Made for Teams: Design for Cooperative Play in Guild Wars 2, Part 1

Released in August 2012, ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 is a relative newcomer to the growing world of MMOs. An MMO, ormassively-multiplayer online game, is an internet-driven adventure populated by an immense number of players–sometimes hundreds or thousands. From World of Warcraft’s famous multi-hour “raids” to the player-run scams and schemes of Eve Online‘s cutthroat sci-fi world, every MMO has its own way of managing social interaction between its many players. Some games pit players against each other in ferocious competition. Some are fun with friends but enjoyable alone, and in some, other players are a nuisance.

Guild Wars 2, however, is an excellent example of a game that encourages all players to interact with each other and actively work together. I have experienced it firsthand–when I play MMOs, I am not usually a social player. I will play with a friend or two, but I do not seek out other players; in fact, often I actively avoid them. In Guild Wars 2, I play with someone else almost every time I log on. I might help another player fend off a strong enemy, or join a giant mob in chasing down a high-level foe. More than once, I have spent an entire evening adventuring with players I have no connection to outside the game.

Such interactions are helped along by specific features of the game. This two-part blog series will take a look at some ways Guild Wars 2’s design promotes cooperative play and interaction between players. This post will discuss ways Guild Wars 2 encourages cooperative play; Part 2 will cover ways in which the game sidesteps barriers to cooperative play.

In Guild Wars 2, teaming up allows players to complete parts of the game that are difficult or impossible otherwise. Many missions in Guild Wars 2 are specifically designed for multiple players. While an adept player can complete some of them alone, most players will be quickly killed if they try. The first time I encountered one such mission, I was alone in the area. The mission required the defeat of a single powerful giant that was attacking a nearby town, and my character died, respawned, tried again, and died again several times before I finally gave up.

GW2 2-player Combat 2The second time I encountered the same event, there were at least fifteen people nearby, if not more. We were able to surround the giant and deal more damage than any one of us could deal alone–and even when some of us were dodging the giant’s attacks, players on the opposite side could keep attacking. If one player died, someone else could revive them and the battle could continue, instead of players having to respawn at a distant waypoint and trek back as the giant’s health recharged. It was not an easy battle, but we won by working together.

Guild Wars 2’s multiple-player missions include something for every play style. “Group events” like the attacking giant can be fairly informal missions, where everyone in an area can band together to focus firepower on a particularly tough enemy. Five-player dungeons require strategy and coordination as players battle monsters, guard non-player characters, or even transport a weapon that deals damage as they hold it, forcing them to pass it between themselves. Guild missions cater to fairly large but organized groups of players, and PvP (player vs. player) arenas let small teams test their skills against each other.

GW2 Group EventEven in the non-group content, cooperative play still makes the game significantly less frustrating. Fifteen or more of us faced down the giant, and five players take on a dungeon together, but just two players can still deal twice the damage, flank enemies, and revive each other. (Plus, they can cover the weak points in each others’ equipment and play style.) Each additional player adds a powerful advantage.

Of course, giving advantages to cooperative play won’t help if players can’t find other people to cooperate with. Luckily, Guild Wars 2 makes that incredibly easy. Parties (teams) are easy to create, but not required–all that is required, really, is two players journeying in the same direction. “Events” draw players, who might never encounter each other otherwise, into a fairly small location to work together. (Often players will even point out events in the game chat so others know to come to the area and join in.) After an event is over, many players will stay in the vicinity for other nearby events or tasks, creating new opportunities for collaboration.

Guild Wars 2 is notable for the extent of its explicitly multi-player content, the advantages it gives to cooperative play, and the ease with which players can work together. Many MMOs attempt to give similar advantages to player teams–but in many of those MMOs, cooperative play is crippled by issues that become apparent (or are created) when multiple players share the same space in-game. Guild Wars 2 excels at removing or lessening the impact of such issues, and Part 2 of this post will take a look at the design aspects responsible.