Guild Wars: A Retrospective

Massively multiplayer online role playing games, or MMORPGs, change over time, it’s their nature, and it’s what keeps bringing back the original players for years to come. It’s also something that can shy away the older players in turn. For myself, I have been a fan of Guild Wars since Day One, when I first purchased Guild Wars: Prophecies a little over four years ago. On April 28, 2009, Guild Wars celebrated their fourth anniversary by adding some new content and features to the game. While most of these features are optional, they still are a sign that the game is changing, as well as some other points which I will note later on.

For those of you who are unaware, Guild Wars is a buy-to-play CORPG (Cooperative Competitive Online Role Playing Game). When saying CORPG, I say that because it was a term coined by ArenaNet themselves. Since whenever you leave a town you have your own instance for yourself and any other human players in your party, you are technically not interacting with them at all times in a persistent world, although you can contact them via the in-game chat system at any time. None the less, the game is an MMO at heart, and when speaking to most people, that is the genre they will give you. As with most non-MMOs, once you buy Guild Wars, you can play it forever, with no monthly fee or cost to the player. This strategy has been very successful for the more casual players, as they can jump back into the game at any time without having to renew a membership fee to play again. While this can also spawn a higher player falloff rate, the one new feature update can send players scrambling back to play for another couple hundred hours. In calling this a successful business model, ArenaNet recently announced that they had surpassed six million units sold on their game in total. This may not compare to World of Warcraft’s ten-plus million players, it definitely puts it on the map around the second most popular MMO to date, of the more recent crop.

As I was saying before, with time, MMOs have to change and evolve in order to continue to keep players interested. While Guild Wars has an impressive storyline, and a robust PvP section, over time players will become bored with the same old content. To do that, many developers will just add more quests or missions in order to keep fresh challenges for players, and that is exactly what ArenaNet did during their fourth anniversary update. That isn’t to say that these new quests are bad, because players from all over have been coming back to participate in the new feature called “Zaishen Challenge Quests” in order to earn a new item called “Zaishen Coins”, which can be traded in for new items that have been added. Unfortunately, this reminds me too much of World of Warcraft in the fact that they are daily quests, but when one thinks about it, it’s one of the best tactics that can be used to keep players playing for an extended period of time.

In a move that some considered trivial, ArenaNet also added in the wonderful idea of microtransactions into the world of Guild Wars. I can understand why some may argue that this move can be potentially considered selfish, as some of these are unlock packs in the game for real money, but think about ArenaNet’s business model. In having their game be buy-to-play, they are only receiving the income of the purchase of the game, for the most part, not including the old unlock packs or extra character slots that could be purchased before. All of the new options are just that, optional, so the player does not need to buy any of them, and they will continue to have the same experience that the players who do not purchase these will have. I do, however, find the prices of these items to be unusually high given the current price of purchasing Guild Wars in the current time. For an extra pane in your Storage, it is USD$9.99; to makeover your character, including changing their body size, hair color, skin color, and even (controversially) the character’s gender, it will run you another USD$9.99; and finally to change your character’s name, it will cost you USD$14.99. I find that last option to be especially costly, but when you sit back and think about it, having a lot of people changing their character names just doesn’t sound like something that would make the game more enjoyable, especially for those Guild leaders who have a ton of members who they don’t especially know, and some new names pop into their list. None the less, I have already heard of players taking advantage of each of these new features, so it’s quite obvious that this business tactic can only be a successful one, as it couldn’t cost ArenaNet near anything to have the feature added in to the game once.

As this is a retrospective though, and I have been playing Guild Wars since Day One, I just can’t say that I can get myself into the game as much as I used to anymore. That feeling began with the release of Guild Wars: Nightfall, which introduced Heroes, a customizable AI partner which can fight with you in your party in place of a human player. When Heroes were announced, the state of the game changed drastically. Not only could more players successfully play the game without any human interaction at all anymore, but many would prefer to, and based the game around playing on your own in most PvE areas instead. In the case of Guild Wars, it’s a little more understandable that the developers would want to give players a more personal experience with the game, but in turn, it ruined a bit of the social and “MMO” aspects of the game.

I can remember a time when the more prestigious Titles, which are basically Achievements in one way or another, were a rarity, and when you saw a player with a Title such as “Kind Of A Big Deal”, which is when a character has five (or more as the ranks go up) other titles maxed out, you respected them because they had been playing much longer and much more diligently. Unfortunately, I see this Title track on more players than ever before, making it less and less rare. This can happen with anything of course though, and while for most players they won’t notice or care, I’ve always been one to scout out my fellow world travellers. As time progresses, people will achieve more in the game, which will make the rare items and titles less rare, which is why ArenaNet introduces new, even more rare items into the game, to keep people striving to be the best. I will admit, I miss the days back when you would walk into a town, there would be a good seven players waiting there to party up in order to beat the mission, and the group would blitz through it and have fun doing it at the same time. It didn’t matter what your strategy was, as long as the mission got done. Now, unfortunately, with the increased saturation of players, finding a party has become a picky process, as when you don’t have the exact correct setup, you are unwelcome in many cases.

Now remember, I am not saying that Guild Wars is a bad game. As you know by previous experience, I love Guild Wars, and cannot wait for Guild Wars 2 to come out (release date yet unnanounced). Over time, though, I have seen many friends come and go, watched the game evolve from a simple MMO into a full-fledged experience-fest, and it’s just lost some of my interest. It’s a shame, but, I have always prided and respected other players who would join a Guild for the sheer fact of having fun, not being the overly serious type, and wanting to just play the game. Those days, I fear, are quite over now, but maybe one day that group will return. I just wonder if I will be there to find them.

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