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From the Mind of Magi: Ramifications of Factions Success

Written by: Magi
Edited and Published by: Magi

If I were to suggest that the folks over at ArenaNet had a gun to their head when developing Factions, would you believe me? Some would say yes, others no. I suppose some credence can be given to those who would say no; what does a franchise that has had so much success have to worry about? Think about it: though subscribers aren't really tracked, Guild Wars surely boasts one of the largest user bases (which I think can be partially attributed to their no-subscription model) in the business today. Alternatively, as I've eluded to in previous editorials, Factions is the first real test to the no-subscription model - this is where the gun is to ArenaNet's head - so the question then becomes thus: did the team pass the test?

Before I delve too far into this question we must divide success into two categories: content and finances. Some industry experts would argue that the major problem with the no-subscription model is both of these factors. That is to say, can a major MMO deliver consistent content and survive financially without said subscription? While many, if not all, of us Guild Wars supporters can see clearly that the title can survive, many are not convinced yet. So how about we show the success by first looking at content.

So what was added in Factions? Let's see: two new profession, the Assassin and Ritualist. Despite the poor reputation that the Assassins seem to be generating, they are valuable and unique alongside the Ritualist. We also received a whole new land mass that had territory control of sorts, which was largely promulgated by Alliance Battles. Then of course there are all new missions as well: story, elite and co-operative. Despite the fact that the Guild Wars franchise is largely based around player versus player (PvP), there is sufficient player versus environment (PvE) content to keep players occupied for a long time. It goes without saying that the team provided more then enough content to warrant the $50 price tag.

While all of this is really nice, we have to compare it to other titles, like World of Warcraft, EverQuest II and Star Wars Galaxies. Though I do recognize that many of our readers at Guild Wars LQGaming are not interested in these titles, so I'll keep it brief.

Star Wars Galaxies is arguably the "anti-content" game of this business. That is to say, they have focused on constant professional balancing and core game overhauls. So that has occupied the vast majority of development time, but they have also delivered on some content but it has largely been in the form of expansions (which wasn't that much in my view). I think it's safe to say Guild Wars has Star Wars Galaxies beat in content delivery.

EverQuest II fared much better then Star Wars Galaxies, but did require some combat balancing. Though once they got past that they were able to add some viable, enjoyable content. That said, a good chunk of the content came from their myriad of adventure and expansion packs. Though if we take into consideration the Sorrow's Furnance update for Guild Wars, and if you would look at content progression between the two titles (leading up to the first expansion) it is fairly comparable (that is if we combine Guild Wars' PvP and PvE content).

World of Warcraft is the title that I have little to push against it. A quick look at the update history will show that they have done an awful lot: tons of raid dungeons, new PvP modes and world overhauls. In fact I will go out on a limb and say that have done more then Guild Wars has done with Factions and the Sorrow's Furnace update. That said, Blizzard does rack in over 5.5 million subscribers for World of Warcraft, and as such, much more development resources can be applied to it. In other words, the title should beat out everyone else in terms of content additions.

In retrospect I will say thus from these comparisons: Guild Wars has done a fairly good job in keeping up with most subscription based MMOs. You could even argue that us, as Guild Wars fans, are getting the "most bang for our buck." At the very least, we are not content-deprived as some observers suggested we would suffer from before the title launched. So has ArenaNet proven that the no-subscription model works as far as content is concerned? They absolutely have.

Part of this next "analysis", you could say, on the no-subscription model and its success is very limited to say the least. When we talk about finances we can only go so far. No matter how many times I bug ArenaNet, they would not even divulge a whisper of their finances of running our favourite game. That said, we can look at units sold and get a fairly good idea of how good it is doing and whether players are buying into it.

As reported earlier this week at Guild Wars LQGaming, the official website for Guild Wars issued a press release stating that Factions was the top selling PC game from April 23 - 30, 2006. That alone tells you that gamers are buying into the title, no pun intended, and the income is steady enough for ArenaNet to run a viable, efficient title. True, this argument seems a little weak but with the inability to track the user base makes this argument very limited. Though I suspect I could argue the millions of copies the original campaign sold as being indicative of this as well? That would be sufficient.

So despite the finances being virtually unavailable to me, I think it's safe to say that Factions ensured some financial stability to this title. Not to mention as well, the content the expansion provided is phenomenal. All of that considered, what I ponder now is thus: will more developers try their hand at the no subscription model? After all, the Guild Wars franchise is a top selling game and you can effectively charge more for an expansion and people will still buy it. So could we see that trend starting? Unfortunately my answer would be no.

I largely attribute this to the PvP content that is available in Guild Wars, and arguably being the focus of gameplay. Yes, I have stated that on an expansion to expansion basis, other titles don't square up but these other games are able to produce more stream-lined content (which of course results in more content overall). Though Guild Wars has never needed this emphasis on PvE content because of the emphasis on PvP so this hasn't been a concern to any current players. I will say this though: if ArenaNet can remain faithful to the "one expansion every six months" all of this could change, especially if they keep delivering loads of content. Suddenly, it seems, not only does Guild Wars remain the dominant PvP title but also can also compete with other subscription MMOs in terms of content. Could this turn heads? It could, but only time will tell.

So what did you think of this article? Did you like it? Did you find it useful? Or maybe you didn't like it at all? Be sure to tell us about it on this thread!

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June 5, 2006