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.


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.


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.)


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…)

GW2: The Slippery Slope of Leveling Impatience

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

(Let’s just get that out of the way first. It was solely my own decision and my own damn fault to do this.)

Despite very careful attempts at saving world content for future alts (I haven’t done full world completion for that specific reason,) I find myself getting bored wandering the open world and doing PvE content on alts past the teen levels.

It’s more than a little strange on my part because I’m capable of circling a small area on my level 80 and killing every single yellow or red mob in the zone for an hour or two, humming merrily to myself. And then perhaps diverting off and getting into whatever trouble catches my eye.

Still, I fear a combination of factors shoved me across the boredom point.

1) Even downleveled, a level 80 in exotic gear hits a lot harder and withstands more than a lowbie.

It’s very obvious when I’m playing the exact same class again. It just feels a lot more tedious to carve one’s way through mobs when one knows it could be done faster and more efficiently… if only one could wear better gear with higher stats…

2) The open world is generally more devoid of leveling players, leading to monotonous heart to heart grinds.

The first time around, it was all new. It was exciting to keep wandering around the next corner and uncover the map and find out what’s here. Other players moving in and out of your field of view made things interesting and broke up the monotony. More players meant more events constantly triggered and stumbled across, not just stuck waiting for one lonely individual to find and start it.

It’s also a little grating when your lowbie has difficulties with an event you’re convinced your level 80 could solo, even downleveled. In my specific case, that’s group events and champion mobs, and those end up being left alone as untouched content instead after having gotten steamrolled a couple of times.

I admit to even being somewhat frustrated at the lack of tenacity of the newer leveling players. Perhaps it’s natural that beta and game launch would harbor the highest numbers of ‘hardcore’ players who stick with things, throw themselves at giant mobs repeatedly until they figure out how to defeat it, and so on.

I complained before about my last experience with the Font of Rhand, where I witnessed a whole bunch of vanishing players failing to figure out its puzzle.

Then just the other day I answered a call to arms to take down the champion Ketsurak in the Gendarran Fields. There were two other players, a downleveled warrior and a on-level ranger, I think. I was on my on-level guardian.

Now Ketsurak is a champion risen Abomination with all the annoyances that implies. He hits hard with his club if he connects, the club knockbacks and interrupts, he frenzies for more damage, and hell yeah, does he charge. He can charge so far into the back of his cave or out into the swamp that he might leash (like others in Orr.) And he has regeneration.

First try, we got smacked around pretty quickly. Second attempt was a lot more promising, with all three of us kiting, we brought him down to half health and I was starting to get the hang of his attack patterns. Then the ranger got run over. I had aggro, so I immediately kited Ketsurak a little away from the other two and was dancing in circles around him. The warrior made a move towards the ranger, but for whatever reason decided not to rez and rushed the champion, where upon he got smacked down, and left me with no choice but to attempt a rez with Ketsurak on my hiney – not the wisest of plans. Squish went my lil Asura beside the downed warrior.

Third time’s the charm, right? Except no one else showed up, having presumably given up after being smacked around twice. Come on.

Not one to back down from a fight, I engaged him solo, and dodge-tanked him for five to ten minutes for my own satisfaction to prove it was possible. Alas, a dinky scepter and an on-level guardian does no significant damage whatsover to a champion with regeneration, though I did eventually make a 5%, then 10% dink in its health bar when I started throwing radiation (a poison) field and kiting him around in it. That was a little too slow for me to continue, so I ambled off wishing one other person had stumbled along – that would have been all the damage necessary.

3) One ends up wishing one had all the skills previously at one’s command.

At one point I wanted to use the skill sanctuary. Whoops. Need 6 skill points to unlock it. Oh crud, that’s a lot of running about the open world to do. Or… need more levels, dammit.

4) One keeps looking forward to the end point, to the original purpose of leveling an alt.

Now if your purpose was to experience the world of Tyria from fresh eyes on a new character at one’s own leisure, then this might be less of a problem.

In this specific case though, I keep dreaming of experimenting with new exotic gear stats and new traits and testing it out in groups and in WvW. That was the whole point of leveling an identical class, because I’ve just gotten too comfortable with the place my 80 is in and don’t want to switch it around to potentially less optimal while looking for better or different playstyles.

At level 29, my patience finally wore down to a thin thread.

I’d patiently gone through Metrica Province with a fine completion comb, exploring all the things. But it was very quiet and lonely.

I’d gone through Brisban Wildlands with a bit less dedication to completion, leaving stuff in the corners untouched and mainly doing the personal story as the primary entertainment, slooowly doing hearts in between the missions.

I wandered through Gendarran Fields – a place with which I was -very- familiar, having gone through it previously twice – with no particular plan beyond filling hearts and gathering.

I wound up staring at the Fields of Ruin, which promised to be just as deserted as Metrica Province beyond one or two RPers in Ebonhawke, and couldn’t take it any longer.

It gets a bit ironic because I’m not terribly familiar with that entire map yet, but I just have no patience at the moment to explore every nook and cranny and talk to the NPCs there. My attention is currently taken up with the WvW scoreboard and getting involved with the war effort.

I didn’t remember having this much trouble leveling with my main before, so I thought very carefully about what was different between then and now.

Besides possibly wandering around new corners more and garnering some exploration xp, it boiled down to two things – crafting and WvW.


I had been organically crafting up armorsmith on my main, with a side of artificing, and it must have bolstered me without noticing. Since my spare guardian was not part of the original five with whom I had spread out two professions, there was no initial plan to level any professions on him.

