Guild Wars 2, Getting Down to Business

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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.

Guild Wars 2 Divinity's Reach

If you build it, they will come.

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

Guild Wars 2 Personal Story

10 New hospitals to save! - $8.99

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.


Further reading:

  • distilled

    To be honest, I don’t think they’ll be selling personal storylines for real cash. I think that still contravenes the whole “when you buy the game, you get the whole game” concept. It is still extra gameplay you have to buy – although, I’m willing to be proven wrong; they did, afterall, sell us the BMP.

    I think their income will come from the aesthetic items (makeovers, clothing, costumes), non-combat items (transmutation stones etc), minipets and also “extended experience” items like the gw2 phone app + extra add ones (possibly charging a little extra for the ability to use the marketplace or access guild/ally chat?).

    • I agree, but then I think you have a perception of personal story content being all plot-centric. There’s room for side-quest filler stuff, too.

      Regarding aesthetic goods making up the bulk of the store, you could be right. I’m skeptical of ArenaNet’s willingness to bank on that being enough, though.

  • Anonymous

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    I think a F2P model with tons of fun, unique, and quirky purchasable (non-competitive) upgrades is genius. When people pay subs, they become a little resentful of the system, and treat micro-transactions on top of subs as greed. 

    But knowing I have no sub fee and so I’m not obliged (even knowing I won’t have to dish out cash to server xfer) has actually helped me to WANT to pay more for things in GW and in GW2. 

    They’ve done an awesome job in the original. If I could pick anything new, I’d wish they would offer holiday headgear in the in-game store, as I’ve missed out on a few really nice ones and I’d be more than willing to pay for a chance to pick up some of those. I know that’d throw a -lot- of people into a fit, though.

    Anyway, the only questionable purchasable content was the BMP in GW. I personally don’t think it was an issue (although I”ve yet to get around to buying  it) but I think a lot of fans thought it was crossing the line on content. 

    I hope they continue this trend in GW2. While I’d like to see the birthday present trend continue, I wouldn’t mind buying special edition mini-pets, too. Costumes, fun trinkets, skins, etc. would all be great. And obviously, extra storage slots, makeovers, etc. should all be available to purchase as well.

    One last thing I think they should really continue are the sales like the one they had in June. I thought that was a great idea; a good opportunity for people who wanted to buy upgrades but hadn’t gotten around to it (or maybe thought it was too expensive). I bet they made more offering all that content for sale in June than they would otherwise. 

    Great post. 🙂

    • I agree. The BMP felt wrong to me. I don’t mind paying for things that look pretty and allow me to personalize my character, but I’m not a big fan of buying content. Granted, the BMP didn’t set me apart from others and really only made it so that I had to work for those extra pretty items, it was still content. If I wanted to play it, I had to buy it. 

      I feel that as long as microtransactions stick to personalizing my character and do not add exclusive content or provide a benefit to someone, count me in.

  • Cosmetic items are a given. They will probably ride that puppy out with armor skins, town clothes, pet skins, cosmetic packs etc.. who knows, there is a lot they can do with that. Brainstorming myself it’s kind of hard to see what else would be agreeable in a cash. Being F2P with Box acquisition it gives them more wiggle room to what players will accept from a cash shop. Aside from your personal story vein I can’t see what else they would do but let me say this I do agree with you. Personal quests, Home instance stuff will leave minimal negative impact on the game’s value but allow the items to be meaningful and entice people to purchase them. 

    I was thinking perhaps some quest packs or something but that wouldn’t really fit with their dynamic event system. Bah I can’t think of anything but fluff does sell. Ask Nexon 🙂

  • There was an article yesterday on I think about if GW2 has a sub, would you pay it. Given the level of trust that Anet is fostering, and my long time belief that you get what you pay for, I commented yes I would. But then I am a guy who used to pay SOE up to 90 dollars a month for subs. The fact that Anet is NOT going this route is an icing on the cake, especially in these tough economic times, and with some of us not having the income we used to.

    That having been said, I would gladly pay for aesthetic items, provided they are reasonably priced (no monocles, please… Eve, I am looking at you). Your idea above also sounds like something I could invest in as I am a story hound, and would love more avenues to be able to tell MY story to the world.

  • Anonymous

    I also doubt they’ll be selling anything story-related in the shop; that’d be going against the “once you have the box you have the full game” philosophy that they’re going with here.

