Guild Wars 2 – A rare intrinsic reward based MMO, or why loot is so low.

Extrinsic gameplay focuses on the destination. Intrinsic focuses on the journey.

This video highlights the different mindsets:

Guild Wars 2 is an intrinsic reward based MMO. It is one of three such MMOs that I am aware of having ever existed, the others being Guild Wars 1 (officially not an MMO, but played as one by many of its fans) and City of Heroes (now dead, after an 8 year 7 month run). If there were ever other intrinsic reward MMOs, I have not yet heard of them.

This is not the method of motivation most present day MMO players have been trained for, not by a longshot. Its different. Perhaps the most different aspect of Guild Wars 2 from any other MMO. There is more ‘system shock’ in getting used to this change for the typical player than the lack of the EQ/WoW Trinity or the lack of raids.

In an extrinsicly motivated game, players seek some reward. More power, more gear, more gold, access to gated content, special mounts, special weapons, special titles, special stuff.

You are always seeking the next high, the next ‘climatic moment’, when playing an extrinsic moment. The content you do to reach that goal is ‘put up with’. It is designed to test you, or wear you down, or punish you if too slow at it, or keep you paying for a subscription longer, to reach the goal.

You get you joy when you reach the ‘happy place’ at the end of it… which lasts a few fleeting moments, and then you need to find a new extrinsic reward. Developers need to keep giving you more and more shinies to collect, or they will lose you.

In an intrinsic game, there is no real goal or destination to seek out. The peak of all the gear has little is any meaning. The shinies are few and far between if even there at all (City of Heroes had no meaningful loot system for its first few and possibly most successful years).

An intrinsic game seeks to reward the journey, and may even go so far as to remove the destination, or just hand you the destination. The ride is the fun, there is no ‘climatic moment’. You want that journey to last as long as it can, and give you all it can – because when its over, its over. You can seek a new journey, but the shiny has little meaning.

Intrinsic based games seek to get your loyalty by providing increasing amounts of depth to the journey. Make it take a while, give it more flavor, put in lots of things that are ‘off the beaten path’. More story, more color, more flavor. Less rewards, less shinies. Gear is less meaningful; often equalized. Getting the best gear is so easy its almost if not actually just given to you. Content is rarely gated; because the content is not to be overcome, but savored; so it needs to be accessible to get everyone in there for the most joy in the journey they can manage. Special titles? Easy if there. Special loot? Mostly meaningless.

The nature of the shinies in intrinsic play, when present is to enhance the journey rather than peak it. Mini pets, skins, flavor items for roleplay, guild and player halls and houses. Etc…

Guild Wars 2 is a mostly intrinsic play focused game. Its all about the journey here. The destination is meaningless. What are the extrinsic rewards?

Fractal levels and legendaries. One is designed to let people endlessly grind something just to be able to survive grinding the exact same thing set to x% harder – the rewards in it merely let you set x higher next time around. The other? A special skin for a weapon. Almost an intrinsic style reward – but set to be way out there; designed to take a few years of normal play to achieve (but set up such that extrinsic reward focused payers can knock it out much quicker… checking it off their list, only to discover it was a list with one entry).

If you get motivated by extrinsic rewards in an MMO: shinies, loot, gearing, the climatic moment, etc… GW2 is just not the MMO for you.

The extrinsic rewards are subpar, and this appears to be by intentional design. Loot is thin, gold comes slow, and even if you speed up the pace of gold, there is little to use it on. Almost none of the content is gated. Special events even often level-up people so a character at any stage of play can join in the journey. Progression is almost solely horizontal: new looks, stats moved around within the same tier range (such as shuffling between precision or power for which is higher).

GW2 is designed for intrinsic rewarding of play.

The reward is the actual play itself. The journey is the reward here, not the destination. If you enjoy exploring just to explore. If you enjoy doing dungeons just to do them. If you enjoy playing a particular character just to play it. GW2 is the MMO for you. Events and design of the maps, even the hearts – they are all built around the idea that just being there while it is happening is all the reward one needs.

Step into the world of Guild Wars 2 and look around. Vistas are a case in point here. What is the point of a vista in GW2? To get your camera to pan around and see a wide view of nothing more than beautifully rendered scenery. There is a small shiny in this, a little bit of extrinsic reward, designed to get you to just savor a place. But the entire world builds out like this. Everywhere you go, there are artistically done views to enjoy and be in. Savoring the journey, enjoying just being in there: that is what they are aiming at delivering.

Why do ‘Heart Quests’ seem shallow to so many? Because they’re not the design focus. They are merely there to get you to an area where you can enjoy being there, seeing and meeting all the NPCs, and taking part in the events staged there.

