Update: ArenaNet has responded to the community's complaints. See their statement below.
"For all players who registered the