Guild Wars 2 counts a million new players, touts an expanding studio, and talks up End of Dragons sales


There was an interesting article up on PCGamesN earlier this month proclaiming that Guild Wars 2’s isn’t a dead game (which you surely know) and moreover that “ArenaNet has shown PCGamesN new stats that prove otherwise,” which obviously caught our attention. But as dug deeper into the story, we found the given stats more confusing and misleading than triumphant, although we’d certainly like to believe them.

PCGamesN quoted ArenaNet’s Josh “Grouch” Davis saying Guild Wars 2 “is not just doing well – it’s thriving,” owing to the launch of End of Dragons and GW2 on Steam in 2022. Then, the site said Davis “provided [it] with some never-seen-before data.” Here’s the quote from Davis.

“The February 2022 launch of End of Dragons helped us land our strongest Q1 performance since the announcement of Heart of Thorns in 2015 – a huge success in our book. […] But it gets better! We beat that number again this year by 20%, and we achieved that without an expansion launch. This growth has allowed us to increase the size of the Guild Wars 2 development team for the first time in years.”

But from the text of the article, it wasn’t at all clear that these were new data or stats – or what they mean. Based on the language used (reference to quarterly performance), Davis appeared to us to be speaking not of player count (as PCGN seemingly assumed) but of revenues, which NCsoft is obliged to report every quarter and which we ourselves have covered ad nauseam. We already knew that End of Dragons drove Guild Wars 2’s revenues last year because NCsoft gave the whole world the numbers. For reference, here they are, strictly for Guild Wars 2 revenues in Q1 going back to 2016. Heart of Thorns launched in Q3 2015, Path of Fire launched in Q3 2017, and End of Dragons launched in Q1 2022. (KRW is Korean Won.)

Q1 2023 – 20M KRW
Q1 2022 – 20M KRW
Q1 2021 – 16M KRW
Q1 2020 – 12M KRW
Q1 2019 – 16M KRW
Q1 2018 – 23M KRW
Q1 2017 – 14M KRW
Q1 2016 – 30M KRW
Q1 2015 – 22M KRW

We assumed that the “beat that number again this year by 20% […] without an expansion launch” quote referred to the fact that Q1 2023 revenues were flat and roughly equivalent to Q1 2022, which is actually impressive for just the reason Davis said it was (GW2 kept revenues at expansion levels a full year later in spite of not producing another expansion). He was not, to be clear, claiming revenues were an additional 20% higher in 2023 than 2022, only that they were the same 20% higher when compared to the 2020, which makes sense as that’s how math works. Either way, that’s not new.

The “strongest Q1 performance since the announcement of Heart of Thorns in 2015” quote was a bit more confusing, however. Davis didn’t say “players” here as the article author inferred, but as you can see, Guild Wars 2 did indeed have several higher-revenue Q1s between the HOT announcement (in January 2015) and now, which meant either Davis misspoke or that “performance” referred to an unspecified metric that wasn’t just revenue and therefore ought to have been specified by the studio before being understood and championed and repeated in an article as fact.

So we reached out to both Davis and ArenaNet’s PR a week and a half ago to get to the bottom of it, but the revised statement from the studio is just as vague.

“Josh was referring to sales figures, which diverge from revenue data commonly observed in financial reports,” a studio spokesperson told us yesterday afternoon. “Our sales data is assessed within shorter time intervals, and although we refrain from disclosing precise details, Josh’s initial statement remains correct.”

We actually sent back more questions for the team after this statement as it’s just as confusing, but the studio just repeated, “We can’t get into any more specifics about accounting practices, but we can confirm our statement is accurate based on the way we internally compare Q1 numbers year over year.”

So we’re left to speculate. It looks as if ArenaNet is making a distinction between sales (generally, all sales generated by the game) and revenues (the combination of sales and all other incomes). The two words are often conflated in investor reports. But for the statement “strongest Q1 performance” since HOT’s announcement to be accurate, that’d mean that ArenaNet was making a significant portion of its revenues during many of those other peak quarters from something other than sales. That seems unlikely. We think it’s more likely that the word “sales” as used in the statement is again an overly broad term being used in an overly specific way – for example, “only expansion sales” excluding the cash shop – or “only cash-shop and gem sales” excluding expansions.

Likewise, we’re having a hard time wrapping our head around the statement that ArenaNet’s sales data are “assessed within shorter time intervals,” as Davis specifically referred to Q1 performance, not, say, “one specific week during Q1.”

At this point, we suspect the real figure being discussed here is something more like “strongest expansion-pack sales in any week during a Q1 since HOT was announced,” which would be believable given what we do know and make the most sense given everything ArenaNet is maintaining here. But as the studio has yet to fully clarify its meaning, no one is able to understand, let alone verify, the “performance” figures originally promoted as new and exclusive to PCGN. It’s hard to salute them as true when we still don’t really know what they mean and it’s hard to reconcile them with what we do know!

The two other lines in the piece worth noting are Davis’ quote that the team has been expanding (which, again, we knew because Anet has announced it several times, but it’s still great news) and that ArenaNet has “seen over a million new Guild Wars 2 fans play the game.” That quote didn’t specify a time period for that population boost (or mention how many of them stayed or purchased an expansion), but the context implied that it’s since the Steam launch as Davis said, “These new users aren’t all coming in through Steam – we’re seeing a good proportion of them coming in through[.]”

We have no particular reason to doubt that Guild Wars 2 is doing quite well for itself, given the ongoing hiring and expansion plans; it earned expansion and studio of the year in 2022 as well as best MMO business model on its own merits, after all. But it’s certainly a reminder not to gobble up vague statements on mainstream press without a minimum of interrogation. Fortunately, we have years of harder numbers to rely on!

Source: PCGN, ArenaNet
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