A zoo is a different kind of theme park, but there are many different kinds of zoos. Guild Wars 2 fans are trying to envision that upcoming game through the lens of Rift. I wouldn’t say it’s like comparing apples and oranges, but it might be better to say the arena is Disney’s Animal Kingdom versus the San Diego Zoo. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is on the borderline of being a theme park in the harshest MMO sense. The caretakers call the exhibits “stages” or “sets” (my former zookeeper wife couldn’t exactly remember), and they want every zoo patron to see exactly the same experience. On the other hand, San Diego Zoo is a “progressive” zoo, which seeks to put the animals in as natural a cage as possible without it being a nature reserve.
Like real zoos, MMOs with dynamic event systems can vary along these shades of gray as well. In Rift, events are like a calling. I drop everything I am doing and run towards the rift, invasion, or my favorite a planar tear, which I can open with a skill to start a rift. They are the exciting thing going on when the rest is filler by comparison. It gets even more interesting, in a Skinner sense, when players are rewarded more so for attacking specific colors of rifts, such as death in the latest world event Grim Harvest. I’ve seen other players completely ignore, for example, a dominating life invasion to go for that one death rift in the corner of the map. In Guild Wars 2, since everything was an event, I didn’t really care whether there were other players or how active the event was. I just went where I wanted to play during the demo because activity was everywhere.
Guild Wars 2 lead developer Eric Flannum put a fine point on this difference when he wrote at Guild Wars 2 Guru:
why is it different than Rift? Simple answer: DE in Rift are not the main content, they are, more or less, rare spawn-events. In GW2 events are EVERYWHERE, the people will spread after the tutorial I imagine, because theres this big focus on exploration. What I think will become a problem: experiencing events in the open world WITH other people (sure, you don’t always need them, but sometimes it makes it more fun to play with strangers and trying to cross combo).
You have this exactly correct. Even when we have one of our company “all-calls” and play the game with 200+ people jumping into the same starting area at the exact same time we have found that it is rare to have more than 10 people at the same event as people spread out very quickly and start to do different things. We’ve also found that unless the encounter is built for it, more than 10 people starts to become more confusing and less fun for players. Events that are designed for more people like the Shatterer are designed to last longer and draw more attention to themselves so that they draw more players to them.
All of that being said, it is possible for us to change these numbers around and we have certainly done so in the past and will continue to do so in the future as we gather data and see how people play (especially once we go to beta). But for now, 10 is the number that works for the game.
I found Flannum’s post interesting because it is a professional opinion on the core difference between Rift’s dynamic events and Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events. I definitely felt this difference when I played the Guild Wars 2 demo at PAX East after having played Rift betas and launch, and I agree with Maarius and Flannum.
This doesn’t necessarily make one dynamic event system better than the other. Just like some people prefer the focused experience of Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the San Diego Zoo, so to will some people prefer Rift’s guided approach to Guild Wars 2’s events-are-everywhere approach. We are seeing different sides to Rift only because it is live and being experienced by so many. Obviously Trion Worlds hit their first stumble when trying to provide a singular whammy of an event last Saturday. It will be interesting to see what we and ArenaNet learns when the masses hit their servers. Trion Worlds is already learning from theirs.