You thought that was it for Guild Wars 2?

ArenaNet has other ideas.

Unless you're beating World of Warcraft you're a nobody, a not-quite, another MMO crashing against the impregnable fortress Blizzard built. Guild Wars 2 was a somebody, a real contender - the fastest-selling MMO ever, shifting 3m copies in nine months. But were this a race, WOW would now be comfortably out in front, racking up 5 million subscribers in a little over a year.

Is that it - has Guild Wars 2 begun a gentle decline into obscurity?

I put these concerns and others to game director Colin Johanson and lead content designer Mike Zadorojny, and now I believe again. Here's what they said.

Concern: Look at NCSoft's financial reports: ArenaNet sales are steadily dropping. There's no subscription fee to keep the bank-balance ticking over, no paid expansion on the horizon. Fewer sales means less investment means less new content means fewer sales, doesn't it?

"If you look at any game ever made, a year after release, sales are always dropping - that's just very normal," responded Colin Johanson. "We're also very happy with the rate the sales have been dropping down. It's actually dropped much less than we would have forecasted.

"Something people forget about a lot is that we're already the fastest-selling MMO in history, so even if sales are declining a little bit, that's on the fastest selling MMO in history. We don't really have a problem with that.

"And we are only available in Europe, North America and Australia. We haven't launched in China, Korea, Russia, Southeast Asia, Brazil - many of the world's biggest PC gaming hotbeds are places that the game is not yet even available.

"We're extremely pumped about adding to each of these regions - we think that that sales number is going to take off again, and we're going to see a resurgence in territories we are out in as more and more players from other parts of the world get invested. And also as some of the really big projects we're working on in the background come to fruition, we're going to see a spike again in users.

"Sales-wise we're just following what any game would naturally follow."

As for dwindling investment, it appears to be a myth: ArenaNet had a whopping 300 people when Guild Wars 2 launched, and now... now there are 350 and counting - ArenaNet is hiring.

"If you look at any game ever made, a year after release, sales are always dropping - that's just very normal."

Colin Johanson

1

Concern: 350 people! And all they've come up with are story updates people outside the game can't connect with? Where are the big new features? Is there really no expansion planned?

Actually, it sounds like there is an expansion planned. "We have a couple of really big Guild Wars projects cooking in the background," Johanson told me.

Later, he added: "Some of our players believe that because we are doing this Living World seasons, and these features or these big feature-builds, that it means that the features you would traditionally get in an expansion, or the content you would traditionally get in an expansion, is not something that will get added to Guild Wars 2. And that is not true at all.

"Not only are we doing those things, new features and content you would traditionally get from a boxed expansion are also things that will be added to Guild Wars 2.

"The thing that we haven't decided yet," he went on, "is what form that type of content will take. Is it right for Guild Wars 2 for that kind of boxed expansion? Is it right for that to be something we add, live, through storylines in the game? Is that something we want to sell through our in-game store? There are a lot of different options available to us.

"... but we absolutely are going to do sweeping new features that you would traditionally only get in expansions - large regions, content and progression additions to your characters in the form of growth and professions and races. Those are all things that you will see in the lifespan of Guild Wars 2."

Mike Zadorojny, clarifying his comments from last year - which suggested there wouldn't be an expansion any time soon - said: "The answer I gave you [in 2013] was that nothing was off the table."

"We have a couple of really big Guild Wars projects cooking in the background."

2

Concern: ArenaNet won't stop banging on about the Living World update plan and so will stick with it even if it's not working.

Not true. ArenaNet is changing it this year.

The original idea was to have four story teams making a month's worth of content each, to be released in fortnightly bumps, and whatever mechanical features were ready at that time could be rolled in and included. 'An online world updated more frequently than any other' was the dream, but the reality was confusion.

"It's very distracting to players," observed Johanson. "It's almost a muddled message, where we put these releases out and we want them to be excited about the story, to follow the story, and we also want them to be excited about the features that are coming with it. And either one or the other tends to be the thing that people cling onto." And the other thing, people ignore.

"What we're going to do this year is we're actually separating the two of those out."

All the big mechanical features ArenaNet is working on will be held back for a bumper update presumably in the spring/summer.

"When [Living World Season One] ends [on 4th March], we're going to take a break for a little bit and then we're going to do one really big feature patch that is more akin to what people see from some of our [MMO] competitors," said Johanson, "where they bundle a lot of features together into a really big patch every now and then.

