While the MMO genre has been set in its post-World of Warcraft ways since Blizzard released its market-leading online game 2004, ArenaNet is trying to go its own way with Guild Wars 2.
"We're finally seeing a point where companies realize that they're not going to create the next great MMO by just copying what's come before," said Christopher Lye, global brand director at ArenaNet, who believes the definition of an MMO has come to mean games that follow a similar quest and combat structure to World of Warcraft.
"'MMO' is a platform and set of technologies, not a game design model - and we've barely scratched the surface of what's possible ... Honestly, I think the problem is that there's been a lack of change in MMO design and that Guild Wars 2 is a reaction to that."
Guild Wars 2 -- which has no firm release date yet -- will be taking neither the subscription nor the free-to-play routes, instead opting for the one-off payment packaged products just like 2005's Guild Wars and its expansions, except this time, backed up with microtransactions.
Running with this model for Guild Wars, ArenaNet was able to keep a regular flow of income through selling expansions. The result of this led to a refined production pipeline which allowed the team develop and deliver their content very quickly.
"At one point we were delivering a full game's worth of content in six months. That's an insane pace," said Lye. "We know that launch is only the beginning and the players' appetite for content is virtually insatiable, so we devoted a lot of programming resources on content development tools that allow designers to do in hours what used to take weeks."
ArenaNet hopes to be able to use this to its advantage in Guild Wars 2, preventing the game from becoming stagnant in its play-style and content. Lye points to the ever-changing "Dynamic Events" systems as a way of allowing the development team to easily modify and add new content. These, coupled with effective use of instancing - heavily used in Guild Wars - are intended to deliver a satisfying story to players, which is a notoriously difficult feat in MMOs. Guild Wars 2's instancing will allow a more player-focused, personal story, while the story of the world will be delivered through dynamic events, shared by all players.
The dynamic events will also help naturally build a sense of player community "by scaling events up by the number of players, by ensuring that everyone who participates in the event receives rewards, and by ensuring that high-level players' abilities scale down to ensure events are still challenging," said Lye.
ArenaNet is also breaking what Lye called the "holy trinity" of MMO combat -- tank, healer and DPS -- and omitting a dedicated healing class all together, giving some healing abilities to each profession. The designers hope this will "free players up from that dependency, so you see a lot more creativity in party make-up and tactics," said Lye.
Guild Wars 2 appears to be holding a position somewhere between the fully action-based combat of Bluehole's Tera MMO, and WoW's more static, action-bar focused combat, as ArenaNet's take utilizes dodging, running and gunning as central combat mechanics.
Lye said he believes MMO players are waiting for a more engaging combat style, and Guild Wars 2 will bring on the change. "People will call this risky, but we think it's riskier just to churn out the same MMO that everyone has played before. People can read the words, but it's not until someone actually plays the game that they really understand some of the fundamental changes that we've made to the genre," said Lye.