How Do They Do It?

Seeing as how I just wrote a piece that speculates how ArenaNet approached the PvE design of Guild Wars 2, I thought I’d expound on another aspect of the game, or more appropriately, a question people have: How the heck can they produce something like this and not charge a monthly fee? As with my GBTV article, this is pretty much all speculation and semi-educated guesses. Fortunately, I’m semi-educated.

How do you run someone through with a hammer?

When the first Guild Wars came out, I wondered the same thing. When I got a chance to play the game, it seemed relatively easy to figure out. Guild Wars was, to be honest, fairly small for an MMO: only 20 levels, with most endgame content revolving around PvP. It’s easy to see how it takes considerably less effort to create a PvP experience than a PvE one, at least in terms of crafting the gameplay (balance is another issue). There’s just less space in, say, a handful of instanced PvP zones than there is in your typical wide-open MMO world, and there’s a lot less — and sometimes nothing — in terms of enemy creation and AI. More’s been added to Guild Wars since its humble launch, but creating a wholly new MMO is, I think, more expensive and time-consuming than creating one from scratch.

Then along came the announcement of Guild Wars 2. It was going to have that vast open world, and much more, yet still hold to the previous game’s tradition of having no monthly fees. Yes, there would certainly be microtransactions, but plenty of pay-to-play games have those too, in some form, so the question of how ArenaNet can do this still baffles people.

The answer probably ties in, to some degree, to my last post, about how people might spend more time not playing a free-to-play MMO — which GW2 essentially is, after you buy the box — than they spend playing it. Consider this: If half of World of Warcraft players decided tomorrow that they were going to stop playing, even for just a month or two, that’s tens of millions in lost revenue for Blizzard. They have to keep producing new content, keep refining and fixing what they’ve got, keep enticing new players while keeping the existing ones happy, or they’re screwed. Even if they figure those players will come back when a new expansion or big update hits, they probably couldn’t long endure that kind of a hit to their player base.

"Step right up! Hit the target, win a free six-month subscription!"

Now, what would happen to ArenaNet if half of Guild Wars players decided to take a couple months off? Not much. There be no immediate lost revenue — microtransactions would probably take a hit, sure, and a diminished player base would reduce the amount of potential interaction for everyone — but as long as those players would come back when the new content was released, especially the paid new content, it would be far less of a concern.

It’s this kind of policy that probably helps ArenaNet save some money in the long run and thus be able to afford not to charge a monthly fee. By that same token, I doubt we’ll see content updates on anything resembling a Rift-like schedule, since ArenaNet has less of a problem with you leaving for a few months. I’m not saying they’re understaffed or that they won’t work as hard to keep players happy, but they can probably get by with less than a typical MMO company.

As I said in my news hit for the GBTV article, ArenaNet basically figured out free-to-play, with the added twist of an initial box buy, years before anyone else in North America did. We’ve seen that the F2P model can work to varying degrees; this is a twist on it, with the additional boon (to ArenaNet) of a $60 upfront purchase. How can it not work?

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3 Responses to How Do They Do It?

  1. Dave Hatcher says:

    One other thing that allows GW2 to be created is GW1′s profits. If you look at GW1 revenue it looks to me like GW1 probably completely paid for GW2′s development through 2009 and most of it through 2010 and 2011. NCSoft hasnt had to make a huge venture capital-ish outlay like they would have for a new indie gaming studio.

  2. Primal Zed says:

    I’m certainly not a fan of Guild Wars 1, but to say that it has little PVE content is incorrect. Yes, it doesn’t take all that long to get to the level cap (I think I got there after about three weeks of fairly light play), but there’s about three times more content after the level cap than before. Then consider that they added in two entirely self-contained campaigns roughly the same size, if not larger, than the original campaign, and an expansion that is smaller all within two years of the game’s initial launch.

    • jasonwinter says:

      Right, that’s why I stress that *at launch* it had relatively little PvE. They’ve definitely added a significant amount since then.

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