It's hard to believe NCSoft's Guild Wars launched four years ago today. When it was released people were shocked at the amount of content the game delivered without charging a monthly fee - which quickly made it popular with gamers still reluctant to pay for a game they've already purchased. In many ways, Guild Wars set a standard for online gaming, drawing a line in the sand where online RPGs ended and MMORPGs started.
Since launch, the game has remained a huge success. Several Campaign Expansions have been released, expanding on the play for a small price, and a sequel has been announced, which is to be a larger, more "MMO-like" experience," while retaining the free-to-play mantra.
In honor of the game's fourth anniversary, we are celebrating in style. First, here's an interview with producer Colin Johanson, where he talks about the game's past, present, and future. Next, check back tomorrow for a contest to win one of four copies of Guild Wars, one for each year. We're incredibly clever, aren't we?
The interview is below...
It's been four years since the game hit store shelves, what has changed?
So much has changed! The game was originally designed to be something players could play through in PvE and then when they were done, play PvP for the long term as the end game. The idea of people playing the PvE aspect of Guild Wars for long periods of time was pretty foreign and somewhat unexpected to us at the time of the original Guild Wars campaign release. We never really thought of the game as an MMO for that very reason, but we found our customers were looking for reasons to keep playing the game like it was an MMO. As a result, we started tailoring the game to have long-term goals for players and focusing our design process on finding ways to keep the game interesting both in the short term and the long term.
What does Guild Wars have that keeps people coming back?
I think the greatest draw that keeps people coming back to Guild Wars is the lack of monthly fees. Your account is always there, waiting for you to come back and start up a new character, or pick up your old character to play through the story again, or jump into some PvP matches. It’s amazing to see how often people will leave for a while to try a new game, play it for a while, get bored with it, and then jump back into Guild Wars.
We have so many diverse parts of the game to explore and experience that there is always something to do that keeps it new and fun. With all the different styles of PvP matches and the different story campaigns, mini-games, elite missions, and new additions being added by our fantastic live content team, you can always find ways to entertain yourself in Guild Wars.
Content-wise, I feel like the holiday festivals in Guild Wars serve as our biggest draw to bring people back into the game. The festivals are light-hearted and fun, and our user base usually goes through the roof whenever one of the major festivals rolls around. It’s fun to see how the player base grows during the festival, and then in the weeks that follow as people find themselves hooked on Guild Wars again. Our Live Team works hard each year to take the holiday festival magic to the next level by supporting all major systems of the game with updates and new additions. Soon we’ll release our first major build with the full Live Team staff, and I think our fans are going to be blown away by the kind of support the Live Team brings to the game. They will keep giving all our fans plenty of reasons to keep coming back for years to come.
What has been the most popular addition to the game post-launch?
To this day, I think the most popular addition we ever made to the game was something we did as a “thank you” to all our fans for buying the original Guild Wars campaign: the Sorrow’s Furnace Update. We went to work on that project right after Guild Wars launched, and the entire company had this incredible amount of time to work on a relatively small amount of content. We’d all take turns playing Guild Wars during the day, and then go build parts of Sorrow’s Furnace. We’d spend weeks at a time with everyone testing just a few small quests. We dumped an incredible amount of fun, love, and polish into that project. In retrospect, I think we spent about as long on Sorrow’s Furnace as we did on the first half of Factions™ or Nightfall™, and it shows in the quality and polish of the work. We all had a blast working on Guild Wars every day, but I can’t remember any project I enjoyed more than Sorrow’s Furnace, and I feel our fans enjoyed it the most because of how much we all adored working on it.
Have there been any additions that might draw in new users?
We have made many additions that were meant to draw in new users—too many to count, and there are many more still to come! Probably the biggest change we made to draw in new users was the addition of Heroes in the Nightfall expansion. Heroes opened up the game for people who tend to play alone rather than with other players. Nowadays if you can’t find another player to help you with a specific mission, or if you just want to tackle the mission by yourself, you can always grab your custom-designed Heroes and bring them along to complete just about any of the content in the game.
Guild Wars rose to popularity in large part thanks to its lack of a monthly charge and constant updates. How has the community reacted to the full campaigns?
The community responded extremely well to the full campaigns we’ve done over the years. It’s interesting to read the fan forums and see people talk about their favorite campaigns: there is always a mix of people who love each of the different campaigns, and for different reasons. Every major campaign brought a mix of very different styles of gameplay and content that changed the way people could play the game. Everyone has a campaign they love the most, and typically one they aren’t as fond of, but it’s very rewarding to see that various aspects of our community enjoy all three.
When Factions first came out, not all of our community was totally thrilled with it. The game departed from some of the things the original Guild Wars campaign did—it focused on aspects that were intended for players who didn’t necessarily have a game type designed for them in the original Guild Wars campaign. We used to joke that we fired the entire Factions team to appease the members of the community who were not thrilled with that campaign. In retrospect, a lot of the people who didn’t enjoy parts of Factions at the time now actually say they enjoyed that campaign the most, as they realized the things it brought to the game were things they really liked.
