GuildWars 2 and What Free Really Means

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…

Me and Bobby McGee, most famously sung by Janis Joplin

ArenaNet seems to be hitting some sour notes with its installed base.  First there was the announcement that anybody who purchased the upcoming Heart of Thorns expansion for GuildWars 2 would get the base game for free.  At least there was that free character slot goodwill gesture when people were unhappy.


But then there was the second hit of the one-two punch, an announcement that the base game would be free in and of itself.  Thanks to everybody who forked over $59.99 or more at launch, but now we’re just giving it away.

Strange times in the Buy To Play corner of the MMORPG market I guess.  Certainly ANet never felt the need to give away the original Guild Wars base game back in the day.

But that was then and this is now.

Here I suppose we see an interesting intersection of the realities of the current market.

The problem of expansions… at least the problem with multiple expansions… is an old one at this point in time.  EverQuest, EverQuest II, and World of Warcraft have all had to address the “too many damn expansions” problem as the games progressed, which ended up with all of them giving away some content for free.

In Norrath the plan after a while was that buying the latest expansion would roll up all the previous ones as part of the price.  There was an interim period of roll-up packages with names like EverQuest Platinum and EverQuest Titanium, but eventually that became too cumbersome.  EverQuest II went straight to the “all previous expansions” route with Echoes of Faydwer if I recall right.

eqplatadPeople who bought every expansion at launch still paid a lot more money, but it simplified the task for those just jumping in, or those returning to the game, in getting all the right software on their drive.  There was an era when you had to buy all these in box form from your local retailer.

In Azeroth, Blizzard’s plan has been to stack expansions at the other end of things, giving you a range of expansions with the base game while leaving the latest and greatest for sale separately.  Again, those who waited long enough got stuff others paid full retail price for.

So giving away some content for free that was previously available only at a monetary cost has been established as something of an industry practice, or at least a reflection of industry reality.  Not everybody has doe this.  I think Turbine has held the line for Lord of the Rings Online, where you have to buy each of the expansions individually and in the correct order.  But part of their F2P plan is to sell content, so giving some away would seem counter-productive I suppose… though that is probably why their insta-level option is limited to level 50, as beyond that requires expansions.

But I haven’t heard of anybody making the base game free upon launching an expansion nor doing a bundle deal, base + expansion with just the first expansion.

Expansions for free, sure thing. EVE Online has been doing that for more than a decade.  It was also a thing in Lineage II and a few more games.  Content keeps people subscribed.

So giving away the base game after building your business on B2P is new. Yes, there are some restrictions that come with free, many of which sound somewhat familiar to those who watch the F2P side of the MMO market, as laid out on this chart, though others, like things locked until level 30, are interesting.  You can ask how free is free with that, especially when you can still buy into that sort of odd middle group of players, like myself, who bought the base game at one point but who likely won’t buy expansion.  And where are they left in the grand scheme of things?

I suppose they could have decided that they aren’t going to sell many more copies of the base game without letting people play first.  After all, they’ve cut the price and then discounted even that by as much as 75% at times to get every last interested customer to buy in.  So maybe that cupboard is bare, but they see potential in the now somewhat standard F2P “free with annoying restrictions” model.

Of course, the base game has also lost value over time.

If you bought the box on day one, just about three years back, at full retail price you were looking forward to a couple years worth of special events as part of the deal.  All of that, save maybe the Super Adventure Box, is in the past now, never to return.  If you joined the game today, you would not get to experience any of that.  Perhaps it is too much to ask that people buy a game where much of the content is done.

Or maybe ANet just doesn’t want anything standing in the way of selling their new box.

If only that were sole issue stirring up GW2 players.  Where is that theory in which developers should listen to the customers who paid the most money now?

5 thoughts on “GuildWars 2 and What Free Really Means

  1. Anthony Nichols

    If GW2 had only been out for a years I would see them giving it away as bad. But it’s been over 3 years now. Most (non-MMO) games that were released 3 years ago have been attached to a Humble Bundle, a heavy Steam Discount and drastic price cuts…

    I preordered GW2 and don’t have any regrets about it (although I will admit I haven’t played it at all in the last 2 years). However, for anyone who purchased it in the last 12 months I can see how this would suck.

    I have bought games before at the full price, then a few weeks later see them get added to a Humble Bundle or placed on sale and feel a little bitter about paying full price… But what do you do?


  2. bhagpuss

    I have no truck with the nonsensical argument that because someone paid X dollars for something Y years ago it’s somehow unethical to sell that thing for less at a later date. Even giving it away for free has no impact on and should be no concern to original purchasers. You made your buying decision according to the circumstances that prevailed at the time and you got value (or not) accordingly.

    I don’t think ANet are even interested in the F2P market anyway. This is being misrepresented by them and misreported widely by the media as GW2 “going F2P”, when it really is nothing of the kind. What they are doing is mothballing the base game in terms of future development (they have stated openly that other than holiday events there will be no further content drops outside of HoT) but keeping it up and running as a kind of extended free trial.

    Yes, you can play “GW2” for free now and for just under a couple of months that does mean the full game. From October 23rd onward, however, Heart of Thorns will, to all intents and purposes, *be* GW2. As time goes on, the free “base game” will be about as meaningful when compared to the full “GW2 experience” as WoW’s free-to-20 trial is to that game.

    That is, of course, if they stick to this plan through several more expansions. The history of GW2 development so far suggests that’s extremely unlikely. If this doesn’t go as they expect (and I don’t think it will) I’m sure they’ll come up with a new New Direction as badly thought-out as the last three or four have been.


  3. Sylow

    About not hearing of a game where the base game is free, listen to the sound of Anarchy Online. The base game plus the first expansion are free since a long time, only the further expansions cost money. The system works and turned out to be a very good idea. During my time in AO we had several people in our guild who used the free option for a long time. I think the record holder played for over two years before buying the first expansion but in the end everybody of them bought a few of the expansions, creating income.

    And on the “suspicion” that ArenaNet wants nothing to stand in the way of selling the new box: i think that is absolutely true and i also think that it’ll turn out allright for them.

    But alas, all in all i also don’t get the whole “but i have paid” cries. We have paid but we also have played three years (or at least for one year, in worst case) when those who did not pay money have not. And we have played under good conditions, without the limitations the F2P brings, so we had a better time than those who might now play for free (for a little, till they spend money) can experience.


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Sylow – My statement was a little more specific than just making the base game free. After all, we can point at lots of subscription to F2P transitions, such as AO, where the base game went from costing money to being free.

    GW2, like the original GW, has been operating under the B2P model where selling boxes is the vast majority of the revenue. Giving away the base product, or what was once the base product to give Bhagpuss his due, does seem to be a slightly different tale in my book.


  5. MMOGamer

    Some users will be sour for a short while, but I think the industry is going to be shocked at how successful F2P Guild Wars 2 is going to be. The formula for success is there – amazing game that’s now open to everyone. Once players get a taste for it, they’re going to buy it and continue making money for Arena net with incremental cash shop purchases. Keep an eye on this one – you read it here first, GW2 F2P is going to be HUGE.


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