Guild Wars: Character slots, naming rules and their possible transition

When I try to imagine how the naming rules, server architecture, guild limitations and the character slots may be handled in Guild Wars 2 I always reach the point where I have to take into account how it was implemented in Guild Wars, why it may have been done like that and what the benefits of their decisions were. Especially the ones that they apparently want to keep. As an outsider my ideas and guesses are only that. Thus, I would love to read any deeper thoughts or other conclusions and ideas you may come up with!

My guesses put on the table simple, short, rough and maybe a little provocative are:
– Character slots will again be limited per account (not per server) but every character will be listed with its current home server.
– Naming rules are global and unique like in Guild Wars, but this time one word names are also possible.
– The basic game will be delivered with 3-5 character slots, the collector’s edition with 5-8.

If you are now sitting there nodding or shaking your head, rest assured that I can understand both reactions and sometimes have them about my own thoughts, too. Especially when I start listening to the two most extreme oppositional views in my head. ;)

One being overly optimistic, high of anticipation and delusional that Guild Wars 2 does not have to create an income for ArenaNet, dreaming of a world not limited by technical and financial boundaries. The other one being absolutely skeptical and mischievous knowing that there are as good as no companies which would say nay to the highest possible income for the least possible effort.

Please note that in the case of ArenaNet I still slightly tend to listen to the first one. Of all the companies on my personal radar they are the one I have the most confidence in that I will get what I will pay for. The other way around, they very rarely disappointed me. And when they did, there were always fast corrections or transparent explanations I could live with.

It’s my belief that one of the most basic decisions ArenaNet had to make for Guild Wars was how their server network should work to split and balance the possible load. Especially considering the financial and technical challenges an MMO meant at that time. As a result that decision directly influenced what kind of game world would be easier to implement and what limitations came along. I’ll take their decision for an “easier scalable and extendable massive instanced world with the layering in the outposts where many people could meet” as a given and compare some of its aspects to the “persistent world with massive amounts of players in the area simultaneously” to which Guild Wars 2 will belong to.

While with Guild Wars ArenaNet chose the very limiting way for their players in their world, some details show that nevertheless a global approach was important to them and still is. Most other games which are structured in “servers” come with capsuled parallel worlds. Each one with its own economy, own community and your character exclusively bound to one. ArenaNet instead decided to manage your character slots and the in-game NPC market in a global database. So you can log in with each character into any region you want, have the same NPC prices in all of them and can meet your trade partners worldwide.

In GW2 again, at least the new in game trade system will be not limited to your server (exact details and if it has any global or regional limits remain to be announced). While I do like being able to trade in all the regions of GW1 and love to never feel stuck at a server where economy or community sucks, it’s not made that way only for the good of the player. A heavily instanced game world compared to a cohesive one with its many simultaneous players, is so much easier to handle and to spread between an on demand expandable amount of servers. Managing the character slots globally also has the nice side effect for ArenaNet that they are able to sell additional slots sooner instead of letting us use up all unlocked character slots on every single server. While I wouldn’t mind it that much (because for me the lack of a monthly fee makes more than up for that), that’s my main argument why I do see them wanting to keep the globally managed character slots and technically simply add your server choice as one additional variable to each character slot.

Besides the fact that GW1 characters are managed worldwide and you can possibly meet any other player there are no server names to tag onto your name. ArenaNet came up with slightly different but essential limitations to how you can name you characters to avoid ambiguities. While they decided to rule out one word names, you are allowed to use multiple spaces to create your globally unique character name. What sounds trivial and enabled realistic combinations of for- and surname, titles or even seldomly considered foreign names, at the same time opened up the Pandora’s box of “creative” and odd combinations to integrate your overused popular or already taken names. But rating names or creativity should not be my focus in this post. Unique naming per server, region or even globally on the other hand is. Especially when taking into account the announced easy to execute server transfers in the upcoming Guild Wars 2.

