GW2: The Value of Virtual Currency

I’ve always found games that offer a way to swap between a cash shop bought-for-real-life-money currency and an earnable in-game one rather fascinating. (As a layman observer anyway – I’d make a poor economist or statistician.)

Partially because it enables me as a player to make the decision to trade up my time or my cash for similiar benefits, but also mostly because it allows me to roughly peg a value on items being sold for the in-game currency in terms of real life money.

It’s kinda the same comparison as “Should I buy a $25 mount?” (or say, spend it on five starbucks drinks or 2-5 indie games instead) just a few more steps further.

(For the record, for me specifically, the coffee and the other games would win. The intrinsic enjoyment inherent in the latter beats any urge to prance around showing off to other people something shiny to make them envious, when other mounts are just as functional… and that thing looked hellaciously ugly to me – gimme a flying lava dragon on fire, maybe THEN I’ll have a dilemma.)

Some other people go even further and start pegging in-game currency earning rates with real life money equivalency at an hourly rate. Which is rather ruthlessly logical and makes a certain kind of sense.

Except I think it fails to take into consideration the kind of experience you’re having for that hourly rate. If your work is crummy and soulless, one is going to have a more miserable time for the extra cash you ‘earn’ versus leisure time spent/’wasted’ playing a game for enjoyment. If you’re grinding dungeons or farming mobs to the point of it feeling as crummy and soulless as work, then please examine if your days and nights are best spent ‘working’ at the game and in real life. (And if your work isn’t crummy and soulless and tires you out at the end of the day, you’re having a ball working overtime -and- earning lots of money to happily spend on the game, then I want your fucking job.)

Anyhow, Puzzle Pirates was interesting to me because I wasn’t willing to put down more than 3 bucks for a couple of Doubloons, and preferably spend no real life money at all, but I was quite content to “grind” out a couple hours each night a gold haul in pirating booty and exchange that for Doubloons until I had enough for the modestly priced badges that unlocked other aspects of the game.

My main purpose there was simply to get a taste of everything and practice puzzling, for free if at all possible, so it worked out well for me to stand around in rags with holes in it (swabbie pirate style, y’know) and offer up the in-game cash that was a byproduct of my game experience to others who were a lot more committed to the game and willing to feed real money into it.

Spiral Knights made me get the calculator out.

Pretty much anything you want to do in Spiral Knights will cost you some amount of Energy. If you’re a very casual player, you can wait out 24 hours for 100 ephemeral Mist Energy to recharge, but past a certain point, you’ll find you’ll need more than that (to craft better weapons/gear, or start a guild, etc.) and have to get it either via cash or by trading the in-game gold for it. I was okay with the concept, likening it to a sort of arcade game which costs you a quarter for each play and so on, but I wanted to figure out if the amount I was being charged was reasonable before I even gave them any real life money.

Now, the most expensive way to get Energy is to buy it for $2.45 which nets you a mere 750. Each “map level” you play through in Spiral Knights will cost you 10 Energy to experience. That figures to 3.27 cents per map. (That’s before calculating any potential returns from the gold crowns you earn while playing through it. I wasn’t, as I didn’t want to make myself ‘expect’ to earn a certain minimum sum in order to break even.) I was okay paying that amount for the experience of playing the game, assuming I played through 10 levels, that’s about 30 cents for some entertainment. Seemed reasonable to me.

The fun thing with Spiral Knights is because nearly everything costs Energy, you can put a dollar value on it very quickly. The death penalty in Spiral Knights occurs when you revive, as it has an associated Energy Cost. Depending on the tier of difficulty you are at, the first death and revive starts out pretty negligible, and then steadily ramps up to a frankly insane and uneconomic $3.27 (or 1000 Energy) by the 8-10th death. The interesting thing is where each player chooses to stop in the middle, of course, and whether they stop only when they run out of Energy for good.  (And I’m sure kids who have their Energy bought for them and people who don’t think about these things and just buy it when they run out contribute a huge amount to Three Rings’ coffers from this death tax. For the record, I back out after the third death most of the time. Repeating the level grind just means more opportunities to earn in-game cash rather than spend real life money.)

