What the new “Play For Free” model means for PvP

On the 29th of August at PAX, ArenaNet announced that the core game of Guild Wars 2 (i.e. the game without Heart of Thorns) is now free to play (f2p), albeit with a few restrictions for free accounts. This new model is going to have some major effects on the PvP environment of GW2, and as I’m going to outline here, is an overwhelmingly positive change for this part of the game.

Guild Wars 2 currently has one of the largest communities of any MMO on the market, and has consistently kept it high and growing for 3 years now, which in a world ruled by WoW, shows that all it takes is a quality game to survive. However, within this large community, the smallest “sub-community” is the PvP one. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, that I’m not going to discuss in depth here as it really deserves its own discussion (and that discussion may well be invalid now). With the game going f2p, it will inevitably bring an influx of new players, who will all get that pop up when they reach a high enough level on their first character telling them they can go to Heart of the Mists, and many of them will love the PvP and stick around. The combat of GW2 is one of the reasons so many people love it, and a lot of people would agree that PvP is the best place to experience it in it’s best form. This increase in community size will have a number of positive impacts on the PvP environment. It will lead to shorter queue times (which is an incredibly prevalent issue within the current community) as more people will be looking for games at any one time. As more people play and get engrossed in the PvP it will lead to a larger audience for the tournament scene, as well as an eventual increase in the participants, leading to larger “eSport” potential for GW2. All you need to do is look at the top eSports in the scene today to see that a change to f2p will lead to an increase in this area: DotA 2; f2p, Leauge of legends; f2p, Counter Strike:Global Offensive; a very cheap one time purchase that is constantly on sale (bucks the trend a little, but not loads). In comparison, Starcraft 2, which is a full price game with two expansions, and it’s scene has dropped in recent years. In short, everything about the PvP community will grow, which will lead to a better experience and more exposure through larger audiences and more content, which will then make it continue to grow.

I feel it’s important to remind people that this announcement also follows the change that you must be rank 20 to queue for ranked matches. This assuages the fears  of many a current PvP player, that the quality of games is going to drop due to an influx of new players. If you want to maintain the quality of your matches, you can simply play ranked and guarantee everyone has some experience with the game mode. Similarly, with leagues coming in HoT this is going to be a completely invalid issue, as we will have a proper ranking system for matchmaking, meaning you will more often be matched with people at your level of play, making the matches better. I do feel, that while this isn’t as large an issue as people think it is, adding separate solo queue and team queues to ranked leagues would go further to convincing the general community that it’s not an issue at all.

The one reservation I have is with the upcoming release of Heart of Thorns and what it will mean for a PvP community with both paid and f2p players. Both the elite specialisations and the stronghold game mode could build a divide between the two types of players. Stronghold may have this effect, as I imagine only people with HoT will be able to play it, leading to longer queue times, and then less people with HoT playing it as the queue times are longer. Elite specs (and the revenant), depending on how strong they are and whether or not they are involved in the meta builds and team comps, could lead to disparity, as f2p players see it as a pay to win scenario, as they can’t use the optimal builds. However it’s yet to be seen how many people will remain f2p and how many will buy Heart of Thorns after trying the game out, so this may well be a non-issue in two months time, before it even has a chance to be an issue, making my one reservation shaky at best.

All in all, this change to the guild wars business model is going to have a massively positive effect on GW2 PvP, as it removes many of the complaints people have about the current state of the game mode, namely long queue times and a small community. This, along with the upcoming leagues which will remove many others, such as no incentive to play ranked and potentially unfair matchmaking, I feel, indicates a increasingly improving PvP experience, and a growing competitive scene in Guild Wars 2 over the coming months, and that this is the best move ArenaNet could have made to improve the PvP scene.

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