[GW2] The Three-fold Cosmetics Fail

I love the Super Adventure Box in Guild Wars 2, I really do – but this needs to stop! –


So, there are new vests available in the gemstore and I don’t even wanna know. The only emotional response I have to such announcements by now is seeing the Simpson’s infamous “See my vest, see my vest” play down before my inner eye. Besides the underwhelming variety of cosmetics in general, the ingame shop has seen no additions worth mentioning between the temporary Halloween costumes and Quaggan/Charr backpacks since the beginning in August 2012. Remember some of the GW2 “shop panic” pre-launch? Yeah, that was a waste of time!

Now granted, the shop has been a bit more active of late; there are the SAB mini-pets and items that will finally let you redo the overall looks and hairstyle of your character. You know, what’s usually called a barber shop in other games. Oh and they added one more epic piece of gear to the store in 2013: hoodies! Yep, you heard that right. The armor designers at ANet have gone completely wild with this one –

These come in three different colors, one of which is an unidentifiable mesh of grey and brown, although why you wouldn’t re-dye is beyond me (but then, if you actually paid money on this already who knows what else you’ll do). They’re about as exciting as the riding pants which have also been added recently – not at all.

This isn’t even funny anymore. I actually love playing with looks in MMOs, so this mess is just tragic. And I just don’t get it! Let’s get this straight: we are talking about a visually stunning, fantasy MMO epic where players, myself included, generally run around looking like this:


Yes, so much yes! And in which conceivable, parallel reality would I ever consider wearing one of those lackluster, plain boring hoodies instead of the badass royal armor composition above?? That’s not the worst of it though because TOWN CLOTHES!

Cosmetics gone wrong, Chapter #2: Introducing town clothes

My character currently possesses two pieces of town clothes which I was given via promotional code by other players. Both items are ANet “fan attire”, displaying the red dragon logo in an attempt of ingame merchandising – because you need to promote GW2 to those who have already bought it. The pieces are extremely ugly (not to mention immersion breaking) so needless to say, I never ever display them and why on earth would I? I’ve mentioned it before and it bears repeating: town clothes are the most inane and failed attempt at cosmetic gear ever! This is where you will find consensus across the board: nobody thinks it’s fun to have cosmetics you can only ever wear inside cities! A great deal of players won’t spend money on such items. Simply put, ANet is losing a big avenue of additional income by under-using their shop and also using it the wrong way. My 850 gems (which I transferred via cash, not ingame gold) have been rotting in the market tab since last year. Why does this company not want to sell me anything?

Cosmetics used to be a big deal in Guild Wars, especially considering the lack of high-level gear progression. I was probably not alone in the assumption that GW2 was going to be similar. I stand corrected and vastly surprised. ANet’s poor attempts at adding to the gemstore since launch can only be interpreted as an equal lack of enthusiasm or inspiration for the whole thing, so maybe we get lucky and they remove the town clothes feature already and let players finally go wild on their combat gear. Anything else bespeaks an ongoing lack of understanding of your customer base.

What I do wonder at this point too is this: did ANet shoot themselves in the foot by also allowing ingame gold to be converted to gems? Is this why they put no effort in offering more interesting items on the market?

Cosmetics gone wrong, Chapter #3: Introducing Transmutation

Unfortunately we’re not quite done with the cosmetics gripes. GW2 has possibly the worst approach to armor skin-transfer (of non-town clothes) I have ever seen. I’m not kidding. Anything, from WoW’s transmogging to the simplest and best of solutions, the cosmetic tabs in Rift or LOTRO, is preferable to the transmutation system in GW2. In case you missed it, transmuting items in order to give one the look of the other, always results in the loss of one involved item! If you are matching stats of item a (which would be your best combat gear for example) with the looks of item b (a new skin you received), you will irrevocably lose item a as far as looks go. Tough luck if you kinda liked them both and were only looking for a bit of diversity!

