Guild Wars 2’s gem of an idea (#gw2 )

Pictured: A Guild Wars 2 Jem

I’m excited about Guild Wars 2 and I love how much passion is surrounding this game, but dang if that community is wound up tighter than Nurse Ratched.   I can’t say whether it’s more or less uptight than what we’ve had for every past major release, but it’s pretty much up there.  Even the slightest bit of controversial news or commentary about the game has a good chance of inciting riots and Chicken Littles, but that’s part of the fun of being slightly on the outside of it all.

So in what had to be the most predictable explosion of indignation and outrage and “didn’t we JUST do this?”, ArenaNet finally came out with its long-awaited news of the game’s microtransactions model and the world ended and yet we are still here.  Maybe controversy isn’t the planet core-rending experience it once was.  Again, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming; several months ago when the studio said that it was thinking about charging for the ability to change your gear’s appearance to another piece of armor you had on hand (and everyone exploded), we knew it was a matter of time before they’d have to reveal the rest and just get the stampede of opinions over with.

OK, so let’s put the outrage aside and look at this calmly.  Even with the up-front cost of the game, we knew — and ArenaNet never hid it — that there would have to be some form of additional income to keep the game running, the devs paid, new content rolling in, etc.  It’s a business as well as a game studio, and if money’s not being made, the game’s not going to be run.  It’s as simple as that.

Guild Wars 1’s model was to roll out new boxed campaigns once or twice a year for the first couple years, coupled with some very light microtransactions (costume pieces, pet unlocks, name changing, etc.).  But the game itself wasn’t a full-blown MMO either, so it was cheaper to run.  Guild Wars 2 is eschewing the campaign model (although who knows about expansions) to focus more heavily on microtransactions (i.e. the cash shop) with — and this is the big surprise — game-supported RMT.

Let’s take a look at a couple things Mike O’Brien wrote:

“Here’s our philosophy on microtransactions: We think players should have the opportunity to spend money on items that provide visual distinction and offer more ways to express themselves. They should also be able to spend money on account services and on time-saving convenience items. But it’s never OK for players to buy a game and not be able to enjoy what they paid for without additional purchases, and it’s never OK for players who spend money to have an unfair advantage over players who spend time.”

There’s a lot of wiggle room there for what ArenaNet can conceivably sell — I mean, almost anything can fall under the umbrella of “time-saving convenience items.”  But overall, I adore this statement and I’m glad he’s putting it right out there.  All studios need to do this (and some have), because players have been fleeced enough with abusive business models to be especially wary about microtransactions, item shops, and RMT.

The “nevers” here are the big reassurers of what won’t be in the store, and those are probably the #1 and #2 biggest fears of most players when dealing with this business model.  It isn’t fun to just see people with more money jump to the head of the line, because it rankles one with the notion of fairness and equality.  We at least want to have an equal chance, that is.

Moving on from here, O’Brien says that the decision to support in-game RMT is practical and pro-player.  It helps to cut out third-party gold farmers/spammers/sellers/hackers, it’s going to happen anyway, and so it might as well be on their terms.  I never really liked the idea of RMT, and part of me still doesn’t — although, full disclosure, I think EQ2 was the only MMO I’ve played that tinkered around with this, and it wasn’t noticeable there at all.  I guess STO does a little bit too with its dilithium/CP exchange, now that I think about it.

What’s cool about this is that they’re taking a cue from EVE and making RMT a two-way street.  Players can buy the special currency — gems — with cash, but they can also use in-game currency to buy gems from other players.  So, yeah, players can buy in-game gold with real-world money, but they can also buy this currency with in-game time as well.  I think this latter part benefits the poorer person who does, as O’Brien says, have more time than money.  It gives us options and flexibility without (hopefully) unbalancing the economy or giving a rich player a major advantage over everyone else (again, going back to his philosophy of microtransactions).

I certainly like being able to earn Turbine Points while playing LOTRO, so why not earn some gems through in-game methods as well?  Lets me be as frugal as I want while still presenting me with an avenue to get what I want.

While people are on both sides of the aisle on this issue, I’m not that disturbed about it.  I guess I’ve really grown apathetic toward the whole business model debate after going through it for years now, so as long as it doesn’t look game-breaking, I’m not going to throw a hissy fit over it.

A couple final thoughts.  First, knowing now how this business model will be structured, I’m definitely purchasing the standard edition (maaaaaybe the digital deluxe) and using that extra $70 or so to buy gems than to get a statue and some art prints I’ll never really use.  In-game goodies are where it’s at for me, and I’m guessing $70 could buy an awful lot of them.

Second, KIASA has a great reminder that it’s a little pointless to speculate too heavily on this post, since we’re still lacking specifics — and we’ve yet to see it in action.  Quote of the day incoming in three… two… one…:

“So until anyone can accurately tell me the style, colour and condition of my underpants (and whether I’m wearing them on my head or not), they probably can’t tell me how well Guild Wars 2′s complex RMT system is going to interact with an as yet undefined player population, in an unreleased and unknown game system, with an item store that has no items defined for it, for an in-game economy that has yet to be established.”

