ArenaNet is confident. Confident enough to proclaim it's the best MMO developer around and its upcoming game Guild Wars 2 is the most ambitious online world ever.
Bullish talk, indeed. But, as we discovered while chatting with Mike O'Brien (ArenaNet co-founder, president and, interestingly, the creator of Battle.net) and Guild Wars 2 lead designer Eric Flannum, the developer is ready to stop talking and start showing.
Eurogamer: It seems you're trying to challenge traditional MMORPG mechanics. Is that because you're dissatisfied with current MMORPGs?
Mike O'Brien: It comes from a place of having all these dreams of what online worlds could be and seeing them not fulfilled yet.
It's not just us. We talk to our gamers, our fans, about what we all would love to see in an online world. We all have these visions of, I'm in a world and a dragon is attacking and breathing fire down and NPCs are scrambling, and how are we going to react to that?
What happens if we defeat him and what happens if we don't defeat him? How does that impact the world?
We've had this vision of what online worlds can be, how the things I do as a player can impact the world around me, how people can bounce together and all have the same motivations, for a long time.
To be honest, MMOs have been stuck in a rut recently – a lot of the same game mechanics, the same going around and harvesting quest bangs. We don't need to do that.
Let's get back to the original vision, the original promise, and deliver on some of these things that gamers have been waiting for the industry to deliver on.
Eurogamer: Is there a danger that in changing long-established mechanics you may scare off gamers who are used to them?
Mike O'Brien: Players are ready for something new. I don't think the way that you attract a lot of players to a new game is to say, 'You know that game you've been playing for the past five years? It's just exactly like that. You've been playing that game for a while. Let us show you something new.'
The ways we're changing Guild Wars 2 are ways players want to see. They've played MMOs before and they've seen the current crop of MMOs and yeah, they're familiar with it. But they know there's so much more that can be done in the online world.
An example is story. We've all played role-playing games, too. It's not like there isn't a deep history in our industry of strong role-playing games that tell a great story.
It's too bad most MMOs don't live up to that. There's no excuse for MMOs not to live up to the best story telling you see in role-playing games. It's not like it's an impossible problem.
I know it's a more difficult problem. But it's not an impossible problem to tell a deep, personal story in an online world. We just need to start holding ourselves to those standards.
Players have every right to expect that, and we're going to deliver that.
Eurogamer: What's Guild Wars 2's most innovative feature?
Mike O'Brien: Guild Wars 2 is the first social co-operative online world. We've talked a lot about how you don't even need to form a party. You can form a party, and there are benefits to it, like chat is easier, you can draw on the mini-map, things like that.
But you don't even need to form a party because everybody around you has the same goals you do. When you're fighting you're all banded together. You'll accomplish the same objectives, and then you get rewarded together.
There's never any feeling of, 'Oh no! Some guy's wandered into the hunting area I'm in! Oh no! They're going to steal all of the monsters! I wanted those monsters!' That just doesn't happen in Guild Wars 2. You welcome other people.
When I play MMOs, often I like to spend a lot of my time playing solo. I play a mix of solo and party, like most people do. In Guild Wars 2 it's just a different feeling.
You're out there in the world and you may have started playing solo and then all of a sudden a bunch of people are helping in the same thing you're doing and you guys start following each other around, and together you can accomplish more things in the world than you could have alone.
It just naturally turns itself into a social group environment without you ever having to have stopped and formed a party.