Tomorrow, ArenaNet will make Guild Wars 2 available for pre-purchasers and will open its servers to the general public three days later on August 28. The standard edition costs $60, with no additional subscription fees or expectation of payment for “the full game.”
The creators of the game claim that by eliminating the factor of subscriptions, their game design can focus more fully on delivering a fun experience that rarely presents itself as a chore (as is the case in many other MMORPGs). In this sentiment, as is apparent from Beta impressions and feature listings, we see a crucial change to the way these games are developed.
Since World of Warcraft’s release and explosive success eight years ago, games within the genre have stagnated. Even in recent years, as WoW’s subscription numbers drop, new MMOs take many cues from Blizzard’s behemoth. WoW’s success is in fact a double-edged sword for the genre, simultaneously proving its mass-market appeal and forcing it into a repetitive cycle.
From all evidence thus seen of Guild Wars 2, we’re looking at a game that will advance the genre in a meaningful way for the first time since WoW’s release. Conventions such as “tank/healer/damager” are being left behind, giving every class the option to take on a wider range of roles. Curve-based leveling has been eliminated (all levels past a certain point will take the same length of time to achieve). The world is made dynamic through variation of quests, paths, and events. Player choice can control every facet of character advancement, from skills to armor color to story progression (each character has a story unique to choices made at character creation). Quests are voice acted. Secret events exist throughout the world. The list of things that point to this game’s uniqueness goes on and on.
We see in Guild Wars 2 a modern game design that takes into account the way people play MMOs. It’s possible to visit other servers to play with friends across the world. You can belong to an unlimited number of guilds. Mobile apps and other online media let you keep an eye on the game from afar, allowing you to better manage your time.
Lead content developer Colin Johanson wrote an article a few months back where he expressed some of the advantages to working without a subscription in mind. He also alluded to a detail that has given me personally more hope for the game’s success than any other: the QA team has been working on this game from a very early stage, to the point that many of the current content designers were promoted from it.
Quality Assurance (QA) is a process in which you look at someone else’s work, then tell them what’s wrong with it. Analysts look for unexpected behavior, things that inhibit functionality, and anything that might be against the design or intention of the product. Typically, they have very little say in how something gets done, because they only get to see the product once it’s nearly finished. If some concept or key execution doesn’t work because of the way it was designed, QA can only say “Hey, this,” but the amount of work required to go back and fix such a problem at that stage is massive, and is often skipped.
QA is important because it challenges a product before it sees the world. It predicts where problems will occur, and ultimately ensures a better product can be delivered.
Developers of the best games are now bringing in QA at earlier stages to avoid these late problems. In the case of Guild Wars 2, those opinions are crucial for determining what’s “fun” and what’s not, questioning established conventions early on.
Guild Wars 2 development, according to Colin Johanson, focused on the question “Is it fun?” That’s not, “Does it keep people playing longer?” or “Is it easy?”
It looks fun, and I’ll be playing until it’s not.
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