Unique global naming would avoid one of the most frustrating aspects players may be confronted with (besides possible fees) when they want to switch servers or when servers are merged. Imagine the name you feel you have established yourself with and may be famous for is already taken on the target server. Maybe by a low level banking alt or someone not even playing anymore. While that dilemma is avoidable and my thoughts about globally managed character slots should explain why I see them keeping the global and unique naming too, I still owe you an explanation why single word names may have their introduction. I do not see a technical issue to rule them out, the shown demos of GW2 on this year’s exhibitions are still allowing them and I would consider it as a tribute to the e-sport orientation of their tournament PvP part and the habit gamers may have formed in other games. Short and single word names are much easier to recognize and so to build “e-fame” with.

Colin Johanson previously stated that there will be more than two character slots. Based on the foundation I argued till now it’s not that difficult to follow my train of thoughts why there will only be 3-8 character slots coming with the retail boxes (or download versions). As I just wrote, we know there will be more than just two slots. Also in many interviews it was stated that we should not run into limitations that fast. Well, considering that I am an altoholic and have too many stupid character names I come up with, my initial guess should be of at least 20 slots. ;) But thinking about ArenaNet, Guild Wars and the lack of a subscription I have to cut back to a maximum of five or eight slots, depending on the version (standard box, collector’s edition etc.). As a side note why I differentiate between normal and collector’s edition: Till now nothing is known about the content of a CE. But what would be cheaper for ArenaNet than some digital content (which they would love to sell us either way) additionally to physical goodies. So why not justifying a hopefully reasonable pricing of a CE this way and collecting some of the money directly at release which they would otherwise acquire over the next months, years or never?

Back to the still not argued number of five and eight slots. You all know them well. There will be five races and eight classes in the game when it launches. My simple assumption is that they want us to enjoy the game and give us either access to each of the races or to each of the classes or – on the other hand – deny us “full access” as an incentive to pay for character slots. If you want you can use that thought and observe the release of the game. The amount of character slots included at release could be taken as an indicator of how aggressive ArenaNet will be with their shop and how they will limit your content until you pay.

Imagining me buying the basic edition I may be satisfied with three slots but I am sure I would feel very limited by not even being able to play the five different races with their own story from start to end as one of them. Yes, it is possible to venture through the story of another race if you join a friend who plays that race. But for me that’s not the same, especially considering the effort it would take to coordinate. With five slots I guess I have to be happy. ArenaNet for sure wants to earn at least some money and buying slots to play every class I consider as tribute I will have to spend for playing their game without a monthly fee. Let me switch to imagining myself with a collector’s edition in my hands and that is what I actually want to buy. Now I have to raise my expectations. Being able to play all five races “out of the box” I definitely want to see as a given. While they may not use the mentioned opportunity to add digital content to increase the value of the CE I would feel a little unsatisfied if I didn’t get eight slots. In the end, I see a CE as a product for fans of the game, its lore and the world itself, so with less than eight slots I may have the feeling not to have bought the complete game. No, logging into the shop later that day/week/month to additionally buy some slots would not feel the same.

Allow me to use my fixation on the CE to dwell a little in thoughts about the recently announced collector’s editions of Star Wars: The Old Republic and Skyrim. Why exactly those two? Simply because they not only pushed the pricing a little. No, they nearly doubled the amount most of us were used to. How did they argue that? Ah well, I better leave that to the fans who I absolutely wish to have a lot of fun in those games but at the same time I impute them to see the value of their purchase through rose-colored glasses. I hope that ArenaNet keeps up the spirit they often recite that they do want to deliver content that literally earns them our money. So I would love to see a reasonable CE with stuff like the astonishing soundtrack, a book about the world and lore (an art-book would be nice too, but that’s already separately purchasable in their store) and a detailed artsy map of the world. If they want to absolutely stun me, the map would be made of cloth and “Destiny’s Edge” would be included as detailed figurines or a diorama. All that while having the price still capped at 80 $/€. To justify a pricing above that in my opinion there would have to be a fine selection of useful and valuable digital content (*hints at the 8 character slots*). But only to mention, I recommend avoiding content that cannot be acquired later (like the merchant that SW:TOR added) – in my opinion just to raise the pressure to buy the physical CE before it may be “gone” or you lack something that possibly reveals itself as a necessity later on.