    However, I’m also with what Izari said. The fact that the game is f2p and once you have your copy you aren’t obligated to buy anything more actually makes me more likely to want to buy stuff in their shop. I mean, look at GW1. Between things like buying myself a second account, buying campaigns for my brother and my boyfriend, extra character slots, makeovers, costumes, etc…. What I’ve spent, in the amount of time I’ve played, would probably even out to about $12-15 a month. But the difference was I didn’t have to pay it, I wanted to. I have absolutely no qualms at all about spending money voluntarily to support a game or company that I like, and ANet and GW have definitely earned that support from me several times over.

    I’m also holding out that they’ll release a character creator before the game comes out, just for us to play with, because damnit that looks fun 😛

    • What would you define as premium level content that isn’t ‘part of the full game’ – or do you think aesthetics are enough?

  • Tigerfeet

    Yeah, they’ve said they aren’t going to be making stand-alone expansions, but I think you’re focusing on the wrong half of that phrase “Stand-alone Expansions”.  Nowhere have they ever said that they won’t produce expansions, simply that said expansions will not reproduce the core game.  When an expansion is stand-alone you have to make a starter area, duplicate enough skills so that a player with only the expansion isn’t hamstringed, and still provide enough incentive for that player to eventually buy the first game.

    The source you linked to makes the same assumption, that no stand-alone expansions means no expansions period.  I don’t see any problem with ArenaNet producing successive box sales of expansions that offer signifigant additions to the game like races, areas, professions, and a continuation of the personal storyline.

    As for your idea of personal storyline and achievements, I’m really not interested.  What you have laid out seems little more than extra grinding and more lonely instances a’la the bonus mission pack and Hall of Monuments titles.  When I lay down real money for extra content, especially in a game like Guild Wars 2 that is touted as being a true MMO, I want more explorable areas, more dynamic events, more dungeons, and more general opportunities to run around with other people, not an extra statue in my own instance that only I will see (unless I specifically bring someone with me).

    • To be clear: I didn’t say that ArenaNet *won’t* sell expansions, I just hope they take a different route.

      Regarding personal story content being a grind, not sure I can agree there. As a collection of one-time story driven experiences it seems like it’s the very antithesis of grind.

      As for ‘lonely instances’, would you rather the personal story content be lonely, or the world?

      • Draxynnic

        Expansions are a lot of work. The first expansion that brings us to Cantha or Elona or the Far North is going to involve doubling the map area of the game and producing the content that fills that map area. Thats a BIG investment to just give us for free and hope they make up for it in microtransactions and additional box sales.

        When you buy Guild Wars 2, you get the entirety of the continent of Tyria to play with, and the full personal story up to the defeat of Zhaitan. You’re not going to run into a gate that can only be unlocked with a credit card or, like Dragon Age, a quest giver whose quest can only be completed if you buy the linked DLC. You’ve GOT the complete game. If another continent gets added as an expansion… I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to get that for free. But if you don’t get that expansion, the original box is still a complete game in itself.

        • D.J. Nelson

           Not even sure if you really defeat Zhaitan yet, I’d say that will probably be in the second-to-last non-stand-alone expansion. Probably gonna end up fighting the lesser-Elder Dragons. And for anyone questioning why I said second-to-last expansion, the last one will bring in either GW3 (yes I went there lol) or there will never be a last one cuz of the Dynamic Events change the world enough like some NPC group taking high-level characters to defeat the Undead Armada restricting all entry into human-populated Cantha. Don’t get me started on Elona, that is a long story that uses defeat of a dragon, Palwa Joko being imprisoned, portal in Crystal Desert for high-level characters, working in the slums and undercover to find out what has happened, killing another dragon, earning a high-rank in the rebuilt-Vabbian society, murder the new leader, release Palwa Joko, keep Sir Joko under control via the Order of the Whispers, and finding a deeper story with Abaddon being the Leader (or Father) to the Dragons.

          And now into hiding from A-Net for revealing their future for GW2 xD (just kidding, this is just my gut-feeling what will become). In no way do I think I’m correct, just think I spent too much time thinking about this (which does sound bad-ass haha). Spent many years helping make other video-games, so when something like this happens (talking about GW2), I try to dwelve myself deep into the lore and find logical yet unprecedented theories to what will conspire. If anyone ends up reading this, ty for spending your time reading my theory. =)

    • ArcherAvatar

      I have to agree with Tigerfeet’s basic sentiment here, except I would take it even further… essentialy, I feel that the premise of this article is erroneous, and the quotes from DEVs are either taken out of context, or are exaggerated to make the point of the author.
      I believe there will be expansions (just not standalone as Tigerfeet pointed out) and those expansions will bring new areas of content to the game… we can SPECULATE about the exact nature of that content, however, it would be just that… speculation.
      The most aggregious error made in this article in my opinion, is the “handcuffing” of ArenaNet by taking the comments of their DEV team out of context, or exaggerating them – specifically the, ““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.” quote of Colin Johanson.  The author of this article strongly implies that this quote, along with the “no standalone expansions” quote, preclude the possibility of regular exapansion content (new areas, new races, new professions, etc…) and that is clearly, and flatly, wrong.  New expansions will be offered.  The will cost money, and they will NOT be consider MTs, because… they are full expansions.

