards are distributed based on what you contributed to the fight. The more players there are in the fight, the more likely you are to succeed!

Guild Wars 2 is the first game where community is not hostage to gameplay. In Guild Wars 2, the gameplay is community.

In the previous BWE, I rolled a Norn elementalist for kicks. Five minutes into playing, I found myself trying to tackle a really difficult group of monsters. Out of nowhere, a ranger runs up to me and starts helping. In WoW, that would never have happened. She would have waited until I either killed them and they respawned, or I failed and died. Helping me would have benefited her nothing.

But that wasn't WoW.

We stomped through those mobs, had a good laugh, figured out that I could create lava fountains which would make her arrows do massive damage, then proceeded to stomp our way to level 15, throwing earth shields around, double kiting a giant frost elemental, and getting lost on a giant frozen lake. And this was just barely out of the tutorial area. Nonetheless, I had more fun in that single evening than I have had in all of my years playing every other MMO combined.

When I was younger, romping around through wal-mart, I saw WoW advertising itself as a "giant online world." That is completely inaccurate. WoW is a giant slot machine, where you have to fight the other players for a shot at being the one who gets to pull the lever.

Guild Wars 2 is the game I saw in my head as a kid when I thought about what an online world should be. A brave, new world, fresh and bold, waiting for some adventurers to meet by chance, or fate, and to venture forth, crafting their own stories and legends as they go.


  1. "WoW is a giant slot machine, where you have to fight the other players for a shot at being the one who gets to pull the lever."

    So true. I'm only reminded at the frustration of repeated dungeon and raid runs, the resentments between players who should be working together, the frustration of RNG and the tedium of DKP, the being used as another step in someone else's gear treadmill and having to take part in it myself just to get a passable looking set of armor.

    It's refreshing that a game company not only believes in rewarding players for their effort and abilities without them having to resort to out-of-game methods, but that they are also proactive in designing a game that supports positive player interaction instead of making excuses.

    Sure we're all responsible for our own actions, but that's no excuse for setting up toxic preconditions that inherently undermine community.

    ANet manages to encourage both self-reliance and teamwork. I'd go so far as to say that self-reliance is essential to teamwork. It's when people rely too heavily on others for their own character development that teamwork crumbles and resentments build.

  2. WOW to me = world of computer virus watch out,i lost 2 computers from playing warcraft both were hacked into and virus downloaded to them, wow is the only online game i ever got hacked on and i have been playing guildwars 1 for so many years i cant remember how long,i discourage playing warcraft unless you want to be hacked

  3. Let's not turn this into WoW bashing, please. Yes, there are many things Blizzard could of done better or just differently, but I, at least, have some respect for the company. World of Warcraft was my first MMO, and I think this is true for many people who play MMOs today. Without WoW, I'm not sure I would be even interested in Guild Wars 2. WoW was the first real mainstream MMO; it can be seen on Billboards, TV ads, magazine articles,in pop culture references, etc. and has really drawn in a playerbase that provided the groundwork for future investments in the MMO market Do you think companies would have invested so much money in an MMO, if there wasn't WoW around? Investors needed to see a giant success like World Of Warcraft before they were willing to develop games like Guild Wars 2. Would the MMO market be better or worse off if WoW was never developed? I believe no one could say with certainty.

    I am not saying WoW is perfect, I think we can all safely say that. There are many complaints, and many would argue ArenaNet is working harder, performing better, and creating more innovation than Blizzard ever did. However, we all need to show a little bit of respect for the mammoth MMO, even if some of us believe the game led the industry down the wrong path.

  4. You're preaching to the choir here brother Kaenes... although I've rarely seen it said more eloquently.

    I enjoyed my experiences with various MMOs (starting with EQ over ten years ago) quite a bit, however there were always the little frustrations and annoyances you described associated with those experiences, and they were noticeably absent from the great experience I had during the BWE.

    Quite honestly, if you're not impressed with the depth of thought and excellent design decisions being made by ArenaNet... well... you're just not paying close enough attention.