Want to start a guild? It’ll cost you $1.64, or 500 Energy. You can craft Tier 1 and Tier 2 weapons for free by waiting for your Mist Energy tank to refill each day, but at Tier 3 and up, it costs 200, 400 and 800 Energy respectively plus some amount of in-game gold crowns (which again I didn’t bother converting as I just wanted to get a ballpark feel.) That means a T3 item costs 65.4 cents to make, a T4 item $1.31 and T5 $2.62.

That last bit took a while to swallow for me. Facing the prospect of spending 2 odd bucks for a top of the line weapon, and possibly thrice that for an equivalent armor, helmet and shield meant around $10 for a max level character, assuming no experimentation with other weapon playstyles (and I love experimenting and playing around and didn’t want to be taxed that badly for it.) Was this a game I wanted to invest time and money in, knowing the ballpark ranges of how much it might cost at the top?

In the end I decided it didn’t seem that over the top in comparison to other blatantly pay-to-win games where a really good sword might cost upwards of $50 or more. (Won’t find me in those, ever.) And that I’d re-evaluate as I got closer to tier 5, as there was plenty of other content in between where I was starting and where ‘max’ might be.

Ultimately, I ended up dilly dallying around T3 with an odd T4 weapon here and there as the difficulty peaked, and I’m quite content with where I am and what I paid for the period of time experiencing the game, with the option to go back and play, only paying money when I decide to actively enjoy the game again.

With prior experiences like that, you’ll find that I’m quite comfortable with the concept of the Currency Exchange in Guild Wars 2, where players can exchange gold for gems or vice versa.

It’s a good way for players with too much free time and players with too much spare cash to trade with each other the scarcer resource, with developers taking much of the profit in cold hard cash for designing a game experience worth spending time on.

What is currently now perplexing me in GW2 is the surfeit of choice of things to spend $$$ on, and in which currency should I be doing it in.

Y’see, after very patient daily farming for an hour or two in Southsun and selling off most of the T6 materials (mournfully watching my Legendary hopes recede further into the distance), the odd rare collecting here and there, and selling off all the heavy loot bags that drop in WvW for me, very steadily, day by day, my banked gold increased by 2-4 odd gold until my short term goal of hitting the Golden title was reached yesterday.

(This is, of course, absolutely nothing compared to how much the dungeon farmers and TP traders make daily, but on the other hand, I’ve not gone insane, burned out on the game or become even more misanthropic from partying up with people I can’t stand, which is a net positive.)

Bottom line is, I now have 200 gold that have fulfilled their purpose screaming “USE ME” in the bank. And I’m pondering what to do with it. It’s not like it’s earning any interest in there.

A wise trader would naturally say, invest the gold in something, so that you can flip stuff on the TP and make your money work for you and all that sort of thing. I admit to being mildly interested in learning how to dabble with that sort of thing, but a casual look at the TP suggests there are already TP flippers in residence in many niches, and that I might lose money making unwise speculations while trying to start out. Still, it might be worthwhile reserving some amount of gold towards learning how to invest/speculate/sensibly gamble.

On the completely luxury spendthrift other hand, I am still watching prices for the Molten Firestorm miniature. What can I say. I have developed an unhealthy obsession about it. I blame spending way too long a time breathing in those lava fumes in the Molten Facility. The buyout prices are hovering around 72 gold. Take the current rate of approximately 3 gold for 100 gems, and you’ll find that this completely unnecessary and fairly useless (but prettily animated and fairly heftily sized) item costs an equivalent of 2400 gems. Or $30.

DUDE, THREE YEARS AGO YOU MADE FUN OF PEOPLE BUYING A $25 SPARKLE PONY. If you buy a $30 mini-robot, even with in-game cash, you’ll never live it down.