"We're going to provide that experience and have this huge feature build that has a whole lot of gameplay-changing elements, a lot of quality of life improvements, a lot of features bundled together into one big patch. And that'll come some time not too far after Season One completes."

"We're going to take a break for a little bit and then we're going to do one really big feature patch ... ."

3

Concern: Story schmory! ArenaNet said the climax of Season One will rock Tyria to its core but I bet that's overblown sales talk.

No it isn't. Johanson told me everything that will happen, and the four patches coming early this year - 21st January, 4th February, 18th February and 4th March - will bring about an end to excite even a bystander. Tyria really won't be the same after it, and what happens at the end will also set up Season Two.

By its conclusion, Season One will have been developing for 15 months. What ArenaNet wanted to create was a complex plot that kept people theorising and speculating in the same way a show like A Game of Thrones (and the book series A Song of Fire and Ice beyond that) does - to have "people realise what the power of having a video game that can tell a story like a television show is".

There are enraptured super-fans fervently guessing at what's to come, mind you, and apparently one person in every 10,000-20,000 has guessed correctly. "And we haven't told them this!" Johanson cackled. "Most of the rest of our fans are all saying, 'You're crazy! There's no way that's what it is - that's way too cool.'

"It'll be really fun in three months when the ending happens for those people to be able to stand up and say, 'I got it right! I nailed Game of Thrones!'"

But what if it doesn't work? What if this grand story doesn't have the affect on people that ArenaNet hopes - will it be time to reassess the formula?

ArenaNet has already. The next step, "and we're heading down that path regardless", is to keep a big story but colour it with smaller stories that begin and end every month, the hope being to keep less invested players interested. "That would be our next step before we say, 'Hey, we really need to change things,'" said Johanson.

"It'll be really fun in three months when the ending happens for those people to be able to stand up and say, 'I got it right! I nailed Game of Thrones!'"

4

Concern: I hate being on an underpopulated/rubbish server! We were rubbish in the world-versus-world league.

"Population-wise, we're doing great," insisted Johanson. "We're very happy with where we're at. Six months ago to now, it's a very steady, very very healthy population."

The first WVW (server versus server versus server) competition made the player-base go "through the roof", apparently. "That was maybe the biggest thing we did in the second-half of the year to affect player population. When that league was going on, when the world-versus-world season was going on, WVW was just packed."

The servers even had queues, beamed Johanson, like it was a good thing. "It's actually something that we're fixing right now," he added. "We're making an additional WVW map so if the queues are big you can play in this map as well. It infinitely copies itself."

What to do about those servers that can't compete, though? "Someone's always going to win, someone's always going to lose," Johanson shrugged, "but we want to do things to help ensure you have a really fun play. Even if you're losing, you have moments and rewards and things you're playing for that they're compelling right down to the last minute."

ArenaNet has "a couple of issues" to address with WVW before another league begins. "And once that's live," said Johanson, "we'll start the next season."

"We're making an additional WVW map so if the queues are big you can play in this map as well. It infinitely copies itself."

5

Concern: When is Guild Wars 2 going to get serious about eSports?

It is, slowly. There was the first global championship at PAX last year, ArenaNet now broadcasts a player-versus-player show twice a week, and the prestigious Electronic Sports League has finally picked up Guild Wars 2.

"We're not trying to push too heavily in that area yet," said Johanson. ArenaNet wants to get China sorted and release needed PVP updates first - leagues and ladders to better match players. "We also want to get a couple more major gameplay types out there for players to pick between," he added.

Nevertheless, the growth in Guild Wars 2 PVP activity, since rewards were added, has been "spectacular". "Since the build we did at the beginning of December, we've seen about a 40 per cent increase in PVP players, and that has stayed steady ever since."

"We've seen about a 40 per cent increase in PVP players ... ."

6

Concern: ArenaNet lives near Valve - has it been over to try the Steam Controller? Is it keen?

Not really. ArenaNet is full tilt with the Chinese launch of Guild Wars 2, the Season One finale, the feature-build update and the two big background projects.

"Between all of those things we really haven't taken much time to think about controllers or Steam Box or console for that matter as well," said Johanson. "Those are things that in the future we'll probably sit down and take a look at."

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