Jeff Strain (Guild Wars) stings Blizzard's WoW

There’s a nice interview at Gamasutra with Jeff Strain (Guild Wars producer and Blizzard’s escapee).

A few passages are rather interesting:

I think there’s different types of rewards. You either reward them for time – that is, investment. The RPG reward. Alternatively, you reward them for their skill, which is the strategy game reward. Some companies reward people for money. There’s some companies online which will power-level for you, which is just a conversion of money for time. I think that games that reward time, and particularly games that reward extreme amounts of time, appeal to a fairly narrow subset of the overall population. I think people appreciate a game where they feel their skill as a gamer and the choices that they’re making are actually making the difference. I think that appeals to a lot broader group.


It was very conscious. Probably the reality is that we sat down and said “This game will not provide a subscription fee. Period.” That was statement number one. I would say that the design came out of that, rather than the pricing model came out of the design. What it comes down to is that we don’t have to try and find ways to keep you playing. It’s perfectly fun to have 70 hours of content which takes 70 hours to play through. If you buy the game, play it for 70 hours, have a rip-roaring time, put it down and then six months later when the next chapter comes out and you want to come back and experience that… well, that’s great. That’s fine for us.

It means you don’t have to feel guilty to be paying a subscription fee and be not actively playing the game. Another comparison is that Harry Potter books. They come out every two years, and it’s enjoyable when another one comes out, but it’s not as if you’ve been reading Harry Potter for the entire time between books. Here’s something I enjoy. I’m going to extract the fun out of it, and then I’ll do something else until the next one comes out… and I’ll have fun with that too.


I’d respond to that, by saying that there are far more people who’ll enjoy a true role-playing experience allowed by being able to have quests that are not FedEx quests which change the world around you, rather than people who’ll be irritated by that. MMOGs – even the most successful ones, even World of WarCraft - compared to WarCraft III or Diablo appeal to smaller numbers of people. I think World of WarCraft is largely riding on the reputation of Blizzard and the fact that it’s a very polished game, but we’ll evaluate it in six months time to see how many people are still playing it. After it settles down, what’s the real long term player population of that game? I suspect it’ll be quite high… but I don’t expect it’ll be close to what Diablo sold world-wide.

I think that there’ll be people who won’t like Guild Wars because they like baking pies. They like… well, we always say “The Grind” with a negative connotation, but it’s not always bad. Grind just means you’re investing large amount of time in order to reach a goal, and some people enjoy it and have the time for it.

Maybe we will get get somebody who can break from the current mold finally.

I haven’t played wow or guild wars but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s not a good idea to criticize the ass-kicking name-taking compeititor before your own game comes out.

If your game rocks theirs then you look like a sore winner and if your game sucks you will get reamed on every internet forum from here to Yemen.

I’m betting on plan B for Guild Wars.

Also, this reminds me of a post I saw on the EQ2 forums (I think) from a guy who had apparently been the designer of some mud lots and lots of years ago. This guy was reaming EQ2 for basically not being a mud. I can’t wait until he designs a hit mud that sells 500k copies like WoW.


Sounds to me like he’s explaining the difference between Guild Wars and every MMO, not slamming WoW. I mean:

it’s a very polished game

After it settles down, what’s the real long term player population of that game? I suspect it’ll be quite high…


Jeff isn’t saying that WoW is a bad game, just that he thinks that WoW will in the long run appeal to fewer gamers than something like Diablo 2 or Warcraft did. In effect he’s saying that “life investment” games are inherently less appealing than games that you can extract your measure of fun out of and then move on from. Criticize that particular statement all you want but it’s very different from him saying WoW in particular is bad. In fact I happen to know that he doesn’t think that.

Yeah good points.

I’m still not a big fan of “let’s compare my game to the other game” type interviews.

Just ship the game ok? Stop wasting your time talking to game journalists. That’s what we have here for.

I’d like to escape the grind by having a game where the character is a zero-sum game: every advance in one area of character development is correspondingly deleterious to some other area. For example, increasing strength implies a neglect of wisdom – all that weightlifing in camp instead of reading! And both the gain and the loss have an equally profound effect on the character.

That way, you refine according to your skills and play style, instead of just grinding on and on toward lvl99. No statistical measure of experience, no levelling, none of it. And once you have the character you want, there’s nothing left to do with it except actually play the game. Some players might find the most success with a vanilla all-rounder, even, and not want to do much development at all.

I would also do away with the other grinds in RPGS, like magic finding or pricing equipment to create a linear chain of acquisition.

Are there any games like this?

Talking to game journalists is something that every developer does to garner publicity and in no way does it keep the game from being released or delay that release. Generally speaking the people who speak to game journalists do it as part of their job.

Talk to me after SWG’s combat upgrade. Yes, there is some grinding but it’s not nearly as awful as most MMOs. After the rebalance, ideally, we’ll see more spread out skills and abilities, creating some interesting decisionmaking, rather than the one-size-fits all ubertemplating (for PvP at least) that’s going on now. Still alot depends on what else you’re looking for in a game and how well the improvements go in SWG before I’d feel completely comfortable recommending this.

