[GW2] Neither Progressive nor Casual enough. Or: Growing (Pains) with your Genre

It is interesting times for us MMO players. MoP has finally launched, putting an end to an excruciatingly long expansion wait time for many avid WoW players. At the same time there is GW2 now, that new MMO somewhere “between the themepark and the sandbox”. One month into its release there are finally solid gameplay experiences, allowing for more meaningful and informed discussions on more longterm and complex aspects of the game. Of course the big topic that was going to come up eventually is “endgame” and “casual vs. hardcore” and other vague definitions that are MMO blogger favorites.

My favorites too – but rather than starting at the beginning and rolling up my usual three-parts argument, I’ll jump into medias res and continue with comments I already left on other blogs dealing with the subject. Before I do that though, let there be no doubt that a) I consider conclusions on all sides to be vastly based on individual player expectations and b) I believe GW2 delivers on ANet’s promises. We haven’t all read the same previews and no doubt readers always project their own wishes into teaser articles; some were therefore completely focused on WvW, others on the continuation of GW’s story, others again were looking forward to a new approach to combat, group play or cooperation. Depending to which camp you belonged pre-launch, your one-month recap on GW2 is going to look very different.

But now let’s look at that endgame / progression “issue” GW2 supposedly has.

Why “endgame” is overrated

Syncaine is vastly disappointed in WvW so far and he’s not alone. And while he regards the “journey between lvl 1-80” in GW2 as quite great, the “endgame” after that is obviously absent and the game “therefore becomes pointless”. Needles to say, this is a very linear and progression-oriented way of looking at things in an MMO that does precisely not build up towards endgame and where leveling is more or less meaningless. The big problem I always perceived is ANet not being consequent enough about that lack of progression: while it’s a viable concept in theory, why oh why could they not just omit levels altogether and opt for a skillbased system? Why not make the world truly flat by abandoning zone levels and rather install different modes of mob difficulty overall? Right now, there’s an upsetting contradiction in the “open world feeling” they tried to create and it’s undermining a good intention.

Where I disagree with Syncaine mostly is not lack of endgame in GW2, but calling classic progression a “necessary feature” of MMOs by virtue of WoW:

“I think you’re going about the completely wrong way to prove why MMOs
supposedly need it [progression] by making comparisons to WoW of all games, which to
this day still has the biggest mass of casual gamers subscribed. Despite
WoW having endgame progression, the majority of wow players are in fact
not progression gamers. Hardcore raiders/pvpers are a very small part
of wow and always have been even if bloggers don’t realize it (most
bloggers are raiders or pvpers or have been). It’s players who are
alting, solo questing, collecting and crafting and looking forward to
pet battles, with the odd PuG run in the mix. Wow’s critical mass are
‘dwellers’ in love with Azeroth.” (Syl)

WoW is not successful in numbers because of “endgame”. Ironically, it was Syncaine’s neighbour Tobold, who recently pointed this out too: “I believe that people who read forums and blogs have a very wrong idea
how Blizzard is making money with World of Warcraft. The bread and
butter of Blizzard is not the people who rush through content, the
high-end raiding guilds, the elitist jerk theorycrafters, or the
bloggers and forum posters. Blizzard is making most of their money from
people like my wife, who was subscribed to WoW all the way through
Cataclysm, and was busy leveling alts.”

As much as raiders like to believe it, Azeroth was not built on their shoulders. WoW is absolutely fine without hardcores and progression-minded players and will be for a long time to come. By the same definition GW2 should be just fine too – but it’s still not going to be as popular as WoW for several reasons unrelated to progression (of which some but not all are included further down).

Neither progressive nor casual enough

One who is probably closer to GW2’s intended target audience, or at least at peace with the way things are in Tyria, is Bhagpuss – finally pointing out the effect of this mixed beast that is GW2 right now and some of the complexities in trying to identify the game as casual or hardcore by traditional standards. I commented as much in his latest article –

“GW2 is not the casual game some make it out to be – it has some very
hardcore features that make even fans of the grindiest grind dizzy. It
has money scarcity and difficult dungeons that are a hell to pug. This
is not casual at all.

