Guild Wars has some very unique qualities but until recently I haven’t been able to figure out why it feels special, a little unique snowflake in a way. It has the same style of combat we have all gotten used to, a questing system that is really only a good iteration of the tried and true, and a well-designed but oddly familiar PvP environment. It’s rather baffling but some recent posts have highlighted the point the forgotten point to me and that is how inherently social GW2 is. It is rather obvious in a way as I have already posted a little about the social nature of it but I had completely misjudged how important this is to changing the dynamic and feel of play.
There has been a conscious choice in development to promote a more social environment and it has worked wonders in a way, but the funny thing is they are rather simple changes. Everything is made so as to give credit to whoever whenever and it is freeing of the social mores that have been around since the stone age of gaming; mobs give credit to everybody that has helped kill (to a certain extent), being able to combo skills and such off each other even when not in a party, and then there is the individual nodes just falling from the sky. It creates an air of cooperation that is more pervasive now than it appears, it is an infection in a way, an infection slowly poisoning the playerbase to do things like resing random people when there is little to no benefit.. crazy I know. I have no idea how I really feel about it yet, its odd coming from a competitive PVP environment where conflict is one of the best forms of content.
Regardless of how I feel playing with or around others just feels natural, as you play closer with the same person or people everyone starts fulfilling some sort of social role of helping the group as much as they can, placing an aoe field in the right spot, buffing, deflecting, resing. There is usually no verbal/written communication leading up to it either, everything is merely guided in a way by a positive social atmosphere and shared goals. A while ago Syp over at Bio break compared this unique aspect to the game Journey and it is a really good analogy as they both share that similar nonverbal connection with others. There is no need to converse, your just two adventurers whose paths have intertwined for a time, you get to work together and share a certain experience. It really is a nice way to play, and it makes you feel that warm fuzzy kind of good when you’re playing nearby to someone and you both click together.
It is this playing around others and being social that is one of the foundations of mmo’s that has kind of been forgotten lately in our heavily storied instance running, but there is a big part still missing and that is the act of actually socialising. I find Gw2 really doesn’t encourage people to actually socialise and that seems like a lost opportunity as you have the beginning of a friendly community but no reason to engage with it.
The problem as I see it is that GW2 is just far too individualistic as while a nice social vibe there is no reason to rely team up with anyone, everything is pretty much soloable and even when something there is a big event you are merely playing alongside rather than with. That extension of group mechanics where a group is a combination of its members, there is no larger machine it is just the individual cogs randomly running around and occasionally bumping into each other. I think this is where the tagging system works against it as there is no need to form a party to overcome an obstacle or to get credit. Being in a party is really the cornerstone of socialising in a way as such a model is rather conducive to communication, while in a group it is part of our human nature to talk to each other at first to relieve that awkwardness and then it is the want to get to know other people.. not the artificial social of playing alongside but the real social of connecting with people on an individual level.. maybe even making friends.
Another issue that has pretty much plagued the mmo industry in terms of socialising is that there is very little reason to have a reliance on other people, having a need or a reliance on others for whatever reason has a habit of bringing people together. Everything is achievable through personal effort, the best gear, money and whatever else you need is at your fingertips with enough time. You can keep questing to obtain the best gear in a sense through karma, you can purchase gem to get gold as another way to obtain whatever you need, and then there is crafting to fill in the gaps. There is even someone in my little guild that has maxed every single crafting profession, a wealth of crafting resources at their fingertips and no need to ever rely on anyone else. In earlier games becoming the pinnacle of a crafting profession was a lengthy affair requiring effort (sometimes of many) and perseverance. In the end these people became pillars of a community in a sense and created communities around the fact of a shared need.
Reliance on others has become relative moot in all of general play now as with the way the market has been progressing towards a more casual appeal there has become very little consequence to play. In an older game model there was usual a consequence to dying that encouraged others to band together to avoid such a thing, with a big enough consequence people form together as it is always safer in numbers. pick up groups were occurring all the time in days of old, long running groups and even pick up groups that eventuated into more than that. It was a way of encouraging other to form social ties with others, there was the shared need from all parties but with the regularity of such groups it was able to form long standing groups and communities. Even an open world PvP environment promotes such a thing and while a harsher consequence is a forceful way of bringing others together just the constant apprehension and harassment from a pk environment is often enough for people to form groups.
Overall GW2 is a game that emphasizes personal gain and achievement over all else and while it promotes cooperation and avoids competition in the PvE environment there is no group goals, or reasons for anyone to band together for a greater good. Everything in the game is designed with the individual in mind and far more then is really necessary, just having a look at all the different currencies available that allow people to obtain gear is a good indication. It was obviously an overarching decision in the guild wars model to make it as such in a way to appeal to a larger audience, the raiding model restricted crafting and gathering, singular tagging and other such models have been thought to have been one of those inherent evils of the mmo world which Arenanet just thought to remove but they neglected to contemplate any of the benefits or reasons why such systems have been around for so long. We have gone from an age of socialising to just being social and while it that isn’t inherently bad it would have been nice to have learnt from the past and to have maybe combined our learning into something more encouraging of the human element.
There could be other ways of promoting this as well but such things have been rather forgotten or misinterpreted by developers in the past. For instance TSW has an upcoming pub trivia event that has been completely organised by the players and I think that is just amazing, it is a way of getting a community involved with each other and also communicating. Getting to know others through other methods seems more constrained than these more natural elements and I don’t understand why devs don’t have more of these simple random events. They are so bound in the cycle of creating content be it dailies, npc’s and big events with multiple quests but they have forgotten the truly human element. Their ideas have become focused on the individual instead of communicating with others and creating long standing communities . I have expressed my views on how communicating can enrich an mmo, I see mmo’s like Second life doing marvelous things with community and will continue to wonder why such a thing hasn’t been rediscovered in the mmo’s I enjoy as they are not only engaging but create long term appeal.