Guild Wars 2 Saturation and the Third Option

I think Dan over at Biff the Understudy sums up what has happened in the week of Guild Wars 2 quite nicely. I’ve read every interview, watched videos multiple times, and delved in to the forums. There is just too much to talk about. It’s like standing under a waterfall trying to fill a plastic cup. And, there will be more today!

Two quick semi-relevant points: it sucks that the extreme focus of this week is on Guild Wars 2, when it is Guild Wars’ birthday.  It feels like whatever celebration we had for Guild Wars already passed.  But, it seems Guild Wars Beyond is in it for the long haul so in a way this year the birthday was smashed flat across months instead of one critical day.  Second, most of the Guild Wars 2 interviews keep saying “in the coming months” or “for the next few months” instead of “year.”  This could go two ways: at the end of “the next few months” (1) beta starts, or (2) they go back in to submarine mode ala Diablo 3.

Anyway, the one thing I want to discuss is the “third option” for playing socially, which is, in my humble opinion, the biggest MMO culture changer at this time presented by Guild Wars 2.  The third option, according to Mike O’Brien, is to just naturally play with the people around you.  No soloing, no grouping, just play.  Most people are in the same area for the same reason anyway.  Might as well play together.

MMOs have been slowly creeping toward the third option for some time. Warhammer Online tried hard with Public Quests, but the need for the holy trinity, a party (to fully use skills), and a specific amount of people (critical mass) to beat the Public Quest put that mechanic down.  Lord of the Rings Online hinted at the third option with the very focused quest areas in the Siege of Mirkwood expansion.  And, Blizzard brought in the dungeon finder to randomly group players according to a rough group recipe to laterally attain the third option.  Each of these mechanics helped to push wallflowers together, but that’s why none of them, in my opinion, achieved the third option.  The third option helps players already on the dance floor.

The game that came closest to the third option, that I’ve played, was Tabula Rasa with the control points.  Players just naturally funneled to the mob assaulted mini-towns.  No grouping was required.  You just made sure you had tons of bullet shells and dead mobs falling to the ground.  It was too bad the whole game could not have been based around the simple mechanic.  But, that’s what ArenaNet did for Guild Wars 2, and had to do.

With the third option present, the whole MMO has to take this in to account.  I am not even talking about the amazing synergy Guild Wars 2 proclaims.  Quests, combat systems, friendly-target skills, class niche (e.g., holy trinity), regeneration, loot distribution, XP distribution, ad infinitum all need to built around the ability to just stand by the next guy and kill the same wolf and it be a good thing.

For so long MMOs have been built on efficiency.  How fast can I level?  How fast can I kill ten rats or collect ten rat spleens?  How fast can I get 10 frozen dingleberry tokens?  I have found that most MMOs, when the thing can be soloed are unfairly balanced to be more efficient for the soloer.  Look at the outcry when Lord of the Rings Online’s skirmishes launched because players felt that doing solo skirmishes was way more rewarding than group skirmishes.  The developers tried claiming that they had statistics showing it wasn’t true, but it didn’t matter because players felt like soloing was more efficient because it usually is anyway.

If Guild Wars 2 can pull off the third option, I think it could change the MMO culture forever.  However, a lot of variables could make or break it.  Ditching the quest system is a good start.  I have faith in ArenaNet, but I am reminded of my own zealotry for Public Quests, even in beta when they were fantastically populated.  Now they aren’t even considered a feature for Warhammer Online.  Regardless, the third option will be the main feature I will be watching for in Guild Wars 2.

noodle, don’t noodle

13 thoughts on “Guild Wars 2 Saturation and the Third Option”

  1. “Players just naturally funneled to the mob assaulted mini-towns. No grouping was required.”

    Create a “Horde” mode for Cities and PvP points (or do this for PvE as well)…

    What an awesome solution.

    As to the PQ’s in WAR, people still show up, but the population is so low that it is still not enough to take some of them through to the end.
    Luckily I have a set group and can at least do most of the Easy and Normals to their final loot roll.

    My hope is GW2 “scales” the Public options to the number of players…
    Example: 5 people come to a town that has a dragon attacking, but a party of 3 more join as the battle is underway.
    A small contingent of Minotaurs come from the nearby hills and start to attack seeing the area may be vulnerable (i.e: more people came into the area, so lets add some challenge with some weak mobs to cause issues to the players).

    One can only hope.

