Game Developer Deep Dives are an ongoing series with the goal of shedding light on specific design, art, or technical features within a video game in order to show how seemingly simple, fundamental design decisions aren’t really that simple at all.
Earlier installments cover topics such as how indie developer Mike Sennott cultivated random elements in the branching narrative of Astronaut: The Best, how the developers of Meet Your Maker avoided crunch by adopting smart production practices, and how the team behind Dead Cells turned the game into a franchise by embracing people-first values.
In this edition, developers from the team on Guild Wars 2 tell us why they took an atypical approach to the design of its battle pass and how they sought to empower the casual player by design.
Hi, we are Chris Casiano, product manager, and Rick Luebbers, lead designer, from the Guild Wars 2 team at ArenaNet. In 2023, we are celebrating the game’s 11th year since release, and along with the launch of our latest expansion, Secrets of the Obscure, we also created a new significant core feature: The Wizard’s Vault. The Wizard’s Vault is a new method of cataloging and participating in our daily and weekly activities across all our game modes. With this overhaul, we aimed to increase player engagement, give players a more rewarding experience from their investment in playing and keep older content fresh. Guild Wars 2 is a sprawling MMORPG that’s been around for over a decade, and it’s important to us to keep all our existing content compelling regardless of when it was released.
A new type of Battle Pass
The Wizard’s Vault is inspired by battle passes seen elsewhere in our closest MMORPG competitors, with our own ArenaNet spin. We started our design by looking at existing battle passes to understand what exactly they’re good at and how our game differs from those models. We also wanted to understand where they fell short, added friction, or created pain points so that we could consider the potential effects on Guild Wars 2.
To maintain authenticity and align with our players’ values, it was critical for us to ensure that the normal progression through the battle pass wasn’t monetized. This means there are no paid skips or paid-only currencies for the Wizard’s Vault. We also wanted to avoid monetization because this feature was intended to fold into the daily login and daily achievement rewards, which we’d never previously monetized. We understood that adding monetization could create unnecessary obstacles for players, potentially deterring them from fully engaging with the system. Any potential future monetization in this feature must avoid touching this core loop. This philosophy drives much of the player-friendly monetization of Guild Wars 2, especially the Wizard’s Vault.
The end result is something inspired by, but in many ways unlike, a ‘traditional’ battle pass. We’re excited about this result and hope it feels better and better to play as people get used to the changes and as we iterate and improve upon it in the future. We’ve spent much time in the weeks since release watching how players interact with it and what they’re saying about it, and using all that data and feedback to drive the changes we want to make to the system for the upcoming Secrets of the Obscure content releases.
How does the Wizard’s Vault work?
Every day, a set of new daily gameplay goals are generated for players, pulling from a “deck” that we reshuffle once empty to ensure variety. Similarly, a new set of weekly goals are generated each week via the same method. The goals are divided into different gameplay types—PvE, PvP, and our unique World vs. World mode based on a high-level set of player interests, which they can customize based on their preferences.
Each completed goal provides Astral Acclaim, a Wizard’s Vault currency that’s spent on a storefront. Players can purchase any items from the storefront in any order, and the storefront includes all the previous rewards from the daily login and achievement system, as well as a few new rewards that the new structure allows us to add, including new cosmetics, mount skins, and legendary weapon starter kits. Secrets of the Obscure marks the first time a mount skin can be acquired through gameplay as part of our blurring the line between in-game rewards and MTX purchases.
Goals and Tenets
We had three goals going into the release of the Wizard’s Vault.
First, we wanted our dailies to actually drive players to play the game. Our old system saw players overwhelmingly aim for the fastest daily objectives, and it was rare for anyone to keep playing where the dailies directed them or, in some cases, at all for the day. We wanted to drive players to older content, as our game is heavily focused on horizontal progression, while ensuring players had reasons to go to the same places across the breadth of the game world and have other players to play with. This is all driven by a desire to increase player engagement through regular logins and longer play sessions through a system with a low barrier to entry. Increased engagement drives retention and MTX KPIs. It underscores our strategy to cast a wider net with our MTX rather than heavily focusing on a small number of high-spending players. Guild Wars 2 enjoys a healthy paying rate among its players, and the Wizard’s Vault is intended to emphasize that strength.
Higher investment, better rewards
Second, we wanted the Wizard’s Vault to be as player-friendly as possible while encouraging the behavior change we hoped to see. The Wizard’s Vault is quite a bit more rewarding than our previous system; it’s designed such that players can achieve the same level of progress as the old system by logging in around 40% less frequently. Because we also allow players to select the specific rewards they want in the order they want, players working on particular projects (like a legendary weapon) can focus on the items they want rather than being artificially limited by a set reward track.
Accessible for all
We designed with the casual player in mind, the player who might not be able to log in every day and who isn’t going to complete every objective in their path religiously. As a game focused on broad horizontal progression, enabling casual play is vital to our experience. We wanted casual players to feel like they weren’t losing out while being exposed to more of the game. It led us to a design where the lion’s share of Astral Acclaim comes from weekly objectives rather than daily. This is a significant change from our previous mechanism, which encouraged players to log in for 10-15 minutes daily; now, an hour on Saturday can accomplish a similar outcome. This change focuses on engagement with the game rather than feeling like a list of chores. While some players may eventually get optimizing the Wizard’s Vault objectives down to a science, we hope that the design's structure and open-endedness (no more “mine in a specific location” objectives!) helps players engage with the game more freely.
As part of the theme of continual engagement with the system versus “collect and hoard,” the Wizard’s Vault is designed to encourage spending of reward currency. We took inspiration from other games that encourage you to spend currency on available items rather than hoarding, and we applied it to the Wizard’s Vault to maintain the feeling of being continually rewarded for playing rather than saving up and potentially losing focus, or making the process feel like a grind.
We’ve heard some early feedback that the rewards are surprisingly easy to get—and this is intentional! We want players to get to use the rewards from the Wizard’s Vault rather than dangling them as a prize at the end of a long process. We don’t want players to feel like they’re missing out or are forever behind if they miss a day, a few days, or even an entire season of playing our game. The upcoming Legacy Store is designed to ensure that previous rewards aren’t lost from the Wizard’s Vault, and players can get those objects even if they missed out on previous seasons. The design is about encouraging play, not encouraging FOMO. A dedicated player can buy out the entire store over the course of a Wizard’s Vault season, and this is by design.
Leaving space for evolution
If there’s one thing we’ve learned while working on a live service game for over a decade, it’s that we don’t always get things perfect on the first attempt. Sometimes, even if we do get it right, things change over time, and what was a great idea in 2014 is no longer fresh in 2023. Part of our continued work to support the game is creating opportunities for ourselves to iterate on and evolve our designs to ensure we keep everything updated.
The Wizard’s Vault is a prime example of this renewed focus on iterative development. The seasonal system is well known at this point, but on the development side, it presents specific points for us to consider. We can give ourselves the breathing room to collect data, understand how people use the system, and make considered changes over time. It also helps us measure the effectiveness of a long-term system.
We’re excited to see where we end up with the Wizard’s Vault because now that it’s out there, its evolution will come from how people use and feel about it, impressions that are difficult to obtain before launch. Our studio was founded upon the idea that we can expand on great ideas from other games to make them more player-friendly, and that is what we set out to do with the Wizard’s Vault.