[GW2] Memories of Guild Wars 2 Development

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.

–Ravious
what dreams may come

This entry is for the fourth GuildMag blog carnival, “Five years of waiting“.

34 thoughts on “[GW2] Memories of Guild Wars 2 Development

  1. Jason Fisher

    Great post! You’re right, the people who makes this game are real people! I was in a similar position when I went to Eurogamer where the CM’s thanked me for my efforts in helping keep the Facebook community friendly and answering questions, letting them focus on more important parts of their job.

    I haven’t had the privilege of speaking to the team as human to human instead of fan to dev yet but I’m hoping that will come soon!

    We all have these great memories of the development and will most likely share more in the future!

    P.S why does everybody keep getting the soundtrack before me? Mine still hasn’t dispatched :’( :D

      1. Genkides

        I ordered also, but do not have it. All I know, is that it would be shipped within 4 weeks. lol Is it possible to check when it does ship on their site?

  2. Verene

    I must say, I am totally jealous of your experiences here. Still at the same time, it makes me want to hold out that I can do these things at some point.

    I do certainly enjoy talking to various devs on twitter – they’re all just such great people! So down to earth and fun.

    Also, haven’t gotten my soundtrack yet either – I ordered it that first morning, and it did say 4-6 weeks, so still a bit more time. I don’t think any have shipped yet.

  3. ste

    I was expecting an article describing the different development stages the game had gone through, such as learning skills by doing tasks instead of unlocking them by using weapons and the old energy/potions system.

    Instead I read an article on how a guy had food with the devs on one occasion. Little bit disappointed……

    1. Craywulf

      You wouldn’t be so disappointed if you were reading about the good times you had sharing a meal with your friends.

    2. Zolid

      I must say I feel the other way around! Here I expected another of the million articles containing stage-by-stage developement and all that. Sure it’s intresting as well but it’s the stories behind the fans, the understandance for mistakes and the critics about the devs, good and bad, that makes the game so great! Atleast that’s my opinion.

    3. Curuniel

      One man’s love for an artistic creation and the group of people who pour their hearts and souls into it in the firm belief that they are working on something worthwhile which will bring joy to others.

      Yep. Pretty shallow. A dry account of design iteration would have been much more professional…

      …but, as Ravious said, he’s not a professional. He’s a fan. Feel the love instead :D

  4. Genkides

    Ravious
    I must say great great article. You said alot of things I can relate to. I was at my first PAX at PAX East in 2011 also. I only had a sunday ticket but did go to the Meet and Greet at the hotel. I bet we crossed paths but did not know it. I did not get in line in time to get a spot to play but was amazed at seeing the game(knowing Id play it sunday) and to have some drinks and just be around Anet.
    I was really new to who the Dev team was and I even feel ‘silly’ asking some of the trite MMO questions. Now, I understand the game and the philosophy of the game so much more. But I did make up for at Pax Prime where I talked to many of the Devs. They even signed a few of the bandanas for 2 guildies. Also Colin and Kristen were so kind to talk to my freind( who was a guild leader of a guild I was in in GW) It made her day.
    I agree with you, that after following the game, seeing/reading the dev blogs, we really feel like we are friends with them. At Pax Prime I had that feeling but felt bad they did not know me. I do wish I can cross paths with them again. I am happy and little envious ;-) that you are close to them. I also agree, that if people felt they (Anet) were their freinds, all responses and forum posts would be soo much more kind and respectful.

  5. Gnoviere

    It’s hard to believe the journey is almost over. I’ve been playing GW1 since it launched, though it was always a side game for me, a world I jumped in and out of. When GW2 was announced, it felt special… and it’s lived up to that promise. I’ll be there when the servers open(4am my time) — I was scheduled to work that day, but for the first time in my 33 years, I’ve booked the day off for a game’s launch.

  6. Aryador

    Wow! I’ll have too the soundtracks, I’m waiting it so so mutch and I’m lucky because headstart will be at Noon here so when I get up I just update fast gw 2 and then waiting for the last few minutes to lunch finally that game I was waiting for 3-4 years!

  7. Rae

    I’ve got to tell you, I really appreciated what you wrote about the people behind the game. I’ve worked with many developers over the years, and I’ve glimpsed the hurt when a favorite design or feature is picked apart mercilessly by players. Not always – as with anything, to some, it’s just a job… it’s just a way to make money. But that’s never the vibe I’ve gotten from the ANet team.

