At the end of last month, ArenaNet formally announced that the introduction of build templates into Guild Wars 2 would be coming in a patch later this month, and that they would be monetised.
The reaction of the player base to this announcement was… probably not what ArenaNet was hoping for, with the most common question being asked was “Why are we being asked to pay for this?”
In breaking down this response, we should probably make sure to distinguish between build templates and equipment templates. Equipment templates, as currently presented, do represent increased storage for characters and therefore increased space occupied on ArenaNet’s database servers. As a result, this is something where allowing additional templates does cost ArenaNet additional money (although probably not comparable to how much they’ll charge) and paying for additional database space in the form of storage is a transaction that has been broadly accepted by the player base since the ingame store was introduced back in the original Guild Wars. If anything, ArenaNet is being generous in granting each character a second equipment template (although a cynic might observe that this is essentially the “free taste” intended to tempt players into coming back for more). Some players might prefer unlimited templates that draw from the character’s inventory, but it has to be acknowledged that the equipment templates system provides for a convenient means of storing equipment for multiple setups.
Build templates, however, are another story.
The Nightfall Precedent
Players of Guild Wars Nightfall will likely remember the build template system that was introduced in that campaign. There, build templates were stored as a 24-character alphanumeric code that was stored as a text document on the client’s machine, with the name of the file providing the name of the template as viewed from the in-game interface. Since the data is stored client-side, the only limit to how many templates a player can have is how much space they’re willing to devote to storing them – and the space each template occupies is negligible. I currently have over two hundred templates for Guild Wars stored on my system, and the space taken up is less than six kilobytes. The game is then able to interpret this code to recreate the original build.
Build templates in Guild Wars 2 appear to be a similar format – in fact, one of the features of the system is that sharing a build is as simple as copying the code into the chat box. Practically speaking, this means that players effectively are able to keep an unlimited number of build templates – however, instead of being able to access them directly through the game, players will have to paste codes over from their own database or a website.
Even putting aside this consideration, the decision to keep build templates server-side rather than client-side – presumably so that they can be monetised – impacts on the functionality of the system.
It’s possible, for instance, that for people who don’t buy additional slots, the system will prove to be a downgrade in convenience. The three initial “free” build template slots per character are replacing the PvE, PvP, and WvW builds that characters already have. If you don’t play all three modes with a given character, this does allow for the possibility to have multiple build templates for one mode, which wasn’t previously possible… but on the other hand, players who do play all three modes (particularly players who play PvE or WvW while waiting for the PvP queue to find a match) might find themselves needing to manually switch their build between templates when switching modes, something which currently happens automatically.
Are There Enough Even if You’re Willing To Pay?
Perhaps more significantly, however, is that based on the details we’ve been given, the number of templates available seems to be fairly limited. The maximum number of slots will be 6 per character and then 24 of the ‘account-bound’ slots. A player who has one character of each profession, therefore, can expect to get to a total of 78 build template slots if they buy all the available slots.
Remember my previous comment of having over two hundred build templates for Guild Wars? Granted, this includes builds for ten professions, hero builds, obsolete builds that I never bothered deleting, and builds that are relatively minor variations of one another, but 231 is still a lot more than 78. Between PvP, WvW, and different areas of PvE (raids, fractals, open world meta events, general open world and story) I could definitely see people wanting to have more than nine builds per character – and if you’re going to end up relying on copying build codes rather than using the in-game interface anyway, then why bother purchasing more build templates in the first place?
To add insult to injury, for many in the community this is not just a matter of disappointment in an anticipated feature that is not what it could have been, but will actively be a downgrade from what was available until recently.
While I didn’t use it myself, ArcDPS is a common plug-in used by players who are heavily engaged in raiding and other high-end content. One of the features of this plug-in was build templates, which previously allowed users of the plug-in to store as many templates as they liked. The catch is, however, that the maker of the plug-in has a kind of no-compete agreement with ArenaNet, which meant that this feature was disabled on October 15 in advance of ArenaNet’s own build template system going live. As a result, users of ArcDPS have gone from having an effectively unlimited set of build templates to one that is ultimately finite however many gems they are willing to invest.
