Earlier this month, ArenaNet announced that President Mike O’Brien, former game director on both the original Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2, was leaving the company. Love him or hate him, he was in part responsible for launching one of my favorite MMO franchises, and for that I’m thankful. Amidst the fallout from his departure, we confirmed earlier rumors that he and a handful of developers had been prototyping a possible Guild Wars 3, which failed to receive approval from ArenaNet’s parent company NCsoft.Flameseeker Chronicles.
When considering a new course for any MMO, I think the first thing we should do is look at what has been successful for other, similar MMOs. There are lots of MMOs that have survived quite nicely without a sequel for far longer than Guild Wars 2: World of Warcraft, EverQuest II, and Ultima Online, just to name a few.
The difference between Guild Wars 2 and these other games is that the studios that run them all have other active games. In fact, there aren’t a whole lot of other studios with a game older than Guild Wars 2 that don’t run more than just their main MMORPG. Most studios have multiple online games – or at least they try to.
Adding successful new games to ArenaNet’s repertoire would likely only strengthen its brand, as long as it can put out something that is of good quality and is well received while not neglecting the game that it made its name with (which is no small task). But this could be as much an argument for a whole new franchise as it is for Guild Wars 3.
A new game is also a chance for a studio to overhaul classes and combat balance. Balancing an MMO is a difficult job, especially one with nine professions with two elite specs each. Not only do devs have to think about what’s best for the game, but they have to navigate a minefield of existing builds and playstyles and how their actions may affect players who use them. Sure, you can do massive balance overhauls on a live game — ArenaNet has done them before — but starting every character over from level one resets player expectations and allows the developers space to rebuild everything from the ground up.
Another advantage of creating a new game is a large infusion of cash. I’m no expert in the financial and accounting side of MMOs, but it seems to me, from observing the genre over the years, that it’s a lot easier for studios to secure a large amount of funding from investors and publishers for a brand-new game than for an addition to an existing one.
If ArenaNet wanted to, for example, add Quaggans as a playable race in Guild Wars 2, it would require new animations, voice acting, armor redesigns, and personal story. As excited as many players would be for this addition, all of this would be very expensive, and ArenaNet might have a hard time convincing NCsoft that this was the best use of its time and money, even if it was a part of a new expansion or cash shop purchase. But if playable Quaggans were a bullet point for Guild Wars 3, where creating brand-new animations, voice acting, armor, and story are a given, it would be a much easier sell.
Of course, this is in large part due to the fact that it’s easier to get new players excited about a new title than for an expansion. The promise of a whole new game makes people who were turned off by the old one, or who prefer to get into a game on the ground level rather than jumping in midway through its lifecycle, to sit up and take notice. More players equals more sales, which justifies more investment.
That said, as much as a new game can bring in more money and generate more hype, it can also backfire. With greater financial investment comes greater financial risk if the project fails or has to be scrapped and rebooted. Similarly, a game that is poorly received by players and critics can put a damper on entire studios, sometimes indefinitely. For instance, I still run into the attitude that The Elder Scrolls Online is a bad game, despite the fact that it has improved drastically and fixed most of players’ initial complaints in the years since launch (MassivelyOP gave it Most Improved MMORPG of 2016, and it took MMO of the year in 2017). I know people who refused to play Fallout 76 simply because of their bad early experience with ESO and felt validated in this opinion when Fallout 76 also tanked at launch. I’m not going to say that they will definitely turn up their nose at The Elder Scrolls IV, but it certainly doesn’t secure their confidence in Bethesda’s future.
If you want my personal opinion — and I’m going to assume you do, since you clicked on an opinion piece with my name attached to it — I don’t think Guild Wars 2 is ready for retirement just yet. Honestly, if ArenaNet just kept cranking out Guild Wars 2 expansions ad infinitum, I would probably keep showing up with money in hand. It wouldn’t even have to keep adding game-changing masteries like Heart of Thorns’ gliders and Path of Fire’s mounts. New elite specs and a big new chunk of content to play them in — both story content and repeatable content like fractals, strike missions, and raids — is all I ask.
A sequel isn’t going to fix systemic problems with the studio. ArenaNet’s communication with its playerbase has been spotty at best. PvP balance is sorely neglected, and those players have been asking for something new to do for far too long, with the only answer being incremental variations on existing play, like Swiss-style tournaments. Worst of all, the developers within the studio have felt mistreated, between the mass layoffs at the beginning of this year and firings that many feel were the direct result of Reddit controversy. Until ArenaNet can demonstrate that it is addressing these problems in the game it has, I don’t think that it should begin work on a new one.
I’m not saying that Guild Wars 2 will live on forever. At some point, there will either be a successor or the franchise will die. I just don’t think we need said sequel yet. I think Guild Wars 2, if it can fix the systemic problems mentioned above, can continue to thrive for many more years. The graphics, while perhaps not state-of-the-art, still look absolutely gorgeous. There is still plenty of space on the map of Tyria left to explore, and other continents besides. The story is, in my opinion, far from tapped out, especially if we move on from dragon hunting. I’ve got all kinds of ideas for new elite specs, and if I can dream them up, surely the creative people at ArenaNet can imagine even more. At this point, there’s no need to gamble on a sequel that might do better and might not.