Jeff Strain, one of the three founders of ANet, was asked to make a speech about how to make an MMO. I would like to provide a few quotes from that speech and ask you how that compares to the GW2 of today.
Don't be fooled by the much-hyped success of the top MMOs on the market. The game industry is littered with the carnage of MMOs that have failed over the past few years. Due largely to the social nature of MMOs, gamers rarely commit to more than one or two MMOs at a time. This is in contrast to the traditional game market, in which there is room for many games to be successful, even within the same genre. You may play ten different action games this year, but you are very unlikely to play more than one or two MMOs. This means that it is not enough to make a great game – instead you must make a game that is so overwhelmingly superior that it can actively break apart an established community and bring that community to your game. In today's market, that is a tall order.
So, when people say that this is a casual game that can be picked up at any time and replayed, does that fit the idea of an MMO being a social natured game where gamers only commit to one or two at a time?
Also, do you think GW2 is so overwhelmingly superior that it is actively breaking apart an established community and bringing that community to their game?
This is a tough industry, and only the most committed studios and publishers with solid long-term financial backing should be undertaking MMO development. I can assure you that releasing an MMO into the market before the development team is proud of it will result in writing off every penny invested in its development. The best publishers are willing to give development teams time for polish and balance. In the MMO market, there is simply no other option, and many publishers are not willing to make this commitment.
How do you feel about GW2 being released in the state it was? Have the publishers of ANet been willing to give developers time to polish and balance the game?
Before you start building the ultimate MMO, you should accept that "MMO" is a technology, not a game design. It still feels like many MMOs are trying to build on the fundamental designs established by UO and EQ in the late '90s. In the heyday of Doom and Quake we all eventually realized that "3D" was a technology, distinct from the "FPS," which was a game design. It's time we accepted that for MMOs as well. We are finding ways to overcome many of the limitations of the technology that dictated the early MMO design, such as Internet latency and limited global scalability. These improvements can enable a new class of online games that break out of the traditional MMO mold and explore new territory. It can be a daunting proposition to willfully walk away from what seems to be a "sure thing" in game design, but lack of differentiation is probably the number one reason that MMOs fail, so we all need to leave the comfort zone and start innovating, or risk creating yet another "me too" MMO.
According to James Phinney, lead designer of StarCraft and Guild Wars, every great game starts with one question: "What do I want to play next?". This may seem an obvious statement, but his point is that designers are often asked to make a game that is specifically designed to be "better" than a successful game from a competitor, rather than making a game that is exciting and new. How many designers have been asked to make a "GTA killer", or a "Guitar Hero killer", or a "WoW killer"? I personally have heard numerous designers and producers working on unreleased MMO projects describe their game in these terms: "It's like WoW, but..." I just shake my head when I hear this, because the team that is best poised to deliver a successful game that is an evolution of WoW is... well, the WoW team. They've got their thing, and they're good at it. Let's all carve out our own thing, and be the best at it. Truly great games are made by passionate teams who are on fire with the notion of changing the industry. If you are aiming at a competitor rather than aiming to make something fresh and innovative, you've lost.
So, is GW2 more like normal MMO's or have they carved out their own thing and been best at it?
Are they too interested in being a great game that revolutionizes what they do, or are they still wondering what direction to take the game in order to sell more games and be competitive with WoW?
There is really a lot of information there to take in, so I will leave it at this for now. I am interested to hear what people think in regards to someone who knows the industry much better than any of us and how they feel his opinion compares and contrasts with what GW2 has delivered.