Guild Wars 2 Pre-Purchase – Good News, Bad News?
A few days ago, ArenaNet finally spread the news of when you will be able to pre-purchase Guild Wars 2, and what goodies you can expect from pre-purchasing one of three upcoming editions. While still not an announcement of the much yearned for release date, the news is an important milestone in the development of the game. On April 10, those who are sure about the success of Guild Wars 2 will be able to voice their certainty with their wallets, and ArenaNet will be able to gauge the preliminary measure of interest there is in their ambitious project. In addition to this mutual benefit, the news also comes with an unspoken message – ArenaNet are steadily nearing completion. Good news all around, and that’s not even mentioning the goodies all three editions will come with – a free ticket to all beta events, the ability to join the game three days ahead of launch, and a fashionable ring to aid you in early levels.
The official page ArenaNet has put up – https://buy.guildwars2.com/ - details the aforementioned editions, on top of the promise to accept digital pre-purchases come next month. The page fails to mention an important note here but one of ArenaNet’s always helpful community managers pointed out on the Guild Wars 2 Guru forums: you will not only be able to pre-purchase physical (and in the case of some stores, digital) copies via retail, some retailers will also offer a pre-order program, meaning you can order without paying in full in advance – just in case you need to save up for that Rytlock statue that comes with the luxurious Collector’s Edition. If you decide on pre-ordering instead of pre-purchasing, take note you will only have one-day headstart access to the final game, as opposed to three.
So, to reiterate the news, the three editions of the game that will become available for pre-purchase on April 10 are Standard/Digital Edition, Digital Deluxe and Collector’s Edition. Although initially the official page only had a price tag on the Collector’s Edition, recently the page has been updated to include the prices retailers and news sites have been reporting. As it has been known before, the first edition is priced at $60/£50/€55, while the Digital Deluxe is priced at $80/£65/€75. The ultimate edition – Collector’s Edition – costs a whopping $149.99/£129.99/€149,99. This is what many fans came across as they read the news, and it’s not hard to understand that, upon noticing the pricing, the excitement took a bit of a hit for many. Controversy has risen. Are such high prices justified? Well, let’s start from the top.
The Digital Edition, or otherwise Standard Edition, is perhaps the easiest to justify. The price tag is still more than what you would shell out for a video game a few years ago, but the truth is, the same could have been said “a few years ago”. I remember paying about ten euros for a game cartridge for my Sega and thinking it was expensive. Video games are becoming increasingly more expensive, and tempting as it may be to blame publishers or developers, it is not entirely their fault. Some of them might eagerly jump at the chance to hike up the price, yes, but the current state of global economics presents the simple fact that money is decreasing in value, requiring every businessman to adjust the real value of their offered products and/or services to offset inflation. Take a look at the Steam Store. While there are valiant developers who price their games at a price lower than the unwelcoming norm, it is unrealistic to expect the bygone days to return. Besides, there is something else that the doubt-ridden must take into consideration.
Let’s not forget two important things that make Guild Wars 2 unique in this case. Firstly, the game is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. In layman’s terms, this translates to anywhere between several dozens of hours to hundreds. If some – myself included – are known to spend hundreds of hours on games with finite content, imagine the potential longevity an MMORPG offers. If The Elder Scrolls series are known to be played for weeks and months, successful MMOs are known to be played for months and years. ArenaNet has teased us with a surprisingly colourful array of activities that await us – hot-joinable PvP, structured PvP of the same strain but with an integrated tournament system, PvP that pits three servers against one another, a vast PvE world with 1500+ dynamic event chains, multi-path dungeons, a personal story that provides a singleplayer (or co-op) RPG experience, mini-games, the ability to experience low-level content, and more. And, if you’re willing to trust ArenaNet, they’ve promised to start working on regularly updating the world with new content soon after launch of Guild Wars 2 itself. Surely, at least one of these things captivated you, otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this article, now, would you?
