“Guild Wars 2 is the world’s first truly social MMO.”
A couple of months ago, those words drifted into my inbox, nested in a warm blanket of marketing hype for Guild Wars 2, and ended up sticking in my brain like hot glue in June. I find that statement significant for a number of reasons, many of which players were able to encounter during the first public beta weekend event. In many ways it proved to be spot on, but in some cases… not so much.
In this two part article, we’ll take a look at where the social aspects of GW2 are most successful, and where they could be improved following the first BWE. In today’s thrilling episode, we’ll be focusing on those areas where that statement – Guild Wars 2 is the world’s first truly social MMO – holds true. Since things this weekend weren’t all sunshine and roses in the social department, tomorrow we’ll go over some areas where social connectivity is in most need of improvement.
A final note before we get started…
Don’t forget that our Community Experience Giveaway is currently running through this Friday. Many of our readers have already locked in their entry, but we still have a ways to go before hitting the 1,000 users with 50+ XP mark before the end of the week. So be sure to share your own thoughts in the comments at the end of this article, or quick travel over to our forums to join the discussions on your BWE experiences!
Now back to our regularly scheduled program…
Humans (and Charr, and Norn) are Social Creatures by Nature
As many gamers discovered this weekend, there is still hope for MMOs being the kind of social experience they were always meant to be. It’s not that there haven’t been social games in the past, but for the most part social gameplay has been focused on small groups or non-combat social hubs. Rift may have taken a stab at doing something more interesting here, but going through the same process of closing rifts countless times tends to grow insanely stale in a very short amount of time.
Even the grand concept of raiding has taken such a massive nosedive into the steaming pits of lameness that they’re hardly worthy of being called anything other than “slightly larger and more challenging group content” at this point. Sorry WoW fans, but you haven’t raided in an MMO until you’ve been part of a 72 person team that had to master contested, open world boss fights or risk losing the spawn to a competing guild for a full week. I could say a lot more about the pointlessness of modern raiding, but that’s another topic for another day.
Back in Tyria, there were a few major successes seen in the first BWE when it comes to social gameplay. I witnessed massive groups of individuals come together to complete objectives countless times over the weekend, often times even sticking together at the end of one event to hunt down the next. In nearly all cases this seemed to happen organically.
Perhaps the most obvious, and dramatic example of this was the event that kicked off in Wayfarer’s Foothills an hour before the beta weekend ended. Given a shared, basic goal, players naturally formed a massive army that swept across the map, decimating everything in sight. Eventually players on my home world picked up on where the Champion Bloodthirsty Black Moas were spawning, and collectively set out to bring as many of them down as possible.
Sure, it was a special case, but it helped illustrate an important thing. In three days’ time, players quickly adapted to the idea that there is strength in numbers, and that events were more interesting with larger groups of players involved.
ArenaNet has essentially managed to take the grand concept of world events and make that the norm, rather than a single cool moment in time as we’ve seen in previous MMOs. While many gamers will still liken dynamic events to Tabula Rasa’s capture points or Warhammer Online’s public quests, I see a few much more obvious influences at least in terms of establish MMO conventions:
GM Events – Anyone remember how awesome these were in games like EQ? It’s a lost art form in MMOs, but dynamic events still manage to capture some of their magic.
World Events – It’s a shame that it’s taken this long for a developer to pick up on just how awesome these things can be, and that they don’t have to be a once a year, or per expansion thing.
Holiday Events – Nothing beats logging into an MMO to discover that some aspect of the world has changed, even if temporarily. While most holiday events tend to be half-baked and grow stale over time, for a few days you’ll experience large numbers of gamers coming together to focus on objectives much more socially than you’ll ever see for the rest of the year.
You’ll notice there’s a common thread between all three game systems mentioned above. Skipping past the obvious use of the word “events”, all three represent the concept of a changing world to varying degrees. MMO gamers eat these things up, but ArenaNet is the first developer to sit down and make that the norm rather than a means of breaking up the general monotony of basic gameplay.
I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!
A few weeks ago I was discussing the merits of the event system with Ethec, Ten Ton Hammer’s editor-in-chief, and my experiences with the downed system. I noted that during events, players would regularly stop fighting to help bring fallen comrades back into the fight. Ethec countered that since I was playing the earlier events with other members of the press or with members of the ArenaNet dev team I was likely witnessing a best case scenario. That once the masses got their hands on the game you probably wouldn’t see so many kind souls.
Your own experiences during the BWE may differ, but I’m happy to report that players were just as helpful this past weekend as in previous events. In fact, the only times I ever had to use a waypoint after being defeated were when my group of 2 wandered into areas too high for our level and were defeated in areas where there were no other players around. Whenever there were other players present, however, in all cases they would take a few moments to revive us when needed.
It’s a deceptively simple mechanic, but does help illustrate another of ArenaNet’s successes in the social gaming department. The only negative I found with the system came into play during competitive PvP, but we’ll touch on that aspect of the downed and rallying mechanics later this week.
Social Gaming Strikes Back
Without even touching on World PvP or the guild system (we’ll be taking a detailed look at each shortly) I would consider Guild Wars 2 to be the first game in over a dozen years that truly creates a social experience for MMO gamers. There were, however, a few downsides to the whole affair.
Check back tomorrow for a look at where the social aspects of GW2 are in most need of attention between now and the game’s launch. In the meantime, don’t forget to share your thoughts on the social gameplay in GW2 in the comments or on our forums!