Guild Wars 2 is set to turn many of the traditional MMO tropes on their head. We speak to lead designer Eric Flannum about the state of the game as of now.
Q: You've recently finished closed beta testing. How has the reaction been to the game so far?
Eric Flannum: Reaction has been very good! Since we're still in beta and are not yet done with the game, there has been some very good constructive criticism coming from our testers, which of course is the purpose of a beta. Feedback from our testers has helped us to improve just about every aspect of the game and we are very grateful for all the hard work and time they put into the game.
To give you an idea about the how the beta testers are enjoying the game here are some choice quotes from a few of them:
"I went on an exploring rampage this afternoon and got my ranger to Lion's Arch. I wandered around in awe for awhile and then decided to go swimming to cool off. I was swimming through the beautiful underwater scenery when I suddenly realized that I was in the plaza of the original Lion's Arch with the obelisk (of sorts). I was surprised at how strong of an emotional reaction it gave me. There was a soft, atmospheric piece of music playing and I sat and stared at the ruins, thinking of how much time I'd spent there in the original game. It was very touching."
"I love simply going around and exploring; the world is simply magnificent. The little thing (well, not really so little) that made me LOVE exploring was finding hidden caves underwater and finding those AWESOME hidden areas with platforming (so far, I've only found the ones in Kessex Hills and Plains of Ashford)."
"...the engineer flamethrower: I love that thing like it's a person. So awesome."
"My first night in GW2 and I engaged in dynamic events, instanced quest lines, destroyed a wall with a trebuchet, created a guild, claimed a tower for my guild, killed my first enemy players, and escorted a supply train safely to its destination. Overall my first impression is: This is both an industry changer and a return to a tradition of online gaming that I had hoped for."
Q: Could you go through what have been some of the difficulties faced during development?
EF: A few things do stand out; for example, the way that our content is structured. We're doing things with our story and our dynamic event system that are quite different from what we've seen in other MMOs. It's been a huge challenge to not only implement the system, but learning how to design this type of content. In a lot of ways, the earliest parts of development on the game was spent retraining ourselves to understand and be able to design these different types of content. Had we set out to make a more traditional quest-based game, I'm certain it would have gone much more smoothly for us since we had made that type of game before with the first Guild Wars. Personally, I think it's been worth it both from the standpoint of how the game has turned out as well as how much doing this has forced all of us on the design team to grow as game designers.
Q: GW2 is changing a lot of the traditional structure of MMOs. Do you believe this game will influence other developers to break the mould?
EF: I'm not sure I can really speak to how other developers will perceive some of the things that we've done with the game, but if Guild Wars 2 somehow encourages them to take more chances I think that would be fantastic. I think many times people perceive that there is a lack of innovation in the genre because developers are "lazy" or have "run out of ideas." I think those criticisms couldn't be farther from the truth. Fans need to take into account that MMOs are huge, risky games to build. Guild Wars 2, for example, has taken nearly five years to develop with an experienced company of several hundred passionate developers behind it. That's a huge risk for any publisher to take and in those sorts of circumstances it's very natural for them to become more conservative.
Thankfully, with Guild Wars 2 we've been blessed with a publisher in NCsoft that has shown confidence in us and given us the support to try a lot of new things. If Guild Wars 2 is successful, then maybe we can get more publishers to take on that mindset and we can see more big budget MMOs willing to take more risks.
Q: What is keeping other developers from embracing the same no-subscription model that you have?
EF: I have no idea really. All I know is that charging for the game and then supporting continued development through micro transactions and expansions worked well for us with the first game and lead to our decision to continue that business model for Guild Wars 2.
Q: Guild Wars 2 tries to convey personal player stories. Is there anything that you've learned from the likes of SWTOR in terms of how or how not to attempt this?
EF: I'm not sure we've learned anything for SWTOR in particular, since our personal story system had been planned long before that game released. Story has always been an important part of our design just as it was in the first game. In addition to taking a look at how we had been telling story in Guild Wars we did take a look at games that we thought told great stories and many games by BioWare were certainly on that list. All of the great single-player RPGs that we've been playing for years have really influenced the development of the story of GW2.
Q: In what ways do you imagine the MMO market will change within the next few years?
EF: I think the MMO market will continue to grow. I think we'll see many single-player games integrating more MMO-like features while MMOs continue to explore new genres and platforms. I'd expect to see a large breakthrough MMO on console as well as on mobile platforms sometime in the next few years. At the same time, I really do hope we'll see MMOs becoming more and more diverse on the PC and gaining a larger market there as well.