The Last Bastion

For the old guard, the happy fools, the dreamers.

Guild Wars 2 – I’m back on the wagon.

Posted By on April 1, 2012

Or is it “off the wagon”? I can never remember how that goes.

I’ve had plenty of time now to sit in my corner and think. I’ve talked with a lot of folks I trust, and I’ve taken stock of every opinion I could find on the internet. I’ve also had the benefit of a tiny bit of additional factual information due to beta leaks. In short, I’m in a bit better position to take a sober look at Guild Wars 2 overall…including the massive new appendage we’ve discovered – the cash shop economy.

What I’ve discovered is that my initial reaction was overly emotional and in some ways incorrect. Along with stepping back and getting a better perspective on this particular game, I’ve also spent a week or so now taking a hard look at myself, my interest in video games, and the 12 years I’ve spent following MMORPGs. It’s never easy to question yourself and honestly rethink long-held entrenched opinions…especially for someone as stubborn and outspoken as I tend to be. So where am I now?


I think I understand what’s going on with the Guild Wars 2 business model, and I think it might be okay. Things aren’t nearly as dire as I originally thought when they announced the gem system and the possible cash shop items leaked from beta. Since we still don’t have an official list of what will be in the cash shop, it’s still quite possible that I’m wrong and that they will screw it up…but I’m feeling much more optimistic based on what I’ve seen and the better understanding I have now of the context. I’ve seen a little bit of what they actually mean when they describe their philosophy…rather than just what they’ve said, and it makes a big difference. I’m comfortable enough now with the idea of GW2’s cash shop economy to say that I will try out the game, and I’m back to being fairly excited about the rest of the game’s design. I don’t think I’ll pre-purchase, but I will try it.

I’ve also spent the last week or so looking back at my own posts and thoughts on Guild Wars 2 that have accumulated here and on various message boards over the past 18 months. I looked at some new videos, and was reminded of all the things I like about the game. It’s really been helpful to be able to put the business model in the context of all the great and potentially genre-changing things in the game.

Rather than rehash all of my thinking over the past week or two which lead me to where I am now, here are some links so that anyone who’s extremely bored can follow my glacially slow mental processes as I worked through this extremely jarring new idea. For an old-school windmill slayer like me, it’s extremely difficult to come to terms with the idea of a cash shop economy that won’t ruin the game. There’s this thread on Silky Venom, this thread over at 38Watch starting on page 9, and then there’s this post, which provides a little more explanation of what I think is going on.

So, here’s where I am in terms of Guild Wars 2, and in terms of the genre and gaming in general.

I tend to over-analyze. I can’t help it. I’ve been taking this genre way too seriously, and I think I’ve been ruining my own enjoyment. I think Guild Wars 2 is going to be, on the whole, an awesome and genre-altering game…and I’m not going to miss trying it just because their business model looks bad on the surface.

I’ve been following MMORPGs since I was introduced to EQ by a friend in 1999. When I take stock of the last 12 years of this gaming hobby, I find that I’ve played only two games for any appreciable length of time. EverQuest and World of Warcraft. Two games in twelve years. The entire rest of the time I’ve spent on message boards or in pre-release communities, either advocating for my perfect game or complaining about games which didn’t live up to my ideal, and trying to get them changed. Due to my need to deeply understand and analyze every aspect of these games and the genre as a whole, I think I’ve actually become so focused on details that I’ve lost the big picture.

The big picture is… I’ve played two games in twelve years. Sure, you could say that living on message boards and being a forum warrior for truth and justice…destroying all those who are wrong on the internet…is almost a game in and of itself (I’ve actually pondered that), but the reality is that it’s not much of a gaming hobby if I don’t actually play any games. Now, let’s be honest and say that isn’t entirely my fault. The genre has put out a great number of crappy games. But I doubt they were all so bad that they weren’t worth trying…and I’m sure there were some reasonably decent games that I wrote off due to individual flaws that became greatly magnified by my rigid perspective. There’s a really good chance I’ve been ruining games for myself; sabotaging my own fun. I actually want to play games, not just sit back and commentate on them.

It’s supposed to be about fun, right? Developers spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is fun, and trying to design it into their games. The truth is…fun is in the eye of the player. It’s up to me to decide what’s fun for me. Despite all my analyzing and deep understanding of mechanics and systems and philosophies behind these games, I still can’t tell what’s going to be fun for me with any degree of accuracy unless I try the game. It truly is no more complicated than that, in the end. I try the games, and if they’re fun…I keep playing. Isn’t that how it should be? I’m trying to think that way a little more from now on…I’m not going to turn away what might be a supermodel yet again just because one of her toes is too long (Shallow Hal reference). There’s just no reason to keep sabotaging my own hobby because I’m taking it far too seriously.

