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Colin Johanson Interview

By Michael Bitton on October 11, 2010 | Interviews | Comments

Colin Johanson Interview

Following months of talking about the game, ArenaNet decided to “walk the walk” this summer by allowing fans to get their hands on Guild Wars 2. Have you been surprised by fan reaction to the game? What has it been like?

Colin Johanson:

It’s been amazing. To be perfectly honest, I thought it was going to be positive. I thought we had a really fantastic game. I thought we had done the things that we had wanted to do, but I didn’t know that fans would react the way that they did to it. You know, you build a game, I think this happens to a lot of people, you build a game, and for three years you’re behind closed doors building this game, and you have your own personal view of it, because you’re so close to it, and you’re working on it all the time, and we bring in a lot of usability testers, we bring in people to come and play the game, and they give us feedback on it, but until you put it out there and have 100,000 people play it in one weekend, you never know for sure exactly if what you’re trying to do matches exactly with what you want to do with the game.

I was pleasantly surprised, I guess maybe surprised is the wrong term, I was very pleased with the response we got from it, and how excited everybody was. And I think the biggest thing to me was how well it resonated, not just with MMO players, because I thought we could do really well there, but how many people who don’t like MMOs, or who are not really into MMOs, are actually really excited about this game too. The more people who are singleplayer RPG fans that we’ve shown it to have said, “I would never buy an MMO, you’ve shown me this game, I’m going to buy this game.” And that has been really surprising and really exciting for me. I think as a whole, and as a company, that’s pretty cool, we’re feeling pretty good about stuff after that.

What in particular has garnered the most positive reception?

Colin Johanson:

I think probably, depending on which site you look at, I think if you look at general sites, the concept of the dynamic event system and the open explorable world that dynamically changes, I think that’s gotten the most positive response overall of everything that we’ve seen, and that’s the thing that really gets people excited.

For sites that focus on role playing games, and have kind of the traditional RPG, the personal story has got a lot of people really excited. I think that’s something that you know, it gets their attention. It’s like, “Hey, this is like a great singleplayer RPG, and it has a whole lot of branching story elements, which is exactly what I want out of my RPG, even better.” So, I think that’s another big thing.

And then, I think for people who are on MMO sites, and in particular on sites where there’s a lot of PvP oriented things or people who are really into PvP, I think our World vs. World system has got people really excited, and that’s something we’ve not really released a lot of information on. Now, we’ve just given a very high level, “This is what it’s going to be.” But, I’ve been really excited about how much people just get pumped up about that and all the questions they have.

How soon can players expect to learn more about PvP?

Colin Johanson:

I can’t say for sure when we’ll release more information on that, only that all the information we release, we try to make sure that what we’re talking about is in the game, it’s working, and it does the things that we want it to do before we come out and we talk about it. I think this day and age MMO gamers have been made sort of jaded by MMO developers, where they hear all these great things that people want to do, and for whatever reason, oftentimes they don’t have time to do all of it. The things that people say they’re going to do, they don’t end up being able to do as well as they wanted to, or they don’t end up being able to do at all, and we don’t want to be the kind of company that does that.

We think MMO fans have become kind of jaded and skeptical as a whole, and we want to try and help fix that, and one of the easiest things to do to help fix that is don’t talk about something until it actually works, wait until you actually know it’s there. So, we’ve got World vs. World in to some degree, we’ve been playing it, like we can talk about what it’s going to be because we know the basics of it, what we don’t know is all the nitty gritty details yet, because we haven’t polished it enough, we haven’t played it enough to say, “This is exactly what it’s going to be.” So, once we get to that point, whenever that may be, and we’re totally happy with it, and we love it, we’re going to come out and we’ll show it to everybody, and we’ll talk about it, and hopefully we’ll let people play it after that.

So, Guild Wars 2 will use the same business model as the original Guild Wars, and with Guild Wars 2 being much larger in scope than its predecessor, it sounds like it might be a bit more challenging to pursue this business model. How are you planning to make it work?

Colin Johanson:

Well, one of our hopes is that the game will sell a lot more copies, so that’ll offset the fact we’ve hired a lot more people to build it. That’s the big one. You know, at the end of the day, if we don’t make a game that sells a bunch of copies, you know, we’re in big trouble, and that’s our motivation every day, is to keep working harder and harder to build a giant game with incredible content in it, because we have to do it to keep our company in business, that’s super important to us.

We’re going to try to do some alternative business models, like microtransactions, where we sell totally optional clothing items and things, you know, we’ll go into more details on microtransactions down the road. We’ll try to sell some stuff that can help us out and are cool things that players might want, but they don’t need to play the game. And if they feel like getting that stuff, that’s great, but we’ll give them some cool options that are out there, and we’ll have some people who put some time into that stuff to make it really worthwhile.

You know whatever additional content we release down the road, be it by expansions or content packs, we don’t really know how that’s going to work yet, but we know that we have to do the same thing with the additional content we add as we do with this main game, which is that it’s gotta be amazing, or no one’s gonna buy it. And because we’re not charging a monthly fee, the only way we stay in business is by making amazing games and selling them, and that’s our only option.

: John Hargrove recently mentioned one of the items that would be sold through the in-game store, the Transmutation Stones, and gamers have been excited about the idea of Transmutation Stones, though not necessarily about them being in the in-game store. Can you go into any more specifics about the Transmutation Stones?

