GW2: Picking Apart a Pick – Your Help Needed Evaluating the Fairness of a Cash Shop Item

And here, we have shining examples of "haves" and "have-nots..."

I need a variety of outside perspectives on this one.

I fear I’m a little too close to the issue and conflicted to know what’s right and what’s wrong.

There are three items in the GW2 gem shop that I’m eyeing this month.

My cash budget would very much prefer that I only spend RL money on two of them, and either forgo the last, wait till next month or when it comes around on sale again, or convert in-game currency into gems to pick it up.

perfectlyacceptable

Two of the items leave me with absolutely no moral conundrums or philosophical issues about whether one should support further development and production of more similar items with real life money talking.

The first is the musical harp. It’s a toy. It’s a luxury vanity item that happens to be a musical instrument. There is absolutely no gameplay advantage that a “have” has over a “have-not.” There is merely a cosmetic and “trivial fun” advantage, skewed very much to the personal, as the person paying the most attention as to whether one has this item is oneself.

Much like vanity costumes, colors/dyes and looks, this has been accepted as a perfectly reasonable use of a cash shop across many games. If you like the look, and want to pay RL money to support the developers in making more such options, everyone is generally happy with this state of affairs and accepts it as fair and reasonable that “haves” may get to look a bit more fancy than “have-nots.”

I love music. I love music in MMOs. I’m a big fan of more MMOs introducing such toys and musical instruments in the vein of LOTRO, in the hopes that more Weatherstocks will one day appear. The harp is a no-brainer must-buy, just like how I grabbed every other musical item that turned up.

Now, one could always be paranoid and point to a slippery slope scenario where the developers decide they need tons more money and release five musical instruments onto the cash shop in one month – and while one would definitely not be pleased, choosing to buy only one or two favorites, wait and get others later, or not buy at all are all valid alternatives.

The second is the quaggan finisher. It, too, is a luxury cosmetic item. It changes the animation and look of what your character does when performing a finishing move on a downed foe. Whether or not you enjoy the visual effect and choose to buy it, the finisher is still functionally the same and takes the same amount of time gameplay-wise.

One might argue that perhaps the emotional effect on an enemy player is different, whether he or she is trolled to death by cuteness or executed by a sinister assassin or merely impaled on a generic stick. There are, however, free alternatives that could produce similar effects – such as a bunny finisher that everyone has access to.

Anyway, finishers very much fall under the same category as other cosmetic designs. Fancy art assets take paid manpower hours to develop. Want more? Support with dollars, then. Game-wise, a player that goes without is not at all disadvantaged when compared to a player that has one.

rathermoredubious

It’s the third item that gives me a headache.

Infinite harvesting tools have been sold in the gem shop since the beginning of the Living Story updates. They are functionally equivalent to in-game-available items except that they have unlimited charges.

A few people did the calculations a while back and basically, you would have to mine a ton of nodes over several years to make back the gold equivalent of the gems put into the harvesting tool over just buying many many many sets of orichalcum tools at 4 silver a piece.

Your RL money then, essentially, paid for two things.

Looks: Each infinite harvesting tool has its own unique animation and generally looks fancier than the plain-jane generic harvesting animation. This, we have established, lies in acceptable cash shop territory, selling cosmetic advantages.

Convenience: Time is saved by never having to stop to look for a vendor when your charges run out. Less inventory slots are sacrificed to the necessity of keeping a bunch of tools in one’s bags and thus potentially one has more bag space for valuable loot, or at least cuts down on the need to keep stopping and selling stuff to free up bag space.

Convenience has always been a bit of a grey area where cash shops and the doom-ridden phrase “P2W” are concerned.

Too much convenience for paying customers, and rest assured those that do not partake in the cash shop will keenly feel the difference and begin to evaluate if it’s worth paying up or just quitting.

For some games, this does not disturb them. Non-paying customers are basically freeloaders anyway and do not really need to be catered for. The ‘free’ portion of the game merely serves as an extended free trial and once you cross a certain boundary, you’d better have paid up a minimum amount or look out, you’ll bash headfirst into a paywall.