(There is the interpretation of Arenanet’s statement by MightyTeapot that a third-party build template system wouldn’t violate the Terms of Service and would therefore be allowed, but I’m sceptical of this. The statement that ” if you choose to use third-party programs, you’re responsible for making sure you’re not doing so in a way that violates the game rules” feels, to me, like a coded way of saying “don’t come crying to us if we decide that a third-party program that you’re using is against the rules”. I could see two different ways that ArenaNet could choose to interpret a third-party templates system as breaking the rules – namely, that it automates a process, and that it can potentially grant an unfair advantage. It’s possible that I’m wrong on this, but I wouldn’t want to wager my account on that kind of loophole.)
Of course, what people are probably likely to do is build their own client-side database of templates and copy and paste the codes from there or go to a third-party build website. This means that the benefit of having in-game build templates might primarily be limited to changing builds in the countdown before an sPvP match begins, where even a few seconds might make the difference between evaluating the team compositions and selecting the best build for the match, or not managing to do so before the game begins. This, however, could open ArenaNet up for pay-to-win accusations if the ability to have a ‘bank’ of several templates at your fingertips turns out to be a significant advantage in that mode.
A Return On Investment?
A common defence of the monetisation of build templates is that ArenaNet developers have spent a lot of time on the feature, and therefore the company deserves a return on that time.
It’s a valid point, but, I think, a flawed one. Quality of life improvements have come without aggressive monetisation in the past, and the business justification is a fairly simple one: Customer goodwill is, itself, an asset. One which a number of recent scandals in the gaming industry has shown can be easily destroyed by overly aggressive monetisation. A free feature which makes the game more enjoyable to play and therefore keeps people in the game makes people more likely to put money into other aspects of the game. Conversely, aggressive monetisation on something that players expected to be free might cause people to quit the game in protest and result in a reduced income stream overall. In fact, offering unlimited client-side build templates might have provided for a means of encouraging players to buy more equipment templates: having a large number of builds is likely to incentivise having a large number of equipment sets in order to best use these builds.
This defence also triggers something which may also be a sore point for many players – the ambiguity over whether there will be future expansion packs for Guild Wars 2 and whether the new Saga system can really deliver content updates offering similar quality and value for money to expansion content. Players often prefer expansions to microtransactions due to the bundle effect – customers generally pay less for an expansion than if they purchased similar content piece by piece through individual microtransactions, while the company still gets a reasonable return since the majority of the player base will buy in rather than opting in and out of specific features. While not necessarily accurate, it is easy to assume that if an expansion was being released around now, the build templates system would be part of the expansion pack and would at the very least be less aggressively monetised (or completely free and stored client-side, as it was with Nightfall). As it is, the monetisation for build templates could be seen as a pattern for how ArenaNet plans to bring “expansion-level content” through the Sagas: by charging for each new feature individually, resulting in a higher overall price for players who buy into every feature. It might even cause Guild Wars 2 to enter pay-to-win territory if, as is often the case, any new elite specialisations released as part of the Saga system prove on release to be significantly more powerful than the options available presently, and they are offered for sale individually.
And from what we’ve been told thus far, the plan appears to be to charge a similar amount as currently charged for bag slots (400 gems for up to 32 inventory slots depending on the bag acquired, but at the time they were priced, the cap was 20 slots) or bank tabs (600 gems for 30 slots). This does make for fairly aggressive monetisation for the storage of an alphanumeric string and a name on ArenaNet’s servers.
As a result, I suspect that the attempt to monetise build templates may well backfire on ArenaNet. Players who see this as an indication of the future direction of ArenaNet’s business model may simply leave, while players who remain might just decide to rely on storing build template codes in their own database and copying them over, even if this is less convenient than using the official build template interface. Those players who do end up paying for additional build template slots may not outweigh the loss of goodwill and future sales coming out of this move.