Guild Wars 2 & more: Interview with ArenaNet's founders
Guild Wars may be the closest competitor World of WarCraft has, although it's taking an entirely different approach. We talked to two of the three founders, Jeff Strain and Mike O'Brien. Read what they have to say about Guild Wars 2, the link to GW1 through the Hall of Monuments, their gameplay philosophy, their former employer, Blizzard, and many other topics.
Guild Wars does not charge you a monthly fee, but hopes to keep you interested enough so that you'll buy a new campaign or add-on at full price every half-year. That concept turned out quite profitable for Guild Wars 1, but the task ahead in 2008 for Arenanet (owned by Korean MMOG giant nc soft) is how to make players switch from Guild Wars 1 to the planned Guild Wars 2. Jörg Langer talked to company heads Jeff Strain and Mike O'Brien (who co-founded the company that became Arenanet together with Patrick Wyatt), and also to Ben Miller, project lead of the GW1 add-on Eye of the North.
GG: Mike and Jeff, you are calling Guild Wars a “competitive” online role playing game. Do you see a trend or do you have market research saying that gamers from more traditional, Everquest style games are coming over to your side? Or do you mainly address a brand new audience?
Mike O’Brien: I think we have both audiences in the game. When I talk to people who are really hard core role players in Guild Wars, they say “I love the role playing aspects of Guild Wars, but I don’t think many people like to play the PvP aspects you’ve built in”. And then I talk to big PvP fans and they go: “Oh I love Guild Wars, but I’m not sure that anybody plays it as a role playing game.” That’s funny, but that’s also one of the things that obviously didn’t work out too well. We attract both audiences, but they don’t interact a lot. There is no “bridge” that really attracts role players to PvP and vice versa. In Guild Wars 1 we have this very fair, competitive PvP environment. By that, we have supported players who want to play it as a kind of e-sport. We have top guilds that we have flown around the world for attending competitions, we have given away hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash prices to top guilds. And all that stuff was brand new to role playing games, we were literally pushing competition into it.
GG: Also, the idea for players or guilds competing internationally was new.
Mike O’Brien: Exactly! In traditional MMOs, you could play only with a small group of people on a certain server. If we wanted to have competition, everybody would have to be able to compete against anybody else in the world. That was one of the things that we had to build into the game as a fundamental technology. I think that Guild Wars still is the only truly international online role playing game. But what we should have done is leading players more comfortably into PvP play. In Guild Wars 1, if I am a good role player and go into PvP for the first time, and my team has four players in it, I am taking up on of that slots – thereby taking it away from somebody who is better at PvP than I am. If that team loses, they will say “we lost because of this newbie learning how to play!” And that’s not a nice experience for me!
GG: So what do you plan to do in Guild Wars 2 to lower that barrier?
Mike O’Brien: We will have two kinds of PvP. We still have the e-sport kind, which is a fair, level playing field, and very competitive. But we also introduce “world PvP”. In Guild Wars 2, you’ll be playing in one persistent world. And, periodically, your world will connect to different worlds. And we’ll be competing for shared resources that can benefit our world. Even if I am a role player, I can go out there and help defend my world. If I am a low level character, I could help protect a trade route. If I am a high level player, I could try to take a key fortress. There will be a great variety. The nice thing about this form of PvP is that going out there is always better than not going out there. If I am a low level player, still, me going out there helps my team. And in fact, they can invite me and let me act as a higher level player, by one of them taking me under his wings. So temporarily, my character will rise up and fight better. But you don’t even need to form a team, you don’t need a special PvP character: In your world, everybody you meet is on your side. So you can just go into the mists between worlds, and start to hack away! If a hundred of the people of your world are out there, that’s great, but if 200 are, that’s even better. And I think that this is a much more casual form of PvP than in Guild Wars 1. And because of this system, the high end PvP, the structured Guild-vs-Guild, doesn’t need to be a bridge between role players and competitive players. So we can make that kind of PvP even more competitive! For example, in Guild Wars 1, you need to unlock certain features and maps when starting to go PvP. Which is a good thing for new players. But the ultra competitive players do not want that, they want to immediately have access to everything, they want to win or lose entirely based on their playing skill. By peeling PvP into two different modes, we can make each of those more appealing to the needs of the different populations.
Guild Wars 2 comes earlier than many fans suspected -- allegedly canceling some campaigns which were in the works for Guild Wars 1.