By choice, I do not like paying for or supporting those games and that payment model. It reeks of exclusion, and my more regular readers are well aware of my eccentricities regarding games that promote rampant exclusion and elitism via their design. I generally do not like to play or pay for a game where it is culturally “understood” that one has to pay such-and-such amount to be among the hardcore hoi polloi and that the free players are merely content and fodder. I believe this model eventually shoots itself in the foot when they run out of free players that are willing to convert, and certainly, snooty attitudes from the paying elite would not at all help this conversion rate.

By choice, I prefer games which keep the playing field level between payers and non-payers, and leaves it up to the players to exercise their option to spend $0 – $100+ in the cash shop as and when they feel like they can afford to pay. Naturally, I understand that this produces a game where developers WILL dangle very tempting and very nice-looking options in the cash shop every month to appeal to player vanity and desire for convenience, while possibly preying on a player’s lack of self-control and leads to potential tragic stories about addiction (to game-playing or gambling).

To others, this is an ethical slippery slope that they can’t condone. I fully understand and respect their decisions to not even come near this sort of payment model.

For myself, I watch carefully for extremes, absurdity and slippage. How much is a player expected to spend every month? I think it is reasonable for such games to operate on a $0-$20 a month basis, equivalent to most subscription games, with more extreme hardcore players paying $30-$50 (similar to say, 2-3 subscription accounts) and the really crazy whales spending lots more (which the onus is then on them to determine if they can afford it or no.)

As for convenience via cash shop items, a little advantage seems to have proven acceptable enough to most.

Boosters tend to give accelerated rates of some kind of in-game currency gain. To me, the key here seems to be that the same thing can be still earned by non-paying customers, but at a slower rate.

The degree of slowness and “time grind” involved ends up determining the acceptability factor. Too absurd, and the non-paying customers give up before they even begin. Have it at a reasonable pace, and then ramp it up and/or double it for people willing to pay for and rent a temporary boost, and it seems to be relatively acceptable to many.

In GW2’s specific case regarding the infinite harvesting tools, the established precedent seems to have been that the infinite tools are an acceptable convenience item, providing mostly peace of mind to folks that choose to buy ’em for their mains, while those that choose to go without do not lose anything by merely relying on the in-game vendor tools.

In fact, they save money, and lose some time.

Which seems to be a bit of a refrain with the better-balanced microtransaction games. Money gets traded for time, and vice versa. The use of player exchanges ends up regulating this via the economics of supply and demand, and players get the option to choose on which side of the scale they lie. Do they value their time or their money more?

Throwing a massive clockwork spanner into the works, is the release of the Watchwork Pick, which suddenly ups and CHANGES the established precedent.

(We previously had a change of precedent when the infinite harvesting tools rose in price from 800 gems to 1000 gems, but this was due to them becoming account bound as per player requests. Previously, they were soulbound, which made switching them between characters impossible. Turning them account bound was a big bonus for players who might have wanted to switch mains or just play a lot of alts and were willing to spend time via bank slot juggling. There was some grumbling at the increase in price, but by and large, it makes acceptable sense to charge a little more for account bound convenience.)

notsayingenough

Despite the in-game tool tip looking exactly the same as all previous infinite harvesting tools, it was advertised on the website that this new pick had a chance of producing a Watchwork Sprocket item when mining. Exact details have not yet been revealed by ArenaNet, but player experiments have suggested it appears to be a 25% chance of getting one per node strike.

This is extremely disturbing to me, in more ways than one:

I was previously minding my own business and cheered up immensely by the thought of being able to buy another nice-looking infinite pick for another one of my alts who dearly needs one for the convenience factor. Except now I have to stop and evaluate all over again whether I should be supporting this chain of affairs with a wallet vote or no. Pragmatically, I want it, but I’m a person of fairly strong philosophical values and would like to conduct myself consistently according to them.

It truly annoys me that the in-game tool tip does not mention the new gimmick this pick has. Someone less fanatical about keeping track of websites and Reddit might have simply bought it via prior precedent, and has now accidentally skewed whatever statistics their marketing department has about whether this gimmick is useful in increasing sales. Meanwhile, I am stuck agonizing over whether I should or should not contribute to those statistics.

That someone may also now have a potential advantage over the have-nots.