Future announcements and further details may show the one or other error in my thoughts and there is a good possibility that I have to rethink some details of my statements or have to define them more accurately. But I guess that’s the risk about making things up in my mind, jumping to conclusions and blogging about them. ;)

SWTOR release on the horizon & my thoughts about it.

E3 is over and some new videos, cinematics and information about Star Wars: The Old Republic and its content were released. While I absolutely understand the hype when I watch those very detailed cinematics and enjoy every glimpse of story they do contain, I am also a little worried about the low amount of information about gameplay content, mechanics and how all the new information is published.

So I tried to rationalize a bit why and by which aspects I feel so torn between anticipation and disappointment. Here are some of them:

Damn yeah, it’s Star Wars! I am totally sucked into that universe the moment I hear any part of the many well known themes or sound effects and who could resist the urge to explore all the landscapes we know from the films and games and taking our role in their “history”.

The cinematics created by “Blur” do their part very well, but that’s no wonder. If you’ve been playing computer games for quite a while you surely know one or more trailers they did. Just take a look at their listed work. In a more negative way, some of the titles made me realize that a brilliant trailer and a beloved IP (intellectual property) does not automatically result in an awesome and successful game or hint in any way at the overall quality or content.

Speaking of the brilliant IP, “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is not the first Star Wars MMORPG.
While the prosperous days of “Star Wars Galaxies” are a long time ago and there are, not only for me, reasons to compare the two, BioWare already stated in more than one interview that their game should be considered fundamentally different. I’m not sure if that makes it better for me.
I liked Star Wars Galaxies for its wide terrain, plastered with player houses and -cities and a very complex, deep and time-consuming crafting and player economy, but there was maybe a lack of guided story and predefined endgame the time I played it, which was pre-NGE.

SWG comes from and maybe marks the end of the era of sandbox-MMOs. Compared to that BioWare’s new attempt seems to fit perfectly to the less free and deep but extremely entertainment oriented and easily accessible family of themepark-MMOs.

Considering the amount of different MMORPGs and the variation in their mechanics I was a little surprised that in the last year their announcements were mainly centred around features I love to see in offline RPGs, like an immense amount of decision-making while developing your character, the extensive storyline or the full voice-over. Now my question is whether that is enough to keep player numbers high and if that is the content MMO-players are seeking nowadays, especially considering the possible pricing like the other MMOs in EA’s portfolio, e.g. “Ultima Online”, “Dark Age of Camelot” and “Warhammer Online”. Each of them not blessed with a large community anymore but still with a monthly fee of around 15$/13€.

Sure, the game will contain more content than the story part but most of the mechanics I have read/heard about I have already seen in some kind of variation in other MMOs. Thus, I do not find variety or improvement when it comes to the every day content aside from the hopefully brilliant RPG-part.

In the case of space combat it is in my opinion a lot worse. I feel taken back to ’93 when “Star Wars: Rebel Assault” when railway space-combat felt innovative and entertaining.

Until now there is no definite release date but according to an interview with Frank Gibeau (President of EA Games) the game will definitely release this year! Well, in the same interview he said that the game has 6 classes. I hope Bioware is aware of both. That may be not that dramatic but when you take a look at his profile at EA’s homepage he states that he is playing the game. O.o ;)

More seriously though, I do hope that does not show how EA as the publisher defines the time frame for the game’s developers and puts them under pressure to release the game even if it may not be complete, polished and balanced. Releasing a game unfinished or cut (imho in the case of EA & Mythic: again!) may reduce the development costs and make you a quick buck but may turn an MMMO into a one day fly at the market despite its potential. Are MMOs not naturally aiming for continuous income, but what if EA or investors could use their margin for this fiscal year?

