Negative Incentive: Why Not to Make Masteries Expansion Exclusive

As I mentioned in my last post about the masteries dev blog, there are two things that I dislike about it as announced: tier increases and needless expansion exclusivity. This time around, I’m writing about the latter.

Masteries are an Expansion Exclusive

The ability to train Masteries is unlocked at level 80 for all players that own Heart of Thorns.

Yep, point blank if you don’t have Heart of Thorns, the mastery system isn’t available to you. Normally, locking a system released with an expansion behind that expansion is good sales common sense. However, in this instance I disagree.

Something to Nothing

The spanner in the works is this:

Because the Mastery training bar completely replaces the experience bar, players who’ve reached level 80 will no longer gain levels but will instead train Masteries. This means characters that have reached level 80 will no longer gain skill points through leveling. Skill points will be added as rewards across high-level content to offset this change.

This leads me to believe that for someone without Heart of Thorns but playing a level 80 will quite frankly gain nothing. Maybe experience still ticks, levels still get gained, but the core gain of reaching a new level at 80 (the skill point) is explicitly toast.

And while “rewards across high-level content” implies that the core game will gain skill points as well, it’s cold comfort. Beforehand, a player could do whatever they so desired and get skill points. Another example of “play how you want” properly applied.

But with the mastery system as a pure Heart of Thorns exclusive, that aspect of “play how you want” is gone.

“Who says they’ll do that?”

Economic common sense. ArenaNet strictly controls the overall economy, and has often been averse for any “unfair supply advantages,” as I’ll term it. If there’s a place in the game that rewards anything disproportionately, it gets nerfed into the ground. I made this observation in The Gold Standard.

Skill points are a currency, and one of the few besides gold with good sinks and fairly limited acquisition*. So from an economic perspective, when Heart of Thorns players lose their skill point at 80, so will non-Heart of Thorns players. It also avoids the perverse incentive to not buy the expansion because a player prefers getting skill points.

*Granted, if you’re not a fan of T5 to T6 promotion, Mystic Forge weapons, or a large number of alts there’s less of a sink, but it does exist.

Of course, there’s a chance that this is all a wash, and people who don’t buy the expansion don’t care about what they’re losing or missing out on. But to offer an example of why I think that isn’t true, we need look no further than…

The Reaction to the Fractured Release

(Note: I went into more detail on this at the beginning of my post about Fractals)

When Fractured went live, every player’s progress was reset to a maximum of 30 personal reward level. The Fractals community went absolutely nuts about losing what they had earned, especially when the reasoning for the universal reset was believed to be shaky.

Players aren’t likely to take “because the economy” as a good answer for why they’ve lost something they once had, especially since that phrase is drug up as the worst part of the reasoning for loot’s terrible RNG.

Sum total, players don’t react well to losing something they had, regardless of the reason. Rather than taint the release of the expansion with ire, it would be a much better option to give a portion of the mastery system to everyone, regardless of their ownership of Heart of Thorns.

Negative Incentive

The existing logic, as best I can tell, is that locking the entire mastery system behind Heart of Thorns gives yet another reason to buy the expansion. Without it, leveling is just this empty husk once the final tick from 79 to 80 occurs. “There’s all this exciting end game progression right over there. Just one, easy payment and it’s yours!”*

*Marketing speak makes me sick.

I disagree with this approach. The mastery system is being added to both Heart of Thorns and the original game areas. To boot, the original game’s masteries are decoupled from Heart of Thorns, with no overlap. Challenges will exist that award mastery points, much of it likely content that a player of the original game has done (or might be persuaded to when an incentive exists). Even an uninformed player will notice the abrupt uptick in people willing to do content that previously went ignored.

