So there’s been information or rather a few sneak-peeks of GW2 in-game shop items swarming the internet lately and not surprisingly this has stirred some controversy on webforums and blogs antsy for the game. Which is interesting to remark at this point: just how fast players sometimes go from oh yay to oh nay! Considering the fifty or so features that excite me about this MMO, it would hardly be good perspective (or proportion) to get all doomsday about the cash shop revelations. GW2 is free-to-play and everyone knew there was going to be RMT of some sort. Turns out ArenaNet are actually trying to put their own twist on this, too.
But first things first. Which items can we actually see on those screenshots? How do they potentially affect gameplay?
I) Cosmetic items:
To no surprise you’ll be able to purchase special outfits, hats, dyes and more in the shop.
So far, so good.
II) Convenience / commodity items:
Things like instant repair tools, portals, resurrection stones, bigger bags or EXP boosts.
They exist in pretty much every FTP MMO I have ever played, from Allods to Age of Conan. I’ve tried very hard to find indication of any seriously significant and game-changing items here and failed.
Convenience items are usually that: convenience items, not exclusive items. You can usually get the same deal by grinding or professions. Or then, if you are actually a very good or frequent player, you won’t need them. Look at experience or reputation boosts for example, these are hardly news in any MMO – when I re-subbed to Rift I got my fair share and so do WoW players these days. Blizzard does almost everything to make leveling up faster (or instant…ahem). Also: how significant are experience boosts in an MMO that features side-kicking, anyway?
So if anything, all these items offer choice: to level the usual way or a tad faster, to visit an NPC or not, to travel or take a short-cut (which are there in abundance, anyway). They cater to different play-styles. They are nowhere near pay-to-win.
III) Lottery items
Loot bags and special keys to chests that can be dropped by mobs or found elsewhere on the world.
The first is the type of random chance “carneval ticket” that only a group of players usually fall for. It’s a way to burn real coin for sure, but the randomness of it guarantees that you’ll likely end up with many duplicates or silly, trade items (in my case with nothing). We don’t know that anything of significance can drop here (I find it unlikely) or if the items will be soul-bound. I could imagine it to be similar to archeology rewards in WoW maybe.
The keys might present a bigger attraction, depending again on how rare the boxes are and what they potentially contain (anything exclusive?). There’s again the randomness factor. It reminds me of lockboxes in WoW that only the rogues could open; to tell you the truth, I vendored mine most of the time without even checking. I put them up on the AH a few times for little gold, but nobody wanted them. Whether the mystic boxes in GW2 will be the same type of gimmick or more serious business is complete speculation at this point. However, the mark of all lottery systems is actually that REALLY good and useful items are also REALLY rare! A lottery doesn’t look for winners.
“Bad and good items”; The cooperative lookout
A while ago I wrote a lengthy article on why I don’t consider RMT systems in FTP MMOs any more or less fair than traditional subscriptions and I hold to that opinion. As long as in-game shops deal in items of no greater consequence, I do not consider them a deal-breaker.
A “bad” cash-shop item needs to severely impact on the balance of gameplay; it needs to affect the outcome or success of end-game, be it in PVE or PvP, in a way that makes purchase an almost mandatory feature in order for groups and players to stay competitive. Items are however not bad just because they prevent l33t players from feeling special, as is often an underlying issue in such debates (not all, but often enough). Besides, I imagine a “true dungeon drop” would still be told apart from a cash-shop item and offer a degree of satisfaction or “fame” to a player who might desire it.
So yes, just to pursue hypothetical thought, I wouldn’t even mind if the GW2 cash-shop offered equal (not better) or almost equal weapons / gear to a dungeon drop! Too extreme for you? As GW veterans know and are happy to point out, gear progression is not the same deal in Guild Wars as it is in WoW for example. Once you’ve obtained your dungeon tier items, there won’t be an endless curve of upgrades but only similar gear with different stat weighting. In PvP, gear even gets leveled to focus on performance and not gear differences between teams.
I love this focus on performance and how the overall theme of GW2 seems to be cooperation, rather than segments and segments of “players with better stats” at endgame. There are numerous ways in which ArenaNet push player cooperation rather than disparity or “distance” –
- The side-kicking feature and dynamic leveling / quests, events
- The missing role restrictions / enforced holy trinity
- The connected home cities / starting areas
If a player bought his gear with real money for whatever reason, time or other, how would it harm cooperation or competitive outcome in GW2? I can’t think of any good reason to be worried. Even less so for stuff like convenience items or lottery boxes – and these are what we’re talking about for the moment! Not only are they not mandatory, but they really do not affect me as someone uninterested in most. Besides, items are not accomplishments in themselves, even if they usually go with reward (but they’re not in fact what makes a reward).
Seems to me the entire concept behind GW2 makes pay-to-win a very unlikely scenario. As long as there is no more and different information on the RMT items, it’s a little early to tell the color of the cash-shop’s underpants.