Another reason to push this game into the market this year could be that the later it gets, the more they would have to place it against Guild Wars 2 and TERA. But I have to say, if I lean back and take a more distant look at the kind of MMO they will be, I do not see one of them as BioWare’s main competitor. Sure, both belong to the MMO-genre but in my opinion TERA will be a niche game in the “western market” due to its Asian style, different controls and overdone sexiness. It probably attracts a different kind of player than SWTOR and should have less impact on sold boxes and monthly income. Guild Wars 2 may attract the same players but as a buy-to-play. If the release dates differ more than a month, many will take a look at both games like I have said in another blog entry or may leave Guild Wars again even if only temporarily to test SWTOR, because you can return spontaneously whenever and for how long you want without the monthly fee. Also Massively has some interesting thoughts about the competition between the these two.

The main competitor I see is Blizzard. But no, not with a meagre patch for WoW with some raid content, instances, a new area or more dailies to keep the playerbase busy.
The largest threat I see rising is Diablo 3. At the first thought that may sound surprising because it’s not sorted into the branch of MMOs but it has many parallels. It’s a time consuming game in which you can easily spend every minute of your free time in for a few months. It has (like Guild Wars 2) only an entry fee.

But as my strongest arguments: it is from Blizzard, it is highly anticipated, and I see many indicators that Activision/Blizzard and EA/BioWare are very concerned about how polished their games are and when they could release the games. So welcome to the release date poker.

If I take a look into my crystal ball and do a bit of rough guesswork I see Diablo 3 being placed against SWTOR would be in so much ways beneficial for Blizzard and could massively hurt EA and the succeeding development of SWTOR. Imagining that about 5% of WoW’s subscribers are bored with the game and craving for a new refreshing time sink or the holy grail in another game like many times before, we would be talking about 250.000 subscribers in the Western market. Not counting in the Eastern market here because the payment models are usually different there.

For Blizzard that may not be that dramatic. The number of subscribers usually fluctuates between patches, but for a new game on the market that is a great deal and could be a solid part of the playerbase. At least, this would be a fine number of sold boxes to please the publisher and investors.

With those 250.000 players, especially in the long run, I see a bigger value than just their bought boxes and paid subs. If a new game does not only want to peak high at release but also wants to maintain a larger amount of players, they have to build and establish a stable and growing community. So it would be beneficial to get as many players as possible which are connected with each other. That’s the point where Blizzard could intervene. They will be losing players but it would be wise to lure them to Diablo 3 to keep them in their Battle.Net.

Blizzard has already stated years ago that the day will come that WoW’s playerbase finally peaks and then starts declining due to players moving on to other games. In the same statement they also mentioned that they hope that this other game will be one of their own ones. So why not do it this time? Yes, we do not know how finished the games really are at the moment and if it is possible for Blizzard to already announce Diablo 3 as finished and that it can be shipped within weeks but if it is, I see no reason why they should not wait until EA makes their move.

Compared to EA, Blizzard has the financial background that they can easily delay the game for months, even the development teams would not have to sit there eating up money. They could polish, balance and optimise the game even more or already start to work on an add-on.

Not an easy environment to release a new MMO in, I admit. One of the biggest selling points I see is the IP and that BioWare may attract a lot of fans because they are trusted for their good RPGs. Also, it’s Star Wars and a science fiction-setting. There is not such a huge number of AAA-MMOs as in the fantasy section. I may guess heavily here and there is absolutely no proof except for my experiences and my personal preferences when I say that I think that the game will have about 1,2 – 1,8 million sold boxes in the first months (which would be more than Warhammer Online, Rift or Aion achieved). Heavily depending on who they are up against, of course.