It’s often hard to judge how much people truly enjoy a game (or campaign) when it comes out. Years later, the memories they have of the time they spent playing are more telling. Based on the reactions that all our campaigns get now, when the community looks back on the time it spent playing Guild Wars, I feel our campaigns have provided our community with an incredible amount of fun.
What is your position with the Guild Wars team?
I am a game designer with the content design team. I am currently responsible for helping oversee the development of the events and the event system in Guild Wars 2™.
Are you a player?
We generally save the title of “player” for fellow content designers Jonathan and Albert. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that way back in the day, certain founders of ArenaNet were “players” in their own right!
I do still play Guild Wars from time to time with some long-time friends of mine. However, with development of Guild Wars 2 rolling along, I generally spend most of my gaming time building the new game and making it as good as possible. It’s hard to play other games while knowing in the back of your head you really want to play the game you’re in the middle of developing. After playing anything else for a short period of time, more often than not I find myself going back to build Guild Wars 2.
What is your favorite class/area?
My favorite class was always the Mesmer. I absolutely love the strategy of coming up with builds to nullify and cancel other characters’ abilities. Being able to take out a Monk with the right combo of hexes and interrupts in Random Arenas is something that just never stops being fun! When Guild Wars first launched, it was my singular goal to find a way to make a viable signet build. It took three expansions and endless hounding of Isaiah, but finally in Eye of the North™ we not only had some good signet builds, we had some that were even a little overpowered. If you run into a guy in Random Arenas who is rolling around, trying to win using all signets, odds are it’s probably me.
As for favorite areas, I think nothing compares to the initial experience in Eden (pre-Searing) in the original Guild Wars campaign. The Sorrow’s Furnace Update was my favorite to build, but Eden remains my favorite place to play around. The game just always feels “right” there for some reason. I’ve never been able to put my finger on all the things that make it so great, but it’s a combination of everything that makes it a perfect place for me.
Do you have any memorable moments about the game, either from the developmental or player side?
One of my favorite memories from development comes from the very first holiday festival we tried to do. James (our lead designer) asked anyone who wanted to volunteer to hang out and toss some extra hours into a Halloween festival to join him in a meeting room one afternoon. I expected maybe a few people to be there, and for us to do some small project. Instead, the room was overflowing with people from nearly every department in the company, all volunteering their free time to make this festival as cool as possible. It’s moments like that when you realize the place you work is different from anywhere else, and the people you work with are truly special.
Will the team be doing anything special in the office to mark the anniversary? Have they done anything in the past?
We’ve done a lot of fun stuff in the past for the various anniversaries of the game, typically tied to the release of a new campaign. We’ve had some pretty big company parties. I don’t know what’s planned for this year, but I know we want to keep our focus on knocking your socks off with Guild Wars 2. We’ll probably save our next major celebration for when we release what we hope is the best game ever made. If our goal is anything less, we’re not giving our fans everything they have come to expect from us. I look forward to celebrating Guild Wars anniversaries for years to come, and Guild Wars 2 anniversaries as well. Down the road, I hope we’ll have some massive anniversary parties with all our fans and staff together. I think that would be great! Hopefully, there will be karaoke.
What will the future hold for Guild Wars updates?
Our Live Team is working feverishly right now to get our first major 2009 update out—it’s coming very shortly. I’ve taken a peak at a lot of the stuff in this update, and it’s freaking huge. I think our fans are going to be thrilled with the additions. Our Live Team is bigger now than it’s ever been, and they have some very ambitious plans combined with some very talented people. In terms of Guild Wars updates, fans have an awful lot of cool stuff to look forward to down the road.
Are there any more campaigns being created?
There are currently no additional major boxed campaigns planned for Guild Wars.
How is Guild Wars 2 development progressing?
Very well! We’re having a lot of fun putting this game together and we’re applying many of the things we learned from building Guild Wars. Everyone in the company is looking forward to unleashing all the info we have about Guild Wars 2 upon the world. Our company is in the very lucky position of being supported by a publisher that gives us the time and support we need to make AAA titles.
I’m a firm believer that great companies can’t make great games if they’re on tight schedules that don’t allow them to polish the little things that make a game great. Great companies can make amazing games when their schedules allow the staff to focus on all the little details that make a game shine. When you listen to people talk about the things they love about Guild Wars and the stuff that made their experience great, they almost always point to the little things that we added in the polish phase. NCsoft is giving us the time and support we need to make this the very best game we possibly can, and it’s going to show in the details—the little things players notice when playing through the game that make their experience stand out from everything else on the market.
I'd like to thank Colin Johanson again, and congratulate NCSoft and the entire Areanet team for 4 years of success. Don't forget to check back tomorrow to win a copy of Guild Wars! (Note: Interview answers modified after posting as per developer request.)