Incentive is something that incites action. It’s the proverbial carrot that the cart driver dangles in front of the mule to make it walk.
In MMOs, incentive is the force that drives players to consume content and while many people enjoy similar things, these motivations are subjective. Game developers have the uphill task of appealing to the largest common denominator when they design content. Some players may be motivated by challenging dungeon encounters, while others have the itch to complete collections and earn titles. It could be the thrill of facing off against other skillful players in PvP or countless other factors that draws gamers to continually log hours in their MMO game world.
My last article sparked discussion regarding the differences between gear- and skill-based progression in MMOs. One of the common questions asked was: “If the most powerful gear is easy to get in Guild Wars 2, why should I continue to play it at level 80?” It’s a valid question and one I asked myself having spent the past seven years seeking increasingly powerful loot in World of Warcraft. After mulling it over and really analyzing what motivates me as a gamer, I’ve been able to undo the mental programming caused by a decade of playing gear-based MMOs. Basically, Morpheus from The Matrix sat me down and said, “Free your mind.” I took the red pill.
In a gear-based MMO, you are motivated to complete content that may yield loot to increase your power. If you want to be successful in more difficult dungeons and raids, your gear must meet certain requirements. But is getting your mitts all over a shiny new axe that grants you +10 strength truly the base incentive? For many gamers the desire to improve their equipment is based largely on their appetite for experiencing new content, not the stat increase itself. They want to defeat the nastiest bosses and collect the achievements they earn for doing so. They crave the titles that come with trouncing the most formidable dungeons and raids. And, of course, the allure of procuring rare items like the Multi-barreled Wand of Mega Death is ever-present. But is the prestige of owning such an artifact the +10 intelligence that it grants or the fact that it looks bad-ass and launches flaming skulls at your foes?
In Guild Wars 2, the power level plateaus once characters hit level 80 and it won’t be difficult for all players to nab the best gear from a statistical standpoint. If you want to stand out, however, you’ll have to work for it. Collecting special armor and weapons can be done in various ways: competing in structured PvP, gathering tokens from dungeon runs or crafting gear with rare components. For the extremely dedicated, ArenaNet has recently unveiled some details on acquiring legendary weapons from the Mystic Forge. These epic-looking items will show off your accomplishments to other players without making them requirements for experiencing content.
Why continue to play Guild Wars 2 at level 80? The answer will be different for everyone, but it’s summed up easily by saying: to have fun playing the game. Perhaps you want the satisfaction of beating all 25 explorable dungeon paths. Maybe you’re a crafting fanatic and strive to max out all eight disciplines on a single character. Other gamers are explorers and have a hankering to experience every vista, point of interest, renowned heart and jumping puzzle. There are alt-aholics who won’t be satisfied until they’ve played every profession and others who want to hang out with their friends and take out dynamic events. World vs. World is a never-ending siege battle and hardcore PvPers have an unlimited source of competition in the structured tournaments. The list goes on and on.
Why do we question incentive in MMOs and not in other games? Do you hear people say, “There’s no endgame in Battlefield 3.” People log hundreds of hours playing shooters, real-time strategy games, MOBAs and fighting games because it’s fun, not because they are trying to find a +10 shotgun! You might be able to unlock new skins, improve your win/loss ration or gain an achievement, but these are the same types of things you can work towards in Guild Wars 2. Most gamers will find the incentive to continue playing long after hitting level 80. ArenaNet proved that this structure worked seven years ago with Guild Wars 1 and they are about to put it to the test again.
To be fair, obtaining a new item that makes a perceivable difference in how powerful you are is enjoyable. Some people will crave the thrill they get when their floating damage numbers hit a new zenith. There will be players who prefer a game where their power level improves as they obtain new items. The great news about Guild Wars 2 is there is no subscription fee, so if anyone grows tired of the game, they can take a break, play other games, and come back when there are new things to do. When there’s a monthly subscription fee, gamers feel like they have to log in—otherwise they are wasting money. Similarly, the developers of subscription games feel pressured to stretch out content and keep players on the loot treadmill. Running dungeons repeatedly for currency, maximizing reputations, and doing daily quests are all techniques invented for this purpose.
This doesn’t mean that Guild Wars 2 is devoid of grinds. Exploring and completing every map in the game is sure going to have its share of tedium. If you want full sets of the dungeon armor, you better steel yourself for multiple explorable mode dungeon runs. I’m also quite sure nabbing one of those sparkly legendary weapons will test the tenacity of the most stalwart adventurer. The difference, however, is that these grinds are optional. Players aren’t required to suffer through them in order to experience content. There are no invisible walls surrounding your foes and no gear checks. It’s just you, your friends, and Tyria.
This article was inspired by a video I made on the same topic. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBHDgKGb4bw