Set off once again, the Guild Wars 2 communities are going manic over the PC Gamer article that misinterpreted ArenaNet. PC Gamer thought they heard that microtransaction dungeons were confirmed and ran that “exclusive” pigskin to the freakin’ endzone. Except there was clearly a failure to communicate, and it turned out to be the wrong endzone. Still, all manner of speculation arose over how much allegedly game-destroying products would be for sale in the cash-shop. The biggest culprit? The terrible XP potion. (This is going to be a long one.)
An XP potion, or whatever name given to the item, gives a boost to a character to aid in the progression of things that require experience. I’ve seen some XP potions give a percentage boost for a period of time. I’ve seen some XP Potions extend the rested XP bar. I’ve seen some XP potions that just give straight XP. They are better called XP boosters.
Most of the XP boosters I have seen are not even cash shop items. They are gained by playing normally in game. Lord of the Rings Online has a mechanic to raise the rested XP bar by paying an in-game currency called destiny points. This gives the character double the XP per mob kill until the rested XP bar is filled. Warhammer Online gave Collector’s Edition players a Libram of Insight that gave a small XP boost for 2 hours per use (max. 3 uses). Finally, ArenaNet’s own Guild Wars has a swath of XP boosters as rare drops or bought at the merchants/traders. They give a large XP boost per time, but they have many different conditions on how the time is based. For example, the Scroll of Rampager’s Insight gives the party two times experience gain until the party fails to kill an enemy within [a rolling] 30 seconds.
Are Guild Wars 2 fans not even concerned with ArenaNet already bringing over the plethora of XP boosters already available? Or, is it that allowing players to spend their milk money on the XP boosters instead of in-game gold equates to slaughtering that sacred cow? Right now in Guild Wars it takes less than 5-10 minutes of activity to buy just about any one of those XP boosting scrolls. In other words, their in-game value is menial at best.
Furthermore, ArenaNet is already making character levels a variable entity in Guild Wars 2 rather than a race to godhood. For example a max level (80) character entering a level 20 event area or dungeon will have the character’s stats brought down to an approximate level. Sure, the max level character is still going to be more powerful than the up and coming level 20’s, but ArenaNet’s goal is to keep the content entertaining and challenging rather than allowing a player to close her eyes and press AoE skill buttons.
Yet, there is a slippery slope, and this is the reason I think so many are scared of cash-shop XP potions. All games begin with Progress Quest. There is an theoretical progress bar that goes from start of the task to accomplishment. Character levels requiring XP just happens to be one of the gold standards of progression in RPGs. Still, when devs speed up that progression for real money, what other progression boosters will they be willing to sacrifice to the shareholder gods? That is the scary part because ArenaNet has been pretty elusive with telling Guild Wars 2 fans what exactly are the sacred cows.
Earlier this month, Lead Designer Eric Flannum said pretty bluntly, “[w]e’ve already said what our leveling curve is like, so we’re not going to turn around now and say we changed our minds and will be selling experience potions and scrolls. We’re not going to do that.” However, in response to yesterday’s outrage ArenaNet came back to say “[a]s to whether or not there are going to be items like XP boosts available in the in game store I can only reiterate what we’ve said before (and will continue to say) that we’ll release details on it when they are available and that our core philosophy–of not requiring you to spend additional money to play the game and not making the game difficult or painful to play in order to encourage you to buy things from the store–still stands.”
This confusion and obtuse marketing speak gives many fans the impression that there are still some sacred cows staring at the nail gun. ArenaNet says they won’t make the game difficult or painful to play to get us to the cash-shop, but will they make the core mechanics of the game more fun if I drop a few bucks each game session or so? Recent NC Soft conference calls praising microtransactions and Turbine’s success in the Western MMO markets with their two flagships going cash-shop based compound the fears.
The shining light is vanity, and people are definitely talking with their wallets. Recently we learned from Valve Software that the first 5 non-Valve contributors to the Team Fortress 2 cash shop are getting their first royalty checks for two weeks of sales in the amount of about $40,000 each! That means that the three-year old online game just made over a quarter million dollars off of silly Mann hats. People are talking with their wallets. Sparkle ponies in World of Warcraft, lightsabres in Aion Online, and exclusive cloaks in Lord of the Rings Online. and albino tigers in Wizard 101 have already proven to be cash-shop money makers. Today sometime ArenaNet is also dropping two new Guild Wars costumes: the Raiment of the Lich and the Lunatic Court Finery. These are definitely the two best costumes yet for Guild Wars.
It is up to us, as customers, to show and tell ArenaNet what we want. Telling them what we don’t want is not helpful. Eric Flannum was very, very clear on this point in the above-mentioned PC Gamer article when he was quoted to say “[l]ook at what players want more of and we’re going have to release that stuff, because that’s the stuff that players are going to be willing to pay for, and that’s the stuff that’s going to make our company profitable.” If you buy the two new Guild Wars costumes, you are showing ArenaNet what you want to buy in the future. If you enunciate in a forum post the kind of things you want to see in a Guild Wars 2 cash shop, then you are telling ArenaNet what extra products you will consider. This, I guarantee, is infinitely more helpful than telling ArenaNet you will never buy XP boosters.
a vicious, lazy, profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed