Guild Wars 2: How to make MMOs better • Page 2

Designer Colin Johanson takes us inside ArenaNet.

Eurogamer: What sort of feedback do you get from the testers?

Colin Johanson: I'll give you an example from my team. My team is responsible for developing the events, the personal story and the dungeons in the game. We have QA testers who... send many-page-long emails full of suggestions and ideas about the events that they'd like.

And rather than blow them off, we look through that list of stuff and see what can we do in a reasonable amount of time, what would help this event be better, and we do all of those things. I guarantee you that every event that you played today in some way has an element that was implemented and suggested by one of our QA department.

Eurogamer: Daniel [Dociu] also said how respected artists were here, and that they led a lot of the design process in terms of the maps and so on.

Colin Johanson: When we lay out the maps... we bring the artists who are working on the map, the level designer who's laying out the map and the writing team who's going to be working on that map, and the designers, and we all get together in the room.

We sit there for hours, sometimes days, and just talk about everything that we want to have going on in the map, and everybody throws ideas out; there's ideas in our game and events in our game that came from the artists, that came from the writers, that came from programmers. They're all a really integral part of that process.

And then as the artists go and they start building the maps, they start building little areas into it... and they come to us and they say, "Hey I built this beautiful outcropping over here that we don't have any use for in the game, what should we use it for?" And we're like, "Oh, let's take advantage of that!"

I think what ends up happening with that is you end up getting a really strong world. You don't have a beautiful game that feels soulless because the design doesn't match the art, and you don't have a game where the design is really strong and the art's kind of all over the place... Everything feels like it belongs there. The events and the spawns feel like they belong in the area and match the art of the world. That comes from that cohesiveness.

The latest footage of Guild Wars 2.

Eurogamer: One of the problems you deal with when launching a new MMO now is expectations. People expect all these features, and a huge amount of content, and it's often not really possible to deliver at launch. How do you manage that? And where are you prepared to make sacrifices?

Colin Johanson: We recognise that right now, to compete, you need to release a game that's not just good enough to compete with another game that just released, but you need to be able to compete with all of the expansion content as well. Because people are looking for that much game experience out of a game. They want an experience that matches up with a game that has four expansions already made for it.

The way that we're going to handle it is: we're making a game big enough that we offer that much content. We are making a game where we're not sacrificing anything.

We're not just doing PVP, we're doing competitive PVP and we're doing an open-world, world-versus-world PVP system as well. We're not just doing a story chain that you can play through or an open world full of events, we're doing an open world full of events, your personal story chain, and all the different, branching versions that all the different races offer. We're doing dungeons, and we're not just doing dungeons, we're doing repeatable versions of dungeons that have different storylines that branch that you can play through.

We're tackling all of that, and we're saying we are not going to sacrifice anywhere. We're going to do all of this, we're going to make this the game that offers something for everybody, and we're going to get that right, and if it takes us a little longer to do that, the trade-off is totally worthwhile.

Eurogamer: I know the company line on release is 'when it's done'... Do you have any kind of external pressure or internal pressure where you feel that there is a clock ticking to some extent? Financially perhaps?

Colin Johanson: External pressure? Absolutely not. NCsoft has been fantastic to us. They've basically given us the freedom to make the best possible game that we can and they trust that if we do that, it's all going to work out fine in the end. They recognise that rushing a project out the door doesn't do any good.

So, externally, no. Internally? The only pressure that we have is the pressure we put on ourselves, because we know our fans want to play this game, and we know they're chomping at the bit to get at it. But we're not going to sacrifice anything to make that happen. We're going to put out a game that we're in love with and totally happy with, and only then.

Eurogamer: What drives ArenaNet, as a company? I've heard your colleagues talk about wanting to be "number one" in a few different contexts – Daniel was saying he wanted to be the most beautiful game in this genre, for example. Is that it? Is it a competitive jostling to be at the front?

Colin Johanson: I think what drives us is to better ourselves as a company and to continue to improve on the product that we make and better the industry around us. I think there's a lot of ways that you can make video games, and we want to be the company that encourages people to think outside the box and try different ways to make games.

There's no better way to better yourself as a company or as an employee of a company than to try different ways to do things and see if you can find a better way to do it. I think above all else, that's what drives us.

Eurogamer: Without asking you to name names, when you look at other MMO launches – and frankly there haven't been all that many successful ones over the last five years – where do you think your competitors are going wrong?

Colin Johanson: Honestly, we have a lot of respect for the the other MMO developers out there. We realise how monumental an undertaking it is to make an MMO. I mean, there's nothing like it. If you are a game studio who has never made an MMO before, and you're thinking about doing it, seriously consider all the work that goes into it. Because an MMO is so many games rolled all into one game... We're building, I feel like sometimes, eight games all rolled together into one.

So it's hard to say if other people failed or where they failed – I'll just say that I have a tremendous amount of respect for anybody who's willing to make an MMO.

Eurogamer: What is that keeps you here, personally?

Colin Johanson: Above all else, it's the people. I love ArenaNet, I love Guild Wars 2, I love working here, but the thing I love the most is the people I work with. I wake up every day excited to come into work, because I get to go hang out with a bunch of my friends all day and we just happen to make video games, and that's pretty awesome.

You know, we all give each other a hard time, but this is a close group of people. We lunch together, we work long hours together, we go to Old Country Buffet together and survive somehow. We've kind of built a little bit of a family here.

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Oli Welsh

Oli Welsh

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Oli is the editor of Eurogamer.net and likes to take things one word at a time. His friends call him The European, but that's just a coincidence. He's still playing Diablo 3.

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