We caught up with ArenaNet's James Phinney, Lead Designer on Guild Wars, to talk about the past four years, what to expect down the road, and even some juicy nuggets of Guild Wars 2 information.
Guild Wars celebrates its 4th Anniversary on April 28th, with the usual celebrations taking place in-game from today until the 29th of April. We caught up with ArenaNet's James Phinney, Lead Designer on Guild Wars, to talk about the past four years, what to expect down the road, and even some juicy nuggets of Guild Wars 2 information. Check out what he had to say in our exclusive interview.
ZAM: Hey there. Thanks for sitting down with us to talk about the 4th anniversary of Guild Wars®!
James Phinney: Yeah, it's a huge milestone for us. It's gratifying to be a part of a game that's still being played so actively years after its release.
ZAM: Do you guys have anything special planned in the office for this occasion?
James: To tell the truth, I have no idea. There's a ton of stuff going on in game…daily quests, more storage options, a pet stable, a stylist NPC, and a number of other surprises. There are some big internal milestones for Guild Wars 2™ coming up as well. That's the stuff I know about. I'm pretty sure someone will tell me if any cake or champagne shows up at the office, though. I hope so, anyway.
ZAM: How do you think Guild Wars has changed over the past four years-are you happy with these changes?
James: It's grown a lot. Ten very distinct professions. Three campaigns. The Eye of the North™ expansion. The Bonus Mission Pack. Heroes. Templates. Miniatures. Tonics. Titles. Rollerbeetle Racing. Holiday events. I've never seen a team create so much in such a short period of time. I won't say that we never made any mistakes along the way (Ursan Blessing was overpowered, some of the titles were way too hard to get, stuff like that), but overall I'm proud of how the game plays right now, and I think that with the addition of a dedicated Live Team and with the things we've learned over the years, we're better than ever at responding to the community's needs.
ZAM: What would you say are your three biggest accomplishments in Guild Wars?
James: First and foremost, we created a world that people care about, that they want to live in. Of all the things to accomplish with an RPG, that's the single most important one. It's a credit to our combination of beautiful artwork, strong lore, and, I believe, a belief in putting a fresh spin on traditional fantasy themes. Next, we created a game that is unique both in terms of core gameplay and character progression, ignoring the traditional grind-based power curve in favor of collection-based advancement and an emphasis on rewarding player skill. Taking such a unique design direction without turning your game into a niche title is trickier than you might think. Finally, we succeeded with a business model that others thought couldn't work: releasing a top-tier online RPG with no monthly fee. That says something about the leadership at ArenaNet, and also about the guys on the programming end who made it technologically possible.
ZAM: If you could gauge the 'temperature' of the Guild Wars community right now, what would you say it's at?
James: They've got some energy. I've seen a lot of excitement about Fourth Anniversary Update, and there's no question that they're eagerly awaiting any news of Guild Wars 2. I just wish we could say more about it.
ZAM: Is the development team working on anything exciting right now that you can share with us?
James: With work on the big fourth anniversary build ready to go, it's back to planning mode for the Live Team. They've got a lot of cool high-level plans, and now it's a matter of doing the work, fleshing things out, and making them happen. It'll be hard to top this last update, but they've definitely got some cool stuff on the way.
ZAM: It's no small fact that Guild Wars 2 is currently in development. Do you think that players will still want to play Guild Wars after the release, or is Guild Wars 2 slated to be an organic evolution of the original?
James: Our goal with Guild Wars 2 is to make something that Guild Wars players will love. We're trying to build on the strengths of Guild Wars while evolving the online RPG genre. We know how much our players appreciated the emphasis on player skill instead of grind, the use of storytelling in an online RPG, and our general hassle-free philosophy that led to things like instant map travel to locations you've already unlocked. And of course, we know they appreciated the lack of a monthly fee. So we're respecting all of those things, and in some cases, trying to take what we've learned to better execute those ideas. At the same time, we recognize opportunities for deeper character progression and the benefits of persistent areas where you can freely encounter lots and lots of other players. So it'll definitely be a new game, but we're making sure those of us on the team who particularly love Guild Wars feel the same way about Guild Wars 2.
ZAM: In the same vein, can you give us any new, juicy information about Guild Wars 2?
James: Not a chance! I like my job. I can tell you that this last week felt especially productive. I was really proud of the team.
ZAM: Why do you think prospective players should pick up Guild Wars, even after 4 years?
James: Well, there's a reason we still have such an active player base and are still selling new copies four years in. It's a great-looking game, easy to get into, but with a lot of depth if you really want to master it. It has a ton of content, whether you like PvE, PvP, or both. I think we've released a Guild Wars Trilogy edition recently, too. It's kind of crazy, really. Whether you get sixty hours or six thousand hours of play out of that one box is going to depend on you, but either way, that's a great deal.
ZAM: Do you guys have anything you'd like to say to your community on your 4th anniversary?
James: Oh, that's simple: Thank you. Along with the camaraderie the team experiences going through all those late nights and tough deadlines, the most gratifying thing about making games is seeing people enjoy them. There's nothing quite like knowing that people liked what you did, that it was fun for them. So that's really all there is to say: Thank you for playing. Thank you for the letters. Thank you for the Wiki contributions. Thank you for the fan art. Thank you for the life-size charr sculptures. (You know who you are!) Thank you for being a part of the Guild Wars family.
ZAM: Thanks so much for answering our questions!
James: My pleasure.
Andrew "Tamat" Beegle