So… yeah. I could buy all the baby miniatures for less than that, and I haven’t bought any of ’em because they ain’t cute enough for me (the lion cub’s not too bad, but I’m waiting for the kitten to see if it tempts me.) As much as I would get a kick out of having a Firestorm the size of my Asura running around with me, shooting off its cute rocket jets, I just cannot bring myself to buy it at a $30 equivalency value. Which makes me a little sad, but possibly not as sad as I would be if I bought a $30 miniature and had the other voice in my head make fun of me daily.

A third more insidious voice in my brain points out that I had been overlooking something. When I buy stuff off the TP, I generally want it -now- and thus am very used to using buyout prices to benchmark my willingness to buy. In this case, the voices have a consensus that $30 is too much, no matter how fucking awesome I think that mini is. But if I put up a custom order, and the custom orders are hovering at around 55 gold (most of them flippers, I’m sure), ie, 1834 Gems, or $22.93…

Oh. So now that’s -less- than a sparkle pony (barely), with in-game currency, and it would be up to fate whether anyone would be willing to sell one to me at that price.

That is somehow slightly more palatable. I am not sure why.

Thing is, there’s plenty of other things I could be using the gold for.

I -could- spend all of it on a quest to build my Legendary and probably still need a shitton more gold to do it, which seems like pointless treadmill running to me. I’m already somewhere between 50-100 T6 materials just playing the game how I like it, so in about twice or thrice the time period I’ve spent, I’ll fill up to a stack of 250 without really noticing it that badly (and I do quite enjoy materials farming in peace and quiet and have learned a bit more on how to go about it since Southsun.)

I kinda want a really posh magic find set of armor and weapons and runes and all. That is, exotics and Ascended quality. With a similar Charr cultural look to my berserker set. Other people are running around with 400% mf in Southsun and I’ve been hovering at 300% in my cheapo rares, feeling somewhat inadequate and not as efficient as I could be. That would cost gold too.

I’ve also been dabbling with my extremely crummy thief in WvW, which I decked out in level 80 rares just to get a feel for it before deciding to go condition or crit. Fights are… not going so well. I’m not used to thief timing and playstyle to begin with, so it’s been uphill going with comparatively poorer stats. It’s been sufficient to see potential promise but it looks like I’ll have to invest in exotics and superior runes to get a proper baseline. So that would take gold too.

I -could- buy both a condition and crit suit for him so that I can keep swapping traits for 3 silver. But a) that would be very annoying without a way to easily save specs. b) they’ll soulbind to him and be useless for any other character, and he’s a bloody huge Norn, which is making me think is at least -some- of the problem of not being that stealthy for a thief. (Don’t ask me what I was thinking, it seemed like a good idea at the time.) So maybe one suit and build is good enough for him and I should make a new Asura thief too to try the other type of build.

Character slots cost money too, y’know. An altholic’s brain never rests, and has been desiring a female Norn warrior, an asura thief, mebbe a Charr thief, an asura mesmer or elementalist or both (asura master race! furry charr at heart!)… you get the picture. For 24 gold each, that seems okay to help unlock more character slots, rather than paying 10 bucks each time because I’m still reserving my rl cash budget for the Consortium pick and/or logging axe (if they ever show up.)

I got a bank slot that needs unlocking too. And one more bag slot for my asura, who keeps filling up with loot too fast in WvW and has taken over as my primary there, while the Charr is relegated to PvE. That’s 30 gold to gems.

Put like that, I can see 200 gold disappearing in a hurry. Just got to figure out which to prioritize first.

Decisions, decisions. Which would you guys go for first, and why?

Merry Economical Christmas

Just an update post – I’ve not really dropped off the face of the earth, merely ran out of stuff to talk about till now.

I’ve proudly survived Guild Wars 2 Wintersday without spending a single cent of real life money.

The two minis I chose to make from the in-game stuff were the toy Ventari and the plush griffon, I’m too much of a lore fan to resist the first (even if he is kinda preachy and annoying) and the griffon just oozes cuteness.

Unfortunately I missed being able to craft a third mini from the extra cogs given out via mail through a crazy accident of fate.

I was playing on an extremely low level alt when the mail came, I clicked on it automatically to read it, but decided not to detach the gift from the mail and open it on the under level 10 alt. I mean, who knew what could come out of the gift based on one’s level, right?

