The Game Archaeologist: The legacy of Guild Wars

    
15

Last week on The Game Archaeologist, we examined the exciting beginnings of Guild Wars, thanks to a trio of ex-Blizzard developers who wanted to build “an MMO for the rest of us.” We left off at the launch of Guild Wars in April 2005, saying that the title amassed a million sales by summer of that year.

But that was, of course, only the beginning.

To kick off today’s look at the enduring legacy of Guild Wars, we need to talk about one more unique concept of this game that I deliberately avoided talking about last time. That concept could be summed up in a single word:

Campaigns.

The money campaign

Before Guild Wars launched, one of the most common questions that ArenaNet fielded was how the studio expected to make any money without subscriptions or (it was implied) microtransactions. Box sales are well and good for an initial chunk of cash, but live services demand a constant revenue stream. How would Guild Wars accomplish that?

For the answer to that, we look to the actual name of the 2005 released game. It wasn’t Guild Wars — it was Guild Wars Prophecies. What players were buying was a standalone campaign that included all of the game’s classes, skills, and initial story arc. But instead of expansions, an MMORPG staple by then, ArenaNet chose to duplicate the campaign idea for future releases.

The idea was to release a new standalone campaign about every year after launch. Each campaign would host the core classes, additional classes and skills, and a new storyline. All of them connected players together in the same community but offered each person the ability to just own one campaign — or collect them all. The hope was that box sales of these subsequent campaigns would drive the revenue that ArenaNet needed.

Almost a year after Prophecies launched, ArenaNet released Guild Wars Factions, an Asian-themed campaign. The next campaign, the Egyptian-themed Nightfall, came sooner than expected in October 2006. The plan for sales to keep revenues high seemed to be working, too, as the series would climb to an astounding six million units sold.

A change of plans

ArenaNet started work on the next campaign, called Guild Wars Utopia, but by 2007 it abruptly switched tracks. Utopia was cancelled and a first-ever expansion (August 2007’s Eye of the North) was rolled out instead. Following that, all work on future campaigns were put on hold.

So what was going on? Did the company fall into dire straights or lose faith in its business model? In actuality, the developers and management had decided that it would be smarter to refocus efforts on creating a full-fledged MMORPG sequel to the game, and so resources were shifted over to begin work on Guild Wars 2. Another factor was that the addition of more and more skills with each campaign was creating a game that ultimately would be impossible to balance. Just ask any collectible card game creators about why they retire old sets instead of keeping every single card made in play forever.

Guild Wars 2 would take several years to complete, however, and Guild Wars had to continue to keep its community busy and happy until then. Smaller content updates and various in-game festivals were rolled out, and new players trickled in all of the time thanks to all-in-one retail boxes.

With Guild Wars 2 on the horizon, ArenaNet triggered Guild Wars’ last big hurrah in 2010. It was called Guild Wars Beyond, serving to tie up loose ends from the game’s story arcs and lay the foundation for the sequel. Players were also given incentive to grind certain achievements in order to fully stock the new Hall of Monuments. Each Guild Wars achievement earned for this would translate into a perk (such as a cosmetic or a pet) for the sequel).

That was it. Supposedly. With Guild Wars 2’s launch in 2012, the community flocked to an open-world Tyria and Guild Wars was left to die.

A spark of life

Except that it wasn’t. While many people expected Guild Wars to wither and ArenaNet to shut off its servers, neither happened. Sure, its population declined significantly, but there were people who stuck around. Even better, ArenaNet kept the servers up in a maintenance mode, allowing anyone to jump in and experience all of the quests, stories, and festivals. The fact that the game was designed to be as inexpensive as possible to operate meant that it wasn’t as high of a financial drain as other older MMOs would be.

And that’s how Guild Wars existed for several years, in a relaxing retirement that could still be enjoyed for nostalgia or discovery reasons. Then the absolutely unexpected happened: ArenaNet started developing for the original title once more.

In May 2018, ArenaNet released a graphics update for the client. This was soon followed by another patch in July that improved the inventory system. These quality-of-life patches continued throughout 2019, although one late in the year seemed to break part of the game. None of these updates delivered new stories or campaigns, but it was still heartening to see an old title like this still getting love and support.

As for ArenaNet’s founding trio, the three moved on to new venues over time. Jeff Strain was the first to leave in 2009, heading off to form Undead Labs (State of Decay). Patrick Wyatt left in 2010 for stints at En Masse Entertainment and Undead Labs before finding his current position at Amazon Games. As for Mike O’Brien, he continued to helm the Guild Wars franchise up through October 2019. Following a difficult year of bad publicity and calls for his resignation, O’Brien abdicated his role as president and went off to be a programmer at ManaWorks.

And that’s where we are today. While diminished in population and name recognition, Guild Wars still holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts. Its clever design, radical business model, and artistic style made this an MMO that will be remembered for all time.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.

15
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Ironwu

In my opinion, GW1 is NOT an MMO. It is a Lobby based Multiplayer/Singleplayer game. Even the developers said it was not an MMO. Still a great game, but yeah.

