For my first actual post on this site, I’d like to explain why the loot in Guild Wars 2 is complained about so much as being bad. In a word, equivalence.
[NOTE: I do not mention people who play the Trading Post in the following post. They do have an effect, but in comparison to the entire player base are less important for the points I am making. Besides, the player base has to create the resources that TP users exploit.]
What is Equivalence?
Economically, equivalence is expressing a given sum of money as it would be in the past, future, or over time.
But it can also be used in the context of comparing two resources. Foreign currency exchange is based on establishing the equivalence of two different currencies as their relative values fluctuate.
In Guild Wars 2, virtually everything is equivalent to gold in some way, shape, or form, and mediated through the Trading Post.
Why? “Play How You Want”
I know that phrase has gotten drug through the mud a lot recently, and a lot of the complaints are warranted (though not within the scope of this post), but at the absolute root of it, the Gold Standard is a surefire way to economically back up that statement.
Think about it: everything in the game rewards gold (with rare exceptions). Most everything in the game can be acquired on the Trading Post for an amount of gold.
From the conceptual level, if everything you do rewards gold (or materials that can be sold for gold), and everything you want can be acquired for gold, you can play whatever and wherever you want and eventually get what you want.
What the Gold Standard Causes
X into Gold
ArenaNet has deliberately built the entirety of the game to translate in some form or another into gold. Guides and posts abound about turning other resources into the one thing that works for everything:
- Skill Points
- Dungeon Tokens
While each of these have value up to a point, they are much more limited than gold. People have excess of these on a regular basis, and are willing to accept comparatively terrible exchange rates to get some use out of them. [Well, dungeon tokens make decent money if you like salvaging rares for ectos]
Additionally, gold exchange exists, at very lucrative rates, for two other resources:
- Time (through the making and selling of time-gated materials)
All of these equivalencies are important because there is…
The One Stop Shop
Also known as the Trading Post. Virtually everything that exists in Guild Wars 2 can be acquired on it. Everything has a market value, based on the item’s rarity and desirability.
Even things that can’t be bought directly from the Trading Post can be quickly enabled through using it. Consider ascended weapons and armor: the final product is account-bound, but most of the pieces building into them can be acquired (at elevated rates) on the Trading Post.
The Trading Post itself functions as both a gold sink and an economic implementation of “Play How You Want”.
In most cases, it’s faster and more reliable to just buy it, and ArenaNet sucks 15% of the net value of the item right out of the economy permanently. Anti-inflation, built into the system.
Abysmal RNG Chances
The core problem of the Gold Standard is that every single drop rate needs to be compared against the global market.
And the global market is not small. Consider that for any given play session by a single player, they will incur hundreds of rolls on the loot table. Change that up to a power farmer, or a TP baron who picks up tons and tons of boxes, and it’s even more effective “rolls”.
Even if some loot tables are not capable of certain drops, when loot rolls are scaled across the entirety of the player base, maintaining global rarity requires a very, very low drop chance.
How does this translate to players? “Two blues and a green,” 99% of the time.
It’s not that ArenaNet doesn’t understand the awesomeness of a rare drop that you get, not one that you bought with gold off the TP from someone else’s great luck. Their hands are tied by the decision to economically back up “play how you want.”
The Market is Based on Highest Efficiency
Because everything can be bought with gold, and the market is based on the relative rarity of items globally, whatever can generate gold fastest becomes the only thing worth doing.
And the free market is smarter than to let people who are farming the ever-living daylights out of the most efficient place get a cheaper way than someone else just playing how they want.
So the prices adjust to whatever the highest rate of gold gain is, particularly on items of extreme rarity and value. The poster children of this effect are precursors. Here’s a graph of Dusk’s value over the course of the game (click on image for full size):
The supply has effectually not changed over time, but the amount of gold it takes to get the same item has steadily and consistently risen to match the most efficient farm, over and above the steady rate of inflation from gold being generated.
The problem here is that players that don’t do the most efficient farm until they get the item they want have only three choices:
- Play more than the people farming, earning more in sum by being less efficient.
- Never “catch up” to the increasing price and have to eventually quit.
- Pull out the credit card and gem-to-gold exchange.
As a result of the Gold Standard, “Play How You Want” is limited in its flexibility for those who want to get the extremely rare items in the game.
Side Observation [Not related to the topic at hand]
Farm efficiency is the primary driver of inflation in the game, as it generates gold at a faster rate compared to other methods of acquiring it.
As a result, I’m fairly certain this is why the most efficient farm is often nerfed by ArenaNet, as it breaks the economy for everyone else who isn’t doing it.
Efficiency Trumps Experiences
When the vast majority of desirable items in the game can be reliably gained by going to the Trading Post and spending gold, everything shifts to reflect gaining that gold as fast as possible. Consider the following:
- The “Zerker Meta” is there because it’s the fastest way to clear things provided people know how to dodge.