Instead, when I later got on my level 80 alt, the mail had mysteriously changed to some kind of automated form message from Customer Support and the gift itself had morphed into an unlocked Black Lion Chest. There was a tiny little line in the automated form message that sort of implied that I might be seeing this message because I was on the wrong character. A sensible person, of course, would have spotted and registered this and got back on the low level alt to check once more, but the extreme weirdness (and temptation) led me to detach the Black Lion Chest and open it to check wtf was inside.

No lucky pop that would have made me extremely rich, but I did get a karma booster and another key, which led to yet another karma booster and some random junk like snowman tonics. So I got that instead of a duplicated 15 slot chest and 200 extra cogs that could have been converted (with additional stuffing and glue cost) into another mini. Not terrible, not great, just… odd.

Anyhow, I always have use for karma boosters, that’s two more months where I don’t have to feel compelled to buy one from the gem store when converting stockpiled jugs of karma.

With the remnants of my stuffing and glue (supplemented by some from the TP), I made a couple attempts at the endless tonic versions of the soldier and the griffon (bought another frame via 250 sweaters) and naturally, didn’t get them, but have about 5 each. Which is probably enough, given that I’m not the sort to hang around in a city or in a big guild group socializing in the first place.

toys
All I’d really do with them is take cute screenshots anyway

I did, however, fall in love with the look of the toy soldier after becoming one briefly. Chasing an Endless tonic, however nice it would be to have one, is only for the filthy rich or the lucky though. I know my limits. Including my budget limits.

After some calculations and agonizing, I eventually came to a set of interesting conclusions:

a) If I was going to buy gems for real money, like $10 for 800 gems, I’d really rather spend it on something like a character slot. I still have two more unmade classes, and want a duplicate Guardian quite badly, ie. at least three more slots needed. Each character slot would yield a lot of gaming time and thus would be worth it, even if it is costly.

b) One mini, being 350 gems, cost an equivalent of $4.38. I can get an on-sale indie game or two for that. The mini, in real life money cost, is not worth it for me.

c) Gems are also worth in-game gold. Rounding up current rates to 2 gold for 100 gems, that means a mini would cost about 7 gold, and a character slot 16 gold. Bit on the pricey side for my tastes, but still, I -did- have 40 gold stockpiled in my bank. (I’m not a trader, alas, that somewhat miserable sum is just accumulated from playing the game and a bit of farming.)

d) For the toy soldier mini, I was willing to spend 7 gold (which would dip into my lifetime in-game savings) but not $4.38 USD, which could be used to buy other things.

And so I did.

Luckily, I think the princess doll is ugly as sin and the toy golem isn’t that special a companion cube, so I’ll happily pass on those two.

(Further equivalency calculations will yield you things like $1.25 USD = 100 gems = 2 gold. I can usually only earn 1-3 gold an hour or two on my level 80 – the higher limit is two paths of AC explorable with omnomberry bar buffs on, which means 3-7 hours of gameplay to earn a mini. Strangely, that sounds quite palatable to me.

Why strange? It’s also earning peanuts in term of USD, which suggests those people who suggest taking a temp job and working for an hour or two for higher USD rates, then converting it to gold in-game are rationally on to something there. Sorta kinda.

I’d posit that the difference is 7 hours playing Guild Wars 2 is a lot more fun (if less economically profitable) than an hour or half working at a fast food joint. And somehow, earning something in-game to trade for something else in-game feel likes part of the game, rather than cheating by dropping out-of-game cash for it and fast-forwarding through stuff.)

After doing those calculations and coming to those conclusions, it also got strenuously obvious that I could afford a character slot right NAO by wiping out half of my in-game savings.

I’d previously been procrastinating because I wanted to buy 2 slots at once to get my mesmer and engineer rolled up, but…

  • $20 is currently a lot for me to drop on a single game (see footnote below with reference to my drastically cut gaming monthly budget)
  • I’ve promised myself those two slots only after finishing up some rl tasks (which aren’t complete yet)
  • And I’d really be damned if I help add on to ArenaNet’s December RL $ profit report when they’ve been playing so many lockbox lottery tricks this month

Buying a character slot for 16 gold got around all that.

