When you're sitting around on a Tuesday morning (every week) waiting for your World of Warcraft updater to patch, just think about the fact that Guild Wars players don't ever have to deal with something like that. "A new build of Guild Wars is available..." We see the green message, log out, and are back within minutes with the update. What about server downtime for problems? With a very, very few notable exceptions, it's nearly nonexistent. It's pretty easy to take for granted the absence of something, but this is a huge perk that Guild Wars offers. How does ArenaNet do this? That's one of the great mysteries of the game that arguably may have one of the best server teams and configurations ever.
"Hey, guess what? My mom showed me how to map travel the other day! It's amazing!" says young Mauban in the Map Travel Inventor quest in Nightfall. He's right, it's pretty great. Map travel -- instant porting to any town or outpost that you have walked to once -- was created to help eliminate the need for mounts, and has really spoiled us as GW players. I got teased a bit recently for complaining about the horribly long run to a dungeon. "Ugh, it takes a half hour!" After a while, you get so used to it you forget what a great feature it is. Map traveling allows you to get where you are going right away, and get started playing, and isn't that why we're there?
This is probably the biggest feature that turns traditional MMOers off, but there are advantages to be had beyond the initial feeling that it's not an MMO if it's instanced. In a persistent world, there are queues for bosses, unnaturally-timed respawns and a feeling that you're just another cog in the wheel. With an instanced environment, there's more a feeling of accomplishment that you just won't find in that traditional persistent zone. Eventually, ArenaNet took this one step further with the introduction of vanquishing. Vanquishing is a way for a party to entirely clear a zone of its inhabitants in Hard Mode. Once that area is completely cleared out, it is marked as Vanquished on your map, and you can continue working towards the Vanquisher titles for each chapter's maps. There's something about vanquishing an area and reclaiming those lands for your people that really pulls you into the story.
2. Business model
An MMO with no sub fees was a highly unusual concept back when Guild Wars was introduced, and turned out to be a great idea over time. A free-to-play game is more attractive to the casual gamer, because there's no pressure to make sure you're getting your money's worth every single month. "Casual gamer" equals "wider audience", which equals sales. In addition, the f2p model was pretty attractive to those who were considering the game but weren't quite sure about it. A one time expenditure made it worth a try, and gave them a chance to see what a beautiful game it was. It obviously worked through two new chapters and an expansion, and these days you can find game developers following in the footsteps of ArenaNet everywhere you look.
Aion's recent issues with server queues gave us a new appreciation for the Guild Wars single-server format. Aion struggled for a solution - rolling out new servers, temporarily disabling character creation on some servers, and ultimately offering a free one time change to selected servers. While Aion players were queueing for hours to log in, those of us in Guild Wars were enjoying playtime on one server, hopping districts in a matter of seconds if things became a bit crowded and bogged down. There is no "Okay, I'm creating my character. What server are you on?", we just log in and play. The convenience of being able to switch characters at will and still join all of your friends, and jump districts if overcrowding or lag becomes a problem, is a luxury that most MMOs don't offer.
Guild Wars has been referred to as MMO-lite, and that may be a pretty apt term for it. But when ArenaNet launched the game, they brought some groundbreaking new ideas to the table, and a new approach to a lot of MMO standards. That outlook is one of the things that's helped keep Guild Wars fun for over four years, and it's the reason that Guild Wars 2 holds such great promise.