Some prior purchasers of the other tools are outcrying over the perceived +1 ramp up and vertical progression of the infinite tools. What they now own is no longer “best in slot.” Instead, this new pick is. Surely, they say, is that not “forcing” us to buy this tool?

This argument doesn’t completely apply to me. For one, I didn’t buy it for a “best in slot” aspect. I’m just not motivated by such things, but I can see that for some other players, this perception would indeed lead to a very insistent pressure to buy it in order to feel like they’re staying ahead.

What I AM concerned about is the have / have-not disparity. Is this a level playing field?

There is no functional equivalent of a limited charge pick that has a 25% chance to produce sprockets, available for in-game currency. The playing field has tilted, ever so slightly.

This is very distressing to me because what it implies is that someone is carefully testing the waters of what players will accept. How do you boil a frog? Increasing the temperature very very slowly and hoping it doesn’t notice.

It’s a precedent. I don’t know if I’ll call it a dangerous precedent yet, but it’s definitely striding into murky grey territory here.

We’re left with the very difficult task of trying to evaluate something that isn’t trivial, and isn’t absurdly extreme.

Some players will tell you that this IS trivial and that other players are making a big to-do about nothing. The watchwork sprocket is a crafting material commodity that has previously been released into the game in large quantities via prior Living Story updates. The TP price for the sprocket as the pick released was around 34 copper. It’s a pittance.

Oh yay, you get an extra 34 copper per node strike 25% of the time. Doing a quick dungeon gets you 1 gold (plus extras.) That’s 294 sprockets you could buy. How many nodes do you have to mine to get that equivalent via the pick?

Of course, what they seem to be overlooking is that TP prices are not constant over time. They fluctuate according to supply and demand.

Enter the guessing game. The fear of the more paranoid is that watchwork sprocket sources might eventually dry up as the Living Story updates progress. They drop rarely from the Twisted Watchwork faction, dropped like candy during the Queen’s Jubilee update, and at a more moderate amount during this season’s Origin of Madness / Marionette boss. Folks who complete this season’s meta-achievement get a mining node that produces sprockets with any tool (including in-game ones) but only at a rate of 6-8 a day. Someone owning the infinite Watchwork Pick can definitely exceed that daily cap via hitting the many ubiquitous ore nodes out there.

Just how valuable might these watchwork sprockets get?

A prior example commodity are the pristine toxic spores, used in a fairly popular consumable recipe. It’s much harder to obtain these now that the Tower of Nightmares update is over and the bulk of the crowds have left Kessex Hills. They’ve gone up to 3 silver 74 copper as of today, which is admittedly quite extreme.

How many sprockets can a watchwork pick harvest? Since I don’t own one as yet, I have to resort to theoretical math based on possibly incorrect reporting. Assuming 0.25 chance of mining a sprocket on a node strike, and that each node gives three strikes, each node visited yields a 57.8% (1 – 0.75 x 0.75 x 0.75) chance of yielding at least one sprocket. The gathering daily requires 20 node strikes, let’s just waffle and say a player has to hit 7 nodes to complete their daily. That’s possibly 4 sprockets from completing their daily.

If a player had a gathering pattern that resembles mine a lot more, which visits quite a bunch more nodes in a day, I feel safe enough doubling or tripling that number.

Now let’s say watchwork sprockets do follow the pattern of pristine toxic spores and rise to 2-3 silver a piece, I personally wouldn’t turn down an extra 8 to 36 silver a day. For some, this may still seem like a pittance, if they’re earning a ton more from the TP or from multiple dungeons. Certainly, it’s still not going to make back the price of the pick in a hurry, considering the rather astronomical exchange rate of gold to gems these days.

The problem is, it’s really quite impossible to speculate on how watchwork sprocket prices will go. We simply don’t know. If a future update introduces a zone with permanent spawns of Twisted Clockwork faction, one might arguably say that sprockets may still be available from an in-game source that won’t be daily capped. On the other hand, they may not, and it may become a rare resource.

Sprockets at the moment are used in a number of recipes, but nothing as popular as the toxic sharpening stones that utilize pristine toxic spores – but that’s going to be hard to predict once again when the critical damage nerf hits. Sprockets are used in Zealot’s and Keeper’s recipes, which produce Power Precision and Healing stats. Those favoring the current meta presently laugh at these stats. Healing, yeesh, right?

