[GW2] Unskinned “Fun”

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.


20 thoughts on “[GW2] Unskinned “Fun””

  1. I want both. I only distinguish between the two sides, because that’s what ya gotta do for many to understand what you mean.

    But, similar to a sandbox, like EVE, where you’re doing the same things….

    That’s what I want via choice and options I’m always harping on. When I describe what I like, I’m usually very much thinking about it in terms of real life. I may go to the gas station today, and pay the expensive convenience for a gallon of milk. I might walk or drive farther for a cheaper gallon. I may go fishing in a number of places.

    And those places offer more than just one thing. I can utilize a well-made system.

    In Vanguard, thanks to a neat little daily and over-time ranking, I can get together for a player-run fishing contest.

    Housing in EQ2 is top-notch.

    But I like questing. I love questing. I actually can’t believe games like Perpetuum, EVE and others want to offer what should be choice and option via sandbox gameplay, but they remove things like quests. There’s no reason those two things can’t co-exist.

    People insist that gameplay was done because of problems and this or that just can’t be done, and all I can think of is “Well, you won’t be the next million-dollar game-designer”, but someone most certainly will be. I’m sure of it.

    Guild Wars 2 could easily have left thousands of quests in, and it might have been really darn cool as a way to deliver even more story, or whatever.

    Give me systems that, on the surface, let me flit about with choice and freedom, but design those systems like onions, with layers of ways to also use them.

    I could gather in vanguard, or gather with friends. I could form brotherhoods.

    RoM started out offering tons of potential for choice and options, but I think it’s kind of streamlining itself.

    The point. Oh right. :) Many systems to offer choice and freedom, but that’s not enough. Each system should have layers to them, so they can be utilized in many different ways and many different ways with each other system, that in turn has many options.

    Really, I think that’s why some of the simplest games ever are the most popular ever. Mostly you find that great combo in puzzle games like Tetris, but you can find it in others like GTA3.

    1. GW2 didn’t remove quests so much as streamline and enhance the prior delivery that turned quests into a dirty word in the first place. Now we have an automated quest log that updates according to where we happen to be rather than us having to manage it, and provides more freedom in how we complete tasks and events.

      I love the “wherever you go, there you are”ness of it all. That, and it’s nice not to redo something like killing a bunch of monsters just because you happened to do it before you got to the quest giver or worry about whether you and a friend are on the same step.

      1. There’s more to it than that, actually. The use of events as opposed to quests means the entire *server* is synced. When you get to the location of an event, if the event is happening, it’s happening for everybody and everybody can contribute.

        This is a critical difference to quests in the traditional sense because then there’s no need for things like instancing or problems with kill stealing. If you’re doing it and he’s doing it, you both gain from that.

        It makes for a more cohesive world and experience in which events can have permanence and affect others. It’s also why the “themepark” term might not entirely be appropriate, as it’s not just experiencing “rides” (quests), since you can also directly affect the world through your actions/inactions.

  2. I have been banging on about this for years.

    Why am I still playing EQ2 after seven years? Why did I make two new characters in the last two weeks and start running them through content I have done literally dozens of times already?

    Why do I frequently log into Rift Lite and do rifts and zone events in Freemarch and Silverwood even though I’m no longer subbed, don’t plan to resub and can’t progress the characters past 20th?

    Why do I still play Vanguard and Everquest and when I do why do I go back to Ksaravi Gulch and Blackburrow over and over again to slaughter ratmen and gnolls?

    Because it’s fun. Pure and simple. I like the spells, I like the combat, I like the zones, I like the mobs, I like the animations, I like the music, I like the atmosphere…take your pick.

    I’ve said this loads of times before too – playing MMOs recaptures the sheer fun I had as a child, knocking a tennis ball against a wall for hour after hour, night after night until it was too dark to see. Or of exploring the woods and fields around my house for the hundredth time. Doing things that had no purpose other than to be enjoyed.

    If that’s what ArenaNet are trying to achieve in GW2 then good on them! I think they’ll succeed too. Loads of other MMOs have, after all.

  3. Ended up repeating a few events, some people would chalk that down as ‘grinding’ the same event, but my reasons were pretty varied, like wanting to see how an event chain would progress, or completing one that had failed at the previous attempt, or for the spectacle (shadow behemoth), to play with others and hear the excited chatter about the big events or just for fun of working together. Don’t think the path with most fun and rewarding XP gain is ever going to be a linear heart-to-heart path, but a meandering one across the zone and probably revisiting earlier locales. Worse way to visit a zoo is to put yourself on a clock, and follow the numbered trail without deviation.

  4. I’ve been wondering how to describe Guild Wars 2 and why I do think it is doing a lot of things right but I think you nailed it. :)

    I guess that the reasons why mob-tagging and reduced experience if someone helped out stuck for so long was due to a belief that if I am the one who does the most work to kill a mob then I should be the one to reap the benefits from it (quest update, XP, loot, etc.) A thinking like this may seem like it is a meritocratic one. But it does end up having the unintended effect of generating competition between players (for XP, quest updates, loot, etc.) where in a lot of games it just doesn’t make sense.

    The fact that Guild Wars 2 isn’t doing the same thing is one of the reasons that I find it so enjoyable.

    1. The problem’s more that for some reason experience gain was considered to be some kind of zero sum game. If you gain experience, it means the other can’t.

      After all, Guild Wars 2 still modulates your experience gain to how much you’ve contributed in the fight. The difference is that you can gain maximum XP without depriving others of also gaining maximum XP.

      1. *nod* Or to put it another way, your gain is based purely on how much *you* do, rather than how much you do compared to person X (and as I recall, the encounters adjust accordingly as well). It makes it a cooperative effort to get the task done, rather than a competitive one to try to do more than person X–which makes a *world* of difference. Even better, it’s a drop-in/drop-out coop thing, where you just show up and participate, but you don’t necessarily *have* to have other people helping out.

  5. I think mob tagging and reduced experience are artifacts left over from the dikuMUD inheritance of MMOs. Or rather hasty solutions that weren’t thought all the way through when trying to solve the inherited issues.

    Used to be the person who did the killing blow to the mob got the loot at the end. Which led to people trying to cut in at the last moment to ‘steal’ the loot. So enter tagging, where it no longer made any sense to help out if someone else already ‘booked’ the mob. Real issue? Only one person getting loot at the end from the mob.

    I’m glad GW2 took the trouble to analyze and tweak things from another angle – let’s give everyone a fair share of the loot at the end. Ta da, now it makes sense for everyone to help out.

    And reduced experience is from the whole pleveling by someone helping out with a higher level character issue. Real problem? Why is it so urgent to rush to max level? And if we make everyone sidekick down in a certain area, there’s no way someone can come in and overpoweredly smack something down, they still have to give enemies a fair fight.

  6. I really see the key to GW2’s success is as you’ve said is having repeatably enjoyable content. I know in the BWE I did several of the DE’s multiple times fighting off wave after wave of centaur and protecting the little zone waypoint thing so my guildie could teleport over, so we could kill centaurs together!

    Even though I have done some of these events 10-20 times now a lot of them are still fun and challenging, and its a feature that has really drawn me into GW2.

    At the same time though you really wonder how many times can you do the same event or same type of event before you get bored or simply tired of them? When does it change from being “bah another kill 10 rat quest” to “bah another kill 10 rat event”?

    I think that will be the key to GW2’s longevity. If it becomes the case that all of these awesome events end up being mirrors of each other, just with different backdrops and enemies. How long will it take before people get tired of the dynamic?

    Sometimes it feels like they have very cleverly tricked us. Rather than having to go out and kill 10 rats, those 10 rats come to us and attack the npc that gives us shiny loot! How dare they! Death to rats!

    1. But that was always one of the problems, wasn’t it?

      We’re told about something menacing a town…and then we have to go elsewhere to kill it. Some menace. Quests weren’t the problem. The delivery was, as was worrying about whether you and a friend were on the same step, not being rewarded accordingly when playing with others or finding out there was another quest you could have done at the same time.

      Plus we don’t have to keep track of how many centaurs we kill. We kill them until we’ve won. Or let them take over the town for someone else to win back. There’s no more killing your ten, and that’s the end of it without any consequence. And sure they’ll be back, but it has a more immersive element that was missing in other games. The world feels alive.

