Why Guild Wars 2 Triumphed Where Others Failed

Every studio has been chasing Blizzard for years in the quest to create the next WoW-killer. In typical video game industry mindset, they reflected that they needed a game just like World of Warcraft, with a subtle twist, be it full VO (Bioware – SWTOR), high-end graphics (Funcom – Age of Conan) or a powerful franchise (Lord of the Rings). You name them.

Every studio has been chasing Blizzard for years in the quest to create the next WoW-killer. In typical video game industry mindset, they reflected that they needed a game just like World of Warcraft, with a subtle twist, be it full VO (Bioware – SWTOR), high-end graphics (Funcom – Age of Conan) or a powerful franchise (Lord of the Rings). You name them. Sometimes the twist was so subtle it was hardly a difference, like Aion’s pitch that you would be able to fly from the get-go.

All of them failed, of course. And they did because the WoW players have been craving for something different for years, not the same goat with a new dye of fur.

Back in 2005, ArenaNet sent a signal that they knew better. Is it a coincidence they used to work for Blizzard? I don’t think so. The release of Guild Wars showed that things could be done differently. GW was the first triple-A MMO that didn’t have a subscription fee. That was a powerful message with many connotations we are just starting to understand in 2012, with the release of the second installment in the series. Many have argued that GW couldn’t compete with WoW because it was not a real MMORPG, and they are right. Guild Wars has been called a CORPG – Cooperative Online Role-Playing Game, and it’s a fair distinction. Guild War’s PvE mode lacked the persistence and social aspect that characterize WoW. But it was a hint that there were other roads to be explored. No studio really understood the message and none of them followed suit. They insisted in copying the Blizzard model, which had been showing signs of wear for years.

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Now ArenaNet has made their next move – and it’s a checkmate. By following the same principles that guided the first Guild Wars, they have added the only two elements they needed to compete with WoW on the same base.

Guild Wars 2 is persistent, its PvE is social – and boy, it is fun.

When I was in EA we were deeply concerned about how boring SWTOR’s gameplay was. And that was back in 2010. They finally realized the truth and decided to delay the game for another year to try to fix it. The final build was more fun by several orders of magnitude than the previous, but it was still not enough. It felt like another WoW. They failed to innovate in any sensible way. They bet everything on the franchise, the VO and Bioware’s signature narrative (which if you have played Mass Effect 3, you’ll know it’s not what it used to be anymore). Lucasarts realized the game was going to fail and forced a new deal in 2011 that would remove them from the production credits. George Lucas may be a bad moviemaker, but who can doubt he is a terrific businessman.

Guild Wars 2 claims to be unique in the genre by featuring a storyline that is responsive to player actions, something which is common in single player role-playing games but rarely seen in multiplayer ones. A dynamic event system replaces traditional questing, utilising the ripple effect to allow players to approach quests in different ways as part of a persistent world. Also of note is the combat system, which aims to be more dynamic than its predecessor by promoting synergy between professions and using the environment as a weapon, as well as reducing the complexity of the Magic-style skill system of the original game. As a sequel to Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2 features the same lack of subscription fees that distinguished its predecessor from other commercially developed online games of the time, though a purchase is still required to install the game. As reported by NCsoft and ArenaNet, by September 13th (about 2 weeks after launch), despite temporarily halting first-party sales, the game has sold over 2 million copies. The game’s peak concurrency exceeds 400,000 players.

Guild Wars 2 is called to rock the MMO world. It doesn’t look like WoW. It doesn’t play like it. It doesn’t feel the same at all. There are many excellent reviews out there explaining the differences, some at WhatCulture. Check them out.

My point is that ArenaNet got it. While Studios were chasing Blizzard, players were waiting for something different that justified shifting games.

And then it came Guild Wars 2 and set the bar for everyone else from today on. It’s a triple-A, it doesn’t require a subscription and the gameplay is fresh, new and extremely fun.

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