On the other hand, my City of Heroes background argues, damage/support hybrids have a lot of team potential and may become much more favorable if critical damage becomes less important and mobs get tougher to survive as pure zerker, especially if ArenaNet decides to tweak healing coefficients once again in a balance pass somewhere.

But there’s simply no predicting whether we’ll get a new meta or not. Celestial stats certainly haven’t turned out very popular. Considering how many people love to DPS and see big numbers, even nerfed zerker may still be considered better than everything else.

Finally, with the utmost irony, I also have to note that people seeking to P2W may end up canceling themselves out via the TP and supply and demand. If many people buy the pick and produce lots of sprockets, supply goes up, and prices will fall.

However, it does seem safe to say that sprocket prices will probably remain within the 30 copper to 3 silver range, and that someone earning 12 sprockets a day from the pick will get the bonus of a green (3.6 silver) to a rare (36 silver) daily. Escalate up and down depending on your estimation on how node crazy someone is willing to be per day.

Is this acceptable or no?

And if I do buy the pick, am I going to regret my contribution to the slippery slope later down the road – either seeing the gem shop spiral out of control into something resembling LOTRO’s present nightmare and ending up quitting the game when it gets too absurd, or becoming one of the elite “haves” that the “have-nots” are going to jealously look upon and abhor, with the eventual result that I run out of people to play with?

(Both scenarios being something that I would never wish upon my dear and beloved game…)

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5 thoughts on “GW2: Picking Apart a Pick – Your Help Needed Evaluating the Fairness of a Cash Shop Item

  1. Ettesiun says:

    I am a casual player, with some income. Until now, my only payment in GW2 except the box price was to buy unlimited harvesting tool (I believe I have 6 of them). I buy them beacause I want to support ArenaNet and it avoid me the trouble to think about changing my harvesting tool when going in low level zone.
    As a casual gamer, I have accepted the fact, I will never be a rich player. After two years of play, I am still not able to buy the commander title !

    In your situation, what I would do : I would forget the bonus, and see if I would buy it without this bonus : if yes, buy it, if not, not. With this approach it avoids, to twist the Commercial stat : they see that this bonus does not impact their sale.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    I’m so far from where you are on this I fear nothing I say will be of much help. For a start, other than the money ANet got from me for my two accounts all the way back in the summer of 2012, they haven’t had a single cent for the literally thousands of hours I’ve played. GW2 is, for me, 100% free after the initial box cost.

    The one and only thing they ever put in the Gem shop that I even considered buying was the Dredge thing that let’s you burrow underground. Even that I procrastinated over and never got round to buying. If I had bought it, it would have been with the free Gems I got in the Achievement chests. I still have most of those, unspent.

    I also once converted some gold to gems to buy one extra Vault slot on one account. That is the sum total of my purchases in a year and a half. Not only do I not spend even the free gems I’m given, nor use the Gold I accrue (Gold savings currently over 500g, unconverted assets in bank at least as much again), neither do I use the vast majority of all the free items that come from Achievements, Dailies etc. I have every Laurel I’ve ever earned, for example – I think over a thousand between the two accounts.

    To put it plainly, GW2 is 100% completely, satisfyingly playable long-term for me with just the most basic in-game items. I haven’t bothered with Ascended gear (some of my 80s still aren’t even in Exotics), I rarely remember to use Food or Sharpening Stones (even though I have 400 skill crafters that can make them). Every day I just log in whoever I feel like playing and do whatever I feel like doing without it seeming that there is any restriction or impediment at all.

    Consequently, the implications of what ANet choose to sell in the Gem shop seem entirely notional to me. It’s almost impossible to imagine any change there having a meaningful impact on my gameplay, let alone the miniscule statistical variations caused by something like that Clockwork pick.

