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by Jason Ferguson
and John Barnett




Guild Wars is one of the most popular and best MMORPGs available on the market today, so with the next installment in the series, Guild Wars: Factions, now available, fans have a lot to be excited about! Recently we managed to get ahold of Jeff Strain from ArenaNet for an interview that shed some light on what this game is all about.


1. Jason: Could you please start out by introducing yourself and your company?


Jeff: Yeah, you bet. My name is Jeff Strain, and Iím one of the three co-founders of ArenaNet. Iíve been appointed here to represent the entire development team in talking about Factions today.


2. Jason: For our readers who arenít familiar with the title, can you tell us a little bit about Guild Wars?


Jeff: Guild Wars: Factions is the second installment in the Guild Wars franchise. We released the original Guild Wars last year on April 28th, so weíll be releasing the follow-up on its anniversary. The new design goals of the game, in terms of getting rid of the 'grind' and being a game of skill rather than a game of time, coupled with the really revolutionary business model, which kicked out the monthly subscription fee, was something that really resonated with gamers. So in a very short amount of time we surpassed a million players around the world.

Since that time it has continued to grow substantially. Weíve introduced it into several additional major markets, including Japan and Taiwan. Itís now all over Europe, North and South America, and Asia as well. Itís a truly global game.

Itís an RPG designed to let you have a life and still enjoy playing games. Guild Wars is not the kind of game that you have to get married to and spend 40 hours a week playing in order to get anywhere. Itís designed to be very fast paced, get you into the story very quickly, and to let you compete based on your skill as a player rather than how much free time you have, so it really charts new territory.


3. Jason: The market is filled with MMORPGs nowadays, from big budget games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, and Final Fantasy XI, to some lower budget yet very high-quality independent games. What about Guild Wars separates it from the rest? Why should gamers choose it over other MMORPGs?


Jeff: First of all, all of those other games (and there are some very good games in that genre) are all just polished incarnations of a traditional MMO that was laid down ten years ago with Ultima Online. Itís a game mechanic that requires you to grind away, in many cases, trying to level up. The whole goal in many of those games is to just get higher and higher leveled so that you can eventually, after a thousand hours, get to see the cool stuff. You donít take on those games lightly. If youíre going to play a traditional MMO, not only do you have to be willing to commit to it financially in terms of an ongoing subscription, but also in terms of your life. You donít play casually Ė youíre either completely immersed in it or you quit. Itís kind of like people kicking a drug addiction.

But thatís not really how games have always been enjoyed and played. I mean, games should be something that you enjoy and play for the fun of it and that you can take down off of your shelf and play when you feel like it and put back up when you donítÖ you donít have to feel guilty about it.

I think those are the really compelling features of Guild Wars. Outside of the unique design elements, and there are many, fundamentally, itís a game thatís designed to reward you quickly and to reward you for how well you play the game instead of how much time youíve invested in it, and to not penalize you if you want to put it up for a while and go try other games.

We see a lot of our very large player base now picking Guild Wars back up off of their shelves and getting their characters in shape because theyíre excited about the release of Factions. And given that weíre going to be releasing two new campaigns per year from here on we expect to see that a lot. People will play through it and enjoy it, then put it up and come back to it when thereís new stuff to do.


4. Jason: What are some of the major gameplay changes and additions that gamers can expect to see in Guild Wars: Factions?


Jeff: Thatís a great question. Our number one goal in every new Guild Wars campaign is to introduce new play mechanics. Certainly people will be expecting new professions, new monsters, new quests, and they will certainly get a lot of those, but the real focus on new campaigns is what new gameplay features are going to be introduced. In the case of Factions those new gameplay features are the faction and alliance system, which allow you to participate in a global battle for the continent of Cantha.

You will ally yourself with one of the two Kingdoms that are at war with each other and fight on their behalf. As you play, you will directly influence the outcome of how each battle goes. You will help conquer new territories and you and your guildmates/team members will take control of towns and cities.

