Flameseeker Chronicles: What would a mobile Guild Wars 2 look like?


Ever wished Tyria could fit in your pocket? That dream could one day become a reality. A couple of weeks ago, we heard rumblings that ArenaNet may be looking into producing a version of Guild Wars 2 for mobile. This isn’t even the first time it has hinted at this possibility; we know that at least one of the projects it cancelled following its layoffs back in February was a mobile title. Given how successful ArenaNet’s parent company NCsoft has been with mobile versions of some of its other popular MMORPG franchises, such as Lineage II and Aion, I think it’s easy to see why it would be interested in investigating a mobile version of Guild Wars 2.

Now, I don’t know anything more about this than you do, and I’ve never developed a game for mobile, let alone an MMORPG. Regardless, I thought it would be a fun mental exercise for this week’s Flameseeker Chronicles to design a theoretical Guild Wars 2 for mobile.

First of all, I think that we can eliminate crossplay as a possibility from the get-go. I love the idea of a crossplay MMORPG that I can play with my friends who prefer different platforms, be that mobile or console, but I think that the PC version of Guild Wars 2 is going to require too many modifications to make it mobile friendly to be able to share a server and give all players an equal experience.

The biggest and most important change when porting a PC game to mobile, at least in my opinion, is the new control scheme. You have to come up with a way to move all of the functions that your players currently do with their keyboard to buttons on the screen. You’re also going from the accuracy of a mouse to a touchscreen where thumbs are clumsy and cover much of the view, so while most mouse functions can map directly to taps and gestures, it’s a delicate science.

The most obvious choice for a control scheme is to try to replicate the desktop experience as closely as possible. I’ve tried a few mobile MMOs, and a popular control scheme for games trying to mimic the desktop MMO experience is an over-the-shoulder chasecam those games generally employ, with the player dragging a finger around near the center of the screen to swing the camera around, much like clicking and dragging the mouse. It’s functional, and resembles the desktop version of Guild Wars 2 very closely, but it always feels clumsy to me – as if it’s shoehorning desktop controls into a phone where they don’t belong, instead of taking into account what works best for the medium.

What works better, in my experience, is an isometric or top-down perspective. The camera is set at a fixed height and angle above the character (a la Diablo), perhaps with the ability to zoom slightly and pivot. This perspective gets your character out of the way and makes all of the objects on screen more equal.

For our theoretical Guild Wars 2 mobile, switching the camera to isometric will mean some extra work to make sure the world looks right and functions correctly. To be honest, I can’t really imagine how some of those cramped and vertically layered Heart of Thorns maps would work in an isometric game. Also, some gamers feel that the isometric perspective disconnects them from their avatar, making them a tiny character that’s a little difficult to visually distinguish from the other friends and foes on the screen, which would be sad in a game where the characters have as much personality as they do in Guild Wars 2. In the end, though, if we want this game to work well, I think this would be the best choice.

Regardless of the camera style, the next control scheme decision is about movement. The two schemes that seem to be most popular are a virtual, console-style thumbstick and click-to-move. Click-to-move is great for Diablo-style ARPGs, where there are small maps populated with lots of little enemies that die quickly, but so much of Guild Wars 2 is about exploring expansive maps that I think tapping the edges of your screen would quickly become tiresome. The thumbstick could function just like the WASD keys, with a quick swipe to dodge in the swipe’s direction.

Another thing to consider is auto-move and auto-battle. These are extremely popular in mobile MMOs, bordering on ubiquity. I’ll state my biases here: I really don’t like auto-anything in MMOs. I think it’s because I’ve spent so much time despising leveling and gold farming bots in MMOs and wondering who actually enjoys playing an account he didn’t earn. Building the bot into the game seems like a great way to take the fun out of it.

That said, I’m not necessarily the target audience for a mobile MMO. A lot of people who regularly play mobile MMOs want these kinds of features and might be as turned off by their absence as I would be at their presence. If ArenaNet’s goal in making this port is to capture a new market, it’s not going to cater everything to their existing demographic; it’s going to cater to a different one.

