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Path of Thorns

The new expansion for Guild Wars 2 was recently announced as Path of Fire. Clocking in at $30 out of the gate, it is significantly cheaper than the prior expansion, Heart of Thorns. This is good news.

What is less good is the fact that Path of Fire does NOT come with Heart of Thorns.

Q: Is Heart of Thorns included for free when I buy Path of Fire?

A: No. As we said when we announced Heart of Thorns, we always want to give you the option to purchase both expansions for a single price. With the purchase of any edition of Path of Fire, you can add in Heart of Thorns during checkout and purchase both expansions together for less than the combined prices of the expansions. If you already own Heart of Thorns or only want to play Path of Fire, you can purchase Path of Fire separately. (source)

This is an especially brow-raising turn of events considering ArenaNet’s official stance two years ago (emphasis added):

Business Model Clarification

We want to be clear about our business model for future expansions now that we are approaching our first paid expansion for Guild Wars 2. We believe that to keep the game dynamic and vibrant with a constantly growing community, it should be as easy as possible for new players to get into Guild Wars 2. For Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, we didn’t want the core game’s price to be a factor in a new player’s decision to begin playing Guild Wars 2. In the future, if we release further Guild Wars 2 expansions, we plan to offer all of the prior expansions, the core game, and the latest expansion for one single purchase price. (source)

Business models change, and there has been plenty of turnover in the ArenaNet side of things since 2015. But this explanation of things reeks of sleaze. “Core game + all expansions for a single purchase price” does not parse out into “add another $20 to get HoT and the total $50 amount counts as a single purchase price,” but that is what the Community Managers are spinning it into.

As if things were not bizarre enough, ArenaNet is also making it clear that you don’t actually have to buy HoT to play the new expansion. There is a whole list of things that will work and not work:

Q: Do I need to own Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™ in order to play Path of Fire?

Owning Heart of Thorns isn’t required to access Path of Fire content. However, some content is exclusive to Heart of Thorns.

  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to unlock and use the gliding mastery, as well as all other masteries introduced in and exclusive to that expansion. You will be able to complete all of the content in Path of Fire without the use of any Heart of Thorns-exclusive masteries.
  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to unlock and use the 9 elite specializations introduced with that expansion.
  • Path of Fire includes access to the revenant profession, but not the Herald elite specialization. If you only own Path of Fire, you will be able to create a revenant character and unlock the Renegade elite specialization.
  • You must purchase Heart of Thorns to claim the new guild hall released in Path of Fire, and access the Scribe crafting discipline to fully upgrade your guild hall.

So, basically, if you want gliding or to access one of the 9 elite specs, fork over $20. Well, and I suppose all of the HoT maps (etc) are worth something.

This entire scenario puts me in a mental bind. Up to this point, I had been holding off on buying HoT because I was under the impression that it would be included with the new expansion. I had not been playing GW2 in general very much lately, mostly due to the fact that it was made clear that the Elite specializations that had been released were strictly better than the majority of your other options (as is often the case with new “classes”). GW2 basically only has a fashion endgame so it shouldn’t really matter, but it is hard to get excited about playing a game in which you are limited to objectively worse options. And nevermind that actually purchasing HoT would not give me access to the Living Story episodes I missed, so there is objectively less content available to me anyway.

With Path of Flame releasing in 1.5 months though, I anticipate the new Elite specs to be more powerful than the older Elite specs – designers are simply too incentivised to make shit OP at first. Lack of Gliding will suck, but I never actually had it to begin with, and the designers are promising that it won’t be required for anything in the new expansion anyway. And, hey, some of those mounts seem to be gliding already. So… what’s left? The maps, of course. Masteries that are being promised won’t be required for anything. And… that’s it?

For the people actually playing GW2 on a routine basis, this structure is nothing but upside: they get a new expansion for $30 instead of $50. For new players, it is also probably good, considering they get the base game plus expansion for $30 as well, and won’t really know what they missed in HoT. For anyone else like me, stuck inbetween, there really isn’t anything good about the situation. And while I could easily afford to just throw down for both expansions for “the single purchase price,” the principle of the matter is just odious enough to make me want to delay any decision.

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B2P MMO Goes F2P

We kinda knew from an earlier leak already, but it’s now official: Guild Wars 2 is going F2P.

The F2P restrictions can be compared here, or just read this bullet list from Reddit:

  • Does not receive daily login bonus
  • Start with less storage than paid account : 2 character slots, 3 bag slots
  • No map wide chat interaction, can use local chat
  • Cannot post on ArenaNet forums
  • Can only start new whisper conversations once every 30 seconds
  • Can trade and buy common items on TP
  • Can’t mail items or gold to other players, can still send text-only mail to friends
  • Must be level 60 before entering WvW, other unspecified zone/level restrictions
  • They must play to level 10 before leaving the starter zones, to level 30 before using LFG
  • They can play PvP immediately but must get to rank 20 before using custom and unranked arenas
  • Cannot trade gold for gems
  • Cannot access guild vaults

The more I think about it, the more bizarre this announcement gets. First, has there ever been a B2P MMO that went to F2P? I know GW2 is highly dependent on its cash shop for additional revenue already, but this still feels like a weird strategy. Especially in terms of those “restrictions,” which are incredibly lenient when compared to similar offerings. I guess the WvW restriction might prevent easier zerg leveling/karma farming, but the scaling was so bad back when I played that you practically had to be 60+ to do anything of particular note anyway.