Itís a game that is wrapped around the core mechanics of Guild Wars that brings an entire new level of strategy in the genre for the first time.


5. Jason: Were there any flaws or weaknesses in the original Guild Wars that you made sure to improve upon? Did you take fan feedback into consideration when creating this game?


Jeff: Oh, absolutely there were flaws. It would be awfully arrogant for me to sit here and tell you that I thought it was a perfect game. I think Guild Wars was a great game, a game we were proud of, and a very successful game, but perfect by no means. Thereís always room for improvement, and the best way to improve a game, as you pointed out, is to listen to the people who are actually playing it every day.

Factions was our opportunity to really step back and look at the original Guild Wars and evaluate ďwhere did we really meet our goalsĒ and ďwhere did we fall short of our goalsĒ.

A couple of concrete examples of things that weíve changed: For one, the quest content and role-playing content in Factions is a much denser experience. Thereís a lot less wandering around through the map. Itís much tighter in terms of everything you do contributes to the story, and the density of things you can do, the choices you can make and the monsters you can fight are substantially higher than in the original Guild Wars. So I think itíll be a more exciting role-playing experience from that standpoint.

One of the other concrete examples is that even though Guild Wars did a really good job of establishing a solid PvP community with solid PvP play, and it did a good job of establishing a good role-playing community with good role-playing play, the two communities were fairly distinct. We didnít really do an effective job at building a bridge between them so that it was one holistic community rather than two separate communities. With Factions and the territory control features, weíve engineered mechanics directly to allow role-players and PvPers to contribute directly to how the battle goes.

Those Guilds that are most successful and those Guild Alliances that are most successful will be composed of players who are very passionate, strong, and skillful. Theyíll depend on each other, and the role-players will value what PvP players can do for the Guild and PvP players will highly value what role-players can do for the Guild. So, weíre attempting to draw the communities together in a very organic and rewarding fashion.


6. Jason: The original Guild Wars has become a hugely successful game. What do you think has made it so popular?


Jeff: I think that what makes it so popular is the accessibility and the fact that weíre giving you an immediate play experience and a very high-quality play experience where you can get right into the game and have fun. You donít have to travel across the world for hours at a time or chop wood to increase your wood chopping skills. There are so many elements of many traditional MMO games that are just sort of Ďgrindy.í Weíve really tried hard to get rid of all of that. Itís all about what youíre doing now. I think the play experience in Guild Wars is much more fast paced, much more visceral and much more accessible than a lot of traditional MMOs. Couple that with the fact that you donít have to subscribe to itÖ you can just play the game the way you want to play it. I think the combination of those two things is what really made it as overwhelmingly successful as it was.


7. Jason: What sort of goals did you set when creating Factions that will help it to see similar success?


Jeff: First of all, from a design standpoint, our goal was to make sure that weíre always introducing new play mechanics. Letís make sure that weíre never just giving people more of the same. Every single campaign in the Guild Wars universe should be a distinct, refreshing, brand new game that youíve never experienced before. Thatís whatís going to keep it going over time. So thatís our first and primary goal.

Obviously we want to make sure that we continue to be the very best value in gaming. You donít have to pay a subscription. You do have to buy the campaigns, but itís your choice. If we donít make a compelling campaign and you want to just skip it and wait for the next one, then you can certainly do that. Weíve even gone to the extreme step of saying that every campaign is a completely stand-alone product. If youíve never played Guild Wars before and just want to play Factions and find out what itís all about, you donít have to go back and buy the original product in order to play it. Thatís going to help us over time bring more and more players into the game, because they donít have to feel like they have two or three years of stuff to make up. Itís the combination of the fact that every campaign is stand-alone and also that the design of the game is such that youíre not rewarded for how much time you put into it, that really makes it accessible to people over time.


8. Jason: Factions takes place in the land of Cantha. Can you tell us a little bit about this continent and the inspiration for it?


