Turning Off Sales

File this under Double-Take (emphasis added):

Mike O’Brien: […] My priority — our priority — is ultimately making sure that players have a great experience. We spent five years working on Guild Wars 2, and we’re going to spend years and years supporting it. If we got to a point where sales continued to be off the charts, and it threatened the experience that players are having with the game, then we’d just turn off sales.

Q: Turn off sales?

To clarify what I mean by that, we sell the game on our website and we also sell the game at retail. And we know how many boxes we’ve created, so we know how many copies can possibly sell through retail. If it gets to the point where sales are so high that it would be unwise of us to keep selling on our website because it wouldn’t leave enough slots for all the people who’ve already bought and all the people we know are going to buy, then we’d just turn off sales.

That would be a shocking thing to do, obviously — not something that you ever see in the games industry — but for me it’s an easy decision, because for me, Guild Wars 2 is a long-term project. I want players to keep having a great experience, and I know if we had to turn off sales temporarily, it’d be okay. (source)

Wha… err… I don’t even…

Remember waaaaaay back on May 1st, when I did the Guild Wars 2 Preview for the Rest of Us? My first screenshot was this:

Please take… my… money?

As it turns out, it may have been a harbinger of things to come.

This sort of news story can probably be a pretty good Rorschach Test for people. Another sign of of ArenaNet’s “dream team” working outside the box? Baffling corporate hubris? Turning cash-strapped business model lemons into delicious PR lemonade? I mean, presumably, the standard sort of business reaction would be “open more servers,” even if the WvW interaction necessitates opening them in increments of three. Then again, I suppose if they had to close servers down later, they would similarly have to do so in increments of three.

As of the time of this writing, there are 7 Full, 13 High, and 1 Medium population US servers. At 3:30pm EST in the afternoon. [Update] Eleven hours later, there are 17 Full servers and 4 High population ones. Yikes. [/Update]

The game has not been out for a full week yet, of course, so there is understandably going to be some level of churn to reduce the load. Or maybe not, if GW2 is a runaway hit. Either way, my immediate reaction to Mike O’Brian’s words is one of… well, not exactly suspicion, but definitely a cocked eyebrow. Are they truly going to stick with just 21 servers no matter the load? Is the “increments of three” thing the concern for them?

Given my prior predictions vis-a-vis Dynamic Events, I almost wonder if keeping what population exists tightly packed into each world is exactly the business model ArenaNet is going for here. No one buys clothes for a ghost town stroll, and Events become increasingly asinine (if not impossible) when done alone. Keeping servers dense by artificial scarcity ensures that a critical mass of sorts is maintained, solving both problems.

Either way, pretty unusual news.

[Update] Yep, there is an “official” Facebook post (sigh) about them taking down GW2 sales from the website.

[Update 2] There are now 3 additional servers on the list: Devona’s Rest, Kaineng, and Eredon Terrace. How do I know they’re new? There are 24 servers now instead of 21, and those three are listed as Low population when there isn’t even a single Medium pop.

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Posted on August 31, 2012, in Guild Wars 2 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Well….I think my initial reaction is first one of positive surprise – when do we ever hear any type of business venture argue for the sake of quality like this when there’s potential for much (short-term and short-sighted) MOAR?
    but you’re right of course in that it’s also suspicious; I think it’s sad it should be, but it is. maybe it’s simply an expression of the fact that right now they don’t have any more capacity. I know US servers have generally had less stability issues than ours since headtstart – they got plenty of work to do atm. from that PoV it’s applaudable they would turn off sales until they fixed the status quo. longterm I’m convinced they’d try and increase capacities a.s.a.p. though. did ANet actually underestimate the popularity of their own game?

    Tangentially, Pathfinder comes to my here with their announced population cap philosophy for launch; it sounds harsh, but in terms of starter player experience (who will then also go and share their impressions online, creating more hype) it’s a very smart thing to do.

  2. Wasn’t WoW sold out in it’s first month back in 2004? Obviously those were all physical boxes back in the dark ages but I can’t believe that it took one month to create more of the same.

  3. Another theory: since you always want what you can’t have, now I suddenly have a strong urge to buy GW2 (I probably would have bought it anyway, but likely in the next weeks)

  4. Doesn’t look suspicious to me. Looks like good marketing. We’re so unused to seeing good marketing from MMO companies maybe that’s what makes it seem suspicious.

    Other businesses do this all the time – create scarcity, create demand. It needs to be well-managed because obviously you don’t want people to lose interest permanently because they can’t satisfy their desire, but knowing someone else is having your good time because you weren’t fast enough on the ball is a good motivator to making sure you grab the next chance fast.

    Funnily enough, I posted this morning about whether I should increase the character slots on my account or buy a second copy of the game. I lean to the latter. Perhaps I’d better take my own advice and get on with it!

  5. While it may look like ArenaNet are sacrificing sales for the sake of quality the reality is a bit different. They might be limiting damage by making the game unavailable for a few days thus decreasing server stress until they manage to improve their performance. However it is a well known fact that lack of availability of a hyped product increases sales in the long run. We saw this in some console launches (most notably the Nintendo Wii) where the release of stock was gated so that the console was often sold out in stores making consumers go into a frenzy.
    A smart move by ArenaNet any way you look at it.

  6. It is simple: they will need buy new databases for create new servers. The dtabases they have now is being used for supply the overflow servers. The demand IS being a lot superior than any Anet crazy dreams.

    Take note: they are selling more copies than they were supposed was possible to sell. So… maybe GW2 will sell the same than MoP will sell? Can GW2 sell more than MoP?

    • I find that explanation difficult to believe, simply because ArenaNet knew exactly how many pre-purchases (etc) they had coming in. When you have ~1 million box sales before the game even launches, you buy enough servers to hold at least 1 million people, yeah?

      Makes me curious to know about their financial situation over there.

      • Original I was thinking the same thing, that they may have underestimated the demand. I actually did some numbers going by pre orders and it equaled out to over 20 000 per server (even spread is unlikely to happen). I was left contemplating to what ends does front-loading the population onto servers that can’t handle the strain provide.
        There was a distinct “when it’s ready” mantra being constantly stated but the impression I get now is that they weren’t ready. They have added another 3 servers but I would think another dozen would have been better… logistically this may take longer then expected if they have already reached there databases capacity

  7. Is this a new take on the churn problem post launch? As you mention the big problem many MMOs have had is widely spread population with a noticeable dip a month or three into live. In many games this has a strong negative impact on player experience. I saw it in SWTOR, I saw it in Rift. If there’s anything ArenaNet can bring to the table then that’s hopefully positive news.