The second bizarre thing about this announcement is the timing. Remember two months ago when ArenaNet bundled the base game into the expansion box price and the internet lost its shit? Surely they knew they were going to announce a F2P conversion two months later… right? Maybe they wanted to wait until PAX for the press coverage, but that was still a lot of negative coverage right in the summer months that could have been avoided multiple ways. Perhaps them knowing F2P was coming contributed to their laissez faire attitude at that particular information rollout.

I’ll admit that I’ve been feeling a slight itch to maybe perhaps download GW2 again, especially after I stopped playing WoW. My game experience ended on a particularly sour note last time around, but it might of been because I wasn’t completely sold on the Elementalist playstyle. Plus, you know, since I bought the retail box years ago, I could start it up and be back playing with little issue.

On the other hand, ArenaNet’s commitment to “Living Stories” and one-time events means that I’m not even sure what, if anything, would actually be different a second time around. Lion’s Arch was destroyed and rebuilt, I think? Maybe they added a few more entries to the Explicit Schedule of Villainy? Who knows. For now, I’m much more likely to get into FF14 than GW2 again.

Best of luck to ArenaNet just the same.

Changing Hearts (of Thorns) and Minds

Remember when I said MMOs are like relationships? ArenaNet just put on the Barry White:

Veteran Player Appreciation

For our long-standing fans and loyal players, we would like to say thank you and show our appreciation. For all players who registered the core Guild Wars 2® game prior to January 23, 2015 and who upgrade their account by prepurchasing and registering any Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns edition before Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns‘ launch, we will add one additional character slot to your Guild Wars 2 account.

But wait, that’s not all!

For all players who purchased the Guild Wars 2 core game from our website and registered it between January 23, 2015 and June 16, 2015 in anticipation of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, we will automatically refund what you paid for the core game should you decide to pre-purchaseGuild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns from our website or in-game store any time through July 31, 2015. If you take advantage of this refund and pre-purchase Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, all of your current account progress will be kept intact. We’ll provide further details on when refunds will be processed in the next couple weeks as we set up this process.

ArenaNet then went even further by explaining the business model moving forward: each new expansion will include all prior content. So we got the character slot for veterans, refunds¹ for the people who bought the base game during the miscommunication period, and concrete details on how things will work in the future. You literally could not get a more reasonable response from a company. I am completely impressed.

Not impressed enough to reinstalled GW2 and pay $50 for an expansion, of course. But impressed nonetheless.

¹ I believe this is limited to those who bought direct from ArenaNet, and not those who bought from Amazon, etc.

Players and Relationships

If you have not been following the latest high-profile MMO PR disaster, the short version is that ArenaNet is selling their latest expansion for $50, and bundling in the base game.

That’s it. There is no long-version.

While Tobold (as always) decries player entitlement and Ravious wants us to think of the children, what is lost in the shuffle is perhaps why the “Don’t preorder the expansion” became the top-rated thread in the GW2 reddit forum (indeed, the top 3 are currently about this issue). Specifically, because ArenaNet failed Relationship Rule #1: it isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it.”

In many ways, MMOs are relationships between players and the developers. It is a business transaction first and foremost, of course, but rarely are MMOs successful without fostering a sense of familiarity and engagement over the long-term. There are feelings of investment, especially considering the game you are playing continues to be in active development. “The devs are listening,” and hey, they sometimes do in fact change things based on feedback. You as the player feel in the loop.

That is why feelings run so high over “betrayals,” real or imagined.

Objectively, there isn’t anything wrong with ArenaNet’s actions. The expansion was going to cost X amount, they chose $50 as the baseline, and that was that. The decision to bundle in the base game was obviously made at the financial level, as there are likely some costs incurred in stocking store shelves with two boxed products, one of which requires the other to function anyway. Plus, there might not be a way to purchase just the base game anymore, basically upselling new players who might not even play long enough to get into expansion content. All very straight-forward business decisions.

Subjectively, though? I agree with subtext many players are reading into the situation, if for no other reason than a corporation (and the developers) should know better by now. First was the (intentionally?) misleading statements that the expansion would require the base game to play, a subsequent sale of the base game, and now the base game is bundled with expansion for free. Then the introduction of a new class without a free increase in the character slots available. Are players entitled to free character slots with a MSRP of $10 apiece? No. Does it look suspicious as hell to not include them? Yes. I would feel the same way if SWTOR’s expansion included five new buttons to push when they already charge money for additional hotbars.

Tobold suggests you cannot win with the kind of players that complain about these things. This is incorrect. In fact, it is very easy to win in this scenario: either sell the expansion as a standalone for $40, or include a free character slot for anyone who purchases Heart of Thorns and already has a GW2 license. Bam! You win the moral high ground. Hell, if ArenaNet is worried about losing all the extra money their current scheme generates, they could tie these elements to the preorder prepurchase prepay only – they would likely recoup their costs on the interest generated between now and whenever the expansion will actually be released.

MMOs are social games, and companies need to manage social expectations in the same way you would in relationships. Or choose not to, I suppose. In which case all your carefully spent millions of dollars in advertising will run directly against a bunch of jilted lovers who will trash talk you in public for weeks for free. And while there will always be some people you cannot please, you damn better make sure that the narrative they present is as crazy as they are.

Because if they have a point? You’ll never hear the end of it.