Guild Wars 2’s Living Story is a concept so simple it is hard to believe it is so unique.
The original idea seemed to be to let the players feel like they were a real part of the game’s story, rather than just supporting characters at best. This has always been a problem with MMO storylines by necessity. It is very difficult to make each one of several million players feel like they are a genuinely important part of the story.
ArenaNet might have found a way to do exactly that, however. A recent interview with Colin Johanson, game director for Guild Wars 2, sheds some light on how the Living Story will make the players a part of the story in the long-term not only as individuals, but as a community.
The difference is?
The distinction is subtle in application, but one of the long-held understandings about MMO success is the feeling of community between the players of a given game while still giving each player a sense of individual accomplishment.
One of the reasons regularly pointed to as a cause of World of Warcraft losing so many subscribers is the convenience of its dungeon and raid-finder mechanics across multiple servers allowing players to bypass any sort of actual interaction. No community is formed because none is necessary, so when someone loses interest there is no one else there whose company keeps them enthralled in the game.
At the same time, one of the fundamental issues many people have with FInal Fantasy XI is how group-based it is. It is effectively impossible to progress (as anything but a Beastmaster) without a group of others helping you along. There is no impact on the overall world or sense of actual triumph on an individual basis.
So the Living Story is different how?
The latest update to the Living Story is pointed out by Colin Johanson as a good example of something that could effect the overall plot development for Guild Wars 2 on both levels. Players are tasked with voting (via events) for who fills a recently and violently vacated political seat in Lion’s Arch.
You’re voting to determine who this character will be that will be on the Lion’s Arch council and the outcome of that vote will permanently put that character on the council where they will be deciding things about the future of the game constantly in the future. The council will vote on whether or not they’ll be involved in wars, whether Lion’s Arch is going to sign peace treaties or sign trade treaties. Whoever you vote in? They’re going to be part of those decisions and these things can have ramifications for years to come and affect the entire game.
The actual effect of the player-driven decision will be up to ArenaNet, but Johanson, at least, seems to be keen on the idea of the eventual decision having a serious impact on how the future story of the world of Guild Wars 2 develops.
On the large scale, this set-up creates a situation perfect for actual factions to form within the player community. Multiple choices? Check. Permanent effect on the game? Check. Ability for players to feel directly connected to the world around them? Check.
When the voting is all completed, the fact it will change how the story develops from then on lets players feel honestly responsible for the world they game in. It gives them a connection to it most MMOs really cannot manage to do, simply because the player is simply following along with the story. Being able to actually help determine it is an exciting prospect.
Johanson also clearly specifed ArenaNet is looking to incorporate elements of each individual player’s personal story into future installments of the Living Story. This takes things a step in an entirely different direction from the community participation and sense of ownership and also adds individual ownership. If the choices each player makes through their own progression come up in the constantly-developing Living Story, it makes both stories significantly more personal and exciting.
As a player, the potential of the Living Story gets more and more exciting. I am hoping more than ever before that ArenaNet delivers on all this potential, and for a change in the world of modern gaming, I think the game company might actually be able to do it.