The last two weeks of February were devastating to the Guild Wars 2 community. Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet announced the layoffs of nearly one hundred and fifty developers, some of whom had been with the studio for well over a decade and were well known to players. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an overwhelming flood of support across social media in response to studio layoffs, both from players and from those at the studio who are left behind. I think it shows how tight-knit this game’s team was, and how great its fans can be.
But as terrible as all of that is, I don’t think it’s time to panic yet. Here are three reasons why we can have hope for Guild Wars 2’s future.
The team is refocusing on GW2
Guild Wars 2 game director Mike Zadorojny recently took to the forums to deliver an update on the layoffs and mentioned “welcoming back some familiar faces to the Guild Wars 2 team that had been working on unannounced projects,” which we know from other official and unofficial sources included a mobile game and a console game. As unfortunate as it is that this meant letting people go, I think that focusing on Guild Wars 2 is the best thing for this company right now.
While NCsoft’s mobile games seem to be printing money, that’s mostly coming from the Asian market. The mobile gaming market is precarious at best in the West, where the brand recognition for a Western MMO studio like ArenaNet is going to be strongest. I don’t think, for instance, that Turbine is stronger for getting out of MMORPGs and into mobile games. I would rather ArenaNet played to its strengths and put the full force of its development team behind the full-fledged, desktop MMORPG it’s known for. Diversification is not a bad thing, but spreading yourself too thin is.
The game is still making good money
According to NCSoft’s latest financials, Guild Wars 2 brought in the equivalent of nearly 70 million USD in 2018. That’s almost as much as it made in 2017 when its Path of Fire expansion launched, and better than 2016 in between Heart of Thorns and POF. That may not be as much money as it was making at its peak, but it’s nothing to scoff at.
I’m also aware that it saw a steep decline at the end of 2018, but so did most of NCSoft’s PC MMORPGs. And they’re not alone either; a number of other companies in the MMO space were also hit with layoffs at the end of 2018 as the gaming industry suffered investment market downturns on a broad scale.
Finally, Guild Wars is a long-standing brand with a lot of loyal followers, and NCsoft can count on those people to continue bringing money to the table every time there’s a new expansion or shiny thing in the cash shop. Even if it’s not raking in Fortnite-level piles of cash, NCSoft would be foolish to throw away that kind of loyalty flippantly.
This is not your father’s NCsoft
Speaking of throwing away loyalty, I am well aware that the company I’m talking about here is NCsoft, the company that tragically shut down City of Heroes well before its time. There is still, to put it mildly, a lot of ill will toward NCsoft because of its mismanagement of the City of Heroes sunset.
But I think NCsoft learned something from that experience: that players, especially Western players, are a lot more attached to their virtual worlds than it perhaps realized in 2012. Paragon was shut down in an attempt to cut loose a company that the Korean corporation saw as costing it too much money, but that ended up costing it players (and by extension the money they would otherwise have spent in NCsoft games).
I believe that’s an experience NCsoft doesn’t want to repeat, and the best evidence of this is WildStar. I loved WildStar, but even I saw the writing on the wall long before the game was closed. I was predicting that it was going to sunset at least a year before it actually did — everyone was — but NCsoft kept the lights on until it was abundantly clear there was no more life left in it.
So even if Guild Wars 2 were not living up to expectations right now, we can reasonably expect NCsoft to give Guild Wars 2 a real chance to redeem itself. And I do believe that Guild Wars 2 can redeem itself.
Please don’t take my positivity as blind, Pollyannaish optimism. Cuts and downsizing are never good signs for a live game. It needs a big win, preferably soon, and for that it needs to make some changes.
But that doesn’t mean that the game is dead or is going to disappear in the next year. Mike Z has given us his assurance that we can expect new additions to PvP and world vs. world, a new living world story, and the return of Super Adventure Box, the latter sooner rather than later. In other words, development isn’t going anywhere.
However, he also set realistic expectations that the speed at which these things come out may not be what we’re used to. Personally, I’m OK with some delays if it means not sacrificing content quality.
I really believe that Guild Wars 2 is still one of the best MMORPGs on the market today, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. It won’t be the same without much of the talent that made the game what it is today, but there are still a lot of talented, passionate individuals working on this game. My condolences and well-wishes go out to everyone affected by the layoffs, and I hope they land on their feet. To those left behind, I know you will do your best to keep bringing us the kind of quality content we’ve come to expect from this game for years to come.