First, however, the team has added another addition to Guild Wars, in the form of Eye of the North - the first expansion pack for the game, which launched on September 7th. That's "expansion pack" in the traditional sense; it continues the story of the first Guild Wars game, Prophecies, and you'll need to own a copy of one of the previous games to play it.
Strain's explanation for this departure from Guild Wars' model is simple. "Our aim with Eye of the North is not to attract new players," he says bluntly. "It's to make our existing players happy. We've spent 100 per cent of our time on making content for existing players."
As a result, Eye of the North is more a compilation of Cool Stuff than a proper MMO expansion pack in the traditional sense. There are no starting areas; instead, the pack adds a vast range of underground zones to the existing continent of Tyria. Lots of effort has been focused on cool-looking new armour and appearances, while a variety of new mini-games (including a creature combat one that owes much to the Pokemon gameplay system) tie in closely with a new Reputation system.
Tons to keep a Guild Wars fan satisfied for quite some time, then; but Eye of the North also serves a second, more subtle purpose. Strain describes it as a "bridge to Guild Wars 2", and the expansion pack will feature a large number of features which are designed to ease the transition of existing players to the new game.
Primary among those is the Hall of Monuments - a system which is designed to allow players to carry their "legacy" forward to a new Guild Wars 2 character. The Hall is unique to each player, and contains statues representing all of your Guild Wars achievements - epic armour, top-ranked weapons, Heroes you've partnered with, Pets you've tamed, titles, victories, and every other imaginable MMOG achievement.
When you create a Guild Wars 2 character, you'll be able to link them to this Hall of Monuments, and each statue will correspond to a special item in GW2 - be it armour, an appearance, a pet, or whatever. Those items won't be hugely powerful, but they'll look cool, and will only be available to existing GW players. "We've got millions of players who have invested thousands of hours into Guild Wars," Strain explains. "We don't want to tell those guys that they can't carry anything over into GW2."
There are other, more subtle links between Eye of the North and Guild Wars 2, though. One of the more important links is in the form of the new races which are introduced as Hero characters (AI-controlled partners you can bring on quests). Eye of the North features a gnomelike Asura, a giant viking warrior Norn and a bestial Char as Hero characters; in Guild Wars 2, each of these races will be playable.
It would be tempting, then, to see Eye of the North as the swansong for Guild Wars, the last hurrah for the series - but Strain cautions against jumping to that conclusion.
"I think the question is whether this is the last piece of content that we'll package into an expansion and sell," he comments. "I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that our plan is that as long as there are people playing and enjoying Guild Wars 1, we'll continue to support Guild Wars 1."
"We're not going to shut down the servers - we do have a live team dedicated to the game, we'll continue to do special events and the occasional content. We will continue to support the game; we're not going to force everybody to migrate to Guild Wars 2. Even after Guild Wars 2 ships, we'll continue to support Guild Wars 1. Nobody ever has to worry about us saying, you can't play that any more."
"Having said all that, certainly it's going to be the focus of the development team, starting after the release of Eye of the North - we need to focus on Guild Wars 2 and really get that product into shape. So, no, we're not going to cut off support, but whether we do future expansions, we'll just wait and see."