What’s In a Name?

As a general rule, I try and remain as aloof as possible. It’s partly a defense mechanism against the eldritch machinations of an uncaring, absurd universe. But it is also somewhat necessary in an age wherein marketing departments have weaponized hype and doublespeak like “value-added” as if they are doing consumers any favors. In other words: wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first.

Enter Guild Wars 2.

I signed up for the Beta like everyone else, with a current disposition of extreme skepticism. And I still am extremely skeptical. Will it “save” MMOs? Doubt it… assuming MMOs need saving at all. Is the holy trinity dead? As this BFF Report clearly shows, no, not in the sense that there will not be a guy who primarily tanks, someone who heals, etc. Even the whole “freeform” questing bit (which you can also see earlier in the BFF Report) does not necessarily move the needle, as a gamer who responds to ostensive purpose, no matter how flimsy said purpose may be in the abstract. Cave full of kobolds? Who cares? Oh, farmer Joe cares, because the kobolds are stealing the pumpkins? Let me go solve that for you.

That being said, I have been keeping up with the game, reading interviews, and so on. And what I am finding is that the little things are moving the needle all over the damn place. For example, here is Mike Ferguson’s Q&A response on a Reddit AMA interview:

Q: We all saw that enemy players are currently listed as generic invaders, and some are turned off by that. Will there be a toggle option for showing our name if we want to?

A: There’s been a lot of discussion about seeing enemy names in WvW. While I certainly understand the reasoning behind the request to see enemy names, we are fairly firm about not showing names of the opposing teams. I think of it this way, in a war people dont introduce themselves before trying to kill each other. When you are fighting in the mists for your world, you are in the middle of a giant war against two opposing forces who want nothing more than to take everything you own and kill you as many times as they possibly can. That guy who just shot you is not Bob the Engineer, he’s the enemy.

Not showing enemy names in WvW also helps players that are less pvp-oriented feel less threatened about venturing into the battle because seeing enemies as anonymous ‘invaders’ creates a sense that opponents won’t be able to recognize them and pick on them because of their lack of skill in a fight, so they in turn feel more embolded to go out and fight in the first place. Not showing names also makes it so people can feel as if they can ‘hide’ in a fight if need be, but still be around to help out. That’s a pretty critical part of making WvW feel more inviting for people that would normally never think about playing PvP in any other game.

We’ve heard “I usually dont PvP, but I love WvW” again and again from people in our beta, so even though showing names might make for a more competitive pvp environment, we’d much rather create a game that is more welcoming for people that don’t normally play the more hardcore PvP games. If you want to see enemy names and get to know the community of people you are fighting against, competitive PvP is the place to get that sort of thing in Guild Wars 2. WvW is the place where you fight with your friends and show your might against a faceless never-ending horde of enemies. It’s not about taking names, it’s about taking back that tower and claiming it for your guild so it can wave your flag right in the enemies face!

…now that is interesting.

A lot of blogging space has been dedicated to examining the effects of, say, LFG on community culture. For the record, I believe the LFG culture (such as it is) in WoW is merely the natural expression of difficult, group-based daily activities minus the desperation.

But it is fascinating to think about the possible effects of a struggle against an intentionally nameless enemy in GW2. Would people really feel “safer” being anonymous in a wider war? I think Mike Ferguson is onto something. Imagine you are trying to take a tower from a single defender, but he keeps killing you. In my own WoW experience, I feel the standard shame of defeat, but I also feel worse knowing that the defender can put a name to the face, so to speak. If we meet up somewhere else on the battlefield, he might recognize the fail paladin he defeated with ease earlier and go after me first. In my mind, that second possibility is worse than the initial defeat(s).

I know this happens because I did it all the time in WoW BGs. “Hey, there is that Boomkin made out of wet paper. Ha! Look at him run!” Inspiring dread ended up being a lot more entertaining than most of the BGs themselves. Indeed, one of the biggest draws of having a rogue was following someone around and Sapping them repeatedly, then watching their panicked, futile AoE dance afterwards. After they felt themselves safe, that’s when you kill them in a stunlock. Repeat until they just abandon their keyboard after the first Sap.

Take away the name, though? People could probably figure out that the Norn Elementalist who keeps trying to take the tower is the same player. I might even be wary of the nameless Mesmer defending said tower. But at the same time, perhaps we would care less. Perhaps it would make people more inclined to group with their own faction, since that this the only avenue of social recognition – you cannot be known and feared by your enemies, so you seek out the accolades of your server. Only your own team will ever know your name.