On the other hand, GW2 can be played without
the usual partying up hubbub, obviously it’s all 5man and there is no
classic endgame or progression. So here, it’s the progression kids
GW2 is in between the themepark and the sandbox, and
it is in between the casual and the hardcore. Casual players will find a
lot more accessibility and overall blingbling and variety of easy fun
in WoW. And hardcore kids don’t get the same chances on progressive
content and server pride than in WoW, either” (Syl)

With that in mind, what is GW2? And whom does it appeal to? I can only speculate by what I’m hearing from positive bloggers, close buddies and my own experiences. I think GW2 is casual when it comes to social dynamics but not in the sense of difficulty. It’s obviously aimed at a playerbase that is looking for changes in certain areas of the traditional MMO routine, but not in others – maybe it appeals most to fantasy MMO veterans who have made the switch from hardcore to more casual, but not trivial. I don’t think GW2 is for genre newcomers, any more than it is for raiders. Then there is the PvP focus which again appeals only to a very specific bracket. From that particular point of view, GW2 expands the variety of AAA+ MMOs you can currently choose from – and combined with its already 2mio sales success, that surely is a positive thing both for players and the market.

Mistaking genre for (inflexible) audience

I always considered the definition wars of “gamer vs. player” or what makes and breaks the “real MMO definition” completely futile. The genre is not what it was 8 years ago, and 8 years ago it was
not what it was 15 years ago when UO launched. I remember it like it was yesterday, when a not inconsiderable amount of vocal UO/EQ/DAoC veterans or so-called “MMO olschoolers”, were avidly mocking that new MMO on the block, World of Warcraft: that easily accessible, casual MMO full of loot,
easy gold and no proper punishments!

Ironically, 8 years later some of
the WoW “newschoolers” have become the “new oldschoolers”, now singing a very similar tune about GW2 because they cannot reconcile this new game with their personal idea of what MMOs are. The mocked have become the mocking and so the
cycle turneth
. Nothing new under the sun.

“Come such a long, long way.”

I loved UO for opening up the world of MMOs to me (and letting you pwn noobs while being morphed into a chicken). UO was great and
also horrible in places. Then came WoW and I loved Azeroth for a very long
time. It was also horrible in places. WoW was no MMO revolution, it was
evolution. I’m completely in love with the things that GW2 does differently today – and no doubt one year from now I will talk about the horrible things
in it, too. All that makes me is an MMO player passionate about this genre –
yesterday, today and tomorrow. And I am not done yet by a long shot.

Chris elaborated on so beautifully, we can make peace with the fact that our first games will never return (including all related effects) or we cannot. It took me a while too, in fact it took me the greater parts of my blogging journey up to now. Along the line though I realized that I would hate missing out on all the good this genre still has to offer, just because my eyes are looking back rather than forward. If the MMO genre is truly in decline, then at the very least let it not be due to my own blindness and negative expectations. “Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread!” (source).

I love to dwell in fantastic worlds. If there’s one universally defining aspect for this genre at all, it’s that MMO worlds are created to be lived in, rather than be played through. GW2 has some gamey aspects for certain but its clear lack of endgame and progression, its attempts at a “flat” gameplay experience maybe more alike to Skyrim, emphasize this very oldschool virtue. Or as commented at Azuriel’s –

“It’s bizarrely inconsistent how the same critics calling GW2 a ‘game’
rather than MMO, are also those lamenting the lack of endgame. One
popular aspect of MMOs is that they make you want to ‘live there’ rather
than ‘play through’. and by that definition GW2 IS more MMO than all
the more progressive MMOs out there which are constantly under pressure
to deliver new content just so their progression- and linearity ridden
playerbase stays hooked. In a way I am glad GW2 is such a disappointment
to all these players right away, making it very clear already at low
level that things wont change from here. That way you don’t ‘waste’ so
much time before moving on or back to WoW.” (Syl)

I’ve written about a related topic before – the vicious cycle of linear content and developers raising a playerbase of hungry cookie monsters in need to feed at ever-increasing speed. All individual challenges and inconsistencies in GW2 aside, which it has at this current early state, I am grateful to ANet for treating their player base more like grown-ups, given little guidance from the very beginning. Don’t know what to do / where to go from here? Well, figure it out yourself!