Still, in a game so focused on exploration and dynamic events as Guild Wars 2, I’m not sure full movement automation is the best option. Perhaps a better option would be the ability to auto-run to a specific point of interest, waypoint, or heart that you can see on the map. This keeps the player engaged and in charge, without having to manually navigate using a mobile device’s cumbersome controls.

Of course, the ideal answer to all of these questions would be “all of the above.” In a perfect world, the player could choose whatever camera and movement schemes she prefers in the settings menu. This would no doubt mean a lot more work for the development team, but this is all theoretical anyway, so let’s dream big.

The next question is what parts of the game will be ported over. If we’re going to make our theoretical Guild Wars 2 mobile a true, small-screen Guild Wars 2 experience, I think it needs to launch with all of the story quests, maps, races, and classes that the PC version launched with. That’s a lot of content to chew through, and I think it’s perfectly acceptable to ask mobile players to work through that before an expansion, the same way PC players did. This also gives ArenaNet time to recoup some of its initial cost and evaluate projected income before continuing the process of porting the game to mobile. Random thought: Wouldn’t it be ironic if Guild Wars 2 mobile got a replay of Living World Season 1 before the PC did?

Another problem I see with this is that storage space is at a premium on mobile devices. My Guild Wars 2 desktop install is sitting at just below 43 GB, which is more than the total capacity of the average smartphone or tablet. Besides, the maximum app size allowed by the Google Play Store and Apple App Store is 4 GB. Sure, the game’s file size will shrink significantly as models and textures are downscaled for the smaller screen, but ultimately something more will need to be cut from the mobile version, and I think the most natural thing would be to cut a lot of the voice acting. This would be fine with me; I play mobile games on mute most of the time, and quite frankly, a lot of Guild Wars 2’s voice acting is nothing to write home about (I’m looking at you, Trahearne). That soundtrack, however, is top notch, so the more of that we can bring to the mobile version, the better.

Finally, there is the matter of the business model. This is a delicate subject because it can lead to pay-to-win tactics or exploitative marketing tactics. Honestly, though, I don’t think much change is needed here. Guild Wars 2 is already essentially free-to-play, which is a must for mobile games. I think some of the free account restrictions would need to be lifted for the mobile audience, but I think those should be reduced for the PC version too. It’s already got a healthy selection of cash shop cosmetics and convenience items. I can’t imagine how an energy system or any of the other usual mobile game shenanigans could fit into Guild Wars 2, and that’s just fine with me.

Crossplay may not be feasible, but cross promotion could be. Titles, minipets, and other cosmetics could be a simple and effective way to entice players to try both versions of the game. Letting players have outfits and other unlocks that they’ve purchased in one version of the game for free — or at least steeply discounted — in the other version, could also help incentivize players to populate both versions of Tyria.

So there’s our theoretical Guild Wars 2 mobile port. I think that mobile is definitely something worth exploring for any game company, and Guild Wars 2 could work in the format. It would by no means replace the PC game for me, but I would definitely spend some time in it. Putting a lot of ArenaNet’s resources into building a mobile game isn’t my favorite idea (I’ve argued before that brand recognition for ArenaNet and Guild Wars isn’t going to be strong in countries where mobile games are king), but when you look at NCsoft’s sales figures for mobile versus PC, it’s hard to argue with the idea that it would likely be a boon for the company.

I’ve also got some ideas for things ArenaNet could do with the Guild Wars IP other than porting Guild Wars 2 straight to mobile, but I’m out of time for now, so that will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, what would you want to see from a Guild Wars 2 mobile game?

Flameseeker Chronicles is one of Massively OP’s longest-running columns, covering the Guild Wars franchise since before there was a Guild Wars 2. Now penned by Tina Lauro and Colin Henry, it arrives on Tuesdays to report everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see explored, drop ’em a comment!
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