Screenshot from Guild Wars 2: Players who pre-register can play the game on Saturday ahead of the official release on Aug. 28.

Guild Wars 2 is set to come out on Tuesday, but players who pre-purchase the game before Saturday can get access to its “Head Start” program and play before the official release.

A follow-up to the 2005 massively multiplayer online hit Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2 developers have made some significant changes to game play to make the sequel more accessible to the average video gamer.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the game’s lead producer, Chris Whiteside, and publisher NCsoft’s executive vice president of publishing, Matt Turetzky, said that the new version of the game should be a breath of fresh air to people who’ve tried and grown tired of previous MMOs.

Part of that equation was the decision to keep Guild Wars free-to-play, meaning there are no monthly subscription fees. Up front, the game will cost at least $59.99 (depending on the version you want), but there will be no regular bill — only micro-transactions in the game that players can use to enhance their characters.

“Free-to-play is growing as subscriptions go down,” Turetzky said. “Customers in the West are accustomed  to new business models through mobile games. With all the alternatives out there, and the reduced barriers to entry in the market, we’re seeing a forced shift to alternative business models.”

Other changes are far more creative. “The game is designed for people that have been turned off MMOs in the past,” said Whiteside. Designers thinking about the MMO wanted to bring “back the magic of what it used to be,” he said, referring to the feeling of booting up the game and being pulled into a community of players from all around the world.

That means the focus is less about grinding away to max out your own character and more about getting to explore the world.

Or, as Whiteside put it: “Our game is much more wide than it is tall.”

Whiteside said the team really wanted to get players to interact with one another rather than compete for the same objectives locked to specific areas of the game.

“It’s designed to be dynamically accessible,” he said. “So if someone turns up, it doesn’t negatively affect the experience , like how the enemies will behave.”

Not only did designers focus on making Guild Wars 2 in a way that keeps players from stepping on others’ toes, they also built in more opportunities for players to work together.

“The game encourages people to come together,” Turetzky said. “We want people to come in and experience our world.”

In another move to foster a community, designers made the Guild Wars 2 world a persistent one, meaning that 1) it continues changing even when players leave the game and 2) actions players take can alter the in-game world for the whole community. The game isn’t designed to force socialization, but working with other players can seriously change the in-game experience.

For example, if your characters liberate or capture a village from the opposition, it affects the political situation for every other player who may wander through that area.

“You could walk into an event and find centaurs have taken over this human settlement, get into the fight and win — or lose, which also changes game — and think, ‘Okay, that’s that area done.’ But you’ve actually affected the NPCs (non-playable characters) in that area, which in turn may be affecting other players,” Whiteside said.

If there’s a large battle, other players in the same area will see a zone-wide message, which could trigger an even larger event that alters the course of the whole game.

“When it comes to [those] events, players have a massive impact on the world,” he said.

In the design phase, the Guild Wars team paid careful attention to its beta weekends, when it invited players to take a look at the game during a particular stage of development. They also read the message boards and other community input from fans — the first version of the game sold 7 million units — ahead of the alpha and beta tests of the game.

“In alpha, and prior to beta, the team would publish their direction or new design for this and that, asking for feedback,” Whiteside said. “Because Guild Wars 1 was such a hit, we also had the ability to data mine.”

He said that by the first beta weekend, about 50 or 60 percent of players understood all the changes the team had made — while 40 percent seemed completely lost. So the team reached out for more comment from the community, made some tweaks based on what fans said they wanted and returned for a successful second beta weekend.

The designers made a few more changes based on feedback from that test but Whiteside said that the positive comments from the second weekend give him hope that Guild Wars 2 will exceed its fans’ expectations.

“When the community says we’re ready, we’re ready,” Whiteside said. “Literally, the world wouldn’t be what it is today without our community.”

After all the hard work, Whiteside said, he expects that some of the designers may take time off after the game launches — but not necessarily to get away from the project that’s kept them busy for so long.

“I think that some people will go on holiday and will be in front of their PCs,” Whiteside said, with a laugh.

“We can’t wait to see the players, enjoy the world with them and see the whole world come to life.”

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