If you’re looking for innovation and creativity in the MMO genre, you’re obviously in the right place: Guild Wars 2 is rewriting the rulebook on MMO design, tossing aside conventions, and generally pushing the genre out of an unpleasant rut. Whether it’s dynamic events, the ‘extended experience’, or ditching the holy trinity, things are finally moving forward.
All of that is certainly to be celebrated, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise: ArenaNet have a legacy of finding their own path in game development. Often overlooked, but most significantly, this includes their approach to business models.
Back in 2005 it was largely accepted that top shelf MMOs came hand in hand with subscription fees – a suitable trade-off for services rendered by the developer. They have servers to maintain, staff to pay, patches to work on… right? We’d grown accustomed to it, happy to drip-feed money into these studios, whilst fervently hoping to be valued enough that they would heed our desires. Fortunately, with the release of Guild Wars, ArenaNet would successfully challenge that ideology and fend off the developing monoculture.
“Buy the box and play forever?” we scoffed. How could that ever work? Obviously it did, and the rest is history.
Six years later, having seen may other MMOs come and go, ArenaNet are sticking to their guns. They clearly have a tremendous amount of faith in their model, and when you hear them talking about it (12:42) it’s clear why: They firmly believe in earning their success through making truly compelling content, not just eking money out of their player-base at any opportunity. As a result, they have a constant drive to satisfy their fans, never becoming complacent, always pushing themselves that little bit further.
This isn’t just marketing spiel, it’s been a consistent and core part of their approach since day one – as described by Jeff Strain back in 2007.
There’s something quite charming about ArenaNet’s approach. It indicates a level of faith in their audience, that they are willing to invest so massively in a project and ask for nothing more than the box price. They are betting the house on their ability to provide desirable content, and our will to consume it. I have every faith it will pay off for them.
The only question left is this: What exactly do they plan to sell? They’ve already ruled out releasing stand-alone expansions, ala Guild Wars, so what is the alternative?
It’s fairly obvious that there’s going to be a plethora of aesthetic options available in the in-game store. Town clothes, transmutation stones, make-over packs… Plenty of solid options there, given the natural inclination of additional aesthetic fluff toward micro-transaction systems: There’s no argument for ‘buying power’, or cutting out meaningful content. Still, it’s hard to imagine that these items would form the backbone of ArenaNet’s income.
Given their concern about splitting the player base between different chunks of premium content, I like to think (in addition to ditching stand-alone content) they’d avoid selling access to new areas of the game. Whether it’s dungeons or whole continents, it seems at odds with their ideology to add a bunch of arbitrary gating. The world, after all, is just a vehicle for the experience that ArenaNet hopes will win our loyalty and pry open our wallets.
“When you buy Guild Wars 2 you get the whole game, period. You’re never going to get a microtransaction to get more of it.” Colin Johanson, on G4TV
Personally, I’m putting my money on personal story being the focus of the in-game store – and it would work elegantly: You give your players access to the entire game world, with no issue of division or gating, and then sell additional personal story content within that. This content allows a player to build on the back-story for their characters, flesh out their personal instance, and rack up achievements and notoriety. Crucially, it doesn’t influence or interfere with the gameplay experience of others.
That, to me, seems like an ideal offering. It has all the low-impact benefits of aesthetic goods, whilst being much more meaningful. It doesn’t confer any gameplay advantages, shouldn’t feel like content cut out of the core game, and fits well with the goals ArenaNet have already set out..
Either way, I have faith in their ability to carve out a unique, appropriate path. There’s comfort in knowing I wont have to pay any more than the box price, but also a certainty that they will make good, constructive use of the flexibility a microtransaction system offers.
So, now that I’ve shared my opinion what do you think ArenaNet are planning on selling? Perhaps more importantly, what would you like them to sell? Leave a comment below.
About the author: An inveterate of the Guild Wars community, JR is a retired fansite administrator, PvP aficionado, and claims to have once shared a bed with Isaiah Cartwright. He’s now taken up residence in a quiet corner of TalkTyria, where he occasionally rattles out an opinion whilst mumbling about the ‘good old days’ and staring wildly into the middle-distance. Follow him on Twitter, if you like! – I wouldn’t, though.