12 thoughts on “Guild Wars 2’s gem of an idea (#gw2 )

  1. I’m also eschewing the DD and CE options. Ever since they released the Hall of Monuments, I’ve been calling it my Digital Deluxe replacement. 30 points in the Hall nets 30+ items, titles, pets, mini pets, etc… Compared to the in-game stuff in the DD, it’s a veritable treasure trove. And, interestingly, it aligns with the RMT philosophy of allowing players to prioritize money or time spent. I’ve spent the time in GW1, so I’ll be saving the money on GW2. Who knows? Maybe I’ll see enough benefit in the item shop to buy some gems. Right now, I expect my main priorities to be getting additional character slots (assuming they are sold in the item shop). But I’ve got plenty of time to earn the gold for that.

  2. “But it’s never OK for players to buy a game and not be able to enjoy what they paid for without additional purchases, and it’s never OK for players who spend money to have an unfair advantage over players who spend time.”

    Here’s the problem, Sip – how much of my time is equivalent to your money? The reality is that this is a meaningless statement. Assuming the economy has any meaning at all, then a large wallet can surpass any amount of playtime. You can see this in EVE, which I do have experience with – the current state of nullsec (at least a few months ago when I quit) was embodied by massive supercap fleets rolling anyone who got in the way, largely thought to have been funded primarily via ISK purchase. The same argument applies there – they didn’t buy anything with real money that wouldn’t be available with time. Unfortunately, their money + their time = dominance.

    And that’s the real problem. Devs love to trot out the example of the guy who can’t play often up buying some help to play with his friends – essentially the idea of trading money for time, which is fine. But that’s not the only people buying it, and letting them buy in-game stuff frees up their playtime for other endeavors. Effectively, they have time+money while you have only time. You spend X time camping/grinding for item A, the other guy buys A and then spends X time camping/grinding for item B. At the end of it, you’ve both spent X time, but he’s got A and B and you’ve got A. How is that not a competitive advantage?

    I don’t think it’s the end of the world, especially since I don’t especially care about the competitive aspect of the game, but it’s time someone called out this “Oh, it’s not an advantage, it just helps those who don’t have time to play as much” BS for the marketing spin it is.

  3. Secondary point, split for length (along with an apology for the name typo above)… The concern a lot of people have with this is that it creates a monetary pressure on the part of the developers, and raises some troubling questions about design, especially bad design, and the responsibility for it.

    Case in point: The mark wallet expansion in LOTRO. The mark system was a good idea, but poorly implemented and then abused over and over again until it became a nightmare for players. I don’t believe that was intentional from the start, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not bad design. So Turbine comes up with a way to fix it – but only if you pay via a microtransaction.

    To be clear, I don’t believe that was intended from the beginning, but it’s easy to see where the motivation is. You cannot make money off convenience items for players unless there is inconvenience in the first place. I can’t speak for anyone else, but that idea and the motivations it creates worry me more than a little.

  4. @Buhallin: I think the big difference that most people complaining about the GW2 cash shop are forgetting is that this game doesn’t work like that. Gold can’t buy items you’d want to “grind” for.

    Sure, you might be able to buy gold to purchase Bind-on-Equip dropped items players find on dungeons at the Auction House, but those are random drops you can’t grind for. You will only be able to purchase them on the AH with gold, so this is a very simple, and I believe fair question of gold from time vs. gold from money. I should add that I don’t see anyone grinding crazily for BoE items (most people never do that on any MMOs I’ve played before), those are just filler equips you’ll use until you can get your awesome equip sets from dungeons.

    You can also use this gold to purchase materials for crafting, or just final crafted items. Again, all players can farm gold just as easy, so it’s a matter of Time Vs. RMT. Not a problem either.

    The problem would come from using money to buy the best equips on the game, but GW2 simply does not allow that to happen under any circumstance. Equips from dungeons are all Bind-on-Pickup, and can only be purchased using BoP tokens you can only acquire doing dungeon runs on Explorable Mode. Equips from Renown Vendors also can only be purchased using Karma, which can only be acquired by doing Dynamic Events.

    We don’t know for a fact that there won’t be anything on the cash shop that breaks these ideas, but that would go against: 1st: what ArenaNet just took their time to specifically declare they would or wouldn’t do, and 2nd: what they historically have done with GW1’s cash shop. So until we KNOW that Kiasa’s proverbial underpants are on his/her head, I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt, or at the very least wait before forming such negative opinions based on nothing more than speculation and previous bad experiences.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with a microtransactions model, and GW1 proves that. All the problems come from greedy developers inserting items that break gameplay on their cash shops for an extra buck. As long as they keep their main philosophy always front and center, and THAT is the purpose of that blog post, to clarify that philosophy, things have great chances to run smoothly. Which is why I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far, and waiting before forming a final opinion.

  5. And if that’s the way it works, Kem, then there’s obviously not really a problem.

    But here’s the thing that probably nags at a lot of people, myself included… If there’s nothing worth buying with gold, then who’s going to spend money on gold? It seems rather contradictory from their point of view to provide the option to allow people to buy gold, and deal with the backlash from that, if there’s nothing worth buying with gold. Same for the gold sellers – if nobody needs gold, why would they be a problem?

