Guild Wars is the first game created by developer ArenaNet. Senior developers from Blizzard Entertainment, some involved in the early development of World of Warcraft, left to create ArenaNet to develop a game which took risks with game design and business model. Guild Wars development was first announced in April 2003. Guild Wars Prophecies, initially marketed simply as Guild Wars, was released in April 2005. Sorrow's Furnace added further playable content to Prophecies in September 2005. Guild Wars Factions was released exactly a year after Prophecies in April 2006 followed six months later by Guild Wars Nightfall in October 2006. A fourth campaign was in development, but after reviewing feedback from fans and the sort of changes they wanted to make, ArenaNet elected to focus on an expansion pack, Guild Wars: Eye of the North, released in August 2007, and Guild Wars 2.
Guild Wars development began in an environment following the release of EverQuest when a number of new MMORPGs were announced. ArenaNet positioned Guild Wars in a niche in this landscape, offering unlimited gametime without subscription fees. ArenaNet believed that players would not pay subscription fees for every online game they play and that paying a fee would cause players to make a "lifestyle commitment" to a particular game, rather than the usual behaviour of playing many different games and switching between them. Jeff Strain, a founder of ArenaNet, said, "It is our opinion that the free online gaming model combined with frequent content updates is the optimum online paradigm for interfacing with consumers and creating a significant, enduring gaming franchise."
ArenaNet has used open beta testing throughout the development of the Guild Wars series. For the first public appearance of Prophecies in April 2004, that occurred in conjunction with E3 2004, people were encouraged to download the client and play an online demo of the game to test its networking capabilities. This was followed by a preview event and several beta test weekend events. Both Factions and Nightfall had similar test weekends prior to their release. Nearly 500,000 players spent an average of 8.5 hours playing the Nightfall PvE content during its second beta test weekend. In addition to the public beta events, ArenaNet used continuously running closed alpha test servers throughout development; some alpha testers were ArenaNet employees but most were volunteers from the player community who signed a non-disclosure agreement with ArenaNet. After the release of Eye of the North, the bulk of the development and test teams were moved to the Guild Wars 2 project, though a small maintenance and QA team remains on the original Guild Wars project. The group of volunteer alpha testers was disbanded in January 2008, and no plans have yet been announced about repeating such an alpha test program for Guild Wars 2.
Aspects of every campaign have been influenced or modified based on feedback from the player community. Such changes began soon after the release of the original Prophecies, when, for instance, skill acquisition in the co-operative campaign was simplified, and PvP unlocks were made purchasable with the new mechanic of faction rewards for competitive victories.
A small group of 4 or so people at ArenaNet known as the Live Team continue development to the game in two ways. Bi-monthly updates rebalance skills and features while new content in the way of explorable areas, quests and missions are added continually as a part of the free of charge 'Guild Wars Beyond' campaign. This new playable content is designed to help bridge the story between the end of the events of the first game and the 250 years before the start of GuildWars 2. This content is being released in parts, currently including 'War in Kryta' and 'Hearts of the North', and 'Winds of Change'.
ArenaNet also continues to develop in-game events that generally coincide with real events such as Christmas, Halloween, and the Chinese new year (for the Asian-influenced in-game continent of Cantha). These events feature mini-games, quests, event-specific PvP game types such as the Dragon Arena and snow-ball fights or beetle racing, special decorations for in-game outposts, and various in-game rewards such as masks and collectible gifts. Regular events also occur every weekend; each such event temporarily increases certain in-game rewards such as the drop rate of loot, reputation points for various in-game activities, or faction points.
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