Guild Wars 2 game director talks about the free market and lootboxes

Convenience and cosmetics. These are the foundational pillars of Guild Wars 2’s microtransactions, and back at GDC earlier this year, Game Director Crystin Cox opened up about how ArenaNet monetized its game using these pillars along with the free market and lootboxes.

“Expressing yourself, relating to other people, showing off, making a visual representation of who you are, is hugely important to a lot of MMO players, so that was always very high on our list,” she said. As for convenience items, Cox emphasized how the studio “respected people’s time” and wanted to make items that could trade time and money if so desired.

As for the dual currency system, Cox said that it has turned out quite well for the MMO: “I think we’ve done incredibly well with the free market because it accurately represents the value of the things that people are purchasing.”

Cox was admittedly more “fuzzy” in trying to define an ethical, non-painful lootbox experience, as she said that it came down to treating players right and not making them regret a purchase. But she said that she hopes the government does not get involved in regulation.

“Ultimately when it comes to lootboxes, I believe that there are times when lootboxes provide a real value to players,” she said. “They provide something that players want. It is very easy to misuse them, and to use them to satisfy a developer need instead of a player need.”

Source: Gamasutra. Thanks Sally!
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Joseph Chello

““Expressing yourself, relating to other people, showing off, making a visual representation of who you are, is hugely important to a lot of MMO players, so that was always very high on our list,” she said. As for convenience items, Cox emphasized how the studio “respected people’s time” and wanted to make items that could trade time and money if so desired.””

I’m sorry, but all I heard was this developer spouting a bunch of cliches and catchphrases. Would have given additional points for the usage of, “empowered”, “enabled”, “grass roots”, “problematic”, “diverse”.

What a load of crap. At least just come out an admit that you’ve sacrificed any notion of immersion and lore at the altar of monetization widgets like these to drive players down the slippery slope of pay-to-win and pay-to-convenience. Sorry, the “I’m older now and don’t have the time to get those items” argument does not hold water. How about this? If you don’t have the time skill or effort, you simply won’t get those items, ever. How about that concept? But oh wait, we live in a world now where everyone wins, and everyone gets an equal footing, right?

Just take me back in time to a day where I actually respected the game, and the players that excelled at it, as in original EverQuest. Because in 10 years where will we be with this mentality from this dev? Simply provide your credit score when rolling a character? Microtransactions tied to in-game cryptocurrency wallets that award you fractions of bitcoin every time you make a boss kill?

Pathetic. Dropped.

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Mimo

When are they going to understand that there is no problem with a lootbox if there’s no randomness to its contents. It’s the randomness, therefore the gamble, that makes them problematic. It’s still possible to sell pay-to-win items through non-random lootboxes, but that’s a whole different subject.

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Randy Savage

The Free Market has already decided. The two most profitable and successful MMO’s (WoW and FFXIV) are both subscription-based with no lockbox shenanigans. Maybe people would rather pay $15 a month if it means a more honest way of doing business.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

How do you figure FFXIV is the second most profitable and successful MMO? Easily in the top 10 in the west, but I’m not even positive about top 5 in the west, let alone second everywhere. That isn’t to knock it, just that games like ESO (to say nothing of games like Warframe and POE) easily outclass it based on what we know about playerbase size and revenues. Do you have direct evidence on XIV’s performance vs. games like GW2 and BDO and ESO?

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Dystopiq

Nope. If that were true P2P MMOs would be everywhere. They’re not. The majority of games are F2P with microtransactions. The market decided they want F2P. Two P2P MMOs is a minority.

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Utakata

Or the original B2P model back in the GW1’s day…where all players had to worry about was just buying the game and it’s expansions. They seemed to make money that way…enough to create and develop GW2. o.O

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Terren Bruce

And yet those are the only two subscription only MMO’s. You can’t have an entire genre of games based just on subscriptions because no one will try other games. I’m glad the option is there for those who want it but that is not a business model that can or should work for every MMO.

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Bruno Brito

Normally i don’t agree with you, but you’re right in this instance. Sub-based MMOs need a huge ammount of stuff to work, say, a powerful franchise ( Warcraft / Final Fantasy ) and studios with money to spare.

There’s a place for every game that does right.

Reader

It feels like the EU is leading the charge in everything, not just the gaming field. I’ve gotten tons of emails the last few weeks on the privacy front. All these companies having to fall in line behind the new rules that the EU set forth. Its to complex and to much of a headache for them to figure out how to separate all their users out, so essentially those new rules are going to benefit everyone globally.

The same thing is now happening on the gambling front, with loot boxes and other shady practices getting the spot light cast on them. Several countries have already set forth ultimatums and that will continue to be the trend.

