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