Again, this makes no sense to me. Not only is the system hurting collectors (by far not all skins are easily acquirable or cheap), it’s reducing armor variety in a game that already has very few sets to choose from compared to its predecessor. If there’s something GW2 currently could use more of it’s epic cosmetic armor and not more urban hoodies! If I wanted to dress up in street-wear in MMOs, I’d be playing The Secret World (and be much happier with my choices there)!

“Dear Armor Designers at ArenaNet”

I think you created a fantastic, visually stunning game. Not just that, it’s subscription-free and nobody is complaining about featuring an item store in a game like yours – only seems fair. When it comes to your approach to gear and cosmetics however, you are currently missing out and bigtime. Here’s why: there’s plenty of people in your player base who…

  • Care for cosmetics, like variety and would love to hang on to and collect gear
  • Are happy to pay extra money for great cosmetics
  • Would actually want to wear their cosmetics (not just in towns)

MMO players are incredibly imaginative and enthusiastic when it comes to making their characters look unique and different. There are countless webpages dedicated to nothing else. Many players will go to great lengths to acquire new skins, trade skins, update skins. Gear looks are a source of fun, pride and recognition value in MMOs.

And also this: beautiful, eye-catching cosmetics and Guild Wars 2 go together like chocolate and coffee. They are literally meant to be! So, can we please have some consistency here? Thank you!


  1. Great piece! I agree with pretty much all of that. I agree so much in fact that, since ANet managed to make this astonishing game and therefore clearly have some clue what they are doing, I have to assume that there is something going on here that I don’t understand.

    It has to be very obvious to everyone, necessarily including ANet, that they could make more money, probably a LOT more money, by changing what they sell in the Gem Store and how we use what they sell there. Given that they aren’t doing that and are instead using their openly acknowledged to be limited resources on everything but, I can see no other conclusion to draw than that they are already making enough money to meet and probably exceed whatever targets they have been set.

    If they were falling short, surely obvious cash cows such as you suggest would be being driven to market? That they aren’t says a lot. It’s all of a piece with their insistence that there will be no paid-for expansion in the foreseeable future and instead we will get a shedload of free content month in, month out. They can only be making so much money already they can afford to concentrate on building good will instead.

    It’s either that or they really have no clue.

    Oh, and thanks for the Vest song – never seen that before. I stopped watching The Simpsons years ago. And Mrs Bhagpuss re-did her ranger’s look so now she looks almost exactly like a character from The Secret World – and that’s in combat gear! There really is no excuse.

    1. “I have to assume that there is something going on here that I don’t understand. ”

      A commenter on twitter sent me a very interesting response – that the disconnect between the game and shop may lie in outsourcing. that ANet are not actually taking care of the ingame shop and promotions. and apparently this is epidemic for NCSoft published games, it’s the exact same weird thing going on in AION’s shop:

      Now that looks familiar, no?

  2. I’ve gotten back into GW2 lately after a long hiatus and it is sad that in that time they didn’t really add anything new. I liked the idea of having town clothes; up until they turned into things like hoodies, crazy sunglasses, and the like…I dislike the immersion breaking aspects.

    I also am not a huge fan of the transmutation but I see WHY they did it…it was an economic choice, to keep items being destroyed so they could continue being farmed and gold would be spent. Having to buy fine stones to do so keeps the gem/gold trade going. I would MUCH rather a system in which once you obtained an item you permanently had its skin, and could use a stone (or something) to transmute other items into that look; thus preserving both.

    1. If the transmutation is supposed to be a goldsink, it’s a very poorly chosen one imo. there’s no need for that type of goldsink in GW2 and it doesn’t work, anyway. it just hits the wrong people. a friend of mine is leveling alts with different factions just to ‘transfer’ unique skins back and forth via the shared bank tab…such a hassle.

  3. What can I say, other than you’re absolutely right. The town clothes are hideous as a rule and not worth swapping to given that you can only look that way in town. The armor selections are limited and some of the higher level stuff is just hideous beyond belief.

    I think the transmutation system was put in place to sell cash shop items. Given that there are separate (and rarer!) stones for level 80 equipment, it seems obvious they want you to plunk down cash if you want a unique look at top level. I think the destruction was also intended to help the economy along by destroying items. But, yeah, the reality is that it just doesn’t work well compared to other games.