    When I first started playing GW1, it made a huge impact on me. I was fascinated by the care and detail I was finding throughout the game. At the beginning of my first Wintersday in-game, I sent a message to Regina via her Guru account, asking her to pass on a note I’d written to the ANet staff. I wanted them to know how much I appreciated what they’d created.

    I honestly didn’t expect a response… I kind of thought it would get lost somewhere in the ether and that would be the end of it. Instead, not only did Regina write me back, but I received one of the holiday cards signed – with lovely, friendly little notes – in the mail a few weeks later.

    That entire experience “sold” me on ANet as being a company worthy of my respect and, dare I say it, my love & loyalty as a gamer. It led to my spending thousands of hours soaking up all-things-Tyria.

    Now, amidst the counting down of days until GW2 releases, I find myself imaging what’s taking place in their office… how the staff is feeling… how excited they must be. I’ve actually cried watching some of the videos they’ve made for us about GW2, about the work they’re doing – tears that fall because I can FEEL how much they love what they’ve built, and because their passion is so obvious. It’s infectious, really.

    I wonder sometimes how many of my fellow players will understand just what ANet is giving them via GW2. It saddens me to think many may not. There’s something very special about GW2. It’s sort of like the way your grandma can bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and somehow they taste “better” than when you make the exact same recipe yourself. I’m kind of an old lady… my kids are grown, and it’s been a few decades since I had a grandma to bake cookies for me. Instead, I’m going to be the grandma doing the baking soon.

    Playing GW2… well, it makes me feel like someone just baked me a whole big batch of cookies, chock full of love, and tasting just that much better for it. People can say, “it’s just a game” all they want… but it’s not. No more than it’s “just a cookie.”

    1. Curuniel

      Haha, awww :) Regina wrote back to me once too, more recently, to a very vague “I want to be you when I grow up” kind of email. It was really personal and considerate. I really admire so many of the ArenaNet staff!

  8. Stupid

    I was lucky enough to have very similar experiences with Dark Age of Camelot when it was under development, and during it’s many expansions. It’s a bit of a rush to beocme actual friends with MMO devs, and it will always annoy you when players don’t think through the effect their comments have on the actual people behind the code, artwork and system designs.

    To most players, the devs are not people. They are nameless, faceless “Red Names”. They are responsible for nerfing the player’s favorite exploit (even though it might have been a game kiling loophole). They are the invisible parents that smack you on the head when you’re naughty.

    And sadly, they are forgotten far too often when it comes to accolades for a fun, entertaining and enjoyable game production.

  9. Rhonda aka Malibu Barbie

    Reading this kinda got me emotional…I always felt the same way. How do you present yourself on a professional level and still be able to be an uber fan! Thanks for writing this–it made me smile :)

  10. Anafielle

    While I will be joining the GW2 family as a noob, I play WOW pretty regularly. Someone on my twitter feed linked this blog you wrote here, and I had to reply.

    I have had such similar experiences as a gamer and a blogger attending conventions and meeting developers. This post was so very familiar to me. The part about meeting devs at least! It was like you were writing about how I felt!

    I’ve been to blizzcon a couple times. I’ve met several people who work for Blizzard and I’m sure I acted like a complete idiot the first couple times I interacted with them. Couldn’t shake this thought of, OH MY GOD I AM A FAN AND YOU ARE A DEV OMGGGGG. These are the people who make my game work!! I hope they, like, want to talk to me! Only later did I realize they were interacting with me like completely normal and friendly people. I must have made a serious fool of myself.

    Then I went through a phase where I was actually afraid to discuss game mechanics with these people I had met, because they might think I was annoying and only seeking info for my blog… when I actually wanted to know their thoughts! And you know, talking about the things that they do that make a game fun, and what kinds of thoughts they have behind the design changes they make… that stuff is so interesting! But I was afraid to ask for too much info and just avoided the topic of wow whenever I talked to them.

    Unfortunately for them I got over this too. Now I pick their brain about as often as I feel like it and I let them pick and choose what to answer and what not to.

