Guild Wars 2 Goes free – Arenanet tells us why the MMO is embracing the free-to-play model

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Guild Wars 2 is one the best MMOs on PC today. It’s a slick, fun, well-designed game that makes World of Warcraft look stuffy and lifeless in comparison. In our review we called it “an accomplished and rewarding online RPG that does a great deal to reclaim the promise of its genre.” And now the core game is free for you to download and play.

“As we start to release expansions, it raises the question: in a buy-to-play business model, what exactly do we want you to buy in order to play?” ArenaNet president Mike O’Brien told PC Gamer recently. “We’ve seen other games go in different, more complicated directions. Sometimes you have to buy the base game and then every expansion so that you can get the latest stuff and play with your friends.”

But ArenaNet wants to try something simpler. The developers think that if people love the base game that much, they’ll naturally want to buy into the paid expansion, Heart of Thorns. “The expansion pack is such great value,” says O’Brien. “There’s so much content, not only in the expansion pack but in all the free updates that will come past that.”
The catch is that the core game will no longer receive content updates. You’ll have to buy Heart of Thorns if you want any new things to do, including raids. “That makes it really easy for us,” says O’Brien. “We’ve made it so that anybody who wants to check out Guild Wars 2 can check out Guild Wars 2 – and can really check it out, not some free-to-play monetised version of the game.” There won’t be any additional fees, he reassured us, besides the gem store, which has been in the game for a while now.

“The free-to-play model can be very aggressive,” O’Brien says. “Games are often designed so that you can only play so far before you really start having to pay money. We’re just not doing that at all. This is a buy-to-play game, and we are making the base game free. We designed Guild Wars 2 assuming that it was a game we were selling. “It’s really Important to us that we protect the great people playIng our game”Now we’re not selling it, but it’s the same game, and you can experience it for free.”

There will be some restrictions for free players. Free accounts can only have two active characters at a time, compared to the usual five, and three bag slots. There are also restrictions in place to stop spammers and griefers, including being limited to initiating a whisper conversation once every 30 seconds and not being able to take part in competitive World v World until level 60. But as far as free-to-play MMOs go, this is remarkably generous – especially compared to something like The Old Republic, which turned into a garish storefront.

“Players coming into the game are going to get the full authentic experience, but the community is not going to change,” says O’Brien. “You’re going to have a bunch of new players, but it’s going to be the same friendly community it’s always been. It’s really important to us that we protect the great people we have playing our game, and so we’ve been tweaking constantly. We’ve been working on various iterations of this free-to-play model for about a year now, making sure that we get it right.”

Guild Wars 2 is a generous MMORPG that streamlines much of the busywork that defines the genre. And its world events encourage strangers to work together, making it feel much more social and friendly. Now that it’s gone free-to-play, you have no excuse not to try it for yourself

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