Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Skin In The Game : GW2

ArenaNet's revelation that mounts would be the defining feature of Path of Fire, GW2's second expansion was widely seen as a spectacular climbdown, one of an ongoing series of U-turns made by the company since launch. Indeed, I find it hard to recall another MMO I've played where statements of policy are laid down so firmly only to be rescinded so comprehensively.

Some of this fundamental restructuring appears to rest on initial misunderstandings arising out of poorly-expressed principles. Others seem to owe their existence to purely commercial considerations or, in a few disturbing cases, panic.

Mostly, ANet's representatives take considerable care in their public statements to leave themselves at least a sliver of room to wiggle. The company motto might as well be "Never say Never".

For good or ill, mounts are with us now and likely to remain so. As Blizzard discovered when they tried to impose a flight ban in Azeroth, once granted such benefits are difficult to withdraw.

The inclusion of gliders in Heart of Thorns can now be seen as a toe dipped in the water. Gliding came out of the blue. No-one asked for it. No-one expected it. Most players were agnostic about it until it arrived but it turned out to be an immediate hit with almost everybody.

Gliding also opened a fresh revenue stream. In a game in which cosmetics represent a substantial element of both the gameplay and the business model, having a new visual adornment to sell is a big deal.

I forget exactly how long it was before the first purchasable glider skins appeared in the Gem Store but I'm pretty sure that record has been roundly beaten by mount skins. The first set popped up as part of the Halloween celebrations barely three weeks after the expansion's launch.

The sheer number of mounts in fancy dress demonstrated the popularity of that enterprise and with Halloween on the way out ANet wasted no time in building on success, choosing instead to double down on it then double some more.

Yesterday's patch saw Evon Gnashblade adding a slew of skins to the stable. Thirty to be precise. They cost 400 gems per skin or you can buy all 30 for 9,600 gems. That's over a hundred dollars.

With the exception of the Reforged Warhound (pictured at the head of this post and actually a skin for the Jackal mount), which is sold separately at a cool 2000 Gems, you can't buy the precise skin you want. In much the same way that DBG has been selling EQ2 Mercenaries for years, you buy an "Adoption Certificate" that grants you a random skin. Massively, predictably, attempted to equate this with lockboxes but there's a very significant difference that largely invalidates the comparison: you cannot duplicate skins by this method. You are guaranteed a unique skin that you do not already own every time you redeem a certificate.

One of the very, very few skins that actually makes the mount look like a different animal.
Credit to Dulfy for the image - that's her riding it, too.

Dulfy has a preview of all the skins. Most of them are so dull I find it hard to believe I would even know anyone was using one. A few are a lot more obvious, usually because they're on fire or have some kind of aura effect, but the underlying problem from my perspective, other than that I don't like mounts to begin with, is that they are skins.

"Skin" seems to be a concept derived from outside of MMOs entirely (other than EVE, but repainting a spaceship has a very different philosophical import to reskinning an animal). In every MMO I've played before GW2 mounts are individual creatures or devices.

The idea that you could keep the same mount but slap a different look on it just seems weird to me although the extreme commercial benefit it represents over having to make actual new mounts is obvious. And, of course, it is exactly what other MMOs do when they add new mounts that use the old frameworks - they just don't present it so baldly, artificially and unromantically.

It's all part and parcel of the ANet approach that makes resisting the temptation to give them money so very easy for me. I actually like the random element of the Adoption Certificates. I love the idea of not knowing what I'm going to get. 400 Gems is a fair price. I can afford it and I'd pay it - if I was told I was buying a new mount.

For a skin for the mount I already have,though? Nope. Not interested. I managed just fine with the basic glider until I bought the Magic Carpet and the Broom and in both cases it was the fact that the purchase added the function of flight to an item I owned or wanted that attracted me, not the ability to add the look of the item to a function I already owned.

It's a fine difference I know but it matters to me, if not so much to the many, many people excitedly discussing the new skins in Lions Arch map chat last night. One player said it was the best $120 he'd ever spent. Another said that getting the new skins was the most excited he'd been about a present since he got a bike for Christmas when he was eight years old.

However sniffy I might be about them, I think we're going to be seeing a lot more mount skins from now on.