Jeff: Our goal with every campaign is to make it visually, architecturally, and semantically distinct from the other campaigns. You know, Guild Wars is the only online game that has a global player base interacting together on the same virtual servers. Other games will have servers around the world, but you pick the server you want to play on and if youíre a player in Germany youíll play with other German players on the server. Guild Wars doesnít work like that - it has a confederated network of servers all over the world, so that when people play, you can be playing with someone from Australia, the U.K., Korea, Taiwan, and the U.S. all at the same time in the same game. So itís a truly international game, and we wanted to reflect that international flavor in the design of the world.

So the original Guild Wars campaign was based in sort of your traditional medieval European fantasy, whereas Factions is very strongly Asian fantasy tradition. Not Chinese, Japanese, or Korean necessarily, but a shared fantasy tradition among all three of the cultures. Future campaigns will do the same sort of thing, where we will pick a different mythological or cultural tradition from around the world and explore that as the foundation for the characters, costumes, environments, landscapes, architecture, and even the story that we tell.


9. Jason: As you mentioned earlier, Factions can be played either connected to the original game, or as a stand-alone. What are gamers who play it as a stand-alone missing? Why the decision to allow it as a stand-alone game rather than just an expansion?


Jeff: The decision came from the fact that, as I said earlier, we want to make it easy for people to get in there and try Guild Wars. Itís a lot easier to buy one thing in order to figure out what a game is all about than it is to buy two things or even four things. Also, in terms of scope and scale of the content, this is much more of a game rather than it is an expansion pack or add-on. We wanted to make it a complete game, as well.

If you buy Factions and not the original Guild Wars, then what youíll miss out on is the original contentÖ nothing else! Youíll still have access to all of the playable professions, all of the PvP areas, and youíll certainly have access to all of the Factions content (features, missions, quests, etc.), but you wonít be able to go back and play the original Prophecies content. You wonít be able to take the ship from the Canthan continent to the Tyrian continent, where the original Prophecies campaign took place. In the future, when we release campaign three, if you donít own Factions then you wonít be able to play the Factions content, nor will you be able to create characters that were specific to the Factions campaign, in this case the ritualist and the assassin. You will always be able to create the six core professions (the monk, elementalist, mesmer, warrior, ranger, and the necromancer), but professions that we introduce especially for that campaign can only be created if you own that campaign.


10. Jason: As mentioned earlier, a huge contributing factor to Guild Warsí popularity is the fact that gamers donít have to pay a monthly subscription. How is it that you are able to maintain the free price tag?


Jeff: You know, there are all kinds of conspiracy theories about that. There are rumors that weíre ultimately going to start charging a subscription fee (which we will not) or that weíre going to introduce sponsored items, like Nike boots of speed +3 (which we will not).

Itís actually a simple two-pronged approach here. First, from the technology front, weíve engineered a tremendous amount of technology to allow us to reduce the cost of operating the game. Your primary cost is bandwidth, and Guild Wars uses very little bandwidth. Part of the reason for that is because, as I said, we wanted to keep the cost of supporting it down. The other reason for that is because we wanted to support dial-up modem users. There are still a lot of people who dial up to the Internet through a modem, so we wanted them to be able to play Guild Wars, too.

But really, the larger component of this is that we fundamentally believe that people fall into one of two categories: either they really love Guild Wars and they play it all the time, and they will therefore buy new campaigns when they come out, or they donít like Guild Wars at all, in which case theyíll stop playing and cost us money. I think there are very few people who love the game and play it all the time, but wonít buy new campaign content when it comes out.

So assuming we do our job, and make cool campaignsÖ things that are really fun to play, then people will buy them. So, thatís the way we support the game over time. We might make less money per player, but our goal is to have more players. Looking at the players all across the world, I think itís paying off really well for us.


11. Jason: The game will feature two distinct factions, the Luxons and the Kuzicks. Can you tell us a little bit about these factions and the unrest that exists between them?