That turned out to be a mistake.

Which makes sense, when you remember that each crafting profession up to 400 actually nets you enough xp for 10 levels.

Except frankly, you only want to make shit that uses up 15 fangs or 15 claws once ever. Those things are expensive.

So after a moment’s consideration, I decided the safest two professions that I might have repeated use for, would be cooking, then jewelry.

Falling down the slippery slope of efficiency, my hunch got checked out on GW2crafts, which is the most sophisticated “crafting guide” I’ve seen in a while – not just a simple soon-to-be-potentially obsolete couple words of text detailing do-this-then-that, but listing estimated costs and suggesting stuff to buy off the trading post and what to craft or discover, taking into account current pricing on the TP.

Sure enough those two seemed the cheapest to level up, at only 2-3 gold max, something more conceivably affordable than the 8-10 gold of the other professions.

I tried faithfully following the suggested guide but noticed that the random critical crafting success chance of one’s home server was potentially throwing off the number of suggested things to make. Being a cheapskate packrat, I also didn’t bother buying anything off the TP and tried to utilize whatever I had banked in my collectibles instead. Except I plainly hadn’t made it to several hearts and was missing things like coconuts and peaches.

So I improvised here and there, which stuffed up the continuity somewhat as the guide had been assuming I had a stockpile of previously cooked food with which to layer another ingredient on. Oops.

Ah well, I was running out of inventory space anyway.

And had made it to level 31.

Which, to be honest, isn’t the BEST level to go WvWing in. That little green arrow makes you a tasty target, and you are undeniably just squishier than you would be at level 80 in exotics. But I was BORED. Out of my skull.

So I did the next best thing and trawled the TP looking for the absolute best equipment of that level range. Which turned out to be very cheap (1-3 silver a piece) green masterwork loot drops that already came attached with fairly decent stats on their runes, decked myself out in armor, jewelry and weapons, noting with some pleasure that all four stats wound up being fairly balanced in the end. (I went for power/precision on the armor and toughness/vitality on the jewelry.)

Since I had a bunch of spare food, I picked up some sharpening stones to use as well. (Lowbie needs every last scrap of stats available, eh?)


Then I hurled myself into the Borderlands trusting the upleveling to… more or less, make me, I dunno what’s the right word – viable? survivable? presentable? not instantly squish?

I gotta be honest, just comparing my staff damage, I appear to do about half that of my level 80 in exotics and he’s not even traited to specialize in that. If you’re looking to kill anybody in WvW, I wouldn’t do it on a lowbie.

Fortunately, WvW encompasses a lot more ground than straight-up killing. I wouldn’t be interested in it otherwise.

Following along in a zerg, one can still provide swiftness boosts with nearly the same effectiveness as a level 80. And I was discovering creative things to do with combo fields and blast finishers and warding lines/rings and helpful immobilizes while getting the hang of the hammer I want my new guardian to carry as his main melee weapon. And one can still carry supply, build stuff, tick siege, man siege, rez people, finish people, report enemy movements and run dolyaks.

With some amusement, I also note that by sheer fortune of guardians being very tanky and defensive, I can even soak some attacks by looking like a good target (GREEN ARROW, SQUISHY,  RRAARRR, wtf invulnerable, healed, ran off back into the zerg, “……”)

Doesn’t work in cases of the whole place being carpet bombed with AoEs or being completely outnumbered or caught alone, of course, but there was still opportunity for fun.

Before I knew it, I was level 38.

One just has to focus on other things than xp bar watching in WvW, which makes the leveling significantly easier. And there’s all the event completions ticking along at fast rates as stuff gets taken.

A brief break out in the PvE world to catch up with the personal story, and I hit the level 40 mark, which seemed a good time to re-upgrade all my gear to yellow rares now. And back into WvW we went.

Danger, Will Robinson…

At level 46, with WvW cranking down, I sat in Lion’s Arch feeling the siren’s call of temptation. I had two crafting boosters sitting in my bank from black lion chests opened with free black lion keys that either dropped, came from personal story or map completion. It was the end of the week with WvW crafting critical successes as high as they would possibly go.

I chugged one and finished leveling cooking to 400. I wasn’t terribly organized about it, so it took the whole hour of the booster, flipping back and forth between a website and the game.

All of a sudden, level 55.

Now I’m sitting here contemplating the other crafting profession and wondering just how far down the dark side I want to go with this.

I probably won’t take the other crafting booster. If I do, then I’ll end up looking at the store and thinking 150 gems for yet another booster might very well be a bargain for the next alt. Just 3 gold in exchange, after all!

If I level up jewelcrafting now, I should be able to hit level 65.

Which isn’t 80.

How long before I start looking at the next cheapest profession, artificer, and think – about 3 gold, I can afford that? (Which would bring me to level 75, pretty damned close.)

The only thing stopping me is that I don’t want to have to switch back for 40 silver – I already picked the two professions I wanted to be using on this character. If I’d thought it through in advance, I would have leveled artificer first, and then dumped it and taken up the next profession.

(Of course, a little voice in my head whispers, you haven’t finished leveling jewelcrafting yet. You’re barely at 100 in that. You could drop that, take up artificer and finish that, then switch back more cheaply to jewels and finish THAT.)

What a clever way to make sure crafting materials are always in demand.

And if I ever do this once, I don’t know if I can stop myself from doing it again for the next alt.

And the next.

And the one after that.

Decisions, decisions.