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.
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.
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?