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A method for success: Guild Wars 2 sells 3 million copies in a changing MMO market

Guild Wars 2 is different from your average MMO, though it may not appear to be on the surface. ArenaNet’s game is built to avoid some of the structural problems that have hampered online role-playing games since the late ‘90s. It opened quests to players of varying levels so they can play together. It rewards exploration of the world and encourages you to wander freely rather than restricting you to specific regions dependent on how much time you’ve poured into the game. And like its successful predecessor, there are no subscription fees in Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet’s forward thinking has been well rewarded; the company’s sold 3 million copies of Guild Wars 2 since releasing the game in August.

The studio announced the sales milestone on Tuesday, boasting recent additions to the game like new PvP and PvE maps as well as a whole new dungeon called “Fractals of the Mist.”

Guild Wars 2’s success is a case study in what’s necessary to succeed in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game market in 2013. It was one of many high profile MMOs to open for business in 2012, including Funcom’s The Secret World, En Masse Entertainment’s Tera, and Electronic Arts and BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic (which technically released during the last days of 2011.) Unlike Guild Wars 2, those three MMOs all opened requiring monthly subscription fees from players. In the past six months, all of them have either dropped subscription fees entirely or plan to in the immediate future.

Even at their respective peaks, though, none of those games matched Guild Wars 2’s sales. Over 2 million players participated in the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta test, but a mere 1.7 million players were paying to play the game in February 2012 just after its release. That membership shrunk to 1.3 million by May and continued to decline across the year. The Secret World has sold just 300,000 copies since opening last year.

ArenaNet’s model, however, proves that a new MMO can open and build a substantial audience on expensive up-front sales. The game’s also steadily sold over the past few months. It sold 2 million copies within the first two weeks of release (including pre-orders), and its built steadily at a rate of more than 300,000 new players per month.

2013 will prove a momentous year for MMOs as Blizzard is expected to share details about its successor to World of Warcraft. Even now, though, we can be guaranteed that that game won’t have a monthly subscription fee.

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