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Summary:

Unless you’re a hardcore gamer, you’ve probably never heard of Guild Wars, and that would be strange, because after World of Warcraft, it’s arguably the biggest success story in MMORPG gaming. Its 2.5 million player base makes it second only to Warcraft, but it’s not even […]

Unless you’re a hardcore gamer, you’ve probably never heard of Guild Wars, and that would be strange, because after World of Warcraft, it’s arguably the biggest success story in MMORPG gaming. Its 2.5 million player base makes it second only to Warcraft, but it’s not even listed on MMOGchart.com, the online world tracker that’s become, if only by default, the industry standard. Guild Wars isn’t strictly an MMO (the publisher, NCsoft, refers to it as a CORPG, for “competitive online role-playing game”), and that might partly explain the relative dearth of attention: the industry isn’t sure how to categorize it. Then again, the lack of monthly subscriptions is probably another part of the problem: the industry isn’t sure how Guild Wars makes money, or is nervous that they do.

But how exactly can a company profit from a game with millions of players online, without charging regular fees? That’s something I wanted to know too. To get that answer, I talked with Robert Garriott, CEO and President of NCsoft of North America (and brother to Ultima creator Richard “Lord British” Garriott), and asked.

Guild Wars from the Server Side

When NCSoft acquired Arena Net, Guild Wars’ developer, Garriott and his team discerned an audience not being served by the traditional subscription-based MMO. (“There’s a large number of people who don’t want to pay 15 dollars a month”, as he puts it.) Guild Wars was designed from the ground up to capture that niche, with community and help tools that minimized the need for frequent customer service– a key money sink for MMOs. By Garriott’s estimate, Guild Wars incurs 80% less support costs than NCsoft’s more traditional MMOs, like their Lineage series. There are no Game Masters in Guild Wars, wandering around the world settling disputes and helping players—and charging NCsoft by the hour.

The other cost-saving feature comes from economy of bandwidth. MMO players know all about long download times, when a game has an update, with patches that often exceed 100 megabytes, and thousands of players simultaneously piling on, to get it. (“It can cost us a million dollars for an update patch,” Garriott says of other NCSoft MMOs. “You peak when you release a giant download.”) By contrast, Guild Wars streams its updates in small chunks, depending on what part of the world you’re in. “Instead of having peaks of bandwidth usage… [the update] streams it evenly over time, so the costs don’t peak.” Numerous areas and quests in the world are “instantiated”, meaning specially created only for a small group of players, and that also minimizes bandwidth, since it means tracking less player data across the wider world. Garriott estimates 100,000 people play Guild Wars across the US and EU at any given time, and 1.5-2 million total every month—and still, connection costs remain manageable.

MMO as Book Series

But how does NCsoft make money without monthly subscriptions? Here, Garriott likens the Guild Wars revenue model not to other MMOs, but a series of fantasy novels. The game comes with numerous sequels and expansions, which add to the world and the larger narrative. “You buy one book, you buy number one, number two… We figure people will read all of the chapters.” The risk is that a player buys just one, but, says Garriott, “If we can provide a compelling enough game, people want to play through the whole game.” As of a few months ago, 2.5 million people have bought Guild Wars. (The next standalone edition, Nightfall, goes on sale this week.)

Guild Lessons

So far, most MMOs based in the US/EU are monthly subscriber-based and adhere fairly closely to design elements innovated by early online worlds like Everquest and Ultima Online. Robert Garriott’s fear is too many developers are rushing to recreate World of Warcraft, and will end up with twenty imitations that don’t grow the market. “People should be taking risks to do different things and try to expand the market and business model and game design,” he says. If Guild Wars keeps succeeding, they may have to.

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  1. Runescape has a basic free level too, and then subscription as you become more immersed. Seems like a sensible model to me.

    Was at a 2nd Life conference the other day, the point was made that creating the virtual world is very expensive so getting users to do the work is a Good idea.

  2. yeh its a great game, i bought it quite cheap aswell, £15. one thing though is the MASSIVE download times. you start playing and imediatly it takes over an hour to install the game, then, when playing about 2 hours to load up the “ascalon city” map.my pcs ment to be fast aswell XD once its downloaded its quicker, but its one hell of a wait

  3. its an amazing game and its dead cheap and when you buy the game there are no monthly payments and it only took me 15 mins to get mine running chris you have a slow p.c lol :-)

  4. its an amazing game and its dead cheap and when you buy the game there are no monthly payments and it only took me 15 mins to get mine running chris you have a slow p.c lol :-)

    p.s runescape is rubbish

    1. runescape is to rubbish and it rocks just cuz u probly a noob on there or u keep dieing i got to lvl 130 in about 1 year or 3 quarters

      RUNESCAPE RULES YAY

  5. hi my name is rick and i was wondering if u can get my account back in guildwars cuas a girl in guildwars nightfall hacked my lvl 20 wolfstuner and she deleted all my players and my friend dark shadow ftw trid to help me but he didnt know how to get it back i used a demo account on guildwars to find somone to get it back but they tried but no they didnt get so can u help me get my account back pleas

  6. yes it is a cool game but why did they pute the lvl to 20 and why did they pute the swords and sheilds very low money? but its stil cool i like the fiery dragon sword and icey dragon sword those are my best swords

  7. I love the game i just got through playing the demo and as soon as i get my paycheck im going to buy it right away and i have got to thank the team that built this game to figure a way to not make monthly payments thank you.

  8. GuildWars is the best game I’ve ever played and can’t wait until I get the nightfall in a few days its been out a while just haven’t got it yet. can’t wait!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    and can some one tell me if a gaming controler would work a dual action logitech gaming controler email or IM at sea_cuban@yahoo.com
    GuildWars rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. In addition, whilst those paying a subscription are hammering away at the bandwidth trying to get their money’s worth, those who play Guild Wars are usually those who play MMORPG more casually and thus ncSOFT save even more on bandwidth.

    I like the quests, and sometimes just leave GW running in the background since it can be a pretty good screensaver. The music is amazing.

    I will never pay a subscription fee for any game I have bought, so Guild Wars targets somebody like me perfectly. There are only so many gamers in the world and there isn’t room for a lot of subscription based MMORPG.

    Those that are successful have specific audiences that outgrow their game eventually. I used to go on Habbo a lot when I was younger, as everyone at school was using it. Nowadays my account is dormant, and I never purchased a thing (I did blag a lot of stuff off other paying friends though :))

  10. I think you shouldn’t have to pay for a game that you might not even play everyday…You should have to pay for extra things in the game that way you can play for free but pay for more stuff so either way the makers of the game or whatever are going to get paid too. Many people would pay for extra stuff in the game also… if you look for example at the game rune scape many people are members that pay for more stuff to do in the game. That could be this game too! It looks like a lot of fun but I don’t think I’d be willing to pay for the same stuff and not be able to get any more out of it… in fact if it was for free I would most likely pay for the extra bonus stuff. I would really appreciate it if you would be able to do that or give me any other cool multiplayer chat games that I’m looking for…THANKS!

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