Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Halloween: Trick or Treat?
Let's talk about it. It's the subject of the first major patch to Guild Wars 2, and this content has been extremely controversial with the community. There has been an explosion of dialogue over the last several days over on other blogs and forums detailing the drop rates of the Black Lion chests and the "difficulty" of the jumping puzzle. While one or two pieces of content may have not lived up to your expectations, I don't think anyone can argue that Halloween has not been an overall great addition to the world of Tyria. My friends and I have thoroughly enjoyed hours of game time over the past week, and I'm already excited for the next major holiday. Whether it was slaying Mad King Thorn, seeing the Lion burst into pieces in-game, completing the Clock Tower jumping puzzle, or carving some good old-fashioned pumpkins, I had tons of fun this Halloween.
Let's talk about the Black Lion chests first. For those who don't know, these are chests that offered some exclusive Halloween skins for a limited time and can be opened by using keys that can be obtained in one of three ways. Through gems usually paid with real world money, or buying gems through conversion of in-game gold, or finding keys in-game (extremely low droprate, but yes, you can find them).
By now, the community built several mechanisms to report the droprate, the best estimate we have is around 2% for a random skin. If you are paying real money for something like this, and let's assume you are buying the keys in bulk for a cheaper price, you pay approximately 450 gems for 5 keys which at the moment converts very roughly to 5.50 American dollars. Now of course, you could buy the weapon skin off the auction house, but even they can be upwards of 20-60 gold. And so by now, you start to see the ethical queries that many have already begun to question.
-Should companies offer RNG items in a cash shop? If so, how rare can an item be?
-How much can you rightfully charge someone for a simple weapon skin?
-Who is ultimately accountable for gem store selection and purchases?
I thoroughly disagree with ArenaNet's current usage of the gem store during this Holiday season. If you want to charge 700 gems for the Mad King's Outfit, I'm completely okay with that. However, if you start to charge real money for chests, who should be accountable? Should the company be explicit in the approximate chances of success with chests, or should the buyer who perhaps unwisely and ignorantly bought packs of keys dreaming of a chainsword greatsword skin? Many people are in quite dramatic conflict about this situation. And to their credit, ArenaNet did try to impose a solution. However the solution was largely discredited by many of their critics, because they simply imposed yet more RNG on the playerbase. If real money is involved, I don't believe you can toy with players. At some point it's reckless to charge players absurd amounts of money with extremely diminishing chances of success. And of course, this all comes swirling back to bite the company when players begin to lash out. Some could argue that players should of course know that the chests were RNG in the first place. However, it took several days to come up with even rougly accurate percentages of success by extremely coordinated members of the community. Many players simply will not wait when a carrot is dangled tauntingly above them. Is that their fault? Maybe, but I think companies have a responsibility with cash shops to be transparent.
Full disclosure: I did not buy any gems with real money, but only attempted to open 4 chests (using in game gold to gem conversion) during the event.
Now others have suggested that ArenaNet should simply increase the chances from 2%. However that for me, doesn't feel like a solution. In fact, it doesn't really answer the question or problem, but merely sidesteps and tries to address the risk/reward of RNG. My feeling is that this response stems from the idea that most Holiday items and events should be accessible to all. I'm not necessarily in agreement with these critics. I for one loved some of the rare Holiday mounts in World of Warcraft, and I am fully okay that they can be extremely hard to get. And in many cases, gaining the mount is simply luck. However those mounts never were sold by a cash shop, and thus, I suppose the dynamic is extremely different.
And this really kind of leads to the Clock Tower. I for one love the tower jumping puzzle. I loved it before I had completed it, and I certainly loved after the 8+ times I've completed it since. To me, it's a fun, light-hearted challenge made to be completed with friends and strangers. There are a lot of complaints flying around about this puzzle because of the difficulty and the design. Many players believe Holiday events should be for everyone, and the fact that only a minority of players can complete it, makes the content somehow tainted.
-Should Holiday Content be accessible and completable by everyone?
ArenaNet clearly did not make the Clock Tower achievement part of the Halloween title requirements, nor are the rewards substantial enough to make it necessary for players to complete. It was simply a fun, but rather challenging piece of new content. I personally think it's okay to make content that's hard, regardless of whether it's a temporary or permanent fixture in the world of Tyria. As gamers, I think we appreciate challenges and I think in no way is this jumping puzzle too difficult to complete by a large percentage of the population given that they devote some time to it.
However, the issues raised with the Clock tower actually ran deeper than just the difficulty question. It was pinned by one major MMO website as "a new contender for the worst piece of content ever put into a game". I think most would agree the author overstated the claim, and in fact, most would probably by and large disagree with him. His real quarrel was not the intended difficulty of the puzzle, but the unintended consequences of making the puzzle forcefully join you with other people. He proposed that the other character models in fact make it very hard to see your character. My problem with his argument is that his complaint only has one solution: to make the puzzle instanced so that you can complete it by itself.
Do you know how awful that sounds? You want the people to go away in an MMO and isolate yourself even further. Isn't that what Guild Wars 2 was all about? To make people excited to see other players in the world and to cooperatively complete events and puzzles? Clearly the author did not feel this way during his attempts at the puzzle.
However, I must confess that I did. I loved seeing the rivalries, the curse words, hilarity, and taunting develop between players during their attempts to complete the puzzle. In one instance, I would gain a lead over all the other players and stop all of a sudden so they catch up. And then yell "WOOOOOOOO" and plummet completely in the wrong direction to make them laugh. I would wear ridiculous outfits mostly involving a half naked asura and I think a lot of people had a blast. I think the author's opinon is no less true than my own, but our opinions came from two very different mindsets. Though, I would be lying if I didn't say that I secretly hope ArenaNet has a similarly challenging non-solo jumping puzzle again for Christmas.
What did you guys think? How did you enjoy the Halloween festivities? Did you stop Mad King Thorn yet? Let me know below! I'm so looking forward to Act 4 tomorrow, and I'm banking that there's going to be a party. See you then!