      Although I see nothing wrong with the author’s suggestion of continuations of the personal story line, the suggestion that this be the only significant (read: greater than a MT) addition to the game post launch surpasses merely being wrong… it’s ludicrous.

      • Just to be clear:

        “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

        The sentiment here is precisely as it reads: I *like to think* they’d avoid selling access to new areas of the game. Never did I say they won’t, or aren’t considering it, merely that personally I’d avoid it.

  • An enjoyable read that definitely puts me in the mind of buying that awesome town outfit once I get my hands on GW2. I wonder if they come in size extra norn?

  • Canobeans

    I’m afraid I’m not smart enough to come up with something new and exciting for the in-game shop. I do, on the other hand, have the correct expertise to let you know that as long as ANet doesn’t overstep its boundaries, the cash-store will never have a plethora of items. “Plethora” is a distinctly negative word used to denote gross excess. A shop well-stocked in goods deemed appropriate therefore offers “a great many”, “a multitude”, “a rich selection” or, say, “an abundance” of wares.

    • A plethora from the perspective of an individual, in that it will hold far more (in terms of variety and options) than any one person is likely to be interested in. I believe you are looking at it from the perspective of the collective player-base – and your point is quite valid there.

  • Mattsta

    I agree with you that purely aesthetic items are a good
    micro-transaction item since they are just that, cosmetic items to make you
    look good, cool, or unique. I also agree with you that cosmetic items alone
    would not make a solid business model. 
    While I can see people buying multiple costumes, I don’t see enough
    people doing so to sell enough to make that the backbone of the market and that
    is not including however many people don’t believe in buying cosmetic items for
    their virtual characters.


    On that same note I can also see the selling the personal
    story not being a backbone piece either. 
    There are many gamers that enjoy exploring new areas in games, and if
    you give them the new areas for free then they aren’t as likely to go buy the
    quests.  Also there are gamers who see
    quests for an area are a feature of that area and might not buy the quests just
    on principle of them not already being packaged with the new maps and dungeons.  Then you just have the people who don’t care
    at all about quests and hit the accept and complete buttons without reading


    What I would like to see is more of the same things that
    made me enjoy buying new Guild Wars games. 
    I want to see the content of a complete game like Factions and Nightfall
    were except packaged like Eye of the North was. 
    What I mean by this is that you have to buy the original Guild
    Wars.  After that you can buy the “Factions”
    expansion and the “Nightfall” expansion to access those areas.  These would be expansions, not stand-alones like
    their original GW predecessors, in that the new areas would start at level
    70-80 so you continue on from the original GW2 play like you took a
    Prophecies/Factions/Nightfall character into Eye of the North.  To complete it I think you shouldn’t need any
    expansions to play any other.  So if I
    ended up skipping the “Factions” expansion, I could buy and jump straight into
    the “Nightfall” expansion without ever thinking of buying the “Factions”
    expansion.  This way I only buy what I
    want to play.


    The problem of splitting the player base with different
    chunks of premium content I think gets diluted when the premium content is sold
    in large chunks like that.  I have never
    seen in my time playing Guild Wars there being a real concern over people not
    having the same content to be able to play together.  The problem with splitting I think occurs
    when you only sell 2 maps or 3 dungeons as a micro-transaction.  In my opinion, buying 3 dungeons for $5 is
    something I’ll probably pass over (I still haven’t bought the BMP).  But if you try to sell me 15 dungoens for $25
    (which would be the same price-to-content ratio as 3 for $5), I would be much
    more inclined to buy the big collection right off the bat.  Having the big chunks also makes it easier to
    know what you (and friends) have, since it is easier to remember that you have
    Nightfall or Factions (or both) expansions and not which of the Shing Jea, Kaineng,
    Echovald, Jade Sea, Istan, Kourna, Vabbi, Desolation, or Torment map packs you

    • It is a MMO, Expansions are a given. If they were to sell dungeons I’d reckon it be on a individual basis and down the line they may sell a pack during special events or sales

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