Godnaz
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Godnaz

What’s weird to me (no it isn’t) is how quickly this article and anyone with criticism was down voted and contentiously defended ANet’s practice of loot boxes on the Guildwars 2 subreddit… o.o

Your Honor
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Your Honor

I hope they go away big time (loot boxes). I am very hopeful with the EU’s initiative in this regard.

Lootboxes have no place in video games and have been solely invented to extort as much money from the consumer as possible for as little of an investment from the developer as possible. It’s so incredibly anti-consumer it’s crazy to see people defending it.

Surely you’d rather purchase the thing you want than a chance of getting that thing you want.

It’s absolute insanity.

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Terren Bruce

I would and I do. But I can appreciate that whales with deeper pockets than I do make my games free. There’s plenty of other thing on the GW2 gem store for me to buy without lootboxes.

Your Honor
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Your Honor

Except that it isn’t the whales that bring in the most money from these loot boxes but a large number of average transactions coming from a large number of people.

On top of that, a lot of those people are kids who don’t know better. Just yesterday a kid in my guild was upset he didn’t get anything he wanted from boxes. He spent 50 Euros for them.

This gambling shit has to go.

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Dwarf-Orc

Does GW2 have multiple game directors? Because I thought Mike Zadorojny was the game director. I’ve never heard of Crystin Cox.

phaedrux
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phaedrux

Every once in a while I buy 25 or 50 keys and open chests. Every single time I’ve done this I’ve had fun. Because I enjoy opening presents and seeing what’s inside. Because I know there’s a small chance of getting something rare. I never expect to “win,” because that’s not how gambling works. This doesn’t seem like such an odd position, but the internet seems to be telling me that what I do is somehow evil and bad and that I should feel bad? That I’m somehow being taken advantage of? That it needs to be legislated on a national level in order to protect people from its dangers?

Reader

Gambling and the high that some people get from it can be addictive, just like drugs or alcohol. They desire to regulate it just like other types of gambling. They also will look “very” hard at what demographics these companies are targeting. Tobacco companies used to target children to try and hook them at a young age. They regulated and banned their ads. McDonalds uses toys to try and lure weak willed parents and their children. Those toys are now banned in many countries. As it has been proven to reduce obesity rates.

They don’t need a lot of new data or long studies to determine that the same factors exist with loot boxes and things like them. Education on these subjects would certainly be the more democratic way of handling things, but education is costly. They can chop the problems legs out from under it by applying existing regulations to gaming.

Does it have the potential to be heavy handed and absurd? Yes. Might it be better for everyone in the long run? Possibly, yes.

I suspect that this trend will continue. Accelerated by the EU and China (mostly). I kind of hope it weeds out some these weaker companies and titles. The genre is saturated with garbage titles that exist only because of whales and junk gambling.

Time will tell.

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Utakata

Tl,dr: Blame capitalism? o.O

…there are problems with this game director’s assertion though:

“I think we’ve done incredibly well with the free market because it accurately represents the value of the things that people are purchasing.”

I doubt many of the players who play GW2 are hold such lofty libertarian views though. I can least attest when I play both GW’s that this is about about as far from my economic and political philosophies and views as Vancouver is from the place I live (that Toronto) on an Asura’s foot.

It’s also highly disingenuous to wax apologetics about your cash shop and lootbox mechanics, when avoiding the elephant in the room of allowing all items to be all dropped ingame for those who wish to grind for it. As part of the dynamics of a game is achieving something as opposed to buying ones way through it via RMT’s. The latter used to viewed as cheating.

That said though, “fuzzy” thinking is pretty much defines this naval gazing meanderings while avoiding the issues it has created for the consumer, IMO.

ohsnapitskelz
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ohsnapitskelz

Like them or not, I don’t think this article presents the full story from the Gamasutra article in a good way, as it misses out on one of the main arguments made. The number of comments asking “What value does she think it gives to players?” exemplifies this.

In the article itself from Gamasutra, Crystin Cox says the following:

When we talk about cosmetics, there’s a demand for every individual cosmetic. Like maybe I love cowboy hats, I just want to buy cowboy hats. But there’s also a demand, and a lot of players feel this way, for just cosmetic options. I like cowboy hats sure, but I also like bandannas, and I like clown hair, I like everything. I don’t really have a super strong preference. I just want more things to put in my dress-up box. That demand can be satisfied a lot better sometimes with just giving you a random thing, because that can be done a lot cheaper. If you don’t care about which one you get and you just want one, you can get it for a lot cheaper.

