Being at the EUFanDay – or: Musings about ArenaNet’s game philosophy

As you, my dear readers, may have noticed already, I was invited to the EUFanday in Brighton. Yeah, okay, there’s no way you can have missed that. ;) When we got this invitation, we were… flattered. The next question, however, was: Who will go? Bookahnerk or me? Once that was settled (it was an ugly fight, I can tell you! ^^ ), I was very much looking forward to it. Then I saw the NDA… we weren’t allowed to talk or write about our game experience. As you have also very likely noticed, the NDA was lifted by now. However, that only happened after our return back home. During those two days in Brighton, the NDA still stood and we were reminded of it several times. When the EUFanDay was finally announced on Twitter (we had, of course, been invited a few weeks before that), I saw various reactions. Quite a few people were confused and wondered what this was all about. More importantly: They wondered what they would have to do in order to be able to go and why ArenaNet announced it so close to the actual date. In other words: I think that announcement and the title of the event were a bit misleading: It was an invitation-only event and while most of us who had gotten invited were fans, not everybody there was a fan and follower of Guild Wars 2. We’re all gamers and MMO-players, of course! However, a “regular fan”, that is, one without a blog or a fan site, didn’t have a chance to be invited. I would have wished for a clearer announcement or clarification what this was all about.

Anyway, I also saw people claiming this was a press-event. I even saw people call us “journalists”. No, I’m not. And just think about the last beta event where the press didn’t have the NDA and were allowed to report about the game. We, clearly, didn’t see us as press (at least, the people I talked with about this) and we weren’t treated like press either as the NDA was firmly in place! So we didn’t see ourselves as press and apparently, so didn’t ArenaNet. I have to admit, I was a bit confused why we were brought there. Why had they invited us? And what could we write about once we got home? Well, apart from the interview, of course. After talking with a few others, I knew that I wasn’t alone in my frustration (which, by now, is gone because they did change their mind and allowed us to freely talk about our game experience) and my wondering why we were there.

On the first day, however, not long after we had arrived in the Lighthouse, which was the building in which we got to play Guild Wars 2, Stéphane kind of gave me an answer to my “identity crisis as far as being a blogger was concerned”: I had just gotten a cup of coffee and stood there sipping on it when I heard Stéphane talk to others. I don’t know what had been said or asked before and I didn’t write down Stéphane’s answer so I’m paraphrising here. According to him, for ArenaNet an MMORPG consists of two things: One is the game itself. But this game alone (that is, Guild Wars 2 in our case) is not an MMORPG. Only when you add “the community”, you get an MMORPG. Without the community, it’s not an MMO! And that’s what ArenaNet has been trying to design.

I guess you can see it in the steps they have taken so far: There is the game which doesn’t require people to play a certain way. It doesn’t require them to fight over loot or crafting nodes. Everybody gets something. We’re not rivals nor in competition with each other. They tried to design the game in a way that it supports building friendships, teams, people helping each other without jumping through hoops first (e.g., you can help somebody kill a tough mob and you’ll get a reward even if you weren’t in the same group!). They’re trying to make it easy to collaborate and play together (no groups necessary, no holy trinity). They’re trying to get rid of artificial barriers (e.g., raiding equipment, PvP equipment etc. You can get your gear the way you prefer – that is, through crafting PvE or PvP. I’ve written about their design philosophy not too long ago. So that’s the in-game part.

When you look at how they interact with their fans, future customers and players, you can see a similar treatment. After last year’s GamesCom, we also wrote about their interaction with fans. They, the developers of the game, were in the masses watching and observing people trying out the demo. They were also there and answered questions, listened to feedback. It wasn’t this one-dimensional way of players writing on forums, giving feedback or asking questions without receiving answers and not knowing if the developers even read their postings. Here, at GamesCom, they could talk to them, hear answers and make sure their feedback was heard!

As I said, we’re not press. The press’s expertise is writing about games, reporting, reviewing. We as bloggers and fan sites do the same. However, we have the freedom to be a lot more subjective when writing (hence, this rant! ^^). We are also much closer to the community. We ARE the community (in the sense of being a part of it which the press often isn’t). Maybe you remember Martin Kerstein’s posting about building community. I quote one, for me, important sentence:

“The main goal is to be inclusive, not exclusive, to encourage collaboration between communities, and to generate an atmosphere that is helpful, friendly, and above all, respectful.”

