Working As Intended: Guild Wars 2’s new mount licenses are still lockboxes, but they’re not the worst lockboxes

Pretty much everyone assumed that back when Guild Wars 2 planned out mounts, it did so with its cash shop in mind. The game is already not-so-jokingly known as “Fashion Wars,” so it’s got a playerbase primed and ready to splash out for sparkly mounts, especially cosmetic upgrades to what is very likely the best mount system in any MMORPG to date. The first set of mount cosmetics arrived for Halloween, a whole pack of skelly skins that players could buy directly. The second set, however, has now landed with a new sales scheme, and it’s caused significant controversy just as anticipated.

As we explained yesterday, ArenaNet has added 30 new mount skins to the game, but instead of selling them directly, the studio is selling them in a hybrid sort of lockbox: You buy one of the mount licenses, which unlocks one mount skin on your account that you don’t already have. You always get a mount skin, and you never get repeats, potentially all the way up to 30 licenses for 30 skins.

Unless you get the one you want sooner. That’s a big unless.

Our editorial team has been debating lockboxes of this particular nature for a long time. I first learned about the format last year when my husband grudgingly bought a bunch of this type of lockbox through SMITE. He really wanted the Ratatoskr squirrel-in-wolf’s-clothing skin for his main, and so he bought the 10 hybrid lockboxes to ensure that he got it (along with nine other guaranteed unlocks). He was willing to spend that much money for one skin, so he was even happier to spend that much money for 10, particularly in a game that is aggressively generous with unlocks. I ribbed him about it at the time, but since then, he and MOP SMITE fan MJ Guthrie have convinced me that this is really not the worst way of doing business if you’re committed to RNG in your cash shop.

That doesn’t mean it’s a great way of doing business.

Artwork by gears2gnomes/knight-mj:
Artwork by gqears2gnomes/knight-mj

A regular lockbox/lootbox of the MMORPG variety treats players – you – like a mark. Like a wallet. Like an idiot with neither self-control nor economic acumen. Most of the time, you will spend your money and walk away with the digital equivalent of scrap paper. Buffs. A minipet everyone already has five copies of. Junk. Not only did you not get what you wanted to buy, you got nothing useful at all. You got the random crap that studios dole out to buffer them from the gambling complaints they very much deserve.

Guild Wars 2 already has gambleboxes like those, and they suck. The only redeeming feature of the system is that (for the most part) you can take your claim tickets, trade them for one of multiple skins of your choosing, and sell it on the open market as you like, meaning that many skins acquired through traditional lockboxes are buyable for in-game gold, even for peeps who refuse to buy lockboxes.

Mount “licenses,” on the other hand, can’t be sold or transferred, and you have no choice in what you get. The key difference is that you do get something better than digital lint. You do get a mount skin. It just may not be the one you want.

Where you side in this argument, I suspect, depends on how entrenched you are in fighting RNG as a whole, whether you have your heart set on any specific skin, whether you hate cash shops on principle, and whether you think value mitigates potentially exploitative systems.

Here’s what I mean: These mounts are freakin’ cheap. Each mount skin unlock is 400 gems, so $5. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of an MMORPG cash shop where you can get a guaranteed mount skin for a fiver. So if you are sick of rapty and bunny et al., you can buy a few unlocks and get something different. If different is all you really wanted, this is a really inexpensive way to get it. It’s much cheaper for you overall than if 30 new mounts suddenly popped up on the cash shop for the traditional sparklepony rate of $25 bucks apiece. Likewise, if you wanted all of them anyway, $120 for 30 mounts is a steal. If you care most about value, this system will appeal to you.

(You could argue here that most of the mounts are filler and lack value in and of themselves. You’ll have to make that call for yourself. Maybe flip through them all first.)

If it’s the RNG of lockboxes that enrages you rather than the booby prizes in traditional lockboxes, you’re still going to be pissed. The stakes and payouts may have changed, but it’s still a form of gambling to you. You didn’t want a cheap random mount from some undisclosed drop-rate table; you wanted to buy a specific thing for a reasonable fee, and ArenaNet is still playing games with your tolerance for bullshit. In your mind, cheap random mounts are no better than booby prizes when you were after the one. And look, you’re not wrong to be annoyed about that. You could look at it the way my husband looked at SMITE – you could figure that you’re just paying $120 for the mount you want, and the other 29 are just along for the ride – but I can’t fault you if you hunker down on principle here. (And if you do, you can pay about $25 to buy the one direct-purchase mount that went live yesterday: the Reforged Warhound. Anet thought of you, here, too.)

If you hate cash shops and think all content should arrive through in-game means, even purely cosmetic content, then you will be angry no matter what and Guild Wars 2 is already probably not your game.

All that said, Guild Wars 2 is still my game, for all my criticisms of it, and while I find plenty to frown at with this new system, I’m also feeling encouraged to see ArenaNet seemingly taking player feedback into account and trying new ways to make money that are less bad – and less about getting away with as much gambling as possible – than the rest of the industry with its lockbox-infatuated debauchery. I’m also really heartened to see a fast way of injecting the game with a ton of new mount looks all at once that doesn’t culminate in everybody moving from the same free look to the same paid look. Whether I’ll pay five bucks for what’ll likely just be a fresh set of horns on Rapty? That’s another story.

The MMORPG genre might be “working as intended,” but it can be so much more. Join Massively Overpowered Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce in her Working As Intended column for editorials about and meanderings through MMO design, ancient history, and wishful thinking. Armchair not included.
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