      I think the game’s longevity will also be helped by the variety of content in addition to hearts and events – crafting (and actually gaining experience for it), jumping puzzles, personal story, exploration and seeking out the hidden events. Some people level up just doing WvW.

      Incidentally, I love that I don’t *have* to kill those rats. I LOVE rats. I can help out in another way, and still receive credit towards completion of a heart.

      1. I agree with Aly on this.

        Let’s suppose there is a village under the threat of a centaur attack. Under a more traditional MMORPG you probably would get a quest where the NPC would expound on the attack and then probably ask you to go slaughter some of them. He directs you to a place where the centaurs are just mingling about caring for their own business.

        On Guild Wars 2 you may find the centaurs actually attacking the village. Then you may have the options of helping out by killing centaurs, putting out the fires consuming the houses, helping wounded NPCs or even resurrecting other players. The are all valid and count towards the event or filling the renown heart.

        Even in a situation where the is little more to fight there is always the choice of staying in the front lines fighting the enemies or staying back providing support or resurrecting players. Most likely people will do a bit of all three. It all depends on the circumstances of that particular fight.

        And that is where I think the longevity of Guild Wars 2 will be. We just end up doing what feels like it is needed at the time. It never feels like an arbitrary number of kills or tasks to be done so you can get some carrot that has been dangled in front of you.

        1. Yep..you have *options*. You’re not forced into a specific role just because you happen to be class X (granted, you still have the issue that some classes are better at a given role than others–but that’s a necessary evil, since otherwise they’d all be the same). And for a lot of tasks, you have options on what you can do with them–I remember several of the personal-story quests during the beta weekend where you you were sent to a place and could do the strong-arm approach and fight everything, or talk to people or find things and end up doing less direct fighting (but not less work, as the non-fighting options generally had you doing fetch-runs all over the instance map). And as said, all of the public-quest events usually had two or three tasks that you could do for credit towards them.

  7. This is, I fear, what will be an endless gripe with me and Runes of Magic. The game always has so much bloody potential.

    RoM actually has always had many world-events that are strikingly similar to GW2, and it has Siege is is also strikingly similar(albeit on a much, much smaller scale).

    But the other focuses on the game and other systems just put world events at this weird level. No one does them and there everywhere in every zone. Some are actually cool. There’s actually a farm event that reminds me so much of the farm event in the human starting area of GW2.

    RoM has you watering and picking plants, fighting off giant bugs. It’s split into phases and is times for each phase. At the end is a boss. It’s also, in a way, a system to provide alternate advancement through the memento system, but again, potential is high, but utilization of it is low.

  8. Games are different from other media because they have two aspects:

    1. Game aspect
    2. Story aspect

    The game side is reflected in things like real-world sports, MMO PvP, RTS ladders or rankings, and every multiplayer FPS ever made. The only purpose is to have fun, or to be competitive.

    They also have a story aspect, as reflected in single-player campaigns (including co-op). Where the player gets to participate in a developer-crafted story.

    Now, to have fun, there is no story required (as your example of sports, TF2, and Carcassonne illustrate). We don’t need a story at all to have fun. However, some people like stories and want them included with their games.

    So, there are two types of stories (currently used in MMOs… there are others as well).
    1. Developer-created content (hard-coded quests, dynamic quests which repeat, public quests that repeat)
    2. Player-created content (economics, politics, sandboxy-ness).

    As it stands (and this is by no means the only way), MMOs either have hand-crafted developer stories, or naturally occurring economic / world PvP conflicts. The player-created content aren’t really stories; they are more like “News” (you can picture them as headlines in a newspaper, rather than a chapter in a novel).

    A good mix of both is needed to meet the exceptionally high expectations of MMO players. No MMO wanting to survive long-term should release a themepark-only MMO. We’re going to see more and more elements of sandbox integrated into our MMOs in future years.

    Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a while to see it happen.

  9. Playing the Secret World beta made the difference between it and GW2 really clear to me.

    I pay a lot more attention to players in GW2 and think about how to help/support/combo/interact with them all the time.

    The interaction with different players is part of the content, just like how I could PUG the same content in City of Heroes repeatedly because the team interactions are different.

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