  1. The price could be a little lower for random draw, imo. I suspect they're testing the waters. I'm not likely to bite until 25% or 50% off, if paying for gems in cash. Setting the price at 400 gems lets them run sales, but going lower leaves them very little room to maneuver.

    Still, there's one thing I think a lot of Redditors are forgetting. There's an elite class in GW2 who raid, do fractals daily and ecto gamble (and/or trade on the TP) - they build up an enormous stockpile of gold and gold can be converted into gems. This is yet another attempt to sink gold and keep the economy chugging along.

    As someone who doesn't do daily fractals and plays ~3h a day, my reality is that my income stream is going to be significantly less than someone who does daily fractals and has 8h+ to burn. If I want a mount skin, then I will have to earn it slowly over time, or maybe feed in $5-15usd a month like a regular monthly subscription. If I think the price isn't right, then I simply won't buy and will live without, with a perfectly functional and still cool-looking mount that people were oohing and ahhing over a few months ago.

    The problem is, some people want it all now, and feel entitled to 'complete the collection' in a couple of days without desiring to pay the price that has been set. They're certainly welcome to complain about the price and not buy it, and Anet is certainly welcome to evaluate the response and act as they see fit either way.

    I hope the complaints are heard, cos lower prices are beneficial for more players, but well, the populace will vote with wallets and we'll see where the price settles. As there's no added functionality and is merely cosmetic, my main response is a big ol' shrug. It doesn't shift the playing field any; owning a shiny skin is just as likely to draw hate as prestige and admiration, ultimately the value lies in the owner-beholder's eyes.

    1. When I wrote the post I hadn't realized there was such a backlash going on. I haven't even checked reddit but the forum thread was over 20 pages long and heavily negative. In game, as is often the case, reaction was very different. All I heard was excitement. While I was in LA two players literally yelled their thanks to ANet just in case any devs might be there incognito.

      I agree with you on the pricing and I like the random factor.

      I do think the complainers whose issue is that the skins really aren't very good have a point, though. Being generous, maybe 25% of them are distinctive looks; 75% are bland filler that it's hard to imagine many people choosing to pay for given the option. The random-but-guaranteed-no-dupes pitch would, I think, go over a lot better if all the skins were equally desirable.

      As for gold, even though I've spent quite a lot recently I still have around 7500g saved up. My assets have taken a huge hit with the crash in mat and ecto prices post PoF but that's happened more than once before and they've bounced back so I am still sitting on them. I have never done fractals, played the market, gambled ectos (other than to see how the system works) or raided and yet the gold keeps building up. Mount skins, however, are never going to get me to spend any of my hoard.

  2. My experience (granted: limited) with this kind of thing is that the company locks the better skins behind you getting all of the other ones first. In a recent loot box skin bullshit bonanza I experienced.

    The company launched a lootbox that had 16 unique items in it. 14 were basic, ok stuff but two were EPIC SKINS that were amazing and completely awesome. I bought gems to try and get those two skins.

    Take a guess on which non-duplicate loot boxes they came in. The 15th and 16th. Sure, mathematically that is possible (but not probable) and since it is unregulated there is nothing saying that there is a 99% chance you get a crap skin or item first, and only a 1% chance you get the good one. Odds aren't shared, and funny enough it worked out completely in the favor of the company.

    For the record if I got the skins on the first or second I definitely would have stopped buying. Those were all I wanted. For the second record, I would have paid $5 outright for the ones I wanted instead of the $20 in gems for the chance to get what I wanted for $0.80 chance I could get it earlier.

    It's a scam, I think.

    1. That's very interesting (although, as you point out, statistically meaningless as an anecdotal example). I think you're probably right, though; since the entire process is entirely invisible and unregulated, why wouldn't companies arrange it so as to maximize the benefit to themselves? I don't think they would make what happened to you happen to everyone, because players talk to each other, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out there was a heavy bias towards the kind of outcome you describe.

      In the end, if they made more money selling the skins directly, they'd sell the skins directly. People can gripe about lootboxes and random chance as much as they want but so long as there's no regulation and it brings in more cash than the alternative nothing is going to change.


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