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GW2 BWE1: Social Gaming Strikes Back

May 1, 2012 - 1:25pm -- Sardu
GW2's Social Impact on MMOs

“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.

GW2 The Great Critter Hunt

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!


Earthsong
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Nice article Sardu :)

Personally, my favourite event was defending the waterpipes in Queens-something near Divinity's Reach. And yes, we all rezzed each other during the events. Well, at least I know I did :P

Like I said, good article and keep up the good work!.

I seek my lifepath in my everyday GW2 life... Wait, don't I do so in real life too?

Absimilard
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Two things struck me, in regards to the social aspect of the game, in the few precious hours I got out of the bwe.

The first was how ingrained the old, very unsocial aspect of PvE is. I would be in an area, killing whatever it was needed killing. Along comes some other adventurer looking to do the same, and the first thing that happened in my mind was it going into greed mode. I need to tag and kill stuff as fast as I can or I won't make my quota which will in turn stop me from moving on, is what my mind told me. Some might argue that it's not unsocial, as you can always group up, but then that group becomes a serious competition for any other adventurer in the area, who is not in the group.

MMO's seem to have nurtured both a very unsocial mindset and a very rush-to-move-to-the-next-area sort of play style. Weird, for a multiplayer genre, where "a whole world to explore" has turned into "a whole world to rush through".

The second thing that struck me was how great it felt to fight off those old ingrown instincts.

After some time i found myself, not looking for a "free spot", but rather looking around to see where other players where so I could join in defending a caravan or killing a huge fire demon.

I remember what I spent the most of my time in EQ1 with, EQ1 being the game that really got me hooked to MMO's. I loved hanging out in the low level areas, helping newcomers find their way around, helping out with quests and finally sending them off with some coin and maybe a weapon or an armor piece.

From there to now things have changed for the worse, but this game looks to change things back. The best part is that now I can do those things, while at the same time gaining levels myself, even though I am in a low level area. Pure genius game design.   

Semper Dius

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I totally find myself in Absimilard's response there.

Almost like reflex I went into this mode where I had to grind more, grind better, grind faster than the guys next to me. Rushing to be the first to the mob, only to realize that in this game that is not only totally pointless but often less rewarding.

It's remarkable how this game shows you how silly the other games are indeed build up. Just like Absimilard said: Where in other games you look for a spot to grind all by yourself, in GW2 you look for big groups you can tag along with. I can remember playing WoW and getting a quest; I would arrive at the quest area, only to curse out loud when I notice half a dozen other people doing the same thing. 

It is so silly when you think about it; which made the change to GW2 such a huge step up. It was truly a bliss to see more people and not be annoyed by it.

-------

There are still some points that definitely need improvement. I'll save my commentary on that until I see tomorrows post.

But all in all, the WvWvW and PvE aspects were extremely social.

sylvinstar
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Rezzing was pretty common in WvWvW, and a lot more difficult in structured PvP of course.  No one has yet beat Horizons for world events though.  Expansion areas and even playable races were unlockable via world effort.  Some of these events changed the server terrain forever.  Player villages could be built and then attacked by roving mobs etc. etc.

The big point John Peters made in the Pax panel was that PvP can create community through shared goals, and I think this is their major driver for community thus far.  Granted, everyone being able to rez is big (this is a major plus in my book), along with the fact that detractors of community  - node/kill stealing have been taken care of.

Wedge7
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I personally love the fact that everyone can res. In some of the larger events (such as that grawl fire shaman in the charr starting area), I found myself probably ressing other people more than actually fighting. I had to remind myself to lob a few attacks towards the shaman before I went back to ressing! 

It's fantastic that players spontaneously group together to complete events, and I didn't once see a player run by and not help. However, I found I only actually chatted to a couple of people during the weekend. My friends were all on a different (full) server, so I couldn't join them, and not many people seemed to chat in local chat, apart from to say "thank you" for ressing them. 

So, it's great that events encourage cooperation, but as for being truly social? I'm not sure. Hopefully on release, more people will be willing to stop and chat, rather than rushing to experience all the content possible in a short weekend. 

merlik
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It really does seem like a very social game and I think it has a lot of promise. Definitely needs some polish, but the potential for the game is huge. I am so glad that I preordered.

