Guild Wars 2 Q&A – ArenaNet on Switch to Yearly Expansions, Secrets of the Obscure Learnings, and 2024 Updates

Following the MMORPG’s 10-year anniversary celebrated last year, ArenaNet has picked up steam (partly thanks to joining Valve’s namesake store) with the ongoing development of Guild Wars 2.

The Bellevue-based developer released the fourth expansion, Secrets of the Obscure, in August, and there’s more coming between free content and paid expansions with the new yearly model. Wccftech had the opportunity to access the studio’s end-of-year blog post in advance, where ArenaNet confirmed Secrets of the Obscure has been a financial success and promised that the next update (which includes new story chapters, the Temple of Febe Strike Challenge Mode, nine new weapon proficiencies, the ability to unlock the new legendary armor, and a Wizard’s Vault reward refresh) would arrive early next year.

At the same time, we were able to set up a chat with Game Director Josh Davis to discuss the big changes to the game’s development pace, their learnings from the Secrets of the Obscure, and what the future looks like for Guild Wars 2.

By the way, there’s a 75% discount available from today to January 4 on the first two expansions (Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire), which are priced at $7.49, while the third expansion (End of Dragons) is 50% off and priced at $14.99. These discounts are available both via the official website and Steam. Moreover, the official website also offers the Elder Dragon Saga Collection (the first three expansions) at $19.99.

There was a 4.5 year-span between 2017’s Path of Fire and 2022’s End of Dragons. Now, though, you’ve settled on a much quicker pace for the expansions. What prompted this change? Will you attempt to keep the yearly expansion model for the foreseeable future?

There are two main drivers behind this change. First, we want to provide a better game experience to fans by adopting a more consistent release cadence, eliminating extended ‘content droughts’, and increasing support for the core game (WvW, Fractals, etc.). Second, we wanted to adopt a dev cycle that would allow our team to maintain a healthy work/life balance. We’re in a marathon, not a sprint. The structure of this approach allows us to take a long-term outlook toward planning, which helps with scheduling and staffing.

In terms of the future, we’re actively working on an expansion for 2024 (expansion 5) and planning one for 2025 (expansion 6), which is about as far into the future as we can reasonably foresee.

You’ve said Secrets of the Obscure was financially successful for ArenaNet. Can you share a ballpark of how many developers you’ve got actively working on Guild Wars 2 content (rather than possibly on other projects) now? Also, how big is the Steam player base compared to those who play through the regular launcher?

Our current team size is roughly what it was during the development of Living World Season 4 and about 15% larger than it was at the release of End of Dragons in 2022. Thanks to the support of our fans, we’ve been able to grow our team in recent years, but we’ve been very careful not to expand too quickly or beyond our means. Maintaining stability for our employees is a top priority for myself and the rest of our leadership team.

It’s worth noting that the GW2 team is fairly small compared to many of our direct competitors – in some cases, we’re less than half the size of other studios. We’re scrappy! This isn’t new for us – our player-friendly monetization philosophy and lack of subscription fees create some tight constraints for us to work within that others don’t necessarily have to contend with. But this is a trade-off we’re happy to make.

As for Steam, it remains a small proportion of our overall player base, but this wasn’t a surprise to us, given that GW2 was available for ten years on our first-party platform before launching on Steam. Most MMO players had likely heard of or experienced the game at some point.
However, something that’s been very interesting is how much our first-party new player acquisition has improved from being on Steam. Our new player acquisition numbers are the strongest they’ve been since 2016/2017. In fact, we saw more ‘first time players’ in 2023 than we did at any point during the COVID-19 pandemic ‘gaming boom’. This was a pleasant surprise!

You said you’re now able to take a more long-term approach to planning, with lessons learned from Secrets of the Obscure that will apply to Expansion 5 in ‘very meaningful ways’. Could you go into the specifics of which areas will be affected?

We’re learning a lot about how we develop and release content on this cadence, which absolutely has a downstream effect on the player experience. The overall shape of development between expansions 4 and 5 are very similar (timelines, resourcing, etc), even if the content and features are not. This means that we’re able to focus more on refining our development processes than reinventing them. The better that we can identify production issues like undocumented dependencies, bottlenecks, resourcing issues, etc, means that we can proactively address those issues in future dev cycles.

From our experiences with Secrets of the Obscure alone, we’ve adjusted development schedules, review processes, dev resource allocations, documentation and communication practices, and more. All of these contribute, to some degree, to improving the quality of what we deliver.

In Secrets of the Obscure, you have ditched the Elite Specializations added to each of the previous expansions in favor of new weapon proficiencies. Does that mean no more Elite Specs will be introduced in future Guild Wars 2 expansions?