But after that, I see the game drop to 600.000 – 900.000 after about 6 months like most of the games in the past years did when the MMO-tourists leave, the game turns out to be not like anticipated, friends don’t join in or in the worst case the storyline and RPG-Part is done multiple times and the rest lacks that entertaining quality.

Finally, I have to admit that at the moment I don’t see myself buying this game on the first day, even if I do love Star Wars but I wish to be proven totally wrong and that the game is in fact brilliant because I like BioWare for what they did before they were bought by EA and merged with Mythic. I want to see diversity, creativity and a tough competition between several high quality games on the market.

May the force be with you, BioWare!

Edit: Another article about Star Wars: The Old Republic from Massively.

Why should I buy Guild Wars 2?

Apart from my general enthusiasm about the content that has been announced so far, my main argument about why somebody should be interested in Guild Wars 2 keeps being, simple and mundande: the payment model. I don’t get tired from pointing out that the costs, as long as the game doesn’t turn out to have some major (game) flaws, will make buying this game a “no-brainer”. Guild Wars 2 will keep – as announced – the buy-to-play payment model that they’ve previously established with Guild Wars (official GW2 FAQ – see question #4).

To my mind, if you’re somebody who at least sometimes enjoys the occasional computer game, there’s no reason not to get this title to play it parallel to your favourite MMORPG or as an extra alternative, because there are no recurring costs as is the case with a monthly fee.

One might like to argue that those monthly fees for a pay-to-play MMORPG aren’t too bad. Especially compared to a weekend full of parties and beer or even just going to the movies or playing an offline game whose entertainment value is calculated in hours, this might be true. On the other hand, only a fraction of potentially interested customers are probably paying for three or even more subs.

Most players will – depending on their time and how they spend their money – have to decide how many different games or – even more important for me – which games they want to play. Because of their payment model, ArenaNet doesn’t participate in the usual fight over subscription numbers and rids their players of those decisions.

At least I find myself often enough in the position where I have to decide in advance which MMO I want to play in my free time and which is worth paying the monthly fee for at a given time. Especially, if it’s maybe just a little bit of nostalgia that’d bring me back into a game or a single event, ingame friends, etc. who’d want to see me in a game for an evening or two.

Sounds too good to be true? Possibly…
I am well aware that this payment model, just like others, will not be received positively by everybody and there are different and good reasons for being skeptical. Hence, I’ll have a look at different payment models and their potential advantages and disadvantages in my next posting. Also because of my personal interest in ArenaNet and NCSoft. :)

German version

Edit: If that topic interests you there is a new article at “Massively” about it.

Guild Wars 2: Hopes, expectations, worries and comparisons – Introduction

Guild Wars and me: Not always best friends.

My first contact with Guild Wars was a few years ago and did not go that well, which may be up to the circumstance that it was a preview weekend close to the release of Factions and I got lost with my level 20 character, all his skills and being dropped off right in Kaineng with no introduction.
In addition to that, I was still used to the freedom of action that Ultima Online offered in its early years and to a beginner-friendly World of Warcraft with its exact and direct movement control, which is something I had never seen in an MMO before and have not seen achieved in most of the games I have played since.

Luckily, my girlfriend Paeroka was soon lured in again by a special price offer and tugged me with her.
From this moment on I have been playing Guild Wars now and then and enjoy its unique aspects which separate it from its competitors. At the moment, like many others, I observe all the information released and the little details hinted at in between. Some of them I will pick up here, add my own thoughts and post them here for discussion. Meanwhile, I will continue to dive deeper into Guild Wars in a more “casual”* way, use my limited time to pile up more stuff in the Hall of Monuments and push further the parts of the storyline I have never experienced before.

* due to the wide and liberal use of “casual” I want to state that I am using it without a negative connotation.
I use “casual” as a definition for a playstyle more driven by fun and entertainment than superior goals (like min/maxing your character,…). It explicitly does not have to go along with a lack of ambition or ignoring game mechanics or content.

German version