Secondly, and just as importantly, Guild Wars 2 does not have a subscription fee. It has been confirmed long ago that the game will launch with micro transactions, even though they are yet to confirm minute details of what those will entail. What has been confirmed, however, is that the aforementioned model is not planned follow a pay-to-win design nor, allegedly, will you need to pay to unlock areas, mechanics or game modes within the final game. You buy the game once and you play it whenever you feel like it, for as long as you feel like it – the content within is yours. Not too long ago, ArenaNet even confirmed that what was once considered to be available exclusively via micro transactions – items that allow you to transfer stats from one armour piece to another – will be attainable through in-game means. This business model puts Guild Wars 2 leagues above all other MMOs, which either have a monthly subscription fee, or micro transactions which give you a clear advantage in-game. I personally know some for whom this may sound too good to be true, and they doubt ArenaNet will follow through. In which case I point you to the original Guild Wars, which had a similar (if not identical, but time will tell) business model.
As we move to the other editions, however, it’s becoming a bit more difficult to justify pricing, especially considering bizarre regional adjustments, but I’ll address the latter a bit later. Digital Deluxe will come priced at $80/£65/€75. If this price holds up when the pre-purchasing goes live, you will be facing an additional $20/£15/€20 to part with, provided you want access to a handful of exclusive virtual goods that will await you in the final game. The game industry is no stranger to this particular strain of editions, and they burst bouts of controversy only on rare occasions. BioWare, they of Baldur’s Gate fame, have grown fond of them since Dragon Age: Origins. As an example, Mass Effect 2 is still available as both the Standard Edition and Digital Deluxe. The latter comes with an exclusive set of armour and a couple of weapons (the three items are actually quite helpful in-game). However, more importantly, that game’s Digital Deluxe already came with the official soundtrack, a digital art book and making-of documentary videos, so the items felt more as a gesture of gratitude. ArenaNet reserved similar goodies – a making-of book, the official soundtrack and art prints – as a part of the larger Collector’s Edition.
Guild Wars 2 Digital Deluxe comes with an elite skill called Summon Mistfire Wolf, an in-game Rytlock miniature, a golem banker, Chalice of Glory and Tome of Influence. Confusion starts with the fact that, despite the awkwardly high price spike, only two of the five items will last you forever. The banker expires after five days of usage (which utterly defeats the core purpose of a bank), while Chalice of Glory and Tome of Influence expire upon using them. And as irony would have, the least useful reward for purchasing this edition – the five-day bank – is the only one that opposes the pay-to-win model.
To start, Tome of Influence increases the rate at which you contribute influence to a guild, which would be a matter of mere convenience if not for the fact guilds will use influence to strengthen themselves in World Versus World, consequently bearing the potential of swaying the servers-wide battle in their favour. Chalice of Glory would be less debatable, seeing as structured PvP rewards are largely cosmetic, even if it’s somewhat disappointing that the only means hardcore PvPers had of flaunting their progress has been diminished by a currently unknown margin. However, the page states you can also use it to “compare your progress against other players”, which is confusing. Is that feature only available through this item? If so, it means you’re essentially paying to unlock a feature. If not, then I may be simply overanalysing what could have been just an unfortunate poor choice of words.
Yet that elite skill is where controversy has sparked the most fires. In my opinion, the danger of handing out skills, weapons, armour or just about anything that can give you even the slightest advantage in combat, is that you have to balance it between it being too underpowered and therefore not worth the money, and it being overpowered and therefore… well, overpowered. It’s a challenge tackled more easily in singleplayer games, since the enemy AI has no means of venting its frustration on unfair paid-for advantages on respective game forums. Still, there are many developers today who thoughtlessly put monstrous weapons right at the start of their game, unsurprisingly rendering the affair of killing dull and eliminating any sense of difficulty. There are examples of cases sitting in the opposite end of the axis, too, if you care to remember the infamous horse armour DLC for The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. So, if singleplayer games can suffer from this model, then what of multiplayer ones? Actually, what of games belonging to the genre that births the most heated balance-related discussions known to the Internet?