Yes, I know the gold to gem price is quite high being a seasonal holiday. It would probably drop later, but I was sitting around obsessing about it for a couple days so waiting patiently was a less preferable option in this case.

Yes, it demolished my in-game gold savings, but what the heck, it wasn’t doing much in the bank except being stocked up for a rainy day.

I got wanting-to-try mesmer and engineer out of my system for a while by rolling one up then taking it for a spin against combat dummies in the Heart of the Mists before deleting the character. Both seemed intriguing. The mesmer was especially complex. Also exceedingly ugly. I was trying for a noble male human mesmer look, but couldn’t quite pull it off. Back to the drawing board on that, it’ll make waiting for the slot easier.

The engineer, on the other hand, was almost perfect.

engineer

I wanted a ferocious female Ash Legion Charr that would almost look male except for her fluffy tail.

In-game though, she didn’t look that bulky and there was a distinct narrowing of the waist that seemed a little odd – may have been the armor or I mis-clicked a body type on creation. I also noted with some dismay that the Charr tail clips right through most of the medium armors. The Crucible of Eternity one was -perfect- though I shudder at the thought of getting enough explorable modes going for it.

Those two little niggling issues were the only thing that helped me delete her and wait for later.

That left the slot finally free for another alt bouncing around my mind. Literally. An Asura Guardian.

I like my Asuras as ugly as Vekk. Deal.
I like my Asuras as ugly and snotty as Vekk. Deal. Big ears is seksi.

Because the Asuran cultural armor looks really good and a small guy slinging a big sword or hammer over his shoulder and running with it is frigging awesome.

And I’m dying to explore the jungle zones with a lowbie, that is -easy- to play and not fiendishly complex like the human elementalist that I was trying to level and attunement dancing all over the place in order to not-die and achieve uber stuff.

Not to mention, try new Guardian builds without screwing up my existing one who is in a decently happy place. Yes, traits swapping only costs 3 silver. The headache of remembering where each trait originally went and/or swapping around new armor and jewellery is too much of a pain for me.

It’s been fun. A lack of drops forced my lowbie to use mace/focus for quite an extended while, and I have to say, I’ve learned to appreciate it a little more. Especially skill 3, which I previously attempted using in dungeons but didn’t really have a clue about. After playing the thief, whose one underwater spear skill involves timing a block for a return counterstrike of devastating effect, I suddenly understand that the Guardian’s mace skill 3 can also work that way, with less devastation but a decent “thunk” or apply protection if it doesn’t.

I especially look forward to using a hammer for a decent part of this Guardian’s time, I’m planning to go Altruistic Healing on him to see how it works, and also greatsword, which I didn’t use while it was flavor of the month for leveling guardians. I might even try mace/torch to see if the offensive torch can help to balance out the defensive mace’s nature. (And when push comes to shove, I can always fall back on what I already know, sword/focus, staff, sceptre/shield, sword/torch, and so on.)

This should keep me quite entertained with GW2 until I either earn another 16 gold or get things done in real life and can reward myself with bought gems.

So, footnote and other non-MMO games update.

For various real life reasons or other, I’ve had to cut drastically back on my gaming budget the past six months.

As a point of comparison, I used to give myself upwards of $600 SGD ($480 USD or thereabouts) per month as a maximum limit, though I’d usually spend under half of that. These days, I don’t want to break the $100USD mark and would rather keep within half of that too.

Surprisingly, it hasn’t yielded any shortage of games or quality gaming time.

The keys to my successful frugality have been significant amounts of patience waiting for games to get old (six months to a year easily does it, two years tops) and go on 75% sale before picking them up, checking on bundle offers / Steam / GOG frequently, not being picky on the type of games I play, playing F2P games and above all, being wise to marketing and sales tricks and measuring relative and absolute values very carefully.

