Any online game with a buy to play or free to play business model needs a way to generate profit long in to the game’s life spam. For Guild Wars 2, the Gem Store is the way in which Arenanet gets most of its profit outside of initial sales and expansions. Players can also choose to purchase their items with in game gold, converting them to gems to buy the flashy cosmetics and convenience items that come exclusively from the cash shop. Over time, technical upgrades and new systems have created higher quality and more exclusive items in the store, resulting in a progression system that rewards both gem purchases and gold farming for conversions to achieve rewards.
Let me first say, having players spend money of the game is A-OK with me. Funding the game’s development and ensuring that Guild Wars 2 can continue to be the amazing game it is sits perfectly fine in my eyes. The growing concern however is that simply too much of the game’s ultimate progression lies solely in purchasing an item through the cash shop- whether that be with gold or money. Aside from any arguments about pay to win, this removes a great deal of satisfaction in meeting your goals, especially for a player trying to get these rewards through the in-game conversion. Weapons and skins that look as good, if not better, than the in game Legendary weapons and armour are coming thick and fast. And the problem of course is that these rewards are exclusive to the gem store. In a cycle where new legendary weapons arrive once every 2-4 months, the gem store is releasing weapons of similar quality on a biweekly basis, nullifying the idea of earning rewards for play time and instead encouraging players to spend in the gem store instead.
Where it hit a boiling point recently was the release of the mount adoption licence. Anyone following the game even remotely will know that these RNG loot boxes caused an uproar that rippled through not only the Guild Wars 2player base, but was picked up by dozens of gaming websites and communities. The locking of mount skins, and previously glider skins, behind the cash shop is nothing new to Guild Wars 2, but it was taken to another level when players were forced to gamble for the skins they wanted at a steep price. A guiding principle behind the game is that you can always work towards any goal you desire, at any pace you desire. Hiding a skin behind RNG means that instead of working towards something they desire, players are working towards rewards they mostly do not want for a chance at their desired skin. All this detracting from any goals like Legendary items or progressing in game systems like masteries or fractals. The other option of course is to simply purchase the skins- but at a price tag of over $100 USD, many players are hesitant to swipe the card on this one.
As can be seen with the timeline of glider skins, technology in the gem store has ramped up violently in the last couple of years, with some of the flashiest particle effects and best-looking gliders coming from the store. Even Legendary quality items like Ad Infinitum or Warbringer pale in comparison to the effects and effort put in to skins like the Raven Spirit glider, or the Meteor glider, which can literally cover up nearby Legendary gliders. Players who have committed dozens of hours to obtaining a skin through various stages of progression and collections are outshined by players who have either farmed the gold or paid for gem store skins. The argument runs deep for both sides- if the in-game rewards are too good, why would anyone ever buy anything from the store and support the game? Similarly, if the gem store is too good, why would anyone bother going through the massive effort of completing difficult to obtain in game items? But at least for gliders you can obtain some skins in game that look half decent- mounts you are stuck with defaults (admittedly, the defaults do like pretty damn incredible) unless you pay a steep price for the various gem store variants.
I find the RNG skins unacceptable, but having beautiful cosmetics and convenience items in the gem store I can live with simply for the sake of supporting the longevity of this great game. At what point does it become too much in your mind to lock behind a gem store? Let us know your thoughts!