  2. Oh gawd, I hope this open event system is amazingly awesome to play. To run towards a place and be joined on-the-fly by fellow adventurers, with no hassle about rewards, getting in the way, not contributing, synergy, team roles or grouping, well that just sounds very pleasant.

    Music to my ears *lalala*

    Nice post Ravious :)

  3. Having to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to almost an hour sometimes trying to group in other games, I’m really looking forward to this public quest type of content. I’ll be in MMO ecstasy if they can make a persistent world (that does not just reset monsters every few minutes, but with longer term changes), dynamic quests and (hopefully) a seamless world where you can go from one end to the other without having it broken up into artificial areas. And also not so “path” limited, please let me wander wherever I want to go, even if the monsters there might eat me alive, I enjoy exploring. The only thing I’ve seen mentioned that I’m not liking is the “worlds” comments, that GW2 might be broken into separate servers, like most other games, instead of everyone on one virtual server like GW.

    1. This is one thing I hope they address soon, but from what I understand moving between servers will be more painless than a conventional MMO and I would guess less painless than the current GW system. :)

    2. “Having to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to almost an hour sometimes trying to group in other games, I’m really looking forward to this public quest type of content.”

      What amazed me the most about WAR.

      I have never grouped so much in any game.

      All I had to do was open up a menu, look at the list and find players who were formed in small groups (say two or three players) and then click join.
      I could then find them on my map, and run over and join them for combat and questing.

      I hope it works that way in GW2.

  4. It’s all looking jolly encouraging. I loved WAR’s Public Quests. Having an entire world based around the idea sounds wonderful.

    I had some thoughts about how their unusual “buy the box, play free forever” payment model might make the “everyone gets xp for everything” work only for them and not stand up for subscription games, but I’m not sure that’s true when I think about it more.

    1. It’s only unusual in today’s MMO market. That is how the majority of games are still purchased, and why GW has often been cited as a gateway game. ;)

      GW’s short leveling grind and instant level 20 PvP characters do work best in a nonsubscription model.

      Getting xp for everything is one way to underline the “we’re here to play, not grind to the point where we can play” mantra from the manifesto. Sub games could take a leaf from that notion without really breaking anything.

      I do think the “third option” is a wise one, and well worth embracing. Time will tell if the tech and sociology are workable. I think they can work, but MMO devotees have a lot of mental ruts to deal with.

  5. I wonder how they are going to handle mob spawns. It may not seem like a big thing, but the realistic spawning of the Bane in Tabula Rasa significantly added to the seamlessness of control points and the world in general. In my mind control points and realistic spawns were the best new features I’ve seen in MMO’s. Hunkered down on the wall of a control point, and seeing the drop ships come down loaded with Bane sparked real fear and excitement for the coming battle. Laying down cover fire and drawing attention while other players blasted down the defense shield of an occupied control point, then joining the rush inside to capture the base when the shield fell evoked a real sense of comraderie even though I had never player with these people before then. Events like these happened almost every time I went near a control point, and if Guild Wars 2 can pull this off for the entire game world then they will push the MMO genre forward even more than WoW has. Heh, that sounded a bit grandiose, but I had more fun playing Tabula Rasa than I have any other MMO.

  6. WoW leveling via ktr quests is a has-been idea IMO, and I really hope the GW2 team is as fed up with ‘Quest hubs’ and forests of ‘!’ crowned NPCs as the rest of us. That’s all I ask out of any MMO to release from now to infinity.

  7. Excellent post, and one I agree with. I think it’s pretty obvious by now that an MMO _must_ offer solo playability to be any sort of success in today’s world, which means that every MMO developer has to dedicate a fair bit of thought to their solo vs. group balance.

    Unfortunately, most of them never seem to think any harder than carrots and sticks – what content can we deny to the soloers to force them to group up? what phat loot can we put on the raid bosses? what rewards can we let people solo grind? and so on.

    The winners will be the developers who understand that they need to focus on things like: why do some people find grouping not fun? why do some people find grouping to be too much hassle? is grouping too much of a commitment? And at the same time, never losing sight of the fact that even people who love to group up will sometimes just hop online for ten minutes while they have a coffee before work, and want to smash a few mobs solo.

  8. You know, the play style of events is starting to sound a lot like Diablo 2. You didn’t care who joined your world, you just wanted them to fight along side you and blow things up. In fact, you wanted people to join your world. Extra players in Diablo was almost always a good thing.

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