Guild Wars 1 slapped the established face of the MMO genre in 2005 by requiring no monthly subscription. You bought the game and that was that. This was a time before micro-transactions, so the way publisher NCSoft and developer ArenaNet made money was by releasing significant paid standalone add-ons and eventually an expansion pack.
It worked; Guild Wars 1 was a success and by 2009, four years ago, the series had racked up 6 million sales. More importantly, it vindicated a very expensive, very enormous, very accomplished sequel.
Guild Wars 2 has no subscription fee either, but it won't, won't, have an expansion, neither this year nor next - and maybe not ever.
"So right now we're not really looking at expansions as an option," lead content designer Mike Zadorojny told me on his visit to London last week.
"It's something that's on the table but it's not something we're focused on, because what we want to do is - our idea here is that with Living World, we can do what expansions would have done but do it on a more regular basis."
I pressed him to tell me whether there would be a Guild Wars 2 expansion this year and he shook his head to indicate no. What about next year, I asked?
"If we do this right," he answered, "we will probably never do an expansion and everything will be going into this Living World strategy."
That Living World strategy was the reason for his trip to London. ArenaNet is changing how Guild Wars 2 will evolve over time and that requires an explanation. Broadly, it means more content more often.
Four discrete Living World teams, made up of designers of all disciplines, each spend four months developing roughly one full month's worth of content, "So they'll own two content releases in a particular month," Zadorojny said. The Flame & Frost update at the start of the year was an early example, the more recent releases more matured.
"This allows us to have this world that's changing and evolving and essentially goes into what television does: stay tuned next week when something exciting is going to happen."
But those teams are "a fraction" of ArenaNet's massive development force as a whole. Zadorojny told me that the same number of people work there as they did when the game launched (upwards of 250), and they're all focused on Guild Wars 2 - he indicated that there was nothing else in development.
"[Living World] is only a fraction of what the rest of the company is working on," he said. "We have large feature teams that are working on exciting things behind the scenes that, when it's ready, we'll release those with these updates.
"We want [Living World] to be our avenue for changing the face of Tyria."
A Looking For Group tool will be "slipped" into a Living World update when it's ready, and something as significant as a new character profession could too - an example he used with a heavy "not that we're talking about this" caveat.
Yes, yes, it all sounds very good. Those four teams should achieve their goal of "a persistent MMO that is still very much alive", as Mike Z (as he's referred to) put it, and ArenaNet as a whole may be more reactive and experimental as a result. With the numbers ArenaNet has, Guild Wars 2 should evolve considerably.
But what about making money? Guild Wars 1 survived on paid expansions, editions, add-ons, whatever you want to call them - are we to believe that the boxed sales of Guild Wars 2 and micro-transactions are enough to sustain such a large operation?
"Yes," responded Zadorojny. "It absolutely is enough."
ArenaNet won't stoop to selling unfair pay-to-win Gem Store (real-money store) items either, he assured me.
Sales of Guild Wars 2 are officially 3 million, a slightly cobwebbed number accurate only as far as January 2013. NCSoft typically shuts down questions about sales, as it did again when I asked, but as the PR was going through the motions of saying, "When we hit another milestone that we've got in our heads...", I interrupted with "5 million?" and with a laugh he replied: "There will be another milestone coming up pretty shortly."
Mike Zadorojny concluded by assuring me it was "an extremely healthy environment". "It's not like there's any problems in terms of cash flow," he said. "These players have done their duty and we're getting back to them by giving them this living world."