Colin Johanson:

Yeah, I can’t go into too much of that right now, just because we haven’t released a ton of details on it. I can say that Transmutation Stones is something we’ve talked about a little bit, they will be in our store, and that’s one of the things we’re trying to do to keep our promise that we will not sell things that you need to have to play the game. The Transmutation Stones allow you to keep the aesthetic look of a really early armor or really early weapon and use them later on if you want, it’s not mandatory, you don’t need to do it to play the game. We have awesome looking armor sets all over the game, at higher levels, and just beautiful looking weapons, so you can (inaudible). And you can level up and buy that stuff and keep using that stuff, in game, you never need to buy anything. The Transmutation Stone is purely something for aesthetics and look if you want it, so it’s totally optional. Some players I think will love it, and go to town on it; it’s something that most other games don’t offer at all. So it’s something we want to offer people (inaudible). And if they don’t, that’s fine.

Can items such as Transmutation Stones be earned within the game?

Colin Johanson:

That’s something we’re not talking about at this time. I think we’ll release more information on that when we have it finalized; we’re throwing around a lot of ideas on how all that stuff might work. I can tell you that we’re considering absolutely every option out there, and trying to decide what’s going to be the best for us, and what’s going to be the best for our players, and both of those things are very important.

What do you consider to be the meta-game of Guild Wars 2?

Colin Johanson:

That’s a great question. And I think there’s a lot of different ways we’re trying to answer that. One of the things that we’re trying to do with our content is we’re trying to give people a whole lot of different ways to play the game. So, however they enjoy playing it, they can go do that, and whatever they’re in the mood for doing, they can go and do at any specific time.

So, some of the end game, and some of the drive that we’re providing, we have high-end raid style dungeons, that you can play through in organized groups, and you can get those really cool hard to find armor sets, and you can get really cool weapon sets, that take an organized group to fight through and get those, just like in a traditional MMO where you do the raiding and you earn those. You know, John Hargrove’s article talked a little about how, instead of having to do it and get a random roll and you might get the stuff, every time you play through you’re going to get a reward for it, and you’re gonna get one of those pieces of weapon or armor sets you want to buy, so you always get reward for it. That’s something that’ll be out there to keep people coming back.

The next thing is, our dynamic event system makes it so that every single map you play through will be completely different each time you play it. So, you can play through the game through once with one character, you can come back with a second character and experience a completely different game because of the dynamic events, and so there’s just a ton of replay value. You can go play with your friends and you can get sidekicked down to their level or you can sidekick them up to your level and you can go play through maps you may have played through before on that character and experience totally different content. So, you have this new constantly changing world you can go out there and experience, and that’s a really big draw for replayability.

Our personal story system is another huge factor. Every race has three branching dynamic stories right off the bat where they can pick from. So, for example, the humans you can pick to be from the city streets, the city nobility, or a commoner, and based on that choice you get a completely different personal story than somebody else. And then within that story, there are more branches that you can make decisions that further branch the story in other directions. So, I can be from the commoner class and you can be from the commoner class and we might experience a different story because of that. And then if you take that and say, all those options are available just for humans, then the other four races all have all these other completely different branching stories you can do as well. There is a metric ass-ton of story content that you can go and experience in this game, and so if you love singleplayer RPGs or if you love story in RPGs and you want to experience an awesome RPG story in an MMO, come play our game, and play through all these different storylines, and explore and experience all this different stuff.

This is all reflected in your personal instance, too, right?

Colin Johanson:

Exactly. Your home instance will change and dynamically update based on the stuff you’ve done, and then you can bring your friends and show ‘em all this stuff, be like, “Dude, come check out my home instance, look what I’ve got. I’ve got that trophy over there, and these people moved in next door to me. There’s ogres who live in my home instance, ‘cause I did this stuff.” And your buddy’s like, “Dude, ogres suck I have Grawl in my home instance, and they’re worshipping me when I come home.” You know, you get very different experiences because of that, which is really cool.

Is your home instance located in different areas depending on your race?

Colin Johanson:

Yes. Your home instance is located in your race’s home city. So, if you’re a Sylvari, your home instance will be in the Grove. If you’re an Asura, you’ll have a lab. If you’re a Charr, you’ll have a barracks in the Black Citadel. So, each race has its own location that depends on what city they come from.

Finally, what can fans look forward to hearing about in the coming months?

Colin Johanson:

Well, our big reveal today was the Hall of Monuments stuff. That’s something that I think most people didn’t expect that we’d reveal that information anytime soon, and I think we felt the sooner we could get that information to the players, the better, so that they could know what to expect, and understand, and have a lot of time to play Guild Wars 1 before Guild Wars 2 comes out, to check all that stuff out, to try and fill up their Hall of Monuments. So, that’s a really big deal for our fans, and that’s the big thing right now, that’s number one.

Coming down the road, we’re going to reveal more information on the professions, we’re going to talk more about dungeons, more high-level raids and organized group content, we’re going to talk more about more about the other races in the game, and we’re going to talk about their personal storylines and their cities and their roles in the game world. We’re going to talk about PvP and all of that stuff that’s coming down the road, but I can’t give time estimates as to when we’ll be talking about that stuff, or in what order, because, like I said, we don’t want to talk about it until it’s in the game and so whatever gets in and is polished first, that’s the next thing we’ll talk about.

Thank you Colin for your time.

Colin Johanson:


Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined as the site's Community Manager.
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