- Large swaths of the game are ignored when people complain about the lack of end game. The truth is that going somewhere inefficient from a gold-generating perspective feels far less rewarding.
- Players gravitate to path of least resistance, especially in WvW. Edge of the Mists has become a glorified leveling/karma train, with none of the originally intended overflow strategy of the original maps.
- Most dungeon paths are utterly ignored and dismissed as “not rewarding.”
A large portion of the complaints about how the game plays can ultimately trace to how central gold (and getting it) is to acquiring the items a player wants.
Also consider that when people say they have no problem with the game, or love going to less rewarding areas, it often comes with an acknowledgement that they don’t care for some high-value item or doing “the latest farm.”
Loot Feels Like a Treadmill, Not a Rush
Combine abysmal drop chances and a global player base, and the vast majority of players will never see something that is truly rare. The average player’s super-rare drop goes for 3-4g on the TP.
Hitting F or opening a bunch of bags loses its rush really quick, because past experience (and the value of something on the TP itself) proves that in all likelihood, there will be nothing worthwhile to look at. (Remember the “two blues and a green” joke?)
Truly joyous moments are few and far between, because rare loot is rare. Worse still, those joyous moments often translate into “at least i don’t have to farm <x> for <gold value of gained item>”. In other words, the joy isn’t actually there. It’s relief that more drudgery doesn’t have to happen.
How to Fix It
For players who don’t care about the loot as much as having a fun time, the terrible RNG isn’t a big deal at all. The game is fun on its own merits, in a lot of places.
But for others who like looking really cool, or want certain, rare items, everything rapidly starts feeling like a gold grind.
I’m convinced that the vast majority of the discontent about Guild Wars 2 stems from the way rewards work out. Very little of the game feels rewarding, because it’s built from the ground up to treat everything as equivalent with the global Trading Post there to make up for it.
Because the entire problem stems from the Gold Standard, any attempt to make loot feel more rewarding has to remove it. In other words, building in non-equivalencies.
They Already Exist
I think on some level ArenaNet has recognized the core problem of the Gold Standard as it applies to the average player, because ever since release they’ve been building in more and more cases where gold can’t buy it for you. To wit, a likely incomplete list:
- Ascended trinkets (The closest you can get to this being gold-acquired is getting the Triforge Pendant)
- Achievement Rewards
- Dungeon Armor and Weapons
- Carapace and Luminescent Armor
- Ambrite Weapons
- Fractal Weapons
- Exclusive rewards for Tequatl and Triple Trouble
While there are complaints about all of these, they completely dodge the Gold Standard problems. Unless you do the associated content, none of the above are obtainable.
The other common element of all of these is that some part of them is account bound on acquire. While people gripe about this element, it’s the only way to really keep them away from the Gold Standard.
Flaws in the Existing Non-equivalents
The bottom half of my above list (Luminescent Armor onward) repeat the same problem that the Gold Standard produces: utilizing vanishing RNG to create rarity. [Side note: Luminescent does semi-fix its own problem with the specific extractors] The only problem is that without gold to offset one’s lack of luck, it’s altogether possible to never get what you want. There are tons of threads about Fractal Weapons, Tequatl drops, and more recently, Luminescent collection pieces that attest to this fact.
RNG in this context is meant to simulate the amount of dedication a player has, because the more times one rolls on the special loot table, the higher the chance that a rare drop results.
Having RNG be the only method of acquiring exclusive rewards will always grate, because players are already taking the time to do the exclusive content. Why gate it behind something that can very possibly never give a positive result?
Systems already exist to show a required amount of dedication: tokens. Put in <x> amount of effort to this specific content, and receive specific, guaranteed <y> reward.
The flaw with moving purely to a token system is it doesn’t have the same rush as getting a rare drop.
So my suggestion is to put both in. Keep the RNG elements (you might get that exclusive skin this run), but add in token cost (you will get that exclusive skin after this many runs). Conversely, if it’s purely tokens (dungeon armor, weapons, chiefly), add RNG to the final chest or nearest equivalent.
In other words, create the rush, while guaranteeing that if luck stinks, you’ll definitely get it soon. All while not being stuck on the Gold Standard.
[Side suggestion: increase the drop rates substantially of exclusive-type content. They shouldn’t be anywhere near the 1-in-a-million sort of chance that is typical elsewhere.]
Creating New Non-Equivalences
NOTE: The following applies to a lot more than just precursors, but I’m utilizing it as a single point of illustration. A more complete list will follow the example.
I would gander that the #1 reason people keep asking for precursor crafting is because it would remove the Gold Standard from items that a lot of people want, but few have the resources (or luck) to acquire.
Of course, this creates the reverse problem: it’s no longer “Play How You Want” from an economic perspective. By providing another way to get an item that was previously “acquire gold, acquire item,” ArenaNet runs the immediate risk of that new way functionally being the only way due to efficiency.
But what if every precursor acquired through a new, alternate means like crafting was account bound by default? The economy isn’t touched, because at least in the case of precursors, the demand is already not being satisfied by the supply (as evidenced by the rising price).