    People who work on MMOs and people who play them naturally form a tighter community, I feel, because we have to put up with each other for so long and because MMOs are a sort of game that is designed to constantly evolve and be improved. The devs are meshed so much more tightly into the commuity and that makes them exponentially more interesting to talk to– and I think it makes them enjoy getting to know people who are part of that community. It’s a two way street. I know devs and CMs and such that enjoy nothing more than events like conventions where, instead of playing the wizard behind the curtain, they REALLY WANT to get to know players and hear our thoughts and stuff. It’s such fun!

    Now you make me regret that I won’t be going to a game convention this year. =/

    Anyways thanks for the post. Loved it!

    1. Ualtar

      Massive – yup it was pretty big
      Multiplayer – yup lots of people there
      Onine – yup needed the internet

      So really, it kind of was, or at least people played it like it was.

      1. gwj

        MMOs are typically associated with open worlds, so a lot of people called GW1 a Co-Operative RPG; the fact that every piece of content is instanced makes everything a “mission” (not the GW1 jargon) that you have to form a team for, something you rarely see in online RPGs. Global Agenda dabbled in the same concept and was also called a CORPG, although it included a few open-world-ish zones so the line was a bit blurred.

        The line isn’t really well noted in the name, admittedly, but one could argue that “massive” requires that the world is open and all players on the same server are on the same copy of the world at all times.

  11. Dan

    This was one of the most beautiful and humane posts I’ve ever read about a video game in my life. If only people knew how to talk like this on official forums and other places of influence for developers, games would be in a much better place, with a lot more people pleased with changes than they are now.
    It’s why I hate some companies whose developers simply don’t listen to their fans anymore and answer them with ambiguous answers which don’t mean anything in the end. Fake grins and closed ears.
    Bravo! The last 3 paragraphs had me in tears.

  12. Stephen Kong

    I had serious chills when I finished reading your post. It is totally awesome that, just everything. Your experience was awesome, and Arena Net is awesome too. The devs are wow, I just wished I was there too! I’m slipping on words… sorry.

  13. Lynn TJ

    I’m all teary. Thanks for the wonderful post and the extraordinary replies. I’ m been playing GW since day one — I have such admiration for the development team. Just to think that it is their dreams, aspirations and code that will,engage me for years to come is quite amazing. I salute the Anet team and their devoted fans and followers. It’s a privilege to be numbered among you!

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  15. Spen

    Maybe I’m cynical but I find it odd that it’s such a revelation that devs are people too.

    Sure, they seem really interested in building a relationship with journalists and fans, but they’re a business as well, with a product that’s been in the making (and hyping) for five years to sell.

    I’m hoping all the goodwill they’ve carefully cultivated doesn’t evaporate in the face of poor game design decisions post-launch.

  16. Gabriel

    Bravo sir! Well done. To be honest, I had to shed a tear. Guild Wars is one of those games that’ll last a lifetime and will always be there for us. The team is absolutely amazing and will always be on the right road, despite wrong decisions. I’ve grown with Guild Wars and finally getting to play it, it’s a miracle come true. I remember the other day, while cleaning my storage unit, I came across with an old gaming magazine dating 2008. There was an article about Guild Wars 2, I actually laughed, I mean the game was about to be released. I travelled in time and remembered my reaction to the announcement of Guild Wars 2… and could nothing else besides crying.

    Kudos and thanks for the wonderful post!

  17. Ettesiun

    I rarely comment on blogs, even if I read some of them. I have come to discover your blog through GW2 (GW2guru ? not sure) two years ago, and from your blog, i discovered the whole galaxy of Games Blog. So first thanks for all your work on this blog.

    But what take me to comment this post is more than that : I think this post is one of the best (or the Best) post I have ever seen on Game Blog. You give us a part of your life, and I am thankful for that.

    So : Thanks !

  18. Kiwi

    I just wanted to say that this post really touched me.
    You good sir truly did amazing work :)

  19. loulaki

    excellent post, thats the reason i double think before i judge a game or a movie where have been worked so many people for such a large creation …

  20. lucas

    standing ovation time.

    that’s probably the greatest post and well-timed for the final closing chapter of devlopment heading into release.

    i wrote a couple of letters to anet during the course of development. you know. general questions. i didn’t have a blog, or anything remotely connected to reporting. my opinion doesn’t matter (comparatively). but every time, they wrote back to me without using a cut-and-paste robot glob of info which didn’t address my questions. they were polite, interesting, and as honest as they could be.

    compared to many other gaming companies, they’ve been something rare: human.

    and that, to me, is the other reason this game is building up to be the best mmo so far.

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