Guild Wars 2: The "Single Player" Effect

by Tyler Edwards, Oct 31, 2012

Few MMOs in history have received the same level of pre-launch hype as Guild Wars 2. Its fans treated it like the coming of the Messiah. To ArenaNetís credit, they did a remarkably good job of living up to that hype, but now, concerns have started to filter through the fevered cheers of fans. One of the most common is that, according to some, the game doesnít feel like an MMO.

gw2 players

The problem:

I personally have experienced this feeling of ďsingle player game in MMO clothingĒ feeling while exploring Tyria with my thief. At times, the game can feel very lonely even with dozens of players all around you. There is often little chat or true sense of community, just individuals all working towards their own goals.

Some people blame this on ArenaNet, arguing that they failed to provide enough incentive for players to group [Warning: Link contains mature language]. Others say that this is strictly a player issue, that only we can determine our course as a gaming community. Yet more players say it isnít an issue at all, and that they have no problem finding people to socialize with.

Oddly enough, players will still often interact via actual gameplay, working together to take down difficult dynamic events or resurrecting fallen players, and in my experience, the interactions in the game are largely positive. I have not seen much of the trolling or elitism prevalent in other MMOs.

But I havenít seen a lot of talking, either. General chat channels are silent in most zones, and donít expect that crowd of people you just beat an event with to do any chatting, either. At times, it feels more like playing with crowds of NPCs than real people.

This is extremely ironic because GW2 probably has fewer barriers to socialization than any other MMO. Thereís no mob-tagging to put players into competition. There are no factions keeping people apart. Level scaling technology keeps high level players from being completely segregated from their low level comrades. Personally, I expected the game to be something of a social paradise, where everyone holds hands and knows your name like some hybrid of Cheers and a 1960s hippie commune.

And yet, the game still often feels lonelier than more rigid games.

gw2 pretty

How it came to be:

One doesnít have to look too hard to find potential explanations for the current state of affairs. For one thing, there just isnít that much reason to group up. There are very few aspects of GW2 that require a group to complete, and you lose nothing by not grouping at any other time.

For another, the combat in Guild Wars 2 is very intense. This isnít World of Warcraft; you canít just sit there, half-heartedly tapping one attack, as you chat with your friends and expect to win. Even the simplest of enemies require a fair degree of effort to take down, and when dynamic events roll around, youíd better be on your toes.

All that dodging, weapon swapping, and careful use of utility skills leaves little time for you to type messages to your fellow players. In many situations, a chatty player could well be a dead player.

gw2 races

Related to that, many people may simply be so caught up in the game that they donít want to spare the time to chat. GW2 is addictive in a way no game has been in a long time, and a lot of people probably donít want to waste time talking when they could be chasing down the latest dynamic event or completing the next jumping puzzle. High chat activity usually results from a lot of bored players, and GW2 doesnít have many of those.

Another oft mentioned potential contributor to the silence of the community is the simple fact that GW2 is a very, very big game. There are a great many zones, and between the level scaling system and the relative newness of the game, players are less likely to cluster in a few zones like they would in other MMOs.

Adding credence to this theory is the fact that areas with high populations, such as Lionís Arch, are always hopping, their chat channels alive with conversation. Starter zones are so busy that their discussions have often been compared to World of Warcraftís infamous Barrens chat.

This brings us to the next questionÖ

gw2 red team

Forced socialization versus player responsibility:

Is this really a problem?

This is actually two questions. The first is whether or not there really is a lack of socialization, or if people just arenít looking in the right places. While many people are complaining that the game feels like theyíre playing alone even when other players are around, plenty of other people say theyíre finding plenty of opportunities to chat with their guilds and with strangers they meet while playing.

As Iíve said, I have found the game awfully quiet, but I havenít joined a guild yet, nor have I put any real effort into socializing. Iím a bit of a loner at the best of times, and Iím having too much fun just playing to worry about talking to anyone.

It is true of most any game, and real life as well, that you need to put some effort in if you want to meet people. In keeping with ArenaNetís philosophy of choice, GW2 doesnít force players together as much as other games, so you might have to simply put a little more effort into socializing than youíre used to.

gw2 snow ball fight

The other question is if the lack of socialization Ė assuming it is a real issue and not just a perception on the part of certain players Ė is a flaw in the game itself, or if the blame for it rests solely on the shoulders of the players themselves.

This brings up an issue of forced socialization that is often a source of debate in the MMO community. Should developers force people to work together, whether they want to or not, in the name of fostering a community, or is a game most enjoyable when people can get exactly the level of socializing they desire?

In general, MMOs seem to moving towards more solo friendly formats with less forced socialization, and Guild Wars 2 is another example of this. But is this something thatís robbing the genre of its soul, or is it just a concession to the realities what is practical? Forced socialization has many downsides of its own, including time commitment and the alienation of players who like to have the option to play alone.

For my part, Iím inclined to side with the ďplayer responsibilityĒ side of things. I donít think forced socialization leads to enjoyable or meaningful interactions between players. I donít think developers can or should force people to be social. I believe games should be about choice Ė hence why an open ended game like GW2 appeals to me. People can always choose to be social Ė nothing is stopping them from striking up a conversation.

But I know many others feel differently, and I can respect their viewpoint.

gw2 wvw


All that being said, I do agree ArenaNet could do more to encourage, not force, social interaction in Guild Wars 2.

One of the simplest is to implement a worldwide chat channel. Considering ArenaNetís commitment to bringing players together, Iím honestly a little shocked that this doesnít already exist. Of course, it does raise the potential for spamming and all the other problems that arise when a large group of people is brought together online, but people can always leave the channel if it bothers them.

At the very least, I feel that the channels for the various cities should be linked. Itís very disconcerting to walk through Hoelbrak and see the chat pane empty because everyone is in Lionís Arch.

Another thing that I think might help is the introduction of rewards for completing renown hearts and skill challenges more than once. One of the few barriers to grouping in this game is the fact that thereís no reason to revisit areas once youíve completed them outside of dynamic events, which are unreliable. If your friend wants to complete hearts youíve already done, youíre wasting time by playing with them.

Obviously, the rewards for repeating these tasks would have to be relatively small to prevent abuse, but it could help to get people together.

If those ideas arenít enough, another option is to implement a mentoring system similar to the one present in Aion that allows high and low level to receive rewards for working together. With its level scaling technology, GW2 is a perfect game for such a system, and it could be a way to introduce newer players to the game and its mechanics. One criticism of GW2 is its lack of early instruction and relatively steep learning curve.

Personally, I donít believe in forced socialization in games, but you can never go too far in making socializing a compelling choice.