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Massively's interview with Guild Wars CM Regina Buenaobra

Lesley Smith

ArenaNet and NCSoft are celebrating the fourth anniversary of free-to-play MMO Guild Wars this month so we decided to sit down an chat with Community Manager Regina Buenaobra about the games success and it's beginnings.

How did Guild Wars come about?
When the ArenaNet founders (Jeff Strain, Mike O'Brien, and Pat Wyatt) were still working at Blizzard, they had a lot of discussions about the design underpinnings of World of Warcraft, which Jeff Strain was working on, and Warcraft III, which Mike O'Brien was working on. They thought that it might be cool to mix the two genres, since there was already a lot of overlap between them. Strategy games are more fun when you've got an emotional connection to not just your character but also the game world, and when roleplaying games are infused with a bit of a competitive dimension, that's exciting for players.

What were you looking to achieve when you first launched the game?

Even before Guild Wars was launched, the team aimed to do something different from what other online roleplaying games were doing. This uniqueness is at the very core of many of the design decisions-for example, the focus on player skill rather than time spent playing. The team wanted Guild Wars to deliver something different from what was already out there on the market, and have it be a success. At the time, it was a risk to diverge from the route that other online games were taking, both in terms of game design and business model. And of course, the goal was to give players a really fun and enjoyable game.

Why do you think gamers have been so attracted to the game?
I think there are a lot of reasons for the enduring draw of Guild Wars. Guild Wars provides a skill-based gameplay experience that includes a brilliant solo campaign. Here, a player feels immersed in a game world through fantastic storytelling and questing. The player feels powerful, in control of their destiny and their ability to influence events. Guild Wars also includes a deep profession and skill system which is really compelling from a strategic sense. The business model-buy the box and play online without subscription fees-presents great value for the money, especially in the current economic climate. These are all reasons for why Guild Wars is still really popular.

Do you think that the lack of subscription fees makes people more inclined to invest time and effort in the game than say, World of Warcraft?
The lack of subscription fees is definitely a draw. It gives players the freedom to hop in-game, play hardcore for a few months, and if they choose, take a break for a while without feeling guilty. We have a lot of very dedicated players who've put thousands of hours into Guild Wars, but we don't think it's only because of the lack of subscription fees-it's because Guild Wars is an awesome game, and we think our players would agree!

Do you think the focus on solo parties (using NPCs) is one of the reasons the game has been so successful?
Yes. The henchman/Hero system gives players the freedom to play the game even without a full party of players. Also, many gamers who play online games prefer playing solo, so there's a lot of flexibility that Guild Wars affords which other games don't.

How do you think Guild Wars is different from titles like World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons?
A player's progress in Guild Wars isn't based on levels or how powerful their armor is, it's based on the range of spells and abilities they have at their disposal. A player's skill at combining these spells and abilities is more important than how long they have been playing the game. Levels aren't the determining factor when beating enemies. When you win because you're a more skilled player, that's an entirely different feeling than knowing that one the key reasons you beat someone is because you were five levels above them.

What do you have planned to celebrate the game's fourth anniversary? Do you hope this milestone will attract even more players?
For our Fourth Anniversary, we've got a bunch of great in-game events happening. The Shing Jea Boardwalk will be open so that players can test their luck in the boardwalk games. For more competitive types, we've got the Dragon Arena and Rollerbeetle Races. The Mario Kart-style action of the Rollerbeetle Races is super-popular with our players. Birthday Cupcakes will drop from monsters in explorable areas, and starting on April 28, characters turning four years old will receive new miniatures (mini-pet) from the fourth birthday series. Any character turning four years old will receive a miniature from this series on their creation date. My oldest character's creation date isn't coming till July, so I've got a few more months to wait until I get a miniature from this series.

Aside from the in-game events, we're also introducing a few rad new features for players. One of them is the Zaishen Challenge Quests. These let player's complete specific challenges each day, such as replaying a storyline mission or winning battles in different types of PvP. What's cool about this is that the quests offered will change every day, so we think this will add more replayability to the game.

One of the most requested features we're delivering with this update is more storage options. In celebration of our Fourth Anniversary, we're giving players a free storage pane so they'll have more inventory space for items that all characters on a single account can access. Not only that, players will have the option to buy more storage panes for additional account-wide inventory space.

Another feature that players have requested is the ability to access different combat pets after they have already charmed them by heading to the Zaishen Menagerie outpost. Access to this area is completely free, and through the Zaishen Menagerie players can unlock different evolutions and levels for their pets in several different ways. We're also giving players the option to unlock all standard pets by purchasing the Pet Unlock Pack.

Our in-game events tend to be very successful at drawing in existing players. Hopefully the buzz and excitement will attract the interest of new players who are curious about Guild Wars.

There are a few surprises that we've saved for the anniversary, though.

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