Guild Wars 2 has launched, and you might think everyone at ArenaNet is breathing a sigh of relief and flicking through the holiday brochures. But boss Mike O'Brien has explained that when it comes to making a really great online world, the work is only just beginning.
"The magnitude of this launch just dwarfs everything we have done in the past, and there are certain things you just can't predict," the company's president and founder told GamesIndustry International last night.
"Certainly right now none of us are sleeping very much, as we make sure we iron out everything that our customers are running into, and trying to make this launch as smooth as possible."
He was clearly excited that five years of work was now live and attracting players by the thousand (400,000 concurrent players swarmed the pre-order 'Headstart' launch alone) but admitted that meant little rest for the team of developers.
"There are so many people playing right now, our servers are under such stress. And they're holding up pretty well, but there are little things going on all the time that we need to chase down. And so we're literally working around the clock trying to make sure that all our players are having a great experience."
And it's not just about applying ice-packs to the servers, the company has so far maintained a zero tolerance approach to any bad behaviour within the game. O'Brien explained that was key in these early days.
"We believe that you have to really maintain a strong community. And especially in the early days of a new online world establishing itself, how the community forms in those early days defines how the community is going to be for the next many years."
"We've got the whole company focused on the live game and addressing everything that comes up"
Not that the workload should surprise any of the developers. O'Brien said key to this period was building the mindset early on that this was a live service, to ensure that the team would be ready to be ultra responsive to issues when they got to this point.
"Right now it's all hands on deck. We're in the middle of a launch, and we want to make sure that the game is off to a great start. We want to make sure that players are having a flawless experience in the game, so as things crop up that we need to address we're working around the clock to address them. We've got the whole company focused on the live game and addressing everything that comes up."
"The closer relationship we have with our fans and our customers the better, we are able to do all of that. So right from day one of ArenaNet it's been about trying to establish as broadly as possible that direct relationship with our customers," he explained, adding that it was one of the founding principals of the company.
Despite little sleep and a busy schedule, O'Brien was also happy to discuss the Guild Wars business model of an upfront fee, no subscription and optional microtransactions. A model that, despite it's obvious advantages, has been passed over in the free-to-play gold rush.
"We pioneered this business model in 2005, and a lot of people have asked me in interviews 'why aren't other people doing this?' and I don't know," he said.
"Back in 2005 we really kind of carved out a unique space in online gaming and online worlds, and really nobody came and tried to compete with that. So it was fantastic for us, obviously Guild Wars sold well beyond our expectations and we built a really strong relationship with our community and we were able to offer them a business model that I think is really a win-win business model, and our customers have loved that for the past seven years."
"A lot of people have asked me in interviews 'why aren't other people doing this?' and I don't know"
"Now people are realising there's a lot more to MMOs than monthly fees, and we're starting to see companies doing free-to-play, and even then they're not really doing the Guild Wars business model, they're doing no box price, no subscription and 100 per cent microtransactions. And I think that unfortunately, in a lot of those cases, you see games trying to do one business model and then falling back on another business model when that doesn't work. Which of course is not good for anybody, because it means that the game was not designed to support that."
He pointed out that actually the Guild Wars model and free-to-play shared a lot in common, and that in both cases what mattered was a "clear win-win relationship with your fans." The businesses model should be "in their best interest, and the best interests of the developer. Because I think really, when you do the business model right, the best interests are the same."
"It's just a matter of finding the ongoing revenue stream that sets the right balance, so fans understand they're being treated well, and that the developer is really putting its money where its mouth is."