Category Archives: Item shop

…But F2P creates Subscribers too?

With the recent hubbub around Microsoft’s inane approach to copyright / sharing games on the XBOX One, a title that fills the greatest fanboys with dismay, there’s also been another revival of the “how free-to-play MMOs destroyeth the genre”-discussion in the blogosphere, thanks to Trion’s recent announcement. That one seems to return on a regular basis, like “casual vs. hardcore” or gamification.

And I just realized how these two topics share a connection, or rather a blind spot among their most fervent critics. When it comes to the big copyright debate for digital media in this age of global sharing, the market has been divided for a while now between those who realize that piracy isn’t actually this “big deal” and that free distribution or “pay-what-you-like” models can be used to your advantage – and those who wax hysterical about hypothetically lost revenue. Usually they do so with little proof, a bit like the guys still claiming that sex sells in video games and we totally can’t have interesting female leads in games (also, female gamers are still in the stark minority!….).

So, it takes the voices of smart and insightful non-sales people with some first-hand experience, people like international best-selling author Neil Gaiman, to state the obvious: that copying and sharing does not happen at any conceivable loss to the artist / production company. And that on the contrary, it seems to drive sales up rather than down. I’ve been sharing his video for a while now as it never seems to lose significance and I heartily recommend watching it –

Gaiman’s description applies 100% to my personal experiences. An early napsterer myself (when it was still a shiny beacon of an incoming new age), all this access to free media did for me is let me discover a ton of new artists that I then went to research and order music from. For a while, it was heaven unleashed. Of course I did also download some titles that I never bought later – and never would’ve known about or bought anyway. There was never a minus, only a potential for plus – as in money going into the creative or entertainment industry. I don’t download free stuff with the intention to “steal”, although anyone is free to call it that; what I like is getting sneak peeks, demos and first impressions. Want to make me a fan that buys all your stuff? Give some of it away. I can’t help that I live in an age where I am bombarded with so many offers and choices that I don’t open my wallet right away any longer. It’s the smart companies who react to changing times.

I keep reading about how F2P games are somehow a seal for lesser quality or an admission of failure whenever MMOs go F2P or decide to be from the get-go. Yet, not once have I actually read a conclusive,objective article on why that should be. Why does Rift go from awesome game to disappointment just because it changed payment model? Will its community struggle because of the introduction of F2P – or did it not much rather struggle already and hence the new direction? What does it say about us as players if we make payment models the deciding factor?

Which inevitably brings me to GW2’s continued growth and another article I read on about becoming an involuntary “F2P-convert”. Chris makes the important distinction between F2P and B2P MMOs and points out rightfully that for games like LOTRO or SWTOR, which were not designed to be free, reverting to F2P was/is a life saver. And hence also and especially for their faithful communities. I think this cannot be stressed enough, along with the fact that there are cash shops and cash shops. There are in fact very few popular MMOs out there offering anything close to a pay-to-win experience. I don’t know what games people are talking about in context with “just buy all your raid gear in the store”? I’ve yet to play such a game (and see how much it truly affects me…). In GW2 the gemstore is such a laughable matter, it might as well not exist.

What the article fails to cover in my opinion is that F2P, much like free sharing does in the piracy debate, creates easier access and therefore more opportunities for games like SWTOR or LOTRO (and certainly also new titles) to sell more subscriptions. That was the original argument pro F2P models: see what you get before you pay for it. Was that really such a bad idea? To me it seems many MMOs simply fail to implement hybrid models where both a limited F2P experience and the usual premium or sub-experience is worthwhile.

I find LOTRO a prime example of this business model. Chris mentions LOTRO in context of F2Ps forcing you to buy individual content; that’s not how I see it. What I see is a rather successful approach to compromising, establishing different ways of playing while strongly suggesting free players may subscribe sometime. That’s what happened to me exactly: I have just renewed my LOTRO sub once more. I would never have considered playing it, had it not been F2P however. Turbine has won me over by letting me play their game and then convincing me that it’s worth paying for. Just as if I had napstered LOTRO, I went to buy it later. Yeah, that surprised me too.

I really wish this aspect was highlighted more in the F2P context, that it’s not a zero-sum game. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find data on account split for active LOTRO accounts, or more importantly on how many players have been shifting between payment models. I’m however convinced that there are many players like myself who only started to pay for (another) sub because they were able to access the MMO for free. And that to me seems wasted potential (of plus when there’s no financial minus involved) for those titles stubbornly clinging to subs only, unless they’re called World of Warcraft and can afford not to care. While I still watch Wildstar from a distance, it makes me hopeful hearing about the hybrid payment model they’re aiming for, although details remain to be seen. And why not, after all? It may convince me to subscribe to their game more than anything else would.

[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!

GW2 shop: Panic much?

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.

Oh noes, I used the item shop!

In my last post I mentioned that I have picked up Age of Conan again to test the new PVP server – there’s not an awful lot to play for me at the moment, and I must admit that Hyboria’s setting holds a special place in my heart. Already, the horribly flawed UI, quest or AH functionality frustrate me again (how hard is it to fix these?), but the world in general has that feeling of “home” that I’d otherwise only get in Azeroth.

PVP starts early on and I’m having a great laugh with it; I soloed quests in the starter dungeons and got my ass kicked around every corner until I finally learned how to make proper use of my hiding skill, questing in sneaky mode, what a thrill! Once you’ve lost enough items to some rogue lurking in the shadows (I promptly lost my first blue item that way too), you begin to play a lot differently, making use of walls and corners, always minding the nearest exit. The look of the outside towns and quest hubs is hilarious too: entirely deserted, not a soul around. You think! In fact, they’re all around you, as you realize when a player suddenly drops out of stealth next to you or two start dueling in the middle of town, with more and more players popping out of nowhere and joining the battle. I love it!

That’s not the only novelty in AoC for me though – there is now the item store and yes, the vanity window. Sigh. A fatal combination for somebody such as myself! I had to do it of course, I had to browse what social armor is up for sale. To my defense, the standard armor in the game is very lackluster and looks hardly ever change until you reach max level and go for instances. Who wants to wear an orange plate mail and cow-hide skirt forever?? Just give me one nice set that I can keep wearing the next weeks and months, mkay.

Now, the item shop is pretty sneaky and I blame Funcom for everything that happened from there. I meant to buy ONE set with real money and maybe a bag for more item storage. But of course, the armor is displayed so badly in the shop (and there’s no wardrobe feature) that you basically need to buy in order to check what it really looks like. I didn’t do that of course, I was smart (muaha!) and browsed the net for previews. After 10 minutes I had still found zero screenshots and that was when I really lost my temper. “10 Euros, who cares?? Let’s do it!”

So, I did it. And again, and again. The first set was shockingly bad and then I bought a wrong one by mistake (it was called Transcendence, what can I say). So I bought one more that I finally liked. And since I have 2 characters I play on different servers, I bought another for my high-level priest, too. This is my story on how I spent 40 Euros on virtual wardrobe until I was out of cash to even buy that bag. Had I not read Syncaine’s story on his micro-transactions bill for League of Legends just this morning, I would still feel a little guilty…..but, I don’t! Not really. Lalalala…!

Real-money transfer is coming, friends. Like to learning how to manage an allowance, it takes some self-discipline at first, yet I’m really starting to endorse all the pros of this business model. The times of paying for a pig in a poke are over; here’s your chance to play MMOs first before agreeing on just how much you actually intend to spend on them long-term.

…if you can handle it, that is. Honestly though, can you really blame me?

How I spent 40 Euros in Age of Conan

A good weekend to all of you, the well-dressed and those still running around in cow-hide!