It’s a weird thing to love a game because of ownership. I love the ideas and rules man has placed with regard to property, especially intellectual property. Property of the mind. Guild Wars was the first MMO that made me feel like I owned the game. Amidst subscription services and embryonic free-to-play games, Guild Wars made me feel like a customer empowered. Memories of Guild Wars 2’s development have amplified that feeling of ownership to an unexpected level for the upcoming game.
My first memory of Guild Wars 2 surrounded a text string somebody found in the Guild Wars 1 data file. A developer had created some quest text involving a centaur attack on a village. That made Guild Wars 2 feel more real than any press announcement. They had been prototyping the dynamic event system using the Guild Wars 1 engine. ArenaNet also said that Guild Wars 2 would be in beta by the second half of 2008. It would be four more years before there would be any beta weekend events.
I played Guild Wars 2 for the first time at PAX East 2011 at the NCSoft party. I was one of the few VIPs to be admitted an hour early to play the game and hang out with the devs. I had watched all the videos from previous demos hundreds of times, and it was a blast to play… But, the devs were there too! I could not just sit there and play with these gods of creation walking around. I played the demo for 20 minutes or so, and I had to go talk to the devs. I never have regretted this decision.
I do regret that I felt like I was at some weird place between fan and journalist. I remember heading to a presentation for the press with Jeff Grubb and Colin Johanson explaining the game. There was one games journalist who sat through the presentation with extremely cool disinterest. Was this how professionals presented themselves to developers? Should I assume a similar demeanor? I kept my mouth shut through the presentation, even though I knew virtually everything that they presented. I was just happy to be invited. Afterwards, I had to say something… you know, like a journalist, and instead Colin thanked me for writing about Guild Wars 2 on Kill Ten Rats. He was a fan, of me?
While pondering my place in the world, and trying to find the Guild Wars 2 fan-organized lunch, Jon Peters saw me stumbling around the huge lunch hall. Earlier that morning he had waved at me as the ArenaNet wolf pack went in to the convention hall to set up. I timidly waved back knowing that I was heading to the plebeian line instead of entering with all the journalists. Now he had come up to me, mentioning that he was eating lunch with a Turbine dev. I squeaked out that there was a fan luncheon, we chatted for a brief moment, and I scampered away. Only then did I realize my mistake. Here was a dude asking in dude fashion if I wanted to join him for lunch. I would later fix that mistake.
Only a few months after PAX East, I was invited to Guild Wars 2 Fanday. There was also a corresponding press junket at the time. Rubi, of Massively at that time, was invited to the junket instead of Fanday, and it was there that it all clicked. I was a fan that had become integral to the community. I could behave in a professional manner like a journalist, but I was a fan that wrote (and sometimes asked questions). Rubi and I had very similar writing styles, but she was a journalist first… crazy, awesome fan second. The difference startled me in exactly the right direction.
My favorite moment at Fanday was the company-wide dinner. Here I table-hopped just to meet all the devs. Jon Peters and Jonathan Sharp were sitting at one table. I plopped down, and we had some great conversations running from work to family to, naturally, Guild Wars 2. I felt like a friend, which is the demeanor I should have grasped earlier at PAX East. At another table I sat with Kekai Kotaki and Kristen Perry who were chatting about music or anime. They politely asked about my time at Fanday, but that was a polite aside rather than the central topic.
Mike O’Brien sat down as the crowd thinned. I didn’t realize that I was one of the only fans left as everybody else had run back to play more Guild Wars 2. There, I saw the studio as a family. Mike O’Brien appeared to be taking a sample of the goings-on at the studio on a very casual level. He would ask a few people how things were going, but I felt he really cared. A QA guy, Evan, sat next to him, and Mike really seemed attentive to listening and appreciating the fact that Evan had just been promoted to more responsibility. Sadly I did not get a chance to talk to Mike, that being my only moment, but I felt that playing the “Fan Here” card at that moment would have destroyed the scene.
Later that night I had another great conversation with Randy Price and Jeff Grubb. There was no more “fan” pretense. We were chatting like people at a cookout. When Regina Buenaobra drove me to the airport for the sad departure, she gave me a hug. These are the moments I cherish during the five years of Guild Wars 2 development. These are the moments that have shaped me as a writer for Kill Ten Rats.
There are people behind the game. Real people with real hopes, fears, worries, and loves. They are putting their entire being in to making Guild Wars 2. It always enrages me when a close member of the community just goes off on a design decision or bug. I think somewhere in the internet divide they forget that they are talking to a human being. I feel if they were writing to a friend with some constructive feedback the magnitude of their thoughts would have much greater effect on ArenaNet.
It is for my favorite memories, I wish I could be going to PAX this year. I can only imagine how happy the devs are going to be post-launch with a game that has sold numbers already surpassing their expectations. Part of my sour-grapes rationale says that the PAX party is really for them. They put their blood and sweat in to the game, and they deserve it. I know that my “work” pales in comparison to any of them. Still, I would give anything to be an invisible-friend-on-the-wall to hear tales of their accomplishments, failures, and future dreams for Guild Wars 2.
I am back at here and now. In a week or so I will get the Guild Wars 2 soundtrack. A few weeks later, I will stay up until the ungodly time of 2 AM to be there as soon as the servers open. The journey to this point, as insignificant as it is in the course of Guild Wars 2’s development, was momentous for me. I feel I have put some small stake in to the game. I feel empowered to make even greater memories with Guild Wars 2. There is no greater feeling for me going in to launch.
what dreams may come