And that’s going to grate, rather than entice. “Oh, here I am with nothing to show for completing this, and they’re getting their progression,” or “Great, whenever I have the money to get the expansion I’ll get rewarded for this, but not now.” Not “I can’t wait to get the expansion, then what I’m doing will matter in the long term!” (Which is, itself, a really twisted logic that presumes a player has terrible self-esteem issues)

“People who don’t buy the expansion aren’t the target market anyway.”

I’ve seen this quote from people, and frankly it’s marvelously short-sighted. Expansionless players are potential expansion buyers. Heart of Thorns requires Guild Wars 2 to play, which for a player without Guild Wars 2 comprises a double investment of money.

It’s far easier to get the buy-in from people who are already halfway (or more than halfway, depending on what they bought the original game for and how much the expansion costs), than from people who’ve spent nothing.

Sure, someone who Day 1 doesn’t buy the expansion might not be as excited about it as the people that do, but if they are playing Guild Wars 2 at all they are always the target market. Until Heart of Thorns has 100% uptake from Guild Wars 2 owners, they will continue to be.

Giving a Portion Incentivizes Stronger Than Withholding All

Simply put, I suggest enabling the core game mastery system for everyone, expansion buyer or not, the day of release. People who haven’t bought the expansion will get an immediate taste of what they’re missing for not getting it yet.

“But that’s giving away content! That lessens the value of the expansion!”

It is giving away content, but it’s also creating an incentive. Based on the interviews given and the dev blog itself, the core game masteries at the release of Heart of Thorns will be much more limited than what is being added to the Heart of Maguuma.

This makes sense, because Heart of Thorns was designed to accommodate a mastery system and all that entails, the original game was not. It will take time to fully integrate the mastery system into the original game.

It has been shown by social science that humans remember negative instances far stronger than positive ones. This extends to positive and negative incentives. A non-buyer will remember in a negative light “they locked it away until I could afford it,” tainting their overall view of the expansion and lowering their interest of getting it in the first place.

Conversely, if there’s a small taste of what they’re missing, it whets the appetite. “Awesome, I’ve gotten 15 mastery points so far, and all the other people are raving about the cool things they’re doing over there. I can’t wait until I’ve got the money together to see this thing at full steam.”

And it’s a false conclusion to say that giving content away naturally lessens the value of the expansion. An MMO is far more than the sum of its feature list; it relies heavily on the strength of its community. Time and time again MMOs shut down not because their features weren’t up to snuff*, but because the people who had been playing quit.

*Admittedly, this is a contributing factor to people quitting, but the ultimate cause of shutdown is not enough people playing.

Providing the core game’s masteries to the entire player base strengthens the overall community, because there’s less of a feeling of being left out “in the cold” without Heart of Thorns. This increases the value of the expansion for any given player.

“But later updates will add to all mastery trees.”

And at that point, I think the masteries should be capped to expansion owners only. Make the initial release core game masteries the limit of what’s available to owners of only the original game. Further expansion requires, well, the expansion.


Locking the entire mastery system behind the expansion is a move that I disagree with. I see a far stronger case for allowing any player of Guild Wars 2 to access and gain from the core game side of the mastery system. This doubles as a positive impression for potential buyers of the expansion, and a measure to strengthen the overall community of Guild Wars 2, both buyers of the expansion and people who have not yet.


2 thoughts on “Negative Incentive: Why Not to Make Masteries Expansion Exclusive”

  1. If I remember correctly, they did say that masteries were separated by core game – expansion, but they never said that anyone without the expansion would “gain” empty masteries and lose skillpoints at 80. “Masteries are unlocked for everyone with HoT” implies that anyone without it can still level as usual. And for those with HoT, skillpoints will still be available through challenges.
    Locking the entire system as opposed to the HoT exclusive masteries (giving the core masteries to everyone) is something I don’t like, either, but nowhere it says that players without HoT will simultaneously get masteries but will be unable to use them.


  2. I have to agree that not letting a your population get an important aspect of character development is a little silly in this case. And like you said, having that growth would probably make you more likely to go buy the expansion anyway


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