Flameseeker Chronicles: The best souvenir from PAX East

When Massively staffer Larry Everett was writing about a PAX East panel he attended, he asked me to help him find a picture of Colin Johanson. I begged him to use the one above, created by GuildWars2Guru member Rolin, but my pleas were unheeded. Since today's Flameseeker Chronicles is in part about Colin, I finally got my way -- albeit indirectly.

Since I didn't get the pleasure of attending PAX East, Larry sent me a wonderful souvenir: recordings of a couple of casual chats he had with Colin and Mike Zadorojny all about the MMO industry and Guild Wars 2's place in it. They were such fun to listen to that I decided to share some of them with you guys in today's column. Follow along after the jump for the best bits of Larry's discussion with these two!

Massively: How do you define an MMO?

Mike: I think it's the number of players, how many are together, and what they're doing together. So basically for an MMO, it's a large number of people -- a massive number of people -- anywhere from 20, 50, 100 that are playing together for a common goal or even going against each other and fighting against each other. It's also the social environment, the social atmosphere. It really is about coming together, joining together with other players and actually playing with them. It's not like hanging out in chatrooms and then going and doing something -- it's actually playing together with common objectives that you guys are actually going and doing.

There are a lot of players who would question whether or not Guild Wars is an MMO.

Going back, I don't necessarily view Guild Wars as an MMO. We have the outpost mentality, so there's a lot of social activity there, a lot of minigames we'll have there, especially during festivals and whatnot. But when you actually go play the core of the game, when you go do the missions and dungeons, you're only with eight people. So it really is more of a cooperative mission game than it is an actual MMO.

To counter that with some of the other titles -- Warcraft for example -- you're out there in the world and there could be 40 of you guys, 80 of you guys, all going out and doing some objective. It's very similar to what we're trying to do in Guild Wars 2, with the event system and everything else. It's about bringing players together for a common activity, a common goal to go and do something together.

So what is Guild Wars 2 doing to define an MMO? Why is it an MMO?

Well, like I said, part of it is the social activity. We want to create a community because that's where the strength really lies in an MMO. The stronger your community is, the better you'll be able to do it. It's about creating an atmosphere that's positive and that nurtures this community and allows it to grow. You see some of that in the event system -- especially some of the larger group ones. At the PAX Prime and Cologne demos, we showed The Shatterer coming down. This isn't something you're going to do with one or two people, at least not very well. This is where you want to see other players in that positive atmosphere where you can join together really quickly and easily. From a Guild Wars 2 standpoint, we've done this where you don't need to be in the same party as them to provide a social or a gameplay benefit.

The Guardian has a lot of things where he's giving his nearby allies benefits. It's not necessarily just his party; it's NPCs and just random players who have come to help. So it's that "let's help each other" mentality where you don't necessarily need to be in a party or an organized group.

Does GW2 encourage the solo player to group? How?

Well, there are a couple of different ways, but like I said, if you're giving natural benefits to people, they're encouraged to be with other people, and again, you don't really need to be in the same group. There are some players who really don't want to communicate with each other -- they just like doing their own thing. By having those natural benefits, it's like, "OK, I want to be near that person, but I don't necessarily want to talk to them," because there's a lot of unspoken language going on with how you're playing the game, like the cross-profession combos. It just becomes a part of the routine and the natural flow.

Larry's next chat was with Colin, and it was interesting to hear a different perspective on the same subject and to hear how excited both developers are about creating Guild Wars 2 with the same goals in mind.

Massively: How do MMOs differ from regular online gaming?

Colin: There are games where you can play online with hundreds or thousands of people and build a community. Those are much better for a game company, and generally it's much better for the player as well. The experience is so much more fun when you're able to play these games with your friends and play them online wherever they live in the world. With the concept behind an MMO, you create the ability for these people to play together wherever they are, and you can build a world for them to explore and play around in together.

You can say that there are a lot of games where you can go online and you can play with people right now, like Xbox live or PlayStation Network or whatever, and there's a lot of that out there, but there's no clear sense of community in the games that you play. Say if you go play Halo online -- unless you're one of the top 100 or 200 players, you have no idea who the other people are. The only thing you recognize are the asshats that are in the game with you, the ones who are annoying and they're swearing and your kids are sitting on the couch and you just want to turn it off because you don't want them to hear it. That's the most memorable thing that stands out to you. Very rarely do you meet new people and become friends with them. Some people do, but it's not often.

I think the MMO space is just a slight degree off from Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, and what I think it is, is the ability to build a community with those people in the world. It's about building an online world where those people play and live in it together. I think what you're going to see more and more going forward is games are trying to make worlds, and they want you to live in their worlds. The more that it is a world, the more you're going to want to come back to that place -- the more draw you're going to feel to it.

For a game like ours, because we don't charge a monthly fee, our world is always going to be there for you when you want it. It's really important for us to be able to tell people, "Hey, you can play our game, and you don't have to play it for three months. You can run off and you can play all the other games you want, and our world is always waiting there for you. Your friends in that world are always there waiting for you. That's just not something you can experience with a lot of other games.

Why do you think some companies are hesitant to define their games as MMOs?

I think one reason is that there is a definite stigma that comes with the term MMO for a lot of gamers. I think a lot of people hear that and they think, "Oh, that's a game that I have to dedicate my life to playing." It doesn't matter what genre it is, and it's unfortunate. With Guild Wars 2, we're trying very hard to make that not the case. It's incredibly casual-friendly. You can pick up the game, you can play it for a half-hour, we're never going to charge you a monthly fee, so you can come back and play it whenever you want. We make leveling really fast so there's no grind in the game. There's enough content so you're basically just playing content and enjoying the game, and you're leveling while you're doing it.

You get to the end of our game in a very reasonable amount of time, so it feels like an epic RPG, but it doesn't feel like you have to dump your entire life into this game to be able to play it.

What is GW2 doing to encourage the solo player to group?

I think there are two answers to that. I don't think you need to "make" them -- encouraging the social player to group up is good. Anyone who says you need to force them to group is making a huge mistake and not recognizing that there are a lot of people who just don't want to play that way. What you need to do is make it a rewarding experience to play with other people to the point that you actually want to do it. The first thing we're doing in Guild Wars 2 to make that happen is that there's no kill-stealling and there's no creature-marking. If you attack a creature and I run up and help you kill it, we both get experience and we both get loot. when you see another player, they're never stopping you from completing their quest, they're never loot-stealing from you. You're actually excited to see other players because they're going to help you kill stuff faster.

The other thing is that we got rid of dedicated rezzers. Everyone can rez each other. When you go down, you get a last chance to hop back up and kill something, and at this point any other player can run up and start giving you health back. You get experience for rezzing somebody else -- we're actually rewarding you for trying to be a team player and help someone else.

Thanks for taking the time for this during a busy weekend, guys! And there you have it -- some of the best bits of what Mike and Colin had to say. And big thanks to Larry for sharing with me!

Rubi is a longtime Guild Wars player and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column keeps a close eye on all the events in Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. It's also the home of a weekly summary of the travels of [MVOP], Massively's Guild Wars guild. Email Rubi at rubi@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.