Jeff: Thereís a historical unrest between the two. About one hundred years before Factions takes place, the continent was fundamentally altered by a huge cataclysmic event, which players will get to see unfold in the opening cinematic. Afterwards, people had to change and adjust their lives very quickly. For example, the Luxons were a seafaring Kingdom of traders and fishermen. After the cataclysm, the sea turned to jade, so they were no longer able to traverse the sea in the ways that they always had. So they completely reinvented their culture. They use giant turtles to pull sleds across the jade sea, and they became miners of the jade.

The Kuzicks, on the other hand, were a forest-dwelling Kingdom who were forced to adapt to the petrification of the entire forest during the cataclysm. They had to learn and change their building materials and their entire societal structure to account for the fact that thereís no wood available for them anymore.

So, these two Kingdoms are basically fighting over land. Theyíre fighting over diminishing resources and land. You as the player will decide who you want to back in the war. Itís intentionally not clearÖ there are no good guys or bad guys. Itís a very complicated, two-sided issue. Youíll have to decide who you have more affinity with and who you want to back, and once you do that youíll start undertaking missions and tasks for one Faction or the other, and earning Faction Points, which you can sort of think of as favor points with that Faction. At some point theyíll ask you to join them officially, and from then on you can participate in unique missions and quests that are specifically designed for you to help further their cause.


12. Jason: In Factions, Guilds can join together to form Guild Alliances. What are the advantages of these Alliances, and how do they impact the game?


Jeff: The advantage to Guild Alliances is, first of all, the new features it enables. You will be able to travel to allied Guild Halls and skirmish with them. Guild Skirmishing is a new feature that weíre introducing that weíve just announced. Youíll also be able to have Alliance Chat, where you share chat with everyone in your Alliance. Itís also the fundamental unit in several of our new mission types. For example, we have Alliance Battles, which are large 12 versus 12 PvP battles where you and your Alliance fight against members of another Kingdom.

The same is true for owning cities. One of the new features in Guild Wars: Factions is that you can take control of cities. Your Guild Alliance will take control of the city, so all of the players in the Guild Alliance will have ownership of the city, and youíll be able to do unique things like triggering a parade or special event. Youíll also have access to unique areas within the city that no one else can go to, including elite missions, which are new very high-level role-playing missions with substantially enhanced rates of loot dropping and loot acquisition. The Alliance is the gateway into all of those features.


13. Jason: We've already talked about the gameplay improvement, so what sort of technical improvements have been made in Factions?


Jeff: We now fully support DirectX, and we have a new shader model that allows a lot of new effects in the game. We continue to make enhancements to the engine in terms of its lighting and shadowing capabilities, and it's further optimized from where it was when we released Guild Wars a year ago. There have been substantial improvements to the sound engine in terms of the quality of it and taking advantage of 3D hardware acceleration. So, weíve incrementally been improving the technology behind the game, and thatís something weíll continue to do over time. Thatís all published live to everyone who plays the game regardless of which campaigns theyíve purchased. Our belief is that we should only charge for content, not technology or game features.


14. Jason: What can we expect to see from Guild Wars in the near future, after Factions?


Jeff: Well, weíve already announced that our plan is to announce two campaigns per year, so given that weíre shipping Factions on April 28th, that sort of gives you a feel for the time frame for the next release. For the foreseeable future, thatís what we do. We are the Guild Wars company, we will continue to support Guild Wars with all of our resources.


15. Jason: Do you have any closing comments youíd like to make about the game?


Jeff: The head start of Factions, which you can participate in if you pre-order the game, starts Wednesday night, April 26, at midnight, and the full global release starts 24 hours after that at midnight. We sure hope everybody joins us, and we look forward to seeing you there!

Also, Iíd like to thank you for giving us the chance to talk about Factions today.


I know things must be really hectic and busy at Arena.net right now with the release of Factions, so we'd like to give a big thanks to Jeff for taking the time to do this interview.

Look back to Just RPG shortly for our full review of Guild Wars: Factions!




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