I believe that the cash shop in Guild Wars 2 is going to be selling cosmetic items and placebos.

ArenaNet knows there’s a large demographic of players who feel that the price of admission to MMORPGs is too high. Whether because of the monthly  subscription fees, or the perceived time commitment necessary to start enjoying the game, there are a significant number of players who feel left out of the party. These players either avoid MMORPGs altogether, or play them hyper-casually…spending money in cash shops to dress up their characters or collect vanity pets or, in certain games, to buy their way to the top. I think ArenaNet wanted to bring these people into the fold of the actual game play, and also part them with their money *wink*, in a way that didn’t unbalance the game for the more “core” player base. The only way to do that is to give players a sense that the barriers to entry are much lower. ArenaNet started by removing the subscription fee, which does make a huge difference, and have now moved on to providing what they market as a way to substitute money for time played.

Many players love the idea of an equivalence between money and time in virtual worlds…of being able to “keep up” by spending some extra money on the game. ArenaNet is telling those players exactly what they want to hear, and providing them with items that seem to do exactly that. This is really at the heart of the controversy over the cash shop economy…the perception by us old-school players that they are giving a leg up for real life money. When considered carefully, I don’t think that’s actually what they are doing. What they are selling is the illusion of equivalence.

The “convenience items” are meant to make people feel like they are substituting money for play time…like they can keep pace with the perceived “hardcore” player who is able to enjoy the game so much more because of greater free time. The reality is quite different, but that likely doesn’t even matter. It’s all about making players feel better and more confident, and about reducing the perceived barriers to entry so those players can be brought into the fold. I believe those players I described above will be willing to pay big money for that feeling, without any substantive advantage in-game. The items we’ve seen in the shop come nowhere close to providing a “money=play time” system. Guild Wars 2 as a game is designed in a way that makes that impossible…it revolves around player skill and knowledge (things you can’t buy with anything but practice and time), and around rewards and goals that can’t be purchased with anything other than an investment of play time (BoP items, titles, and achievements).

I’m fine with this idea. If it works, it’s a win all around. Players who may never have played MMORPGs are brought into the fold in a way that allows them to feel confident and have a sense of “keeping up with the Joneses”.  It brings in a great deal more money for ArenaNet to pay off their initial investment and continue development on the game. Last, but most importantly…it still allows players to play without worrying about unbalancing forces knifing in from outside. For those of us who recognize that these games only work if they are played, we can rest a little easier knowing that the cash shop is only selling the perception of equivalence…the sugar pills that some players need to enjoy the game. As long as ArenaNet maintains that philosophy, and keeps a hard line in place between the placebos and actually giving payers a leg up…I think we’re okay.

I’m also quite happy with the gem system from the other direction…the fact that it allows players to buy cash shop items (and by extension, support ArenaNet with real money) by buying gems with in-game currency. I can actually “pay my subscription fee” by spending gold I earned by playing…and can get a few cosmetic items or account services in the process. That additional flexibility and choice provided to the “core” demographic of MMORPG players is a very good thing.

We’ll just have to wait and see, try it out, and hope it works…the game overall is a great design and I think it deserves to succeed. I hope I like it…I want to be a player again for a change.


3 Responses to “Guild Wars 2 – I’m back on the wagon.”

  1. Altha says:

    Well said, and an extension of your comments elsewhere. I have been in similar shoes lately, especially as my tastes as well as time constraints have changed over time. If the model and previews play out as intended, I do have hope that GW2 will keep me entertained/engaged for over a year. I’d love for it to be even longer, but a year would be a great success, relatively speaking, compared to other MMOs of the last 3-4 years.

  2. perfect says:

    “I’ve been following MMORPGs since I was introduced to EQ by a friend in 1999. When I take stock of the last 12 years of this gaming hobby….”

    Pst, it’s 2012.

    “…reality is that it’s not much of a gaming hobby if I don’t actually play any games….”

    Sports commentators don’t generally play the sport (they used to, in most cases) but they are often the best sources to go to for how the game is played. It’s still a hobby, even if you don’t play.

    On a side note, who posts a decision about anything on April 1st? Really?

  3. Fozzik says:

    “Pst, it’s 2012”

    I said the LAST 12 years…in other words I wasn’t counting this year. Especially since I’m turning over a new leaf this year and planning on playing some games. =)

    I like blustering away on topics that interest me, but in terms of my gaming hobby, I’d rather be playing. Luckily, unlike sport commentators, I don’t HAVE to stop playing just because I’m getting old. I can play for as long as I enjoy the games, and that’s really primarily what I’d like to be doing.

    I wasn’t even paying attention to what day it was. I type when I’ve got stuff to say.

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