So, what longwinded-me is trying to say here is that this whole philosophy of having a game AND a great community seemed to be a reason why we had been invited. The collaboration aspect is one I could see clearly after we had all returned from Brighton. I don’t think I have ever “retweeted” that many people’s blog posts (and in some cases, in languages I don’t even understand) or seen as many trackbacks to my own blog posts. Also, Tasha Darke and Dutch Sunshine from GuildMag worked together to transcribe the interview we had together. Each posted half of the interview on their individual site. Tasha also mentions this in one of her blog entries:

“Dutch and I spoke about various aspects of working together for the better of the community when things line up, the start of which we saw yesterday when we split the load for transcribing the Q and A.”

For them, it worked out just fine: They each only had to do half of the work and both got the “hits” by people visiting their sites (though I don’t think either of them really cares about the latter!). And what did you, their readers, the game’s fans, the rest of the community, get from this? Easy answer: You got to read the interview a whole lot sooner than you would have if they hadn’t split the work! In other words, if we’re working together, collaborating, it’s a winning situation for everybody. ;) And a lot more fun if you ask me!

So for me, this EUFanDay was only partly about getting to play the game. By and large, it was about meeting people that I’d gotten to know online before (or not, as there were people that I’d never interacted with before) and getting to talk about our hobby (Guild Wars 2 as well as blogging/writing).

Apart from the community aspect, there was one other (though related) part: We got to meet the European Community Managers! Who here had even realised we got them before? I had seen their names mentioned in a Tweet and on Facebook. But I had tried to find out more about them, who they are etc. and hadn’t been too successful. You can see them tweet or write on Facebook (something was written by Aidan Taylor if the message ends with “AT” and by Mélanie Corolleur if it ends with “MC”). For us Europeans, having European CMs is great (not culture-wise because Martin and Stéphane are originally from Europe anyway) because they’re in our timezone! It’s a much more direct interaction. They’ve also already said that they will be at this year’s GamesCom, so if you want to meet them in person, make sure to be there!

I’m going to finish my rant now with a short bit of feedback about this trip, a few more pictures and a picture gallery of the Rytlock figure for you guys (the one holding it is Kronos from Onlinewelten, by the way, with whom I had never interacted before the EUFanDay even though I’d been reading on the GW2-Onlinewelten page every now and then).

The trip itself was much too short: It seemed chaotic and rushed at times. I would have loved to have more time to figure out my skills before being thrown into a PvP match but we always had the ticking clock at the back of our minds (there was the scheduled interview and the dinner reservation at the restaurant!). The interview itself had been a bit disappointing because we hadn’t known before that we only got to ask one question per person. Of course, having 25 people with questions in a room means that we can’t actually ask that many. But it was still a bit unsatisfying. From an outstanding person’s view, little was known about the event and I’ve seen people think that we’d return with a big announcement or secret to reveal. If you still think so, I have to disappoint you. What you’ve gotten to read about the event by now is really all we can tell as nothing else was shared with us. There is no announcement and no secret being held back.

The positive parts greatly outweigh those negative ones, though. First of all, I had fun and I enjoyed myself. The flight, hotel and food was paid for and none of those seemed even remotely cheap! Whenever we had any problems while playing the game, we had somebody help us out within a few seconds (my headset was broken and it was replaced within five minutes). There was plenty of food around and coffee, too! Aidan and Mélanie bent over backwards to make sure we were all happy and satisfied. On Monday evening, at 11.30pm, when Aidan was already tired, he still went to the beach with us. Of course, this hadn’t been part of the official schedule but we had mentioned wanting to go there after dinner and he went with us, so we wouldn’t get lost. At no point did those two seem to “just be doing their job”. I don’t think I ever saw any of them without a smile on their face! So, I wish to thank them once more for doing such a great job and taking such good care of us (feel free to show that to your superior, Aidan, whose name I’ve forgotten, unfortunately. ^^)! Also, Matthew Moore was very funny and goofy, especially together with Stéphane while they were taking the group pictures (I have no idea how many we took but about half of us brought their camera to them so they would take a picture of us with them).

To finally get to an end of my posting: If your goal was to introduce us to the EU community managers and help us connect with other European fan sites and blogs, then you all did an amazing job here! Oh, and yeah, the game’s quite nice, too. ;)