She seems to be saying that, when done well, loot boxes provide a good value to players who just like to collect all the things, especially in a context where the loot boxes can be offered for a cheaper price that a standalone skin (whether that comes from a higher entity in the company, a publisher, the amount of work that goes into each item, or the precedent set by other items in that game or others.)

If a loot box guarantees you progress towards unlocking its contents (like those in GW2 where you cannot get duplicates, or to a lesser extent those in GW2 and Overwatch where you can get currencies that directly unlock the skins that you want) then a player who just wants to unlock all of the skins, as many collectors do, will likely save money in the end through these systems.

On the other side of the coin, if you don’t care about which skin or item you get from the box, just being able to get a single one from the random selection for cheaper is also appealing.

Of course, if you really do want one specific skin out of them, then that’s where the system does fall flat. I do appreciate that ArenaNet seems to be receptive and understanding of this fact, as their most recent mount skin release offers the option to choose which skin you receive for a slightly increased price instead of dealing with RNG. This system, I think, is the most fair given Cox’s justification, and I think it is something to be appreciated as the discourse and regulation surrounding loot boxes continues.

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kgptzac

That quote is quite frankly, ludicrous. The logic is so bad that I can feel my brain cells die just from reading it.

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Dug From The Earth

Loot boxes ALWAYS fall flat. There isnt one game where they dont. Slightly less smelly crap, is still crap.

Your options are always “Spend lots of money until you get what you want” or “Dont spend money at all and get nothing” Either way, you are missing out on what you wish you could get, or missing out on all the money you had to spend.

I think Anet is confusing feeling proud to show off cosmetics, vs just being happy to finally have your character look how you want them to look. There is nothing to be proud of from things you get out of loot boxes. Either you are rich, or lucky. You didnt achieve something in game to get it. No amount of skill allowed you to acquire it. Whats really happening in most cases is that players are bummed that the way they wish they could have their character look, is locked behind a RNG paywall, that leads to defeatist spending. (realizing that the only way you can get it, is to give in and give them more of your money)

ohsnapitskelz
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ohsnapitskelz

If you don’t spend real money at all, you can still get boxes through in-game gold transfers or through weekly or PvP key farms.

Also, you have many other options: Spend a couple of dollars once and get one random skin that you are happy with. Spend a couple of extra dollars and get the exact skin that you do want. Don’t spend money at all and not care that you get nothing because you don’t want the skins anyway.

No one is forcing you to buy skins if you don’t want them and, believe it or not, there are actually people who don’t want them. If you do want them? There are plenty of methods to do so that don’t require RNG or real life money.

On top of that, there are plenty of weapon and armor skins available through playing the game (just as many as, or more than, what you can get out of loot boxes) and a good portion of the game’s mount skins are available in bundles or direct purchase.

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Dug From The Earth

converting gold to gems is only slightly better.

Its trading the necessity of real money, for the necessity of a boring ass gold farm.

What I personally want, in a game that I paid the box price for, and the price for each expansion… are mechanics that allow me to earn the cool looking armor and cosmetics I desire from REAL gameplay. Achievements I earn, challenges I surpass, bosses I beat, etc etc.

Gold farming, has never, in any game, been an achievement for me, and doing it to acquire that lootbox cosmetic doesnt make it feel any more rewarding, or something Im proud of at the end.

Those cool dragon wings you can get in the box arent special to me just because I have them. They should feel special because of how I earned them.

Maybe im alone in this thinking… but its how I feel.

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Sally Bowls

REAL gameplay.

Ah.

While far more people are like you than me, my preferences are different. It has been seven or eight years since I really cared about which, if any, bosses I killed. But I still find the economy, making gold, selling, buying to be interesting.

So what you consider REAL gameplay is not wrong, it is your preference. But it is a personal preference.

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Dug From The Earth

I can see how playing the economy could be enjoyable for some. Its complex and challenging for certain.

The downside is that a games economy is often horribly flawed, because its not something that the devs can really manage or control. (for example: All it takes is ONE instance of duping, and suddenly the economy is vastly affected. )

Given that in GW2, the economy is screwed over by the simple fact that you can inject gold into it by spending real money, was enough for me to realize its not really a thing for me to set as an accomplishment.

So when you focus on becoming uber rich player in GW2, and buying those lockboxes with the gold you have earned, to get those dragon wings to show off your accomplishment…. it doesnt really mean much… because I can just spend real money and get the same thing.