And if the economy is affected by the addition of precursor crafting (prices drop precipitously due to lower demand), that’s because the market was artificially inflated anyway.
Furthermore, if implementing a second, non-equivalent way of getting something completely removes the demand for the Gold Standard way, then the original system was deeply flawed and near-universally hated (and only tolerated due to that being the only way to get them).
Creating a second, alternate way to acquire a lot of the extremely rare items would provide an option to players that don’t mind playing a specific way to get a specific thing, so long as it has a point.
No, it isn’t “Play How You Want”, but as shown above, that’s a false choice. A lot of gold-heavy (or outright rare) items in the game could benefit greatly from an alternate means of acquisition, and reduce (if not eliminate) most of the complaints about playing not feeling rewarding. Off the top of my head:
- Mystic Forge weapons (ridiculous grinders like Mjolnir or Wings of Dwayna)
- Rare Skins (backpieces, weapons, armor not implemented elsewhere [tribal])
Any of these could be acquired by any number of devices, some of which have been done in GW2, some of which are present in other MMOs:
- Epic Quests: Travel throughout the world, finding pieces of the item everywhere, and combining them all into the finished item after hours of work. Bonus points for adding lore behind each piece that relates to the finished item.
- A Token System: Every failed attempt at an item (e.g., forging rares for a precursor, opening the Tequatl end chest for an exclusive item) produces a token. After a set number of tokens, a merchant provides the item.
- Escalating Luck: Similar to the token system, for each specific attempt at a rare item, that player’s personal magic find for that item is slightly boosted, capping at a certain point that renders the player much more likely to get the item. This would be much more difficult to implement than a token system.
- A Series of Challenges: This can be tied in with epic quests. Attaching specific and difficult challenges to various parts of acquiring an item will provide a good path for skilled players willing to test their mettle against the hardest things ArenaNet can devise. Think the Queen’s Gauntlet, on steroids. Likely will require solo instances for balance.
There are a lot of challenges associated with any of the above suggestions.
First and foremost, adding alternative means to acquire things will require a large shift in ArenaNet’s high-level philosophy. It’s an admission that “Play How You Want” has created an environment where that’s only true up to a point. Past that point, and you play as efficiency demands.
I don’t think this is a negative thing, because in its own way it’ll be an admission that while on the surface the Gold Standard was a really good idea (and it did work for a little bit after release before the first major farms were found), the effects it has aren’t good.
The two words that nobody in ArenaNet wants to read in a suggestion. But adding additional means is going to shift the market as people try the other means out. Some people might not like the other way of doing it and come back to the original way, but there’s no guarantee up front that it won’t upset the market irrevocably first.
Even worse, moving some things off the exclusive Gold Standard will reduce the attraction of gems to gold conversion, which very likely is a sizable portion of the gem store’s revenue.
But flip it around for a moment. A lot of people quit the game because the loot drops are terrible, getting the item they want is virtually impossible without mindless farming, or a myriad of other reward-related gripes. Likely there are people that refuse to buy gems but still play, with similar reasoning to those who quit (full disclosure, I am in this camp).
Announce a change like the above, and those people could very well come back. And because of the philosophical shift that such a change indicates, they are likely to say “thanks” in more ways than just play time and good feedback. I know for my own part that would be true, but beyond that I am speculating.
Large Amounts of Programming and Development
Even the simplest of the above suggestions (a token system) still requires the time to build in the new token where appropriate (e.g., as a side item rewarded by the Mystic Forge, or an extra item for an unsuccessful roll in Fractals).
The more complex of them (epic quests and a series of challenges) would take a large amount of effort to create the new items, the new system to track progress (though this could be implemented as a collection), and the creation of enemies or areas to provide a specific challenge.
Conclusion (a.k.a., TL;DR)
The loot system of Guild Wars 2 is so abysmal because of the decision to attach nearly everything to the Gold Standard. Everything can be turned into gold, and acquiring what you want is just a matter of getting the needed gold and going to the Trading Post. This is a direct consequence of the maxim “Play How You Want.”
The knock-on effect of this decision is that the most efficient gold making in the game drives the market’s prices, especially for extremely rare items. People who want those items feel compelled to be efficient, and stop doing what they want because it won’t get them what they want. Or they don’t, and never get what they want.
There already exist in the game places where the Gold Standard doesn’t hold true (chiefly by using Account Bound on Acquire), and there’s a high emphasis on the exclusive aspects of the area.
Taking those ideas and implementing them as a “second system” for extremely rare, Gold Standard-based items would reduce the complaints about the unrewarding loot system, as well as increase satisfaction about what does drop.
The main difficulty of such suggestions is that it would require a philosophy change on ArenaNet’s part, as well as create some unavoidable economic upheaval as the new systems re-balanced around the player base’s desire to do things the old vs. new way.
I think these negatives will be more than outweighed by the positive press and reaction of players who have quit the game on account of never feeling rewarded.