Recently, Arena Net has unveiled more of the upcoming MMO title Guild Wars 2 to the press in a closed beta. It is assumed that the public will have a chance to be selected for another closed beta by the end of this month. The game itself has been in development and discussion for many years, but the recent press beta resulted in the largest exposure of the game to the enthusiasts, even out-weighing the various demos covered at conventions.

Arena Net, from here on referred to as ANet for my convience, has touted their design philosophy behind Guild Wars 2 as a selling point, a promise to gamers to break away from common perceptions and expectations about MMOs. The game claims to have done away with the holy trinity of tank, healer and dps. The game’s open world content is based on interconnected Dynamic Events. There are no longer quest NPCs spotted around town with text boxes and accept/decline options. Instead, things just happen and you can participate or choose not to. The skills in the game are mostly tied to weapon choice and you learn them from using your weapon. There is no mob tagging or kill stealing as you are given credit once you participate and rewarded via how much you participate. The list of departures from standards of MMOs goes on from here.

The reason I am writing this is not to go over what Guild Wars 2 is or to list the changes in the game. There’s plenty of people filling the webspace with rundowns and information dumps. As the title suggests, this blog entry pertains to raiding and its absence from Guild Wars 2 and to what the essence of raiding really might be.

Raiding has become the stand-in for PVE endgame content not due to any victory over other options or due to any great, involving and joyful aspect naturally found within raiding, but because there simply hasn’t been much else to challenge it. In MMOs, PVE endgame content consists of a wee pinch of choice in ventures and to-dos. A max leveled character’s gameplay options include re-rolling as a new character, completionist goals of filling out achievements in the game, farming and playing the market for gold, or the monolithic world of raiding and its accompanying gear treadmill.

A lot of people have put forth their worries about investing their playtime in Guild Wars 2 if it will struggle to persist without a raiding endgame to prop itself up. The reasoning here tends to be backed by an idea that people desire raiding. I contend that nobody actually enjoys raiding, but only enjoy the special things found within raiding and have no experience accessing those fun elements without the dreary elements that raiding binds with them.

I have experience raiding in World of Warcraft. I had no desire to be a virtual millionaire, so farming and playing the market wasn’t a big draw as a time waster to me. I did not find the quests in MMOs to be special enough to be played out if I did not desire any of their rewards. I rolled new characters, but then I was just retreading the same old quests again. This left raiding as a goal for myself when I maxed out, and I continued to play the raid game from Burning Crusade through to the start of Cataclysm, but even before Wrath of the Lich King had spat out its final aria, I was getting burnt out on the whole thing.

What I realized was that there were parts of raiding that I enjoyed and that these parts were similar to things found in other video games. These were the fun elements, these were giant bosses and beautiful, interesting dungeons with an epic feel to the fights and surroundings. I enjoyed working with others and the cooperative element was sometimes able to add an even more heroic and adventurous feel to the encounters.Then there were all the things which turned raiding into work instead of play.

Raiding often involves the gear treadmill, and the encounters are based upon this ladder climb of stats. Your tier 1 content is hard if you don’t have tier 1 gear, but it becomes a yawn when you’re hitting it with a sword and staff two steps above its tier. While I enjoyed playing with others, scheduling a playtime and the required dependency on others became a problem. Sitting around for an hour or two waiting for the last important member of your raid was never and never will be fun. Making sure they have all the potions and elixirs and whatnots needed to get by was a test of patience, but also a devourer of one’s own time.

Pretty soon raiding wasn’t just taking up the time you were in a raid, but asking you to spend your free time in support of the raid. You had no choice but to farm for gold because raiding was designed as a money sink and as such became a constant hit to your virtual-wallet. You needed to farm materials or farm for money to buy the materials you needed. Then the guides came out and you were researching your weekly dungeon and boss, learning a dance pattern to play out with each step planned for you and the only human element to your playtime including the difference between your finger press and your latency, and the goofy name you had chosen for yourself. Then there’s a chart to read to determine your threat, how well you’re doing and what dance step is coming up next. My screen was flooded with menus. I was watching health bars and not the game.

Finally, there was the loot, perhaps the last fun element to a raid. You had a chance at a shiny new reward, but you better have the DKP for it. In other words, you better have shown up to work a lot and sacrificed more of your life to a routine that was becoming less and less enjoyable. And I don’t claim a subjective “fun” here but an objective “fun”, as in that we separate the concept of work from play for a reason. Some people enjoy their work if their work is something they enjoy. There was something in raiding that was fun and enjoyable, but it had been buried underneath layers of artificial difficulties and pain. I was not a masochist and I was no longer enjoying the game I was paying every month to play.

But this whole time, there were those fun elements to be had, so what I contend is that Guild Wars 2 does not need raiding. What Guild Wars 2 needs is those fun elements without the painful bonds attached. I also contend that many raiders will find the same truth I found if a game delivers on providing the feeling of epic encounters and captivating dungeons that put those elements forefront. These elements include good boss design, fantastic dungeons, epic feels, challenging gameplay and some sort of reward or sense of accomplishment. These are things players desire, but raiding has packaged these things in a box full of time sinks and annoyances. Since nothing has come along to challenge raiding, nothing has moved forward in the design and delivery of the sort of elements gamers enjoy. People have begun to think the box these good elements came in is what they wanted, and it’s created a weird masochistic gentlemen’s club of raiders. People just wanted into the club without thinking of why.