If you find nothing, maybe it’s because there is nothing. Or maybe it’s because you couldn’t find it. I leave that up to you and whether MMOs really need to ensure a linear path and constant progression rather than just a rich world with cooperative opportunities. Summa summarum, I am incredibly happy GW2 is an MMO that I only ever log on to because I truly want to – and where all paths lie before me with no obvious concept where to go next. That, among several more things, is worth having. For me. For now.


  1. I think the main issue I have with GW2 at the moment is that although levelling is easy, I’m feeling a negative motivation to get to max level. Orr sounds annoying and I didn’t like the storymode instance I did with my guild enough to want to do any more of them. So I kind of actively don’t want to get to max level. I like the PvE and WvW a lot other than that.

    Compare with WoW where you have the lure that when you get to max level you can work on getting a cool cloudserpent, trying the (fun) scenarios with friends, expand your farm etc.

    I’m not trying to say one is better, just that I feel really excited and motivated to level my WoW character because there will be cool and fun things to do. I’m not talking especially about endgame raiding, just extra stuff to do solo.

    1. Orr *is* annoying! I realised a few days ago that including all the beta weekends I’ve probably spent over 50% of all my time in Tyria in just a handful of zones, none of them flagged above level 35.

      Thing is, that’s how I play most MMOs. In EQ, Vanguard, Rift, EQ2, LotRO and many more I tend to get a high or max level character under my belt then for my repeat play I just potter around in starting an low-mid-level places. Only not usually this early on. The difference in GW2 is that I had my max level in three weeks.

      It’s early days, but on balance I think I prefer it that way. And very interestingly, leveling my second character seems to be going much slower and I can’t work out why. It certainly isn’t because I’m playing or enjoying it any less – quite the opposite, in fact.

      My current meta-game seems to be trying to work out what the heck ArenaNet think they are playing at. They do seem to come at everything from an angle, albeit not quite as oblique an angle as SquareEnix.

    2. @spinks
      I agree neither are better or worse in the sense that both have a downside for a particular group of players. and it’s probably impossible to have both effects in the same game, anyway: if you focus on endgame more, it means many players rush through to max level, probably missing a lot of the world. if you abandon endgame, many players worry about reaching max level because…what then? that’s why I really wish ANet had tossed levels – it’s a subtle, psychological difference maybe but it would’ve removed ‘pace’ as an element in the game.

      Once I reached 80 in GW2, it’s dungeons for me, crafting and WvW for sure, as I have hardly done much (I feel have done so little yet compared to others!). I’d also like to experience the other faction storylines, so there will be an alt or two.

      I’ve yet to play Orr….I still haven’t reached max level (also partly due to busy work though). 🙂 I’ve a very similar feeling about ANet – they’ve worked very long on GW2 and you can tell there’s much they figured out and prepared for in detail (also see the economy) to make their model work, ever so subtly. we’re nowhere near close to understanding what they’re up to longterm and it would be wrong to underestimate their planning. it’s not like developers don’t discuss the endgame or overall content / pacing questions hundred times over for their own MMO. 😉

      btw you should definitely make a post dedicated to ‘pottering’ sometime soon!

    3. You need a buddy/group with you when you’re in Orr, because the place is in constant turmoil (mobs everywhere and waypoints pop up contested regularly) and many events are group-only. It’s in many ways the ‘raid zone’ of the game I think, because the more open pace of earlier zones doesn’t seem to really exist there, though I’ve only been in Orr for like 3 days so my initial impressions may be off.

      I just hit lv80 on my first character this week, and I still have 40% of the world to explore properly. Then I’ll start leveling the alts. I haven’t even looked at exotics or Legendaries or any of that stuff, to be honest. I do dungeons occasionally with guildies and that’s really fine with me (as a PvE player).

