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Som Pourfarzaneh : Alternatives to Guild Wars 2’s Living World

Columns By Som Pourfarzaneh on December 19, 2014

Alternatives to Guild Wars 2’s Living World

When Guild Wars 2 launched, ArenaNet informed its player base that it would be pursuing a fairly aggressive update schedule, especially pertaining to its Living World.  Rather than implementing simple content updates or full-blown expansions, the developers would focus on building out the world and lore of the game while taking players along for the ride.

As has become fashionable, most other MMORPGs tend to follow a post-release schedule that includes smaller free updates, larger paid expansions, or both.  The Secret World, for instance, just launched its ninth Issue with The Black Signal, while EverQuest 2 released its eleventh expansion, Altar of Malice.  Unlike these examples, Guild Wars 2 has delivered mostly regular additions to its Living World, encouraging players to engage in dynamic events, achievements, dungeons, jumping puzzles, and other activities specific to particular story arcs.

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Before critiquing ArenaNet’s approach to Guild Wars 2’s Living World and discussing some alternatives, I think it’s important to mention what their update model does well, and what they’ve done to improve it.  First, ArenaNet has kept up one of the most impressive and consistent post-launch schedules of any MMO on the market.  At one point, they were on a bi-weekly release timetable, which is crazy talk, even though it has been suggested that they could have just as well taken more time to push out larger updates.  True, gameplay- and balance-related updates have taken much longer to percolate, but there has at least been consistently more content to play through.

Second, although the lore of Guild Wars 2 may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the ArenaNet team has done a stellar job in its effort to add to the narrative and make the world feel like a vibrant, mutable world.  Not all of the Living World updates have had the same reception among the player community, and some have certainly been more epic than others.  Still, it’s pretty amazing to think of just how many new (and free) stories have been told since the game’s launch over two years ago, especially in comparison to Guild Wars 2’s competitors.

Third, ArenaNet is proving itself to be willing to listen to player feedback and change the formula for Living World updates in order to find the right alchemy.  As intense as was Season 1’s schedule, players were forced to piece together the Living World narrative through pursuing new sets of achievements, which is not the most logical or immersive way to go about things.  Season 2 has a much more directed approach to storytelling and achievements, and for the most part, seems to work a lot better.  Adding the ability to replay through Living World episodes at your leisure is a very welcome addition, and although Season 2 hasn’t been perfect, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

At the same time, a larger issue with the Living World model in general is that the updates can make the player community feel like it’s been subsisting on mere snacks for more than two years.  We’ve seen the rise and fall of major characters like Scarlet Briar, hopped around through countless jumping puzzles, and done our best to dominate new nefarious dungeon mechanics, but we’ve yet to glimpse even the tiniest morsel about a new race or class.  We most definitely have not seen hide nor hair of a new game region (*cough cough* Cantha *cough*), and while the regular story updates are nice, it would be great to have more substantial additions to play with.

The obvious alternative to the current Living World model is, of course, an expansion.  Give us a couple of new races (dwarves and tengu) and a new class (dervish), add in a new megazone (Elona) to romp around in with new dynamic events, renown hearts, vistas, and points of interests to uncover, and maybe throw in an sPvP map or two.  Let us buy the whole thing for $40 and offer us a bunch of new things in the gem store.  Keep delivering on Living World updates, but if you have to dial back the update schedule a bit to implement the expansion, believe me, we’ll understand.

An expansion doesn’t have to be the only alternative to Living World, however.  The concept and cadence of Living World updates could be shifted to incorporate other high-demand game features, such as player housing and WvW improvements.  Rather than solely focusing on content, one or more updates could offer new game features, couched within some Living World narrative that lends itself towards a new dimension of gameplay.  If revenue is a concern, I dare say that some of these features - particularly player housing - could open up a huge array of cash shop items in the gem store.

There’s also the option of selling content and features in addition to Living World updates, although this alternative doesn’t seem to fit in with ArenaNet’s current transaction model.  As it stands, Guild Wars 2 has unwaveringly offered all content and features through a single purchase, with convenience and cosmetic items available in the gem store.  I don’t see the devs adding races, classes, zones, player housing, or anything similar for ad hoc purchase, and I’m not of the opinion that this is the best way to sell features in any case.  But offering something does seem to be necessary at this point in Guild Wars 2’s post-launch cycle.

Being a fan of ArenaNet’s work in general, I’m happy to keep supporting the current Living World model, particularly because there’s always so much to do in Guild Wars 2.  Still, I know the community is itching for new features and content outside the purview of the Living World, and I don’t think they’re asking for too much, this far out from launch.  Whether that means an expansion, rehashing of the current update system, or something entirely different, is anyone’s guess.  Hopefully whatever it is involves Canthan tengu!

What do you think are some alternatives to Guild Wars 2’s Living World?

Som Pourfarzaneh / Som is a Staff Writer at MMORPG.com and a Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.