    One thing I do enjoy is the dye system. Although, I wish dyes were shared on an account level rather than per-character. But, you can turn some boring clothes into eye-catching outfits with the right dyes.

    I think the right thing to do is to change the town outfit into a cosmetic set. Let players put whatever they want into the cosmetic slots, and choose to swap between armor and cosmetic set. Sell multiple cosmetic slots in the shop. Done!

    1. Cosmetic slots are the one thing that every MMO should have by now – it’s simple and effective. it’s what players want and enjoy. there’s no need to make outfit management an annoying aspect of any game….sigh.

      And yeah, the dye system is fantastic. lots of saving grace thanks to it.

  4. I also have no clue what goes on ArenaNet for such blunders. It kinda reminds me of the Bethesda conundrum where they would make very interesting worlds only to make characters that looked hideous. At least with Skyrim they finally made characters that looked human. Let’s just hope ArenaNet is able to get their act together while they are still developing Guild Wars 2 and don’t need to make a whole new game to get the outfits part right!

    1. See my response to Bhagpuss further up. It’s so bizarre that I a actually think there might be something to it (although I haven’t found official info to back it up). and yes, hopefully enough players will keep voicing their concerns with this system, so it gets fixed soon. it really is a loss on all sides otherwise.

      1. I just read that. It is a good point and wouldn’t surprise me if NCSoft was ruling with an iron fist what goes in the store, what doesn’t and even meddling a bit with development for things they would think would turn a profit in the store (i.e. town clothes, transmutation stones).

      2. Now that is interesting. I was being somewhat ironic in my comment but fundamentally I was assuming that ANet were in control. Take that out of the equation and things start to make a lot more sense.

  5. I never really understood why they choose that route. They have the tech to have two sets of armor on your character already, three if you count PvP armor. Why not have one tab contain your “stats” armor, and another your visual armor?

    Why not just do the same as The Secret World, which is the only game that figure how stupid this whole situation is and separated visual “armor” from stats items. Guild Wars 2 already have the 6 slots for “accessories”, why not have only those, and make all armor purely visual? Or if you want something more immersive, make armor be only about armor, perhaps having their stats be related to whatever material they are made of and how much they really cover your body (i.e. “slutty” armor would provide less protection).

    There are many options that would work better than what we have today, and I honestly don’t think any of those are so brutally different to make inconceivable to change the game to work that way.

    1. Hmm no, I agree it can’t be a technical issue or obstacle keeping them from it. they could easily change the transmutation mechanic and adding cosmetic tabs is what other games have done in the past, too.

  6. I hear ya with the town clothes. The only time I’ve maybe seen them used is on an RPer or two. They may be on to something by linking the costumes with extra costume brawl skills and/or toys, but generally they’re still priced too expensively for my tastes, for something that is only used for brief times at social gatherings out of combat. Even the transformation potions are cheaper and more fun.

    On the other hand, I think it’s great they made gems buyable with gold and vice versa. It links the two economies together and gives more options for people. Also serves as a gold sink for people with too much gold, letting them spend it on non-game breaking items.

    As for transmutations, it’s inconvenient for the player indeed, but it’s an item sink. Also keeps players doing multiple activities and playing the game (if in a possibly grindy way) as they may have to do one thing to get the item with stats they want, and then do another thing to get the looks they want for that item.

    Technically, you don’t have to do it if you don’t care about looks, but cosmetics seem to be a great motivator for many players, which is great, keeps them busy without making those who play more more powerful stat-wise.

    1. Cosmetics are absolutely a great way to keep some players busy. but right now, the way GW2 is handling them is actually counter-productive in my eyes. it’s not just about wanting cosmetics, it’s about being able to switch looks easily and wear them anywhere. they don’t seem to get that and it’s frustrating, not fun. as for the gold or item sink, I don’t think that makes any particular sense and I don’t see it working in the game right now.