    4. Sounds very much like my situation, Pai 🙂
      I really feel like I am ‘nowhere’ yet in the game and despite doing tons of exploration, I am ‘only’ at 45% discovered (yay!). My character is level 65 now. Orr sounds interesting…there are already a few quest areas with fast respawns that are hardly doable by yourself, so I think I will get my buddies to level up less alts from now on so I have escorts! 😛

  2. Syl, you have an uncanny ability to put into words what is ruminating in my head. I’m glad GW2 does not have a WoW style raiding type “end-game”. To be honest, the whole game is one big end game! It’s great that a level 80 character can go explore the Charr starting area for the first time and it will be relevant since they are down leveled. Players can fight big bosses at level 11 with 5 to 20 people. Players can enjoy the journey through Tyria from vista points, to skills, to hearts, to crafting, to personal story.

    Maybe it’s because so many gamers are trying to put the GW2 square peg into the proverbial WoW-clone round hole. That’s all they know so they they don’t quite understand what they’ve got or what it will be like. For me this is rather exciting, I’m not sure what ANet will drop on us. Just think what it will be like if they start dropping seasonal, time limited or story driving world events on us and 50+ people show up to battle.

    I still don’t have one character above level 15; ’cause I have limited time and I’m just enjoying myself. And the enjoying myself is the best part.

    1. Cheers! I’m glad too – I don’t think we need another WoW. it’s a great game and achieved many things for the genre, but I’m not its target audience anymore these days and I appreciate the freshness and evolution only newer games can bring.

      the MMO market can do with more variety – unfortunately business has become a focus in such a way that many more niche MMOs (like TSW) have a hard stand if they don’t reach ‘the millions’ right away. so, I’m glad GW2 is already so successful while also being different. personally I’ve no doubt it will keep doing well for a long time to come. I’m excited too to see what ANet come up with for future content.

  3. Really enjoyed your comments (and compilation of articles). I don’t know if it’s WoW (or just my “main” MMO) but I’m finding myself puttering around a lot more in GW2. I have absolutely no interest in finishing my end-story, or really getting involved in any of the content other than exploration. My hope is that end-game in GW2 rewards me for doing the absolute same thing I’m doing now. I don’t really want a “formal” raid environment. I like running to the nearest town and just throwing myself into the fray.

    1. Hey Windsoar, glad you enjoyed the post! I think this is especially nice about GW2’s business model – not only is it a new home base for a certain part of the MMO playerbase, it also offers a non-sub alternative (or ‘complement’) for MMO players already paying another sub. you can play WoW and enjoy endgame etc. there and you can play GW2 on the side and do your pottering in Tyria. I agree the world of GW2 is just made for that kind of gameplay! 🙂

  4. Great post. It is something different from the norm, and this confuses a lot of players. I’ve had posts on my own blog trying to argue that the game needs a raiding endgame.

    Exploration as a playstyle just works in this game. Things that you see on the horizon are actually there and invariably accessible somehow, though you may spend a few hours trying to work out just how to get up/down/across to the thing you’ve spotted. I’ve loved this in other games but only GW2 has delivered on making it truly worthwhile.

    I suspect that even if they’d gone the whole hog to remove levels, with a skill system as you suggest, then it’d be the same anyway. The zergers would still rush to skill cap, to the most difficult zones and complain about the lack of tiered gear progression.

    1. …you know what, you are absolutely right. I’m quite certain that would happen too – as Zonian commented further up, some players always need to try and “put the GW2 square peg into the proverbial WoW-clone round hole”. /shrug

      I guess it just takes time. WoW has been such a vast influence on everybody for a long time. considering WoW too needed some time to establish itself (and convince the ‘mockers’) though, how could it be any different for any new MMO coming out today? 🙂 1 year from now many of the newer aspects in GW2 will be fully accepted and probably taken for granted in new games (and other MMO expansions) to come.

