Jeff Strain (Guild Wars) stings Blizzard's WoW

Many RPers I know refer to that model as power inflationary. Things constantly ramp up so the devs are ultimately in the position of creating more, harder, content all the time. Like mother birds mouthfeeding constantly chirping chicks. Except while these babes are constantly getting bigger and stronger they never leave the nest.

A better model would be stronger, more interesting, gameplay across a level playing field, like you’re suggesting. This is why I tend to favor the notion of simulations of environments in games. If your goal is to conquer this forest between rival kingdoms you’ve got alot more to think about, and alot of organizing to do, which is essentially player instigated and generated content. But it only means something if the results and consequences are persistant (until reversed by the other side or, perhaps, a periodic reset).

At any rate, SWG is where I’m sticking because it does come closest to recreating such an immersive environment. Primarily with the economic game but it’s getting there with modifications to the GCW too. The combat update is also creating (in theory) more distinct differences between the roles various combat professions play. And, yes, there’s a grind to mastery. But that grind isn’t very steep and, with these changes, it looks like it’s bottom weighted. This means by learning simple core skills like Marksman you’re competant to fight. Selecting an advanced class, much like a Prestige class in the D20 system, you’re simply adding on extra useful abilities but not necessarily ones you’d need to have to get along.

And it does remain skills oriented. You can master certain abilities in certain professions while skipping the rest and studying in other disciplines. Custom characters are going to be making a comeback over templates ideally.

I understand what you’re saying, but a big part of almost all games, not just RPGs is an increase in your ability to respond to whatever variety of threat it is you’re facing. I don’t understand why the meaning of “grind” has been expanded the way it has.

In a FPS, as a consequence of your actions (killing people), you acquire new weapons, armor, etc that increase your power versus that of the people you are facing. They potentially allow you to use new strategies to fight the enemies you encounter. They allow you the possibility of defeating people who would have been too strong for you to defeat otherwise. And, possibly most importantly, they are your fucking carrot. I mean, the game is fun – you enjoy playing it – but a periodic sense of reward or accomplishment is intrinsic to what makes people keep playing something.

I understand that “gameplay” and “carrot” aren’t synonymous, but all kinds of genres of games work on the same stat/item reward system that most RPGs do.

The concept of grind is an easy one to grasp, but if the rewards we’re talking about “grinding” for come as a natural consequence of playing the game as it’s meant to be played and not of playing the same part over and over, then I don’t think it IS grind. Low level caps and rationally limited rewards that result in a mandatory trade-off of skill for skill give you the carrot without the grind. Guild Wars (since that’s what we’re talking about) is designed to give you enough game to play that you’re finished with the grind before you are finished with the game, and the challenge remains after your character is “maxed out”. Further playing, further experience, gives you more OPTIONS, not more power. That is just not the case with something like Diablo (easily beat the game around level 25 of 99) or Everquest or whatever else we want to talk about.

All interesting stuff. There’s definately a spectrum of possibilities, with myriad sweet spots. But while that “power inflationary” extreme is loaded with examples, the “zero sum” extreme isn’t. If I were being cynical, I’d say that’s because it forces the creators to dream up a Different Fucking Carrot.

(I imagine a zero-sum Diablo II would be a once-through affair, and lose almost all of its appeal: a zero-sum Baldur’s Gate 2, I think, would lose very little.)

Another interesting thought is fighting games. Imagine if fighting games gave you experience and allowed you to buff up the character and take it around with you to arcades. It would probably destroy the entire appeal of the games – the pitting of skill against skill. I just happen to think that some similar principle is at work in RPGs, but we’re so accustomed to it we generally don’t notice or care.

Sorry if I repeat myself.

One big problem with creating simulated environments is, actually, one I completely glossed over. PvP is the easy copout, like my “forest war” example. Unfortunately PvP tends to attract asshats and, you make a valid point here, when some guys have more time to work on a character in a power inflationary game they’ll just bully everyone else. Since these folks are a minority it alienates the majority and so PvP tends to wither on the vine. It always starts strong, everyone’s excited, and then plop.

Even without a power inflationary structure PvP’s a difficult proposition. It does tend to encourage the worst kinds of people to participate (though a striking exception in SWG is JtL which is more sim and skill based, a larger percentage of older folks and even roleplayers are getting involved in space PvP - which may just be going through the brief boom before the inevitable PvP bust).

PvP engenders all kinds of drama, poor sportsmanship and ill will. I think this largely has to do with the amount of work and effort, and self-identification, a player has with his character. It’s not just a collection of pixels holding a gun as you’d find on a FPS. Again with the SWG, I know, but an interesting middle ground is allowing players to place NPC controlled bases to hold territory. These count towards victory conditions on a planet. When one side has more bases the garrisons in the major NPC cities become vulnerable and when destroyed spawn, instead, as the other faction’s men. PvEvP. Player factions in competition but not directly. So far I’m really enjoying planting a base or two and watching the balance of power on a planet shift a bit (which effects the prices of bases, and other special gear, for other players of the same faction). Even more fun is taking out enemy player bases.

There’s also a PvP version with bases that are only vulnerable certain times of day so they can be defended actively by players.

All I knows is I read the preview in this month’s CGM and I likee what I hear. I almost started a Guild Wars thread, but I figured someone would get around to it.