Some developers use the unconventional (and usually successful) solution of unlocking in-game items earlier for those who pre-purchase than those who pay for the games as common folk do. DICE did so with Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and, to a lesser extent, so does ArenaNet with Chalice of Glory and Tome of Influence, thus softening the items’ aforementioned sins. But Summon Mistfire Wolf is a “unique elite skill”, which implies it’s unique to Digital Deluxe and Collector’s Edition owners. Panic is exacerbated – largely for false reasons – by ArenaNet’s failure to describe the skill in detail, leaving the community to wild speculations of whether or not it will be disabled in structured PvP and whether or not it will be overpowered. Still, misunderstandings and heated speculations aside, the question remains – are three limited use items, one memorabilia item and one potentially underpowered skill worth something around $20/£15/€20? That’s a lot of money for content half of which will expire quickly.
The content many have their eyes on, however, is in the Collector’s Edition. The usual goodies you would see in an edition one step up from the standard one are in this package that includes everything Digital Deluxe does, a 10-inch Rytlock statue, a 112-page making-of book, five art prints to go with one fancy frame to frustrate you with indecision, an art portfolio and the “best of Guild Wars 2 soundtrack CD”. If this is the edition you want, then you might have to spend $149.99/£129.99/€149,99, depending on where you are. Regional pricing, as promised, will be touched on, but first things first. The confusing thing here is that ArenaNet – or NCSoft, perhaps – have come to the strange conclusion that people will want the figurine, the concept art and the soundtrack all together. So far, statues, figurines or various other paraphernalia were sold on top of another edition, one that had art and/or the official soundtrack. There is a great divide between fans who want that paraphernalia and fans who are enamoured with the game’s setting or sound. It’s a truth easily discovered – all it takes is a quick look at comments in Guild Wars 2 Guru or the Guild Wars 2 official Facebook page. The divide exists for another reason, too – paraphernalia is expensive to produce. It seems as though the figurine was clumped in with the other items to lure in those who wanted just the art, the soundtrack and the book, making sure they yield and pay the ungodly price, so that the developers and/or publishers can justify the costs of production.
Entrepreneurial conspiracies aside, the currency conversion of that price is what’s driving those outside of North America mad. Collector’s Edition will cost £35 more to UK customers – that’s $56/€43 for those who are unfamiliar with British pounds. Europeans are hardly any more fortunate, seeing as they will have to pay nearly $48 more than North American customers. Of possible note here is that VAT is not included in US prices, which would explain the higher prices elsewhere. Except this caveat does not apply here, as the highest sales tax in the US is 13%, increasing the price by less than $20. Of course, VAT in Europe and the UK is higher – EU demands a minimum of 15% taxation, whereas the UK has recently seen a startling increase all the way to 20%. And yet both prices remain lower than what is on the pre-purchase page. So, where is the crazy markup coming from?
Well, let’s not forget the retailers, who also have to make money out of being the middle-men. They may not figure into the equation when it comes to those who plan on buying straight from NCSoft, but for painfully obvious reasons, ArenaNet cannot sell it at a lower price than retailers. Furthermore, the four letters everyone seems to be missing so far are MSRP. They stand for manufacturer’s suggested retail price, and trends show that ultimately retailers sell either at or below the MSRP. Don’t expect the Collector’s Edition dropping to seventy dollars or some such, but we may yet have a chance at marginally lower prices. Or we may not. Guessing games are fruitless, at this point, and the prices – while expensive – are not monstrously exaggerated, especially when compared to what else is on the market.
Patience is key here. The prices may be untoward and unsightly, but a couple of inconveniences aside, you will ultimately be paying for a product that will entertain you at no additional cost for an indefinite period of time. If you are inconvenienced by the offers presented, you could always seek alternatives – for example, if you’re not too thrilled about the statue, the art frame or the art prints, you could share the Collector’s Edition with a close acquaintance, while one of you chooses the simpler edition, instead. In the meanwhile, the virtual bonuses Digital Deluxe and Collector’s Edition offer may or may not be substantial enough to justify their pricing, but that’s something we likely will not find out until ArenaNet clarifies or the game is released. We should withhold cries of pay-to-win and the tar and feather treatment and remember that while we should always remain an informed consumer, it’s a thin line away from self-entitlement.