There's going to be a Guild Wars 2 expansion in 2015. How do I know? I read it on the Internet!
OK, you need a little more than that to go on. What if I told you (Morpheus voice) the place I read it wasn't some random forum but on the investment brief for NCSoft from a Korean securities firm?
I've been following the statements put out by KDB Daewoo Securities for some time now, and they're generally informative and accurate regarding the South Korea-based NCSoft's plans. I say “generally” because one from early 2013 said that there would be a Guild Wars 2 expansion in the second half of 2013, and we can see how that prediction turned out.
So when I was looking through the most recent brief, and saw this at the end:
“However, NCsoft is scheduled to launch an expansion pack for Guild Wars 2 in the US and Europe in 2015.”
I thought “Yay!” And also “Well...”
Credible where credible's due
Is this even credible? Firstly, KDB Daewoo has more riding on their statements than, well, we do. If a gaming website says it thinks an expansion is coming, and it doesn't, the worst it does is anger a few people or cost a few page views the next time we make a claim. That's how sites make their money, granted, but the worst you as a reader have wasted is a little time.
On the other hand, if people invest real money in NCSoft because they believe what KDB says, and what they say turns out not to be true and costs people that money... well, that's when heads tend to roll. This isn't to say that KDB, or any investment firm, is infallible, of course, but I'm likely to trust more in the word of someone who has a lot more riding on that word and is paid a lot more than your typical MMORPG columnist.
All that aside, is KDB Daewoo reliable? I haven't parsed every statement they've made about NCSoft – not to mention all the other companies they've covered since their establishment in 1970 – and as I alluded to above, they've cried “Expansion!” before. But they seem to be predicting the financial ups and downs of NCSoft's MMO biz as well as anyone, and they have easier access to corporate HQ than any of us, having claimed to visit NCSoft's Korean offices last year around the time they made that expansion prediction. They also once claimed that NCSoft brought in $48 for every copy of Guild Wars 2 sold. That's too specific to be completely pulled out of thin air. It's not a perfect source for information, but it's better than most.
Is 2015 realistic?
So is 2015 a realistic date to expect a Guild Wars 2 expansion? It will have been at least two and a half years or so since the August 2012 launch – longer than most MMOs go before launching their first full expansion – so ArenaNet will have had plenty of time. Rumors of an expansion being plotted out run rampant, with people supporting both sides claiming it's possible (because GW2 is making tons of money and ANet is taking its time to get an expansion done right) or impossible (because the Living Story is sucking up all the development resources).
I believe the answer lies somewhere in between. I think that, if the Living Story didn't exist, we would get an expansion sooner than 2.5 years after launch. While I don't think having LS updates drains all the resources that could be spent on creating an expansion, it can't have zero effect. And, if there were fewer updates, less reason for people to log in regularly, and, in theory, fewer purchases in the Gem Store, there would be more clamor for an expansion – first from players, and then from the higher-ups at ArenaNet and NCSoft, who would want an influx of income.
Then again, I find it hard to believe that ArenaNet expects Living Story to be the only way new content is added to the game. I've always believed that an expansion is in the works. I think they don't feel pressured to get one because of the sales of the base game, and because, as much as people might debate its quality, the Living Story does keep bodies in the game and probably keeps money flowing through the Gem Store. In short, we'll probably get an expansion – wait for it – when it's ready. And I can believe that won't be until next year.
The case for an expansion
All of the speculation leads to this simple question: Do players want an expansion? Most would say “yes,” even the ones who like the Living Story and how it adds content to the game. Those who dislike it want an expansion even more. Then again, as accustomed as people are to having no subscription fee and tons of free content, will the “shock” of a paid expansion – probably at least $40 and maybe as high as $60 – feel too steep?
And what will we get in an expansion? A new land mass, like Cantha or Elona or something new altogether? New classes and playable races? New weapons? A new level cap? Those are the kinds of elements I think only really “fit” in an expansion, things that we're unlikely to see in a simple update. If you'd have asked me before the reveal at the end of the last update's final cut scene, I might have said a new, world-altering villain would also be the kind of thing that would get saved for an expansion. But can ArenaNet let “that” simmer for 10+ months? I suppose we'll have at least the start of an answer in a few weeks, as we see where the Living Story takes us.
What I'd wager we won't see are wholesale changes to the basic, underlying Guild Wars 2 gameplay ideals and mechanics. If you don't like dynamic events, or the lack of dual classes like in Guild Wars or a holy trinity or raids, I don't believe an expansion will appease you. They might “tweak” things a bit, as they've been tweaking big events to split people up better, and there are plans in the works to make it so Berserker's gear and DPS doesn't rule all. But altering the fundamentals of the game would require such a monument effort to rebuild – if it was determined that they were an utter failure – that ArenaNet might as well just work on Guild Wars 3 rather than try to overhaul them for Guild Wars 2.
In the meantime, you can believe I'll keep an eye on KDB Daewoo's statements until we hear something definitive from ArenaNet or NCSoft, which KDB considers “undervalued” and a solid buy. Hey, if you've got a few million won burning a hole in your pocket, you could do worse.