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Our editor George Reith recently had the chance to chat with Guild Wars 2’s game director, Colin Johanson for ArenaNet over the phone and they talked about plenty of stuff. It was a lengthy chat, and we got a lot of information and snippets off him.
Colin talked about how Guild Wars 2 has been doing post-release, what the team is up to next, about the future of the series, what went into making Guild Wars 2, some behind-the-scenes stuff and plenty of industry-related topics like piracy and gaming addiction.
It’s a very interesting interview, so give it a read!
With Guild Wars 2, the initial reception was pretty stellar, with some great sales figures and a pretty high Metacritic average. How did you feel about that? Are you happy with how the game is performing?
I’m thrilled. To be honest, I think the predictions of how we thought the game would do, at each step along the way, it always was bigger, and more popular than we had ever expected it could be. And it’s been really humbling, honestly. Every step of the way, there’s been more people that showed up for all our betas and more people who signed up to play it on day 1 and more people who purchased the game so far since it came out than any of the numbers we expected. Our last big November weekend- at the high point in the weekend, we were using about 90% of our total server bandwidth for the demand of all the players logging in. And that was just awesome to see. It’s not something that we necessarily expected to be quite so big and we’re continuing to grow. And it’s just really humbling and really exciting to see how much people are falling in love with the game over a short period of time.
Do you have any kind of regrets regarding the development? I mean, obviously you can’t have that many regrets because, well, you’ve released a pretty good game. But if there anything, personally, that you think you would differently if you got the chance to do it again?
You know, there’s always the time element. We spent five years on the game and that’s a really long time to spend on any project. In the game industry, that is eons to be working on anything. You know, the game came out, and I play it everyday, and I everyday I see something in it. There’s always the little detail that sticks out to me- ‘Oh, we could have done that better!’ If we just had one more fix we could make, to make it more spectacular. There’s always a little detail that stands out to me, something we could have done if we had a little more time. But you know, honestly, we could sit on it for ten years and we could keep working on it, never put it out, and we probably still wouldn’t be happy. [Laughs] So it’s hard to say.
At the end of the day, I think that we’ve done a really good job, getting a really solid game out the door. There are certainly some areas that we know we need to grow in, and add more features. PvP is a big one for me. We know that there are some features that we need to have to get the PvP up to where we want it to be. Those were not included in release, and those are all things that we have either already added since the game came out or we have a team of people building right now. So it’s one of the big ones for me, really, growing that competitive PvP feature-base.
Speaking of the updating process- that’s one of the beauties of making a game that’s based in online, that you can constantly be updating it. But aside from continual updates for Guild Wars 2, are there any plans for bigger expansions that are kind of in the works?
Yeah, yeah, we are actively working on a bigger expansion as well. But that’s something we don’t have a real timetable set on yet. Our major focus now, like most of the companies, is live updates. But we do have a small group of people that is working on expansions and stuff down the road as well. But our big goal, what we wanted to do, is really kind of do something that no one’s ever done before in an MMO after it came out. And that’s every single month, adding giant updates to our game and do a huge release that really gives the players the sense that they’re paying their monthly fee, and every four to five months, they’re getting free expansions’ worth of content as part of logging into our game.
We had a huge Halloween update in October, we just had a big one in November, we have a giant Christmas update coming in December, and all of those have gone over really well, and I think in December people are going to be really excited. But January and February are actually are biggest updates to date. They’re even bigger than all the stuff we did in October, November and December. And I think that when people see how much stuff they’re gonna get for no monthly fee in January and February, they’re probably going to be blown away. These two months combined are basically an expansion’s worth of content for free.
Cool! Okay, that’s good stuff to look forward to. But in terms of paid expansions- because with Guild Wars 1 you had a few paid expansion sets- are you gonna have anything like that with Guild Wars 2 or is it all going to be regular, free updates?
We will also have paid expansions. In Guild Wars 1, there were really big ones, as often as every six months. I think we will not have them be as frequent in Guild Wars 2. It’s really hard to work on an expansion for six months odd, and then turn around and work on another one and another one and not burn the team out. I think we would rather focus on doing monthly live updates with which we can specifically go after parts of the game that we know we need to make better, and yes, the big expansions will on slightly longer of a time range. To expand the game out larger from there. But we definitely will do paid expansions down the road.