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. I’ve pondered a bit about levels in Guild Wars 2 and the only conclusion I got was that it was meant to be some sort of soft training wheels/content gate/progression meter.

    The training wheel parts would be just so people slowly unlock their skills/traits, get used to them, experiment with them and so on as their levels. Content gate would function a similar purpose as events get more and more complex as they get nearer to Orr. It would also gives a good trail for players to follow so they don’t get too overwhelmed deciding where to go next. Or end up going straight to Orr and wondering what the hell is going on over there. Progression meter is pretty self-explanatory I guess.

    Although all these arguments do sound pretty weak when compared to what is actually going in game. It also makes me wonder what ArenaNet will do when the inevitable expansions come. Will they add more levels? More heal/utility/elite skills? Just more lands? I have no clue but it should be interesting to see how they will add new stuff to the game.

    1. I agree – in any other game it would make sense to put in hurdles like that and a ‘red line’ of progression, but given the overall concept of GW2 any potential explanations just ring very hollow. I wonder if they actually ever addressed this anywhere, hmm…

      I find the whole ‘lets add more levels’ concept at each expansion horribly boring in MMOs btw.

  6. Guild Wars 2, in my opinion, is in an almost completely different genre than wow. Sure, it looks the same on the surface, but beneath you find something completely different. I feel your right when you say people are trying to make it into the next WoW, but it has been 8 years since WoW launched. I think people are ready to find something new, and as younger people join the gaming community they’ll find a long lasting home in GW2. It has the feel of something genuine and exciting. I cant put my finger on it, but this game has a different sort of appeal that may be needed to bring the genre back to what it was. Maybe GW2 wont be the biggest thing, but its something fundamentally different from what were used to.

    One last thing, a month isnt long enough to really make solid conclusions about an MMORPG. Since what really makes an mmorpg great is more about the community thats involved with it rather than the content, GW2 still needs some time to solidify and settle.

    1. Well…I’d actually say it looks completely different already on the surface – and a great thing too!! =D hehe…
      that aside though, you echo pretty much my own thoughts. I still feel am learning things in GW2 daily, it will take a long time for me to come to final conclusions, or anything close to it.

  7. Interesting topic. I have to slightly disagree with your stance on the impact of high end raiding though. I won’t go so far as Syncaine to say that it’s a must have for any MMO …I really don’t think that’s true. But I do think it’s true that a not insignificant number of casuals flocked to and continue to hang around in WoW because of the environment created by high end players. It doesn’t matter if they consciously or subconsciously recognize this — the buzz created around the game on a mass popular scale wasn’t done by altaholics. It was the crowds pushing and hovering around the major events and moments of the game. Raiders are definitely part of that equation whether we like it or not (I’m not, nor have I ever been a hardcore raider). I think here we see a lot of sway in the ‘sphere from one extreme to the other. We either want to dismiss raiding out of hand because of it’s small participant base or we want to speak as though it’s the most important part of the game. The answer is neither, I think. It’s somewhere in the middle and raiders in games like WoW play an important role in the success of the MMO as a world.

    You don’t think so?

    1. Hmm, I really don’t know. I think as avid gamers and MMO bloggers, we tend to overrate the aspect of raid guilds, guild fame and server firsts when it comes to the significance of average Joe out there. WoW gained so many players that were exactly NOT longtime MMO players – it conquered a wide market, appealing to everyone from CS to Sims fans. what are raids to the casual gamer who is never going to see that content, anyway? how would that be a selling point?

      I just don’t see it. sure, raid videos on youtube can be great, but WoW inspired such a lively and wide community for things like jack-o-lantern contests on halloween, awesome official trailers and a very creative community (hello wow fanfics and machinimas). it was overbearingly omnipresent in pop media for a long time.

    2. I agree with Doone. Although Blizzard may be making most of their money from casuals it was the raiders that brought the publicity that enabled WoW to become the behemoth it is. Even glitches like the corrupted blood plague incident helped, that particular incident was the first time I became aware of MMORPGs and made me say to myself ‘I want to be a part of a world where that can happen’.


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