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It's (Mostly) About The Money

Jason Winter Posted:
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I wasn't going to write about the revenant this week, mainly because I'd decided on a topic before Wednesday's reveal. I'll touch upon it briefly near the end of the article, and how it's relevant (a relevant revenant?) to the discussion as a whole, but I'll mostly be talking about money – specifically how much money Guild Wars 2 makes.

Hint: It's a lot.

A real won-ner

After NCSoft published its Q4 2014 financials last week, I found the archive of the company's earnings statements and decided to go back as far as I could to see just how much its various games brought in. I dissected all their games' sales going back a few years and went back even further to see what I could conclude about Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 specifically.

First, here's the chart of Guild Wars sales, from its Q2 2005 launch until Q2 2012, when NCSoft stopped breaking it out as an individual game and lumped it into the “Others” category:

And here's Guild Wars 2's sales, from its Q3 2012 launch until Q4 2014:

I could plot them together, but it wouldn't look good, especially for Guild Wars. The reason? Guild Wars best quarter (Q4, 2006, 18.635 billion Korean won (KRW)) is less than Guild Wars 2's worst quarter (Q4 2014, 19.272 billion KRW). In fact, in the time frame we have data for, GW brought in almost exactly 200 billion KRW, over a span of seven years. GW2 brought in just over 201 billion KRW in its first nine months. GW2 has made nearly three times as much in its first 10 quarters as GW did in its first 10 quarters – a time that included the base game plus all three of its campaigns/expansions.

Using the current exchange rate, GW brought in about $180 million. According to these statements, in its two years and change since launch, GW2 has brought in nearly 375 billion KRW, or just over $337 million. Yes, Guild Wars 2 clearly is a more expensive game that cost ArenaNet and NCSoft more to create than Guild Wars did, but I think it's safe to say it's recouped that investment and then some.

Now comes the hard part that a lot of people aren't going to like to hear but which needs to be said: Whenever someone asks, “I loved Guild Wars! Why isn't Guild Wars 2 more like Guild Wars?” – this is the answer. Guild Wars was a nice game, and it did quite well for itself, but it was limited in its appeal. ArenaNet saw much greater potential in a game that was more accessible and yes, simpler in many ways, and you can hardly blame the company for making it.

Or, to put it another way, if CCP thought they could multiply Eve's sales by three, they'd turn it into a theme park faster than you can say “World of Warcraft.” Someone tried that a while ago, though the results weren't quite as good as expected.

Culture clash

That said, it can be a difficult path to take, when you've built up a fan base for years, to try and “convert” them to a different game – one that some of them will undoubtedly hate just for the fact that it's not simply the same game, done better.

ArenaNet clearly wanted to make a more profitable game with Guild Wars 2 but couldn't completely alienate its Guild Wars fan base. On the flip side, they couldn't make a game that was that required a degree in Tyriology, because they needed to attract a much wider audience than that which originally played Guild Wars.

There are certainly various nods to Guild Wars fans in Guild Wars 2, but for the large part, it's its own game. It's that need for a connection that I think, in part, explains why the revenant exists. By letting players draw upon their love of the original game, through the use of legendary characters like Jalis Ironhammer, Mallyx the Unyielding, and Glint, it allows ArenaNet to cater to that Guild Wars fandom in Guild Wars 2. As someone who didn't get heavily into the original game, I'm sorta “meh” about the revenant (though I'll probably make one someday), but I'm sure hardcore Guild Wars fans are salivating over the ability to “use” the rich lore of the first game in the second.

But ArenaNet's still a business and, while the people who work on the game certainly love it, at the end of the day, it's about making a living. A lot of companies, especially in the free-to-play space, try to tread that line between turning a profit and keeping their fans happy, and I think ArenaNet does better than most – even when it seems like they don't.

Rabble, rabble, rabble...

Take last year's controversies regarding Super Adventure Box and Gem purchases. ArenaNet came out and apologized to fans, and I wrote that the company should be more fluid and maybe not be so rigid in their plans, lest too many players abandon the game before they have a chance to set things right and see their intricate plans come to fruition. But even as I wrote that, I knew I was lacking information – primarily what effect these seemingly “bad for the fans” decisions were having on what really mattered: sales. Gamers will often complain to high heaven about how much they hate something as they're resubbing or dropping another $50 in the cash shop, so does all the grousing really matter?

After seeing those sales numbers – which show a slight dip in the last two quarters of 2014, but nothing that would be too irregular for a two-year-old MMO with no significant content drops – I'm inclined to say it doesn't, or at least not nearly to the extent that hardcore fans with the loudest voices think it does. I also got that feeling when I interviewed Mike O'Brien at PAX South. My first question was about the effect recent controversies had on fans' faith in the company, and his answer was one of confidence in his company's vision, plan, and pacing – the kind of confidence that comes, perhaps, with knowing that for all the complaining, the game is doing just fine.

Yes, the fans still matter, though it's likely we get an inflated sense of our self-worth at times. I suppose I should be more worried about a game that tried to change rapidly, rather than one that changes slowly like Guild Wars 2, since it's probably an indication that the developers need to make those changes in short order to stay afloat. (Speaking of which, if you're a WildStar fan, don't look at those NCSoft financial statements.)

Doesn't mean I'll stop pointing questionable stuff out, though! Gotta keep those guys on their toes, after all. Dance for me, O'Brien, dance!


Jason Winter