Now… if there were achievements, that gave cool cosmetics for doing certain successful things in the games economy… now that would be cool and rewarding. (but not in a game that allows you to buy gold with real money… because again… its not really an achievement at that point)

—–

As a side note: when i reference “real gameplay” (which as you pointed out, is subjective), i was more referring to elements of play that are more within the control of the developers. I mentioned killing bosses, because that a common, well known goal/challenge/accomplishment in games. Its far from the only type however. Character growth/progression, exploration, crafting, story/quests, achievements, guild activities, pvp, etc are all more things, easily maintained by the devs design goals, and uncontaminated by the players (except in pay2win games). Things that the devs can decide “Doing this with the system we created is note worthy and should be recognized” With the “ecomonmy”, even in an untainted one, that a lot harder to set goals with…because 100g for some might be a foturne, but to another, is nothing more than an hours work.

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Sally Bowls

In your previous post, you said: “They should feel special because of how I earned them.” The gold that I earned or the boss that I killed are no less special to me because some wallet warrior got the same thing with RL$. Why should you enjoy your boss kill progression just because someone bought a carry of the same bosses? What being able to buy it does preclude is you showing it off to others.

This is one of the few things I love about cash shop economies.

Someone can still work towards and achieve a goal; but they get only the pride of accomplishment but are not rewarded for the vanity of wanting to show off.

I don’t think MMOs are games e.g. with explicit victory conditions. So in a virtual world I choose to play in, I am not overly concerned with what devs “deem noteworthy.” I play how I want as long as the fun is worth the costs in time and money.

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Dug From The Earth

I feel special for beating a boss, or discovering a secret area, etc largely because I achieved it through the only way possible… playing the game. Had either of those things been something I could have bought with real money, then it loses something for me. My achievement would be moot since it wasnt necessary to achieve to get said reward.

I remember playing some games where someone else had achieved some big monumental thing, and many players respected that. They respected the achievement because they knew it had to be earned, and no other way.

That respect and such gets tossed out the door when something can be bought.. regardless of if you did it the legit way. In fact, most everyone will probably assume you did it the easy way.

And dont give me this “im doing it for myself, I dont care about what others think” mumbo jumbo. If that was the case, then no one would buy lock boxes, and then parade around with that sparkling set of rainbow Pegasus wings, The whole point of having something like that is to show them off.

And showing something off has a whole lot more meaning when its something that required you to actually achieve something to get it. Which is my original point.

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Sally Bowls

Wow, I don’t think we have close enough world views to even communicate.

1) If asked “is there anything in a video game worthy of respect” my initial reaction would be probably not. I would not respect someone for watching TV well, and I don’t see a huge distinction from the video game. eSports with prize money have win conditions; the virtual worlds I am in do not. (Upon reflection, I probably could come up with some MMO things to respect, but the quantity of your virtual pixels is probably not going to be on the list.)

2) I couldn’t disagree more with “And dont give me this “im doing it for myself, I dont care about what others think” mumbo jumbo. If that was the case, then no one would buy lock boxes, and then parade around with that sparkling set of rainbow Pegasus wings, The whole point of having something like that is to show them off.” The only game I have bought cosmetics in is SWTOR and I play that 99.9% solo. Most of my stronghold decorations have been seen by at most a half dozen people, and a lot of them have been seen by zero other people. I can’t imagine caring what a bunch of eStrangers think of me – or anything really.

The one case where the cosmetics matter is when I am playing with an IRL friend; I try to not ride mounts she does not have when she is around. I am getting a new car in July and that is not in her budget atm so I try not to talk about it in front of her; it would be tacky.

3) If people are not about doing well and doing good but rather are about showing off – and if monetization choices can keep me and them from playing the same game – then, IMO, thank you monetization! Which was one of my original points.

ohsnapitskelz
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ohsnapitskelz

What I personally want, in a game that I paid the box price for, and the price for each expansion… are mechanics that allow me to earn the cool looking armor and cosmetics I desire from REAL gameplay. Achievements I earn, challenges I surpass, bosses I beat, etc etc.

I agree with you here, and I think that in Guild Wars 2 this does exist as the way to get most of the more intricate and noteworthy skins in the game. Legendaries, achievement skins, titles, most dyes, and the vast majority of armor pieces are all in-game rewards.

That being said, there is something to be said for the lack of mount skins available as in-game rewards, though all things considered this is still something that might come. It did take a bit for us to get the Legendary backpacks/gliders as the sole in-game glider skins, but it did happen.

Maybe im alone in this thinking… but its how I feel.

You definitely aren’t, and I do hope I don’t make you feel like your opinions are invalid at all. We’re all entitled to one, and I actually agree with a lot of your points. I’m simply responding with my own opinions and counterpoints, and hoping to encourage a dialogue so that we can all grow and learn of the different viewpoints. That’s the joy of discussion and debate. :)