ArenaNet’s co-founder, Mike O’Brien, is leaving the Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2 developer to form a new studio. The CEO penned a letter on the GW2 website earlier today, reminiscing on nearly 20 years with the company, which he started in 2000 by working “out of the living room of my apartment.” In 2002, he met T.J. Kim, founder of NCSoft, who was “so in tune with what we were trying to accomplish that we couldn’t even finish our pitch before they started making the pitch for us.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Next week, O’Brien’s time at ArenaNet will be history, as he departs to “join some of my friends in forming a new studio.” It appears that Game Director Mike Zadorojny will assume his role at the head of the company, as he takes on a “larger leadership role” and will “continue carrying the torch at the company.” Zadorojny, who started with ArenaNet as a QA tester in 2006, added a statement thanking O’Brien for their time together while vowing to “keep the torch he passed me burning brightly into the future.”
It’s been a rough past couple of years for ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2, and O’Brien in particular. Revenue numbers for Guild Wars 2 have been steady but not spectacular, despite many new content additions, and he took a hit in some circles for his handling of the situation that led to the firing of Jessica Price and Peter Fries. And then there were the layoffs at ArenaNet in February, which affected approximately one-third of the company.
It will be interesting to see what O’Brien and his new company cook up. It probably won’t be a big, all-encompassing MMO, as he stated that he wants to “go back to the beginning and make small games again.” That’s a far cry from what the Guild Wars games tried to accomplish, but it’s a different gaming market today than it was in the early 2000s, or even in 2012, when GW2 launched. It’s a sign of the times and probably the better choice for a new company, even one with a highly experienced leader.
EDIT: O’Brien’s new company is called ManaWorks, with a stated goal to “create worlds to live in, skills to discover, and adventures to share with friends.” Its staff page includes other ex-ArenaNet members Isaiah Cartwright and Tirzah Bauer.