So I’m just curious about the process of inspiration for Guild Wars 2. Did you take inspiration mainly from other games, or do you look into other mediums, like you know, literature and art and films and stuff like that?
We’re inspired by pretty much everything. I think when you work on something for five years, you can’t be limited to any one genre. You’ve got to link at everything you possibly can. There are people who have been inspired by cartoons that their kids watch at home and they come in and say ‘Oh, we gotta do something like Yo Gabba Gabba!’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I don’t think that’s a good idea! We shouldn’t do that.’ [Laughs] And you know, every day there is something different that inspires people across the company- the books they’re reading, the movies they’re watching, the shows that they’re really into. And they all find ways to have a little bit of an impact on the game. Certainly games that we all play as well have an impact and in different games, we’ll see a mechanic, and we’ll say ‘That’s not quite right for our game, but we could take that and make it Guild Wars 2, make it something really special in our game.’ That’s definitely something that we take from as well.
It’s kind of across the board. Every person here is taking inspiration constantly from all the things around them and using that to drive the stuff that they build. I think as game developers, especially as game designers and writers, oftentimes the best inspiration you find are the characters that go into your game. And if you’re writing those characters based on life experiences and people you know and things that you’ve experienced, and you’re able to take those experiences and put them into characters’ storylines you’re building, oftentimes that’s got to be the strongest piece of content. And that’s the type of stuff we really like to encourage our team to do more of. Especially if down the road we want to tell better stories than we have in the past.
Is there anything in particular? Can you think of one thing that really gave you inspiration personally when you were coming up with ideas for Guild Wars 2? Is there any one thing where you’re like ‘Yep, that’s the biggest’ kind of influence?
I would say our world vs world system. Our world vs world PvP is highly inspired by the old Dark Age of Camelot Realm vs Realm system. A lot of people that work here, Dark Age of Camelot was their all time favourite game, and the realm vs realm was really what made that game spectacular and amazing. And that system of having three different sides fighting constantly and rotating between the influences of power over this big PvP area, that’s a place where we found a lot of inspiration. And we took it and put our own Guild Wars 2 twist on it. And it’s something where we tried to build on the best elements of that and then make it uniquely and distinctly Guild Wars as well.
And actually, in February, we’re going to do a whole bunch of expansions on top of that world vs world area, to make that experience even more uniquely Guild Wars. But that’s something where we took a lot of inspiration from a previous game, and take that and then build on it and make it something even more.
It seems like PvP is kind og a big focus area. But in terms of stuff that is already incredibly impressive about Guild Wars 2, one of the things I thought was really unique in the MMORPG genre was the way choices and consequences are shown to the player. I mean, that’s the kind of thing you expect in a more hardcore single player experience. Making that work in an MMO- was that a difficult system to get in play?
[Laughs] Yeah, I think it’s something that defines the single player RPG genre, in particular really good single player RPGs have that choice that we’re talking about. I think that’s what makes them shine. You feel like the choices you make actually make a difference. And to do that in a single player game is difficult, but it’s something that you can do and it’s really rewarding.
To do it in a multiplayer game is much, much more difficult, just because you have to take into account every decision that every player could be taking. You have to make it so they’re not competing with each other, but that they’re decisions are complimenting one another. From a designer’s point of view, it’s something that can be really challenging. You have to consider that in every decision that you’re making from the design side, to make sure that it functions. So we had to do things like, with our personal story, develop a system where if you brought your buddy along with you to experience the personal story, we set up rules so that if they’re on the same story step as you, they could choose to take your progress or take their own progress. If they’re not on the same step as you, they’re certain limitations to the things they’re allowed to see or do so that the choice wasn’t exposed to them, but they feel like they’re experiencing all the content as well.
So it definitely makes things a lot more complicated, but I think in the end it’s really rewarding, and it’s something that we look ahead to in our expansions to expand the story and the characters in the game. I think we can even do that better. We want people to look at Guild Wars 2 not just as an MMO, we want them to say ‘That’s the best RPG out there, and it just so happens that I can play the best RPG with all my friends at the same time too.’ And if we can pull off stories that everybody looks back at and says ‘This is the greatest RPG story I’ve ever experienced’, that has to be our goal for telling personal stories and giving people choices in the game.
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