We’re not ready to shut the door on Elite Specializations quite yet – it’s always possible that they’ll make a return in a future expansion. For now, we like the flexibility that focusing on weapons offers and we’ve proven out that we can add new layers of gameplay interaction through just the weapons themselves. We plan to focus on weapons for our next expansion, but we have a fun surprise in store to keep things fresh and exciting.

How did you settle on these specific weapon proficiencies for each class? Also, is the Ranger ever going to get a rifle/pistol?

There are many ways to go about designing new kits or abilities. For example, you might start by identifying interesting high-level themes and aesthetics and then building the gameplay around those concepts (e.g., a gunslinging necromancer). That’s how many of the base professions and elite specializations came to be in Guild Wars 2.

For Secrets of the Obscure, we chose a slightly different tact, focused on addressing shortcomings in each profession. We started the new weapon design process by identifying gameplay gaps in each profession’s kit across PvE, PvP, and World vs World. This included examining the high-level roles such as traditional boon support, healing, and damage, and more niche considerations like non-projectile ranged damage options for World vs World (due to the amount of projectile hate via reflects and blocks). The goal in all of this is to make more professions usable in a wider variety of contexts.

There’s plenty of gaps left for us to address, but we’re making good progress between the introduction of weapon mastery training, the latest weapon proficiencies, and our ongoing skills and balance work. As for the Ranger getting rifle/pistol, no comment!

You recently conducted the weapon proficiencies beta. Community feedback seemed to range from very positive to quite negative, depending on the class and weapon addition. Can you share any tweaks that will be based on that feedback?

We’re not quite ready to share any news, but we’ll be back early next year with a blog post that outlines the changes we’re making based on player feedback.

The Wizard’s Vault’s objectives seem a bit too skewed towards PvP. Is there any chance more PvE objectives can be added to the mix?

Yes! We plan to continue refining and adding new objectives across game modes for new and existing content alike.

In September, you essentially delayed the Alliance system in favor of going live with the long-anticipated World vs. World Restructuring. Is there any update you can provide on the Alliance system? Will it return at some point next year?

The terms “World Restructuring” and “Alliances” are often used by our community interchangeably, despite being very different things. World Restructuring describes the new team-based WvW matchmaking system that we’ve been developing for the past few years, while Alliances are a sub-component of that system that allows multiple small/midsize guilds to group together for matchmaking.

As we started digging into Alliances implementation, it became increasingly clear to us that we were on the path to building a system that would largely be duplicative of Guilds and the functionality that they offer. Players can already create alliance-like guilds that contain up to 500 players. Now, the main downside of this pivot is that not every player has a free guild slot they’re willing to use to join a new ‘super guild’. We’re actively looking into solutions for this that don’t require the steep development investment that alliances would. We should have more news to share on that front early next year.

For new players, navigating through Guild Wars 2’s many currencies can be confusing. Is there any plan to consolidate some of them?

Yes, we have a long list of core game improvements we’d like to make, and this is one of many items on that list. A comprehensive update to currencies is a big undertaking, so we’re likely to do it in smaller chunks as time allows. For example, we took a step towards currency unification last year with the consolidation of dungeon currencies into Tales of Dungeon Delving.

The base game’s dungeons look a bit like leftover content at this point, but they can be really cool in terms of story and atmosphere. Did you consider adding Challenge Modes to make them relevant once again for the endgame loop?

No, this is not something we’re currently considering.

As a follow-up on the endgame topic, could you share which activities you plan to focus on for future improvements and expansion?

In the first half of next year, we’ll be introducing the Temple of Febe Strike Mission Challenge Mode and a new 5-player Fractal Dungeon and Challenge Mode. Beyond that, I think fans will be pretty stoked when they hear about our plans for endgame PvE content in our next expansion!

There is a growing interest in alternate modes, like hardcore servers, classic servers, etc., in the MMORPG genre. Do you have any plans to offer anything like servers with more challenging PvE difficulty, for example?

It’s an interesting idea, but it’s not a priority for us. Trend chasing is inherently risky and can potentially alienate your existing fans if it goes poorly. From what we’ve observed in the industry over the past few years, it usually doesn’t pan out. For now, we’re focused on serving our current community and making Guild Wars 2 the best it can be.

Since it sounds like the game will be supported for many years to come, are you evaluating the addition of modern rendering features such as TAA support (which could, in turn, open up to upscalers like NVIDIA DLSS and AMD FSR)?

As for TAA or DLSS support, it’s not a priority for us right now, but it’s certainly a possibility down the road. There’s plenty of lower hanging fruit that we’d like to get to first. We believe Guild Wars 2 will be around for years to come, so we’ve been putting an increased focus on long-term tech investments, both in terms of ‘player-facing’ improvements (visual fidelity, performance) and developer-facing improvements (tools and workflow). We completed our upgrade to DX11 from DX9 earlier this year, and on top of unlocking some small performance improvements, it’s also opened some interesting possibilities for our developers for upcoming content – like new shaders and lighting options.

Thank you for your time.

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