It is such a subtle, brilliant change that I cannot wait to see how it works. Not “if,” how.

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Posted on February 27, 2012, in Guild Wars 2 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. My experience at WoT clearly shows that the ones ready to turn you down, insult you and denigrate your actions in any possible way are not the enemies (who at worst, thank you for the easy exp), but your ALLIES. I’ve learned that you can and will be insulted and trated as a noob not only if your team is losing (which may even be logical), but also when the team is winning, and even when it’s you who is playing the most important role in winning the game.
    So, if they really want to do something to solve the problem, they should hide all names in WvW, enemies and allies alike. And maybe also disable the chatbox…

    • I have thought about a game wherein the players are indistinguishable from the bots, and how that would play out. I think it’d work for enemies, but the benefits of allies would outweigh their possible (verbal) abuse, IMO. I’m a big believer in the power of Show & Tell, and that requires someone to Tell.

  2. I am optimistic about this method; though I hope they make it so that there is no WvWvW communication between enemies at all. Nothing quite as irritating as the guy spamming /fart or /laugh as you fight. One of my most distinct WoW pvp memories was an AV game (back in Vanilla) in which I held Stormpike for the horde by sapping/stunning anyone who would try to claim it and let the guards handle them (my gear was crap). This worked for a LONG time, and after the battle I joined a WSG and got beaten by some of the same people in the AV game. Afterwards one of them made an alt on my server and started taunting me about “Not having guards this time noob!” or something to that effect. I shrugged it off, but the possibility of doing it is there. I also have friends who don’t want to PvP for that same reason…knowing it’s another player somehow makes it worse, but if the enemy are all nameless mobs…well in some small way it brings the PvE and PvP worlds together.

  3. This is the best idea to come out for a MMO in a long time. And I agree with Helistar to a certain degree. I think they can publish your name after the battle, along with the other stats. But do away with the floating name tags. Or at most allow you to take an alias before each battle and use that as a floating name tag.

  4. Very interesting, I didn’t see that.
    What interest me the most in GW2 is the absence of vertical stats progression at end game (and normalization while leveling for WvW). It means that for the first time stats won’t separate players if anything it will be social and gameplay skills. One of the first “Social Proof” MMO attempt in my opinion.

    • Unfortunately, gear still matters in WvW. The whole “everyone basically uses premades!” thing is for competitive PvP only.

      • Damn, I assumed it was mainly aesthetic gear-loots for WvW and ArenatNet committing to skill largely superior to gear (unlike WoW PvP).
        I guess we’ll have to wait to see the stats gaps. If it’s important you probably have killed WvW as a game for me (will go in tourist though).

        It reminds me of the “great item squish or not” discussion from WoW developer

        http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/blog/3258652

        and near the end of the post “ If your answer is that stat budgets don’t have to grow so much in order for players to still want the gear, our experience says otherwise”

        Basically it means they know WoW players will never be satisfied by intrinsic rewards (being a better player, winning solo or as a team like any normal game) but absolutely need highly piped dices and stats doping/cheating (I don’t mind class imbalance as they are inevitable).

        The funny thing is that WoW heroes would never play WoW MMO if they could. When Garrosh realized he had an unfair advantage when defeating Cairne in The Shattering he went mad, never knowing his true value in regard to his opponent.

  5. ..there will not be a guy who primarily tanks, someone who heals..

    I think that is exactly what GW2 is aiming for and also what the video shows.
    You will not have one tank and if he goes down the whole party is more or less defeated.
    You will not have one person dedicated only to healing and if some mobs hits them once everything is lost.
    Since every class can perform these tasks to a certain degree you don’t need a tanking profession and a healer profession to run certain content. You could also have 5 necromancers equipped with different weapons where they switch between taking damage and healing themselves and/or others by stepping back and letting someone else take the front line.
    Of course heavy armor will provide better protection against physical attacks, so a warrior will take less damage compared to an elementalist. That does not mean that said ele cannot effectivly tank a something, just not for as long or only with a joint effort in healing.

    Also without threat and an aggro table enemies will switch and not stupidly stand and beat on an iron wall while something mysterious kills them.

    Better than saying there is no tank and no healer would be everyone can perform that role.
    Instead of LF 1 more, Tank!!1! it will turn to a LF 1 more player.