My favorite PC game for the past 16 years has been Guild Wars (2004) and its sequel Guild Wars 2 (2012). For those of you doing the math in your head and thinking Guild Wars has only been out for 15 years, well I am one of the lucky few to get into the closed beta that came out in October 2003. So yes I have been playing for nearly 16 years.
This past week ArenaNet the makers of Guild Wars announced a 25% cut in staffing, from 400 to around 260 employees. Included in those layoffs were some veterans in the company, who have been developing as long as I have been playing. It is really sad to see them go.
Word is that many of those 100 layoffs came not from Guild Wars 2, but from unannounced games that have been worked on in secret for the last 3 or 4 years. It only makes sense that a company that has only released two titles in its 19 years of existence would be working on other games, but it sounds like these projects are not in any state to make them releasable so they were cut.
Zoom Out Part 1: It’s not just ArenaNet
Guild Wars 2 has always played second fiddle to World of Warcraft, the biggest MMORPG ever. World of Warcraft is made by Blizzard, a division of Activision, and also suffered from hundreds of layoffs in the past couple of months. Last year a number of PC gaming studios closed their doors: Telltale games, Visceral Games, Gazillion, Carbine Studios, etc. Over 1000 job losses in one year alone.
Last time I checked, the gaming industry was doing fine, what’s with the mass layoffs?
One dominant theory is that the gaming industry is not growing like it used to, and layoffs is a way to artificially inflate profit in the short run. This doesn’t make that much sense. Why would a gaming company cut staffing in a growing industry?
Zoom Out Part 2: The issue is actually mobile games
The second biggest MMORPG of all time is Lineage, the vast majority of the players are in South Korea, which why you may not have heard of it. It is the main source of income of NCSoft, the parent company of ArenaNet.
Last year, a mobile version of Lineage was released in Korea. That mobile version reportedly made $233 Million in its first month, more than Guild Wars 2 ever made in any of the last 6 years.
So much that NCSoft is working on mobile versions of its other titles: Lineage2M, Aion2, Blade & Soul 2, Blade & Soul M, and Blade & Soul S. Notably missing is Guild Wars 2. I would not be surprised if that was one of the unspecified unfinished projects they were working on. If so, it is possible that a major factor in these ArenaNet layoffs had to do with their inability to make a Guild Wars 2 mobile game.
Update: One theory making the rounds is that the huge negative backlash of a Diablo Immortal mobile game may have freaked out the people making the Guild Wars 2 mobile game, which in turn led to the scrapping of the project.
Heavy speculation on my part: I notice that Lineage2M was developed by an outside 3rd party and is paying royalties to NCSoft for the privilege. Could NCSoft now be shopping around the Guild Wars 2 property to 3rd party developers to make a Guild Wars 2 mobile game? If ArenaNet was making a mobile game, then scrapped it after the Diablo fiasco, it is possible that the work so far may be sold by NCSoft as well.
A third party developer releasing a GW2 mobile game would not face the negative backlash that would happen if ArenaNet did it. Follow up speculation: How bad will this game be?
The upshot of this theory is that NCSoft will need Guild Wars 2 to continue to succeed. Otherwise the IP will become worthless.
Zoom Out Part 3: Mobile games are REALLY bad for gaming in general
Companies have fallen in love with mobile gaming. Nearly everyone has a phone they can play games on. I see this with my games. I primarily make games for PCs, but there seems to be big demand for mobile versions, because not everyone has a PC.
The thing with mobile games is that the freemium business model has taken over the industry, despite the really ugly dark side of this business model’s source of revenue.
Basically it is about getting “Whales”, people willing to pay hundreds of dollars in micro transactions to get really good at the game. So many games use this business model, that it is very tough to find mobile games that don’t use it.
I prefer to buy mobile games outright. I’d rather spend $5, $10, $20 or more for a mobile game that will give me hours of fun without trying to sell me crap. You literally can’t find games like this anymore.
So profitable have these micro transactions have become, that PC game companies are adding it to PC games that you pay full price for. EA has even bragged that every game it releases has some online element and micro transaction store.
Guild Wars 2 does this, too. The core game is free and you can spend $30 to $60 for the two expansions, which is all you really need to play everything the game offers. But they are constantly releasing cosmetic skins for weapons and armor, novelties, and other stuff that you can either farm gold to get, or just pay a few bucks for gems that can be turned into gold. I admit I spend a fair amount on Guild Wars 2‘s gem store, but not more than I can afford, and I never bought something and thought “This isn’t worth it.”
What Guild Wars 2 does not do is do anything “Pay to win”. You cannot buy armor or weapons that are better than the craftable armor and weapons you make by playing the game. But “pay to win” PC games are a thing these days, and gamers should not support them at any price.
So why exactly is this bad for PC gaming? Because the biggest driving force of the PC game is Single Player Games, which have a built in flaw: you really can’t do micro transactions in single player games. Therefore, they do not make as much money as multiplayer games. And yet there is still great demand for single player games.
Bottom line is that mobile gaming and PC\Console gaming are two different beasts, with two different player bases, but gaming companies decisions are not about pleasing the players, it’s about pleasing the bottom line.
Zoom Out Part 4: Players need to play smarter, and beat these developers at their own game.
It’s all about putting your money where your heart is. Support the games you actually enjoy. Be picky about what games you are willing to buy for $60 on opening day instead of $30 if you wait 3 months, or $10 if you wait a year.
Never support “Play to win” games or random loot boxes that result in duplicates. Ask yourself, “How much do I enjoy playing this game?”, and only spend what you think it is worth to you.
Best of all, support games that DON’T have micro transactions. If you are looking for a good mobile time killer, this is likely to be tough.