This post is speculation, but based on facts. I do not know any more than the rest of the player base for what actually is getting announced January 24th at PAX South. (In short, I could be wrong)
One of the issues I’ve seen raised against my speculation that the expansion will be free is the publicity angle. Players who are consistent with either playing Guild Wars 2 or keeping up with news on it will know all about it, but what about the uninformed gamer just looking for something cool to play? You need something new on the shelf for that.
Enter this recent datamine from the USPTO:
I could go on for several hundred words about why this is expansion confirmation from typeface and logo alone, but one of my friends was already afflicted by that. I might do it later for posterity. (As a semi-spoiler, ArenaNet’s art department is extremely consistent, to the point of absurdity)
Seems like total confirmation that there’s a boxed expansion and I’m utterly wrong on the “free in chunks” angle, right?
Side Number One: Publicity Without
The core argument in favor of a boxed expansion being the rational choice is the sheer publicity of it. Anything that releases gets swept up into the general games news cycle.
Retailers throw posters about the impending release on the front windows, and the boxes have some cool physical goodies in them. And of course, the overpriced-but-still-bought Collector’s Editions*.
*Very much guilty, and very much unashamed. It was freaking Rytlock, people!
People who missed Guild Wars 2 in 2012 (or bought it and quit shortly after release) might pick its expansion up in 2015. That’s brand new people to play the game and potentially buy more stuff from the gem store.
News outlets that have written off Guild Wars 2 as “an MMO that updates, but doesn’t update newsworthy” will cover it again, because an expansion release date is a discrete sales event that anyone can point to on the calendar.
It’s a ton of exposure, and not to be taken lightly. Add in the influx of money from the box price, and that’s the way to go, especially if NCSoft is going to go to the trouble of trademarking a full-blown logo.
Side Number Two: Reputation Within
Flip the coin in the air, and consider if they released the expansion for free to owners of the original game. As others have noted, that is an amazing reputation and PR boost for the company by its most committed consumers: the active player base.
As I already explored in the original post, players old and new have been clamoring louder and louder for an expansion, or failing that, the sort of content updates that are genuinely on the scale of an expansion.
A lot of people are more than happy to plunk down money* for an expansion, boxed, digital, sent via morse code through a dial-up modem, they don’t care. But still others don’t have the money available right now, even if they’d love expansion content.
*I am among these people, especially a CE.
Releasing it for free would satisfy completely only one of those crowds (those without the funds), but it would still garner good reputation from the core player base. And reputation is worth its weight in diamond-encrusted, platinum-lined, silver-filigreed gold.
(Side note: Consider that for some players ArenaNet’s reputation has been flagging, most of the company’s moves interpreted as money-grubbing cash grabs instead of fulfilling a player base desire. Free expansion would flip this on its head)
Both sides of the coin have their advantages and disadvantages, and the argument has boiled down to which will be a better financial payoff, both short and long term. But there is a third way that I’m seeing.
Taking Both Sides
Picture this: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is announced as an upcoming expansion on XX Date 2015*. There will be boxes in stores, this cool Collector’s Edition featuring Braham rocking his trademark mace and shield, two CDs, one with the Living World soundtrack (so far), the other with the new expansion soundtrack, a map of Tyria updated to show the new extent of the world, etc. etc.
*No, I do not have any date information, and I am not even guessing on that angle.
Typical boxed expansion, right? There’s a small tag in the corner of every box: “Includes the original Guild Wars 2.”
Flip over to the existing owner side of things, and on expansion release day the content unlocks by default. Free, new content. If existing players want the physical goodies, ArenaNet will sell them separately.
On the actual content angle, this “both sides” approach frontloads a good number of the new features, areas, and large content additions. Heck, maybe I’m wrong on the spacing out aspect and it’ll all get shipped the same day.
So it’s possible to play both sides of the coin, while shorting neither side. The existing player base gets the reputation win, while the people who aren’t aware of the game get a heaping handful of publicity and marketing. Oh, and the killer tagline of “we threw the original game in for free.”