This is why they go away in Orr and Southsun. By this point in the game, the thought was that you no longer need to be led to the journey on a carrot, and can find it yourself. Talk to players who enjoy Orr and you find people who often note ‘uncovering the hidden history in out of the way spots’ or taking part in events with friends. Journey focused. Talk to players who dislike Orr and its often about the low loot, the need for a zerg like group to be able to ‘win’ the mega-events, and the lack of ‘things to do’ outside of that. Note that one group will have no trouble finding things to do, that another group never comes across. Not a flaw of extrinsic players: just that its built for a different style of player.

– This pattern, while extreme in Orr, is repeated throughout the game. So extrinsic players, on “finishing” the hearts have little “reason” to come back, while intrinsic players will return to a spot over and over again because the play there is enjoyable to just be a part of.

If you are a solidly extrinsic minded player: you need something to grind for and achiev, this is unlikely to ever be a good MMO for you. It was built, from the get go, to be the MMO for the other players. The players the competition has not been serving. The ones who just want to be a part of a fantasy world, and savor the experience of exploring it.

Guild Wars 2 is just an intrinsic reward based MMO.


References for where my thoughts on this formed over the last month:


7 thoughts on “Guild Wars 2 – A rare intrinsic reward based MMO, or why loot is so low.

  1. It’s sad. I’m an extrinsic player, but I chose guild wars 2 because it doesn’t have a monthly fee. The only reason I did the vistas was to get map completion for my legendary. I like playing that way. For me, “fun” is a secondary goal that I find along the way to my primary goal of various shinies.

    But there are still lots of shinies to get in GW2 which is why I still play. I want a precursor, and lots of gold to get my legendaries. Then of course, fractals. I also PvP a lot. But the motivation for me is to get better ranks so that I can show it off to other people when the match ends or with finishers. Sure, there may be those who play just because they enjoy playing as such, but I can never find “fun” enough motivation…

  2. I like to explore and find out of the way places and such so GW2 is a godo game for me, i often find myself wishing the road to a legendary was abit more well legendary and that dynamic events would have more longer lasting effects in the world though but i guess thats something gw1 did with instanced maps so im probably just having issues adapting to the way gw2 does things

    • Honestly never played it. When it came out I forget why I didn’t. The genre doesn’t seem interesting to me, personally. If it was sub at the time that would have instantly killed my interest as I was still (and still am) paying for a WoW sub (and getting very little for that money other than not yet willing to stop throwing it out my front window). If not, it might have been that I didn’t have a copy of Windows until GW2 compelled me to buy it and install bootcamp (only to launch a Mac version shortly after launch. But I’m ok with that now, as the Mac version plays sooooo poorly I can’t stand to run GW2 on it).

      I’d have to read up on Secret World more before I could answer.

      I think another reason, in fact one I know was a factor, was that I was reading reports of people quitting the game en mass before I’d even though it had launched. I somehow had my date for when it was set to launch off by many months… The first time I noticed it was already live was when reading a report from someone complaining and saying they were quitting it (and I’ve since read its been heavily fixed. But I’d still have to overcome the lack of genre interest).

  3. By “lack of genre interest” do you mean “horror” or contemporary? Because it makes very good use of both and I’m not much of a fan of horrors.

    As for the quiting part. Maybe people quit because this game is different. You’ve got total freedom in your character development and no character levels. Many people started choosing skills willy-nilly and when faced with harder opponents started to have problems. This game rewards forward thinking.

    I played a trial when the game come out and since it was so different and the graphics didn’t won me over I did not buy it. Lately I started thinking about the game… and Steam had put it on sale (50% off + first 4 DLCs for free)! BTW. The game is now buy-to-pay like GW2, so no sub.

    Long story short. I think I grew up to appreciate this game. For now I find the character progression very refreshing (compared to class based systems). And the quests are very well written (also you can only have one quest of each type, so you are more focused on what you’re doing; and quests, depending on type, can be very demanding, which is also a nice thing compared to other MMOs).

    Anyway, my original question “Do you find it intrinsic or extrinsic?” was asked because I find it oddly similar to GW2 in regards to motivation for playing. Items are easy to obtain (at least for now), combat (and your skill setup) is a reward in it self and I find quests to be a major motivation. But as I mentioned, I’m just starting out in this game so things might change as I progress.

    I’m not sure if there is currently a free trial, but I know there is a buddy invite system, so drop me a line and I can send you one.

    • Yeah the combo. Not a fan of horror or contemporary. I’d only read people were quitting, didn’t delve deep enough in other than to see many of the ‘usual complaints’. The same ones I sometimes see from people who quit Guild Wars 2. For me, its just not my genre preference.

      If I give it a look at some point, I’ll be able to tell if I think its intrinsic or extrinsic. I know so little about it at this point though that I’d likely get the call wrong. 🙂

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