The other night I played Team Fortress 2. I played my favorite map, Hightower, on a public server. I mostly played as a pyro, but changed as I felt was necessary. I was just having fun. I would’ve preferred my team always win, but when we lost it was just the beginning of another round. I would have preferred to win a ton of items, but I didn’t even give a second thought to a play session if I didn’t receive anything. I just played for fun. I have spent hours and hours doing exactly this, and I still have fun.
To my side my wife plays Carcassonne on her iPad for the 700th time. My friends will come over later this week to play the same scornful game of the Magic the Gathering variant, EDH (or “Commander”) that we always do. My dad sits down to watch the St. Louis Cardinals keep their head above being a .500 team.
The common thread of our activities is that there is no goal besides to just have fun. To just play.
Colin “Toothpaste” Johanson decided that Guild Wars 2 should be fun, a point he emphasizes over 35 times in a recent ArenaNet blog post. He decries the status quo of MMOs as being content created to synergize with the need to retain subscribers. In doing so, Johanson theorizes, many MMO content designers have gotten away from creating “fun” and instead have started content with grind in mind. They didn’t want that for Guild Wars 2. The most interesting point for me is when he says:
Can we make something so much fun you might want to play it multiple times because it’s fun, rather than making you do it because the game says you have to? It’s how we played games while growing up. I can’t tell you how many times I played Quest for Glory; the game didn’t give me 25 daily quests I needed to log in and do—I played it multiple times because it was fun!
Many in the MMO blogosphere go back and forth over a sandbox versus a themepark, and many have written off Guild Wars 2 as a themepark. I tend to agree in the sense that it is developer-driven content. Although rather than a Disney World, I liken it to more of a zoo since the content landscape is constantly shifting.
There is another way to consider sandbox versus themepark: content repetition. It’s a weird thing, MMOs, that of all the multiplayer games so many of them require content advancement over content repetition. Then much of the content is gone back to then be redesigned to artificially force content repetition. Sandbox MMOs have content reptition too, but it isn’t as forced. People in EVE Online are doing the same thing, fighting the same wars, and they want to do it. They aren’t following a designer-enforced goal to upgrade a ship needing ten runs to get the next missile launcher.
The other big difference between a sandbox and themepark is the strength of player-interaction as content. The classic example is World of Warcraft’s reliance on quests and dungeons versus the player-run world of EVE Online, where stories come from player deeds instead of developer set design. Admittedly, Guild Wars 2 is still largely about content design, but they take huge strides towards welcoming player-interaction throughout all the content instead of fighting against it. I am still simply amazed that the MMO paradigm really believed that mob-tagging and reducing experience if players are helped in a random fight was a good idea to promote MMO goodness.
If a sandbox MMO is all about a shared experience, regardless of whether it is competitive or cooperative, then a themepark MMO is about personal experience (that eventually leads to a small shared experience). It is no small wonder that dungeon-grind appears to be somewhat tolerated whereas most quests are pigeon-holed to a type, like escort or kill ten rats, and therein reviled. Guild Wars 2 is stripping away almost all of the personal experience from quests and turning it into a shared experience.
I can’t say whether Guild Wars 2 is going to meet the design goals that Johanson sets forth. I do know that through the Beta Weekends, I have repeated content many times without a thought for needing to move on. It’s interesting to think that such a subtle shift in promoting player interaction might have been all that was needed to put “fun” back in to MMOs.