    You’re right that nothing at the moment seems to be a serious problem. A lot of people don’t really trust that, though. There wasn’t really a serious problem when LOTRO first went Free to Play. Now you can buy everything from statted equipment to the legacies you want to “convenience” features that fix bad design. The economic pressures are NOT in favor of it staying clean and pure.

    I’m not freaking out yet, but I’m not really reassured by this move.

  6. I really enjoyed reading both the well-written article, and the thoughtfull replies. It’s nice to see there are rational and calm opinions out there in the netverse. I would simply like to add one thought. It’s my personal belief that any game’s economy is largely driven by PvP. There are many examples out there of game malls/shops providing exclusive cash items that boost your overall abilities and effectiveness, including during PvP. The PvE aspect of the game is not nearly as competitive an arena, obviously. And even less so in GW2 than other games because there will be no need to camp end-game bosses for that one rare drop you could use to your advantage in PvP.

    Perhaps the real trick is providing enough cash items to make your PvE experience interesting and fun, while at the same time ensuring PvP is a balanced affair by keeping the “boosts” off the playing field. GW1 has a set-up along these lines, and I believe they are attempting the same with GW2. But as someone stated above, and I paraphrase, 1 is a small puppy compared to the complex beast that 2 will be. It is a business, after all.

  7. @Buhallin: There is a small problem on your question: ArenaNet is not selling gold. To say that they are selling gold would imply that the company is artificially adding more gold into the economy through the cash shop. They are not doing that in any way.

    What ArenaNet is doing is allowing you to purchase Gems, which is the currency necessary to buy items from the cash shop. These gems are not bound to the player, so they can be sold on the AH. When people say you’ll be able to buy gold on GW2, what they actually mean (or should mean, if they understand correctly how this works) is that you can use real money to purchase gems, and then sell these gems to other players in exchange for gold.

    So while you might be using real money to make a series of transactions with the final intent of acquiring gold, ArenaNet is not itself selling gold, just letting you get money already in the game’s economy. The whole idea is that you can trade Gems, which will be used to acquire the cosmetic and “time-saving” items from the cash shop. You might use this process to more easily finance your in-game needs, like buying mats for crafting, or you can use as more directly intended to buy stuff like extra character slots, larger bags, transmutation stones or different town clothes from the cash shop, using RMT to buy gems directly or your extra time to finance those purchases by farming gold and buying gems from other players.

    The thing that makes people freak out is comparing how cash shop works on other F2P games out there, considering their failures, and I understand that feeling. What most people forget is that Guild Wars 2 is not a F2P game; it will charge full price for the box, and full price games have enough money to run their normal day-to-day operation. I read a great blog post once (I think it was from Tobold, but I can’t seem to find it) showing how server costs are nothing but a footnote to companies like Blizzard and EA, and how the box price cover most of their costs.

    A game like GW2 doesn’t need to force-feed you tons of unbalanced items you absolutely need to play competitively, because what you pay for the box already pays for most of their needs, so economic pressure should be a non-issue. Considering the basic version of the game will be download-only, they don’t even need to worry about the actual box costs, just normal server and bandwidth costs they would need anyway for patching the game. So selling a new copy of the game costs them near zero, but still gives them $60 right at the bat unlike F2P games. If you buy some extra $5 in cash shop items just adds to that value, but they don’t need to milk the money out of your pockets to finance the game. That is why I’m not worried, and will remain that way unless I actually hear *facts* to the contrary.

  8. @ Buhallin

    I’m not going to pretend to know the future and that GW2 will or won’t adhere to their stated philosophy on what’s available in the cash shop, but I will note that LOTRO had to convert its game systems to accomodate a cash shop, while GW2 is built from the ground up to accomodate it, and it doesn’t seem to me that the distinction is meaningless. LOTRO also has a raiding endgame (as it were) that GW2 doesn’t have.

    As for gold being worthless, I’m not sure if you’re a GW1 player, but if you aren’t I think you’d be surprised at how valued aesthetic items that gave absolutely no power advantages whatsoever could be. Certain rare minipets alone cost millions of gold coins and are still actively traded – even those that are already dedicated (meaning they can’t be used to increase the buyer’s HoM score).

  9. +1 Insight for Randomessa.

    In fact, for a long time a player couldn’t bring their minipets out in a town, meaning that in order to show them off you had to group up with people and go out of the town instance. And even though they changed it so that minipets can be displayed in town, a player still can’t show off rare, expensive weapons in town. Guild Wars players are already accustomed to the idea of an alternative progression through the acquisition of power-neutral items. The most difficult and costly to acquire armor set in the initial campaign of the game (at least in my opinion) required raid-quality teamwork in order to complete the quest chain and unlock the armor crafter. And the armor you received had the exact same stats as what you could have crafted in the “normal” course of the game. In short, many GW1 players will grind for looks, especially since the effectiveness of the item they spent so much time and effort to attain will not decrease with the next update release.

  10. @maladorn – yes, that’s also why they can’t just put cosmetic items in the cash shop – any cosmetic item in the cash shop, being commonly available, will not be as valuable as items you have to earn through doing the content in the game.

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