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Inside the World of Guild Wars

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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, 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.

47 Responses to “Inside the World of Guild Wars”

  1. Yo, I started playing Guild Wars a little under a year ago and I think that it is a relly good game. Right befor I got this game I was about to get WOW but then my big bro showed me the Guild Wars and I was thinking to my self, man im glad I got a good brother like him cause if I would have got WOW then found out about GW I would have been so mad. Then I talked to one of my friends about GW since he had WOW I said that this game has better graphics and that GW also had a completly better story line. And that there is more in GW then there ever was in WOW. Also that WOW takes alot longer to beat the game and GW is better of its very well writen stories. All I want to say is that GW ROCKS!! and that I cann’t wait till GW2 comes out.


    i say one thing why do i need to pay for a game ive already purchased? answer no reason
    i respect other games lovers but i gotta say i tried almos all online games now and i tell you guild wars gives what games are ment for FUN and COMPETITIVITY –not only going everywhere saying im level 80 cause i payed 4 years and threw my life away infront odf my pc–

  3. I bought the game on june 2005, and with some pauses I’m still playing it. People can say anything about Guild Wars, but this is a game that defined my life :D. I loved every single moment playing it. And I can’t wait till Guild Wars 2 is out :). Respect to all GW fans :))

  4. Guild wars is the most boring game ive ever played . play age of reckoning u mite have to pay monthly but its actually worth playing and wow isnt boring. guild wars pvp is only fun for like 5 months and the pve is boring. just cause a games free doesnt make it good. just cause wows graphics is worse doesnt make it a terrible game, its the gameplay you hav to look at, and yes from the pics gw does look better but when u actually play it, it’s horrible. ( my opinion )

  5. gw is great way better then WoW wows graphics suck gw is way better and wow is very boring and slow in the begining and has crappy storylines when gw has a great story line to go along with all the expansions lots of different skills and wepons and armor to work for although i would like to see the lvl cap be raised a little bit its just exciting when ever u lvl up lol but yea i give gw 10 out of 10 and wow like 2 out of 10

    Kyro Shadowreaper Dervish/Monk =]]

  6. i realy don’t know…ive been playin WoW for more than 2 years…and i think ive played every online game on the planet lol…yeah ive heard about “Guild Wars” and all the people who talks like crazy about it…so i told myself…why not…i’ll give it a try,Now this is only my opnion…Sorry guys but WoW remains the BEST online game ever made with NO Computation,But ofc like i said…it’s only my opnion,Tho i realy think if they worked more on Guild Wars it can be pretty amazing.
    Cya All


  7. brooks

    i agree with brad wow is not a skill based game for sure you attack once and then not again for melee so its boring in pvp i played wow for 1.5 years and all i have acomplished is a lev 28? and alot of lev 10 so it takes sooooooo long to lev and even if you get a lev 70 whats the point of playing with it griding is soooo boring so i would go with gw because wow cant get n e worse of course i like it but after ur not a noob anymore its so boring well i kind of still am a noob but who cares i would not recomend wow cause it cost alot and you can find better online games like warrock its awesome its free or 15$ 5 or 10 so its exactly lie online call of duty u can download it on or were u can find other great games

  8. I played WoW since beta, had 3 lvl 70’s, and 4 others lvl 60+. Let’s say out of 3 years of play time I have over 1 year of actual time played. I recently dropped it as I was completely unhappy with the armor grind it has become since The Burning Crusade. Picked up GW Prophecies, then got Factions, and now I’m in Nightfall. I wish I had tried this game when it first came out. PvP in WoW is nothing more than an afterthought and the skills are ridiculous that you can use em all, I mean every time you see a class in PvP you already know what theyre gonna do. GW takes a lot more skill and as they say it’s a skill based game. Wife and I have frozen our 3 WoW accounts now and are heavily into GW, best game I’ve played in a looong time : )