Even the article points out that ArenaNet wanted to do a real MMO and thus created GW2.

If GW1 meets the criteria of being an MMO, might as well start covering Destiny2, Anthem, and all the other lobby based multiplayer games.

Reader
Harlow Games

MassivelyOP already does cover Destiny2, Anthem, and other types of multiplayer games. There’s an Anthem story on the main page right now, and there were Destiny2 articles as recently as 2/2 and 2/7.

micedicetwice
Reader
micedicetwice

In May 2018, ArenaNet released a graphics update for the client. This was soon followed by another patch in July that improved the inventory system. These quality-of-life patches continued throughout 2019, although one late in the year seemed to break part of the game. None of these updates delivered new stories or campaigns, but it was still heartening to see an old title like this still getting love and support.

It’s worth mentioning that it’s not really ArenaNet who released those updates, it was a personal project of ONE particular person in ANet who did that in his free time. And he left the studio. So, basically, no, ANet doesn’t care about the game anymore, some of their developers did.

Reader
Loopy

Well it’s not like those developers would put on a mask and cape at night and code behind Anet’s back. Anet clearly supported those devs who worked on maintaining the original game, until the moment they left. And the fact that GW1 servers are still up means that Anet hasn’t completely discarded the game.

Reader
Jim Bergevin Jr

There were two – Stephen and Bill. I think a lot of what they did was done during their free time, but done with Anet’s blessings. Anet originally maintained that they would keep the servers running as long as there were people playing the game. Of course, with NCSoft back in charge of the studio, who knows what the future holds.

The unfortunate problem now, with both Bill and Stephen gone, there are little to no devs who know GW1 like they did. There’s enough to to bug fixes when issues crop up, but that’s pretty much it. Years ago, one of the fan sites secured an interview with someone at Anet, but once they found out it would be focused on GW1, they cancelled because the dev knew nothing about the game.

Reader
Harlow Games

That’s also how GW2 got its action camera mode – it was a passion project of one of their devs in his “free time”

Reader
Jeremiah Ratican

I have to say I loved reading these comments, I thought GW2 was…ok. I definitely never felt the love that I had for GW1, I loved that game so much and I’m glad to see in not the only one that thought GW2 lost a little of the magic in fact the only thing I felt that 2 did better was the races and jumping.

Reader
Harlow Games

I wish I could have gotten into it. I bought the game but it just wasn’t what I was looking for as an MMO player.

Yangers
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Yangers

I have just re-played through Factions and Prophecies, and its still a really fun game.

I have so much to catch up on.

Reader
Zero_1_Zerum

Wait, GW1 is still around?!
I stopped playing after I beat the main story, when GW2 came out. Figured they’d shut down the servers for GW1. Never played GW2, because I didn’t have the money at the time, and later didn’t hear good things about the game.

I’m tempted to see if I still even like GW1.
I don’t think my old guild is still in it, they said they all were planning on moving to GW2 when that launched. But, it might be nice to revisit the story.

Reader
James Crow

i played GW1 for years until GW2 launch and i have to say…
i didnt like it, they lost alot of things that made GW so uniqe like the builds and skills, even the story was alot better.

for me the only game that i enjoy to play like i GW1 was The Secret World and we all know how funcom throw this game to the trash.

2 great games and the only thing that left from them now is they both on life support :(

Reader
Minimalistway

Glad they kept Guilds War alive, it’s still a beautiful game and for a new player it offer so much, i bought months ago but still didn’t play it, what ArenaNet did and what Squar Enix doing with FFXI is admirable, i just wish many old MMOs found a way to do the same instead of killing them.

Reader
Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

All three of those games are masterpieces. Eye of the North is the crowning achievement of that franchise. I just expected GW2 to kind of continue that break neck pace and quality. That was really naive of me, but man, what a ride GW1 was. Phenomenal!

Reader
Jim Bergevin Jr

Another trip down memory lane. As I recall, however, the game plan was to release two campaigns a year – every six months. They had two teams working on a staggered schedule so that each team would have a year to complete its campaign. One would be making PvE focused campaigns while the other would be PvP focused (which was the Factions team).

They just couldn’t get the ball rolling on Factions right away because they needed to see if Prophecies would be successful. I kinda had my doubts about that plan because after a couple of years you would spread the playerbase too thin across so many stand alone campaigns.

It’s a shame that the sole focus shifted to GW2, which is inferior, IMHO. They could have easily supported both games like EQ and EQ2. But at this point, the design philosophy of the studio is so antithesis to what made GW great that I’d rather they just leave the game to run as is. I don’t want any GW2 in my GW1.

miskav
Reader
miskav

Guild wars 1 is still my all-time favorite game.

My disappointment that it never got a worthy sequel is something I’m reminded of whenever GW2 and its failures get mentioned.

Why no other studio has done anything like GW1 is beyond me.

I really wish that Anet hadn’t gone the way they did with GW2.