Guild Wars 2 designer on how subscriptions influence design - and the importance of fun

Guild Wars 2 Guardian

In a blog post on the ArenaNet website, Guild Wars 2 designer Colin Johanson has described how the studio's design culture meshes with the game's subscription-free payment model.

"Designers of traditional MMOs create content systems that take more time to keep people playing longer" he explains. "When your game systems are designed to achieve the prime motivation of a subscription-based MMO, you run the risk of sacrificing quality to get as much content in as possible to fill that time."

Because Guild Wars 2 doesn't need to attract long-term subscribers, Johanson argues, ArenaNet are able to build the game around a different set of principles - namely, building a fun game.

"Can we make something so much fun you might want to play it multiple times because it's fun, rather than making you do it because the game says you have to?" Johanson asks. "It's how we played games while growing up. I can't tell you how many times I played Quest for Glory; the game didn't give me 25 daily quests I needed to log in and do—I played it multiple times because it was fun!"

It's a great sentiment, and it's bizarre and telling that it's usual to see it expressed in so many words. What makes it exciting in this case is that it's believeable. Grounding the desire to create a fun game in the commercial reality of running an MMO reflects what ArenaNet president Mike O'Brien told me back in March - "If people value the work that we're doing, then they're going to pay for the work that we're doing.”

Johanson highlights the importance of closely involving the QA team in the design process. "I've never heard of a game company where the QA team is so integrated into the development process, where they can enact and impact change on a daily basis in the game. They aren't just testers, they are developers who help make every part of the game better."

He also describes the company-wide testing sessions which ArenaNet use to gather feedback on particular parts of the game. One of these happened when I was at the studio in March, and it was disconcertingly idyllic. The people who are making Guild Wars 2, playing Guild Wars 2! I looked pretty hard, but couldn't detect any discernable evil in the process. Of course, that's what they wanted me to think.

"If our model was subscription based, we might be spending all this time racing to add as much filler content as possible to keep players chasing the carrot." Johanson continues. "Instead, as content designers with the goal of creating fun, we get to spend this time refining our content and making it amazing."

Have you been playing Guild Wars 2, readers? If so, do you think ArenaNet are rising to the challenge they've set for themselves?

Chris Thursten

Joining in 2011, Chris made his start with PC Gamer turning beautiful trees into magazines, first as a writer and later as deputy editor. Once PCG's reluctant MMO champion , his discovery of Dota 2 in 2012 led him to much darker, stranger places. In 2015, Chris became the editor of PC Gamer Pro, overseeing our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports. He left in 2017, and can be now found making games and recording the Crate & Crowbar podcast.