Besides yielding to temptation during the month of the Steam Summer sale, I’m happy to report mission successful for the other months – including December.

I dare to say this now, even though there’s still five days to go, mostly because the Steam Christmas sale this time around isn’t that great, in my humble opinion. A number of fairly popular games have had their original prices increased to $14.99, leaving sales at $7.49 or $3.74 at best.

Me, I’m used to seeing them go for $4.99 or $2.50.

Perhaps it’s just inflation and those prices may stay constant for the next year, but I dunno… a certain amount of jadedness suggests that retailers know people buy gifts for Christmas and may just pick up things on 50% or 75% off without looking at the absolute cost itself. It’s a small markup and if you really want the game now and will be playing it now, it’s probably not worth sweating about, but for me, I’m more of an eclectic collector of games. I’ve honestly too many games in my Steam collection to finish playing in my lifetime (trying them out though, that’s different) so it’s not the end of the world if I wait.

The only drawback is I’ll be quite behind on the gaming trend curve, which fortunately isn’t much of an issue for me. If you have a large collection of friends who -need- to play such-and-such a game together NOW, then yeah, keeping up with the Joneses might be somewhat important.

My significantly smaller assortment of friends, alas, it’s like pulling teeth to persuade them to play a free or cheap game together (even giving them a free gift copy doesn’t work), let alone an expensive one,  and I’m always the initiator despite extreme introversion. I still have uncompleted games of Alien Swarm and Magicka that would be nice to maybe coop again someday. Ah well.

Someday, I would like and will pick up things like the new X:COM, FTL, Mark of the Ninja, Towns, Torchlight 2, et al.

I’d love to support the devs more, but I’m currently not made of money, so I’ll have to wait and be part of the long tail.

For now, here’s what I picked up in December:

ArtRage Studio Pro – $20.39 USD – a splurge, but it seemed like a good deal for the price. The painterly style intrigues and would be fun to experiment with, and might complement the Photoshop-style image manipulation I’m more used to.

Tales of Maj’Eyal donation – 10 Euro (aka $13.23 USD) – also a splurge, but this game has been taking an equivalent amount of time that I used to spend on Guild Wars 2, it’s that good and worth it, imo.

Ultima bundle from GoG.com – $8.94 USD – GoG’s sales this Christmas have beat Steam’s in worthwhile deals. I was staring long and hard at the Deponia bundle, and I may recant if it goes back to $13.74 or thereabouts again. I was overjoyed to see the Alien Crossfire expansion added to Alpha Centauri, which I already owned, and will be playing the heck out of that soon. Thinking long and hard about Wing Commander and a few other games, some of which I used to own but haven’t played in forever.

Spec Ops: The Line – $10.19 USD – it’s not the best price for this game, I have a feeling it can and will go lower next year, but I’ve wanted to play it ever since it released. I’m a big sucker for a good story and commentary on morality.

Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012 Deck Pack 3 – $0.74 USD – Yep, 2012. I’m behind a year. Frankly, I haven’t even finished the 2011 version. Which helped me procrastinate on 2012. For some reason, I own the game, the expansion, two deck packs but not the third. So finishing it up. I note that the entire 2012 bundle is now going for $4.99, the usual sale price of just the game. This is really helping me to put off the 2013 version until the -next- year where no doubt, the same thing will happen.

Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 – $2.00 USD – Bright side, I finished volume 1. No, I haven’t finished volume 2. But I may as well, eh? It could get even cheaper at around $1.50 later, but that’s too much nickle-and-diming even for me for just two quarters.

Humble Bundle 7 – $6.42 USD – I already own Dungeon Defenders, and Legend of Grimrock, and Binding of Isaac, which frankly, are the main draws. But I don’t own the DLC. So well, sorta like paying for that and the other stuff is a bonus.

Grand total: $61.91. Not likely to exceed a hundred even if I go crazy with GoG in the next few days.

That’s a ton more games and value than buying a brand spanking new game on launch day.

Or *cough* buying 60 Wintersday Chests just to try to get Foostivoo and the other three minis.

Subjectively, anyway.