There is a lot to like in the game, and some things about normal MMOs that I will have to unlearn while other things I will have to learn for this one.

98pounds
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Apart from feeling like I was in a pie eating contest all weekend *gobble gobble* the only thing that occurred to me about the ressing mechanic was "is it in my best interests to do so..." not knowing whether dead players were included in the balance equation.

If there were 10 players for example and the foe difficulty had been raised to 2nd tier, if 5 players died would the event scale back down to tier one making the foe easier? or do those dead players still count towards scaling.

Zerdav
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I believe it was said once that downed state counts as being alive, it's just a different set of skills basically. I would assume then, that downed players do count in towards scaling. 

Defeated probably not though. 

Lewis B
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Great article Sardu, especially picking out the point of resurrecting fallen players.  I never once found a situation where others passed me by as I lay struggling on the floor.  A clear indicator above a players head is as good addition though several people did still ask me about resurrecting others and that it wasn’t entirely clear.  I thought the new tutorial area in the Mists was also a real benefit- something like this at the start of each racial zone would be a great addition.

Tyrnan
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My first MMO was City of Heroes and when I started playing it I was clueless about the established MMO conventions. So when I saw another hero fighting a bad guy, my natural response was to jump in and help them out. I was a superhero after all! But of course, instead of being met with gratitude for my heroic efforts, I instead got called a "noob" or a "kill-stealer."

I can't believe it has taken until now for a MMO developer to create a game where doing what came so instinctively to me back then is now the right thing to do as far as game mechanics are concerned. In fact, it was that particular part of the manifesto that really got me hooked on Guild Wars 2. I just sat there thinking to myself "Someone finally gets it!"

And it was really nice to see this play out over the weekend. To see people just naturally help out their fellow players, and get rewarded for it was amazing. Watching people break off from attacking the big boss to get other people back into the fight made me all warm and fuzzy inside. Well, maybe not my necro, but you can't have everything wink

Rocky (not verified)
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Were we playing the same game? I didn't find any incentive at all to interact with other people and in fact felt less heroic than I do in other games. Do we really need 47 people following some lass who's chasing a bunny? 

And for the stuff that does manage to hinge cool with lots of people how frustrating is it going to be when those areas are empty? Or are there going to be several people at every public quest er sorry "event" 24hours a day for the rest of time as we know it? Some of these PQs were frustrating enough with several people. Can't imagine how annoying they're going to be when we have to solo them a few months after launch.

And yeah... would be nice if you could actually be in the same instance as your party members instead of having everyone in a different "overflow server" with no way of actually being able to reach your mates. Group up! You're just not allowed to interact with the people you've come to play with. 

Tyrnan
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Dynamic Events scale to the number of people participating. So when the initial surge fades and there's only a few people doing them, there will be less mobs, they'll be lower levels and will have fewer abilities. ANet have said that the scaling on some events still needs tweaking as this weekend highlighted issues that hadn't shown up previously.

Plus, given the downlevelling system and the way that higher level players are encouraged to visit lower level zones to explore, see things they might have missed first time around, gain skill points, achievements, etc I don't think that these areas are going to be deserted a few months after launch.

The overflow thing was annoying, but again ANet have already acknowledged that there was a bug with the system. It should place everyone in the same group in the same instance but this wasn't happening at the weekend and will hopefully be fixed for the next one.

IsaacSMASH
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I only had an opportunity to play a little bit over the weekend. I did find people were willing to help others. Especially when it came to rezing people. I found myself rezing others during events and others jumping in to rez me when I went down. I only ever had to use a waypoint once when I was alone and surrounded by enemies.

I have to agree with Tyrnan, as my first MMO was COH, it was nice to be able to truly help someone who was struggling. When I saw someone being overwhelmed I didn't hesitate to jump in and help bring down the mobs they were having trouble with. In other MMOs most people would get upset by that because it's "kill stealing." It's nice to have a game that actively encourages helping others rather than making you upset to other players showing up.

parajumers jacken (not verified)
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