      It seems a good way to have both currencies linked; it just always surprised me that they wouldn’t keep their item shop real-money-only, given it’s a sub-less game. it’s a nice touch…or would be if they actually added items worth buying. 😉

  7. One more problem is that Town Clothers are not only not on auto-wear in town – you have to manually put them, – but are lost every time you activate an ability, – even in town !
    And I have seen NonPlayer civilian with already quite good looking clothes !

    1. Ouch, you’re right of course! I didn’t even think of that as I never switch gear, but that’s highly annoying!

  8. It’s been pointed out already, but I really love TSW’s system of complete separation of stats from look. Stats items drop or are mission rewards, but are not visible. For character appearance, they have an in-game-money-sink clothes shop and the cash shop with tons of clothes. Granted, it’s mostly contemporary urban stuff, but that’s the theme of the game. Imagine the same system in a fantasy genre.

    Oh! I just remembered, while somewhat more limited by the theme of the game, Cryptic’s STO also separates stats from appearance.

    1. City of Heroes (also Cryptic originally) was the first game I saw this in, and it is my preferred solution for clothing, but you have to design the game from the ground up for it to make that system work. Cosmetic Tabs with Wardrobe systems are a lot easier to retrofit.

  9. In my experience of MMOs, the more the devs of a particular game have the idea ‘we are serious contenders in the PvP market’, the lousier and more limited their cosmetic systems will be. And Guild Wars 2 has an WvWvW endgame, so…

    It’s only after enough time has passed to hammer into them that no, the EVE (and back in the day DaoC), crowd are still laughing at their attempts at ‘serious’ PvP, that the devs loosen up enough to put in the cosmetic that should have been features from the beginning.

    Now as someone who has no interest in PvP in the slightest — and quite frankly some days wishes it would go away completely so we again could be allowed PvE not only with mezzing classes, but also with mezzing clases with good durations on their powers — it rather escapes me why you wouldn’t want to look fabulous while beating up on other players. And aren’t camouflage and deception in war a big thing in real life. And isn’t Team Fortress 2 all about the hats?

    But ‘Target Discrimination’ is apparently a thing, apparently such a huge thing among ‘serious’ PvP forum warriors, that wanting what you look like not to be tightly linked to your powers/power level is nearly as evil as a the ultimate evil of wanting to have a method of turning off XP gain temporarily so you don’t out-level content on the ludicrously fast levelling curve the game have insists on.

    Whether this represents the real opinions of real people who really PvP I couldn’t tell you (I suspect not as much as the forum warriors think), but devs always seem to act as if it does.

    1. The target discrimination thing doesn’t make sense in relation to clothing characters are wearing, for GW2. That’s one of the last things people look at, imo – first check any signets they are wearing, and what colors their powers are firing. Only stare at weapons and armor after that if one still can’t tell.

      1. I agree with Jeromai – since there are shared armor classes in GW2 (and also the dye system does make some stuff look very different), how would that apply here? and why would cosmetics need to be class-related at all (the few shop skins aren’t)?

      2. I’m thinking really more a signalling/marketing/self-image thing, rather than sitting down and rationally thinking about what’s good design for the game (or indeed PvP)..

        ‘We don’t let our players change the shape of their costumes without changing their power levels to fit, this proves we listen to the PvP community, and therefore are serious about PvP. Go Team Us!’ think the devs. Cue massive cheers from the forum warriors pre-release and then actual people playing the actual PvP game draining steadily away in the months following release, and only after that the cosmetic system being overhauled to something sane.

        I didn’t say it made any *sense*, it’s just my curmudegeonly (and horribly cynical) theory about the way things seem to shape up after watching good cosmetic systems turn-up in games only after the PvP has failed:)

  10. Now everyone can look like a lvl 1 Thief whenever and wherever they like. I approve of these changes,

    GW2 has amongst the best looking gear in MMOs already. I don’t think a bunch of mediocre vests threatens it’s crown. After 3 months GW2 left me bored, alone and wearing some truly excellent looking gears. Hmm, maybe I should reinstall…

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