    I find it hard to imagine a scenario where one player earning an additional 36 silver over another player would impact on the latter player’s enjoyment of the game. There’s the possible effect on TP prices, I guess, but those fluctuate constantly anyway, and it’s my contention that the game is completely, enjoyably playable long-term without ever purchasing anything from the TP. If prices go UP on the TP it’s in the direct interest of the more casual, less hardcore players, since they are far more likely to be selling their surpluses there (not that they’ll find much use for the coin they get for them of course, since they already want for nothing),

    With all that said, I do agree with you that we should not encourage by getting out our credit cards practices of which we do not approve. Just because I don’t care what they sell in the Gem shop doesn’t mean i shouldn’t care what they sell in the Gem shop. However, I am positively in favor of the sale of useful items in MMO cash shops and against the sale of cosmetic items. I’m much more comfortable with the idea of paying real money for an item of practical use (inasmuch as any virtual item in a game can be said to have a “practical” use) than I am with buying fluff and vanity items.

    This is real money, after all, and I’d prefer it was spent on goods or services of real value. I approve, therefore, of Cash Shops selling things like bag and bank slots, character slots, mounts or additional races or classes (if only, in the case of GW2). These are solid, useful additions to the product originally purchased, likely to give value over a prolonged period. Vanity and fluff items are exactly the kind of things I believe should be the in-game rewards from Achievements, quests, events and holidays.

    On that basis, I would have no problem buying the Clockwork Pick. It’s exactly the kind of item I’d prefer they stocked in the Gem Store. Well, not exactly, because I actually see buying my Ori harvesting tools as a positive aspect of my gameplay – I enjoy that forehead-slapping moment when I run out – I call that part of the RP part of the MMORPG. And all you ever have to do is flip up to WvW and buy them at the vendors in the Citadel then flip back down to the same node you were trying to harvest. It’s not even inconvenient.

    But in principle, yes please ANet, more solid, useful practical items like the Clockwork Pick, please and less fluff like Finishers. (The harp I definitely would call practical – we need a lot more development on the musical instrument front in GW2).

    I hope that helped!

  3. Ravious says:

    I agree with the frog boiling in water notion. I think ArenaNet still has a lot of reasonable room to go though before hitting P2W. I am surprised though that there has been no comment either way on Tooltip or functionality.

    Another way to think about it is avoid looking at as a competition. Somewhere the grass is always greener. I asked myself do I need this sprocket pick? And the answer was easily no. I have my stash of 250, my node, and right now I really don’t need any. Could change, sure, but I don’t do mining runs anyway so I loathe to see myself scurrying after sprockets via mining pick.

    That being said this already exists in the form of Black Lion tools. They have a higher chance at mining goodies of the node, which is something I’d much rather have than sprockets. So is the water warming up or just creeping out to the edges of the pot?

  4. Knivesmith says:

    I can’t help you with this conundrum directly, but I can provide my own thoughts on the issue like Bhagpuss and hope it provides some weight to your pros and cons lists.

    First, I actually think ANet should have made these more expensive than the regular picks. 1000 gems might be the most they think is reasonable for a gathering tool. Alternatively, if I’m wrong about this theory, then it’s because ANet is trying to shift what these gathering tools are used for.

    While the current supply of Watchwork Sprockets is absurdly high, if these picks didn’t exist then the only continuous supply of Sprockets would be from the home nodes of people that did the Marionette meta achievement. And like last year with the node gained from Zephyr Sanctum, there is the worry that the people who earned the node will leave the game. If that happens, then as long as demand remains above zero these items will eventually run out of supply.

    So, while there may be a number of ways to solve this problem, it looks like ANet is going to experiment. You could claim that these items are currently kept plentiful in the economy between yearly events by time-rich players that got into the game early and spent their time in the limited window there was to unlock these nodes. You can also help keep that supply further propped up by money-rich players with these tools. This is an extra tweak they can use towards limited crafting materials in the economy in the future, and hopefully they’ll append similar attributes to the earlier tools if they introduce materials that make sense for them (a new type of ore for the molten pick, some type of water-lily equivalent for the sickle (although I’d be happy if they provided passion fruit or whatever it is from Southsun), and who knows what could come from a lightning axe).

    Also keep in mind that the profit from these generated sprockets comes from *other players*. They aren’t simply making money from nothing; they’re participating in the economy. For some, the difference is negligible. But I think it’s an important fact to keep in mind.

  5. […] gathering all the things. My watchwork pick has been a great purchase for me on this front, since my commenters talked me into going for […]

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