Even if you are actually adding to a particular stat, the deleterious effect is that you are NOT adding to the others. As long as there are a fixed number of stat upgrades available, you get something similar to the effect you’re describing - opportunity cost. Now, oppotunity cost is inherent in the stat/skill-based system that most RPGs use, but a low level cap makes the “cost” more significant and makes it affect gameplay more deeply.

In Guild Wars the level caps is 20, and you get 5 attribute points per level. There are diminishing returns as you add points to each attribute. Assuming that most players reach the level cap within a relatively short time of picking up the game (say, a month or two, tops), you get, in effect, what you’re describing.

I think the now defunct Wish was sort of like that from what I recall of the short-lived open beta. For what it’s worth I really liked the system.

The other thing in Guild Wars that is aimed at levelling the playing field in terms of time played is the skill system itself. Instead of each class having a set of skills that everyone eventually uses each class has 75 skills only 8 of which can be used at any one time. Multi-classing brings the number of skills available to a character to 150. You get an effect similar to Magic: The Gathering where your “collection” of skills gives you more combo options but doesn’t necessarily make you outright better than the guy who has say half the available pool of skills.

Correct. The other thing I forgot to mention is the Attribut point refund system. If you decide that you want to “tweak” your build a little bit, you have the ability to gain refund points (even after you reach the level cap). It allows you to, with an extra refund point penalty, reassign the attribute points you’ve already spent. If your returns diminish a little TOO much, you can spend some of your refund points to re-focus your build.

After you stop gaining levels, you continue to earn refund points, so even after you have reached the cap, you still have the ability to change the focus of your character if you like.

All of this in addition, of course, to the Magic-like skill system that EFlannum was talking about.

I don’t know anything about Guild Wars but he’s spot on there. I’ve played lots of MMOGs and I burn out faster and faster… basically, I play the fun part and then stop.

Although it’s a shooter, Planetside has a similar system. For the first few levels (which go by quickly–you can hit level 3 or 4 without even going out into real combat, just doing the training stuff), your character is actually weaker than average. You can still fight and do decently well, but it takes until level 3 or 4 to have a “full kit” that will allow you to be good in the field. The next few levels allow you to specialize your kit a little, making you slightly more powerful than average, at least in your area of specialty (but only average, or even below-average, when not “in your element”). But that’s it. Further level gains allow you to diversify your options, but because you have limited equipment space, you can’t take all those options with you into combat (although you can go back to base and rearrange your kit–like rearranging your MTG deck between matches–depending on what you feel like doing right then or what type of combat/opponents you expect to encounter). It worked because, as someone was wishing for above, “just playing the game” was a lot of fun. Advancing in level was a nice little bonus because it opened up the possibility of new playstyles and small bonuses, but a level 5 character could stand up to a level 20 character (the maximum) and it would be an even fight.

Matrix Online has a good system. It’s not zero-sum, but you only get one point per level to add to your stats. Thus, if you spend any time leveling up a weak area, you’re going to seriously gimp yourself in your strong suit. The practical effect is that people who start out low in Perception stay low in Perception, since no one is foolish enough to waste their precious stat points trying to be mediocre in everything. Mediocre in Matrix Online only gets you killed.

That said, from your other comments, I’m not sure you’d like MxO. There’s still experience points and leveling and all that other stuff. (On the other hand, I thought I was fed up with all that, too, and I’m having a ball…)

I think the comparison is pretty relevant in this case, since Jeff Strain used to be the team lead and lead programmer on WoW. It’s obvious to me that Strain (and the rest of the ex-Blizzard guys) had a different philosophy from Blizzard on their approach to MMOs, and Guild Wars was born from that. So, yeah, I think it’s not only fair but maybe even important for him to make that comparison.

Absolutely. I’m not sure Jeff would have made the comparison in a more mainstream site, but for Gamasutra you’re speaking more about the development of the genre than anything else.


I understand this, as this is how it is done in basically all RPGs out there. My point is that I would like the effect to be much more profound – strong enough to make grind totally pointless, because it gains you nothing. The only thing you need to do is directed activity toward the area you want to improve in, and once you’ve got the character you want, all that’s left to do is play.

As you describe it, the character still becomes progressively stronger in aggregate as you grind. As I want it, the character never gets stronger in aggregate. All you can do is change the character.

We’re addicted to the notion in RPGs that more experience means more skill. But this is totally unnecessary, and turns the game into an endless ramp of acquiring new characteristics and enhancing statistics.

Imagine an RPG where you start as an 18-year old warrior in the peak of physical condition, and no matter what you do, your strength and dexterity can only diminish with time, forcing you to specialize the character. You can’t just play whack-a-mole anymore. You have to actually decide who the guy is and exploit the role.

An extreme example, but it makes the point. Think of it as the “Fable” that only ever existed in Peter Molyneux’s head, where it’s about who the character is, not how much of him there is.

Deleted (Double posted)