Here’s an excerpt from another Strain interview that’s relevant to the discussion:

Guild Wars, in contrast, is based around your skill as a player. Our maximum level is twenty, and you hit that very quickly, after about 20-30 hours of play. We call that ‘The Point of Ascension’. Almost all of the content in the game and in the future Chapters is only available to Ascended characters, which means we don’t have to worry about providing different levels of content. All the good stuff will be available to everyone. It’s not our intent to force people onto the levelling up treadmill, so the level cap in Guild Wars is almost meaningless.

If you care to read the whole thing, it’s here.

Dammit. Now that’s requiring registration… I don’t know what the deal is.

(edited for dammit)

I was basically exaggerating in that post you know. Obviously you guys got to talk to the journalists or where would Tom get his spending money right?

I still stand by my original statement though. (Please keep in mind that I’ve never even played WoW.) Personally, I was not moved, impressed, swayed, or enlightened by these quotes:

Obviously you like your game and Jeff, but I don’t really see that there’s any real positive way to read this comment…especially knowing that Jeff used to work at Blizzard. This quote is implying that the initial huge numbers for WoW are based on hype and are not sustainable. This may in fact be true. I simply feel that this kind of comment is completely unnecessary. You can EASILY promote your own game without having to call into question the merits of a compeititor (whether a direct or indirect compeititor).

Since you guys are positioning yourselves as a game similar to Diablo in some ways, this statement implies (to me at least) that you expect to essentially outsell WoW long term. Or at least that you’re in a market in which it’s possible to outsell WoW.

As polite and faux-deferential as this interview is to WoW (what with the compliments etc), this STILL looks like bad blood/sour grapes to me and it gives me a bad impression of this Jeff Strain guy. He is basically now #3 on my list of developers that I think have a chip on their shoulders after Romero (who never EVER even came close to making me his gardener, let alone his bitch) and American “It was the publisher’s idea to put my name in the title” McGee. #4 is Peter “I have great ideas that I fail to execute” Molyneux.

Now if your game rocks, which it certainly looks like it might, maybe I’ll change my mind. But why even risk giving people a negative impression of yourself or your game? That’s what I don’t understand.

I like a lot of the ideas behind Guild Wars. but I’m dubious about their being able to generate a continuous revenue stream. The new chapters are expansions and are not required to play the game. Expansions typically sell at a fraction of the numbers of the original game. I would think that each successive expansion would sell fewer copies than the previous expansion.

I think there are two big draws that traditional MMOs have that retain subscribers – community building and character building. When you make in-game friends that keeps you coming back, and continually improving your character keeps you coming back. I wonder how much of this kind of “stickyness” Guild Wars will have?

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’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.

Diablo wasn’t a time=reward game?

While Mark is correct, nobody’s really tried this type of a game with that kind of revenue model to any great extent… I think that if Blizzard put out a paid expansion every three-to-six months for Diablo II fans would have gobbled them up, and not because it’s Blizzard (though that helps).

— Alan


I can understand your interpretation of what’s being said completely. I guess I don’t see it that way because I know the people involved and I know that Jeff is both a great guy and doesn’t have the contempt/ill-will toward WoW that you’re getting out of his statements.

I’m completely prepared to believe you :)

I’m sure what you’re saying is true. It’s not like I’m “mad” or anything…on the contrary I would tend to agree with the expressed sentiments! It’s very interesting to talk about rewarding skill rather than just time. The only way I’ve managed to continue to have fun with EQ2 for the last six weeks is because a) there is plenty to do that’s fun that isn’t a time-sink and b) I studiously avoid anything that would make me feel like I’m in a rat-race.

Jeff’s points are potentially very valid. I just think there’s a bit of a difference hearing about these points in a general context vs hearing them in a specific game A game B comparison. Then again, I’m way too frank and far too tactless so I should give Jeff the benefit of the doubt. I’ll swap him and Molyneux on my list.

Jeff is now between Peter M and Chris “Freelancer is on rails” Roberts.


As long as I never make your list I’m content ;)

I agree with this, sort of. I still think that the percentage of sales of expansions, especially if they came every six months, would decline. It would be lucrative for Blizzard because 30% of two million is still a lot of sales. Thirty percent of 200,000 is good, but if the numbers keep dropping with each successive expansion, you’ll not sell enough after awhile.

This was already tried with a solo RPG. I can’t remember the name, but it was a game that was sold by chapter. It was an indie and didn’t have much marketing, and the quality was a bit dubious. It didn’t catch on. The pricing scheme may or may not have been the problem, but it’s certainly not a testament to the success of this kind of idea.

I do like the pricing model. I like the idea of being able to play without paying a subscription fee. I’m just not sure if I’ll want to play after I hit the level cap and I don’t really have any goals, and if I stop playing my interest in succeeding expansions will be lessened. There are a lot of EQ expansions I haven’t played. Haven’t played Catacombs for DAoC either. And it’s not the monthly fee that’s keeping me away – it’s that I’ve lost interest in those games, despite how much fun I had with them.

One more example: Magic the Gathering Online. It’s free to play, but if you want to keep up with the Joneses you have to buy cards. I think Guild Wars is using a similar gameplay philosophy with character abilities being limited to X number of slots, but players who buy expansions get access to more abilities.

That’s fine, but I kind of resent feeling like I’m not keeping up with other players if I don’t buy new content. I quit M:tGO over this. I would have much preferred a flat monthly fee structure that gave players X number of boosters each month and no ability to buy new boosters. Everyone would at least have the same number of cards from which to deckbuild, and the trading market would have been a lot more interesting too.

Well I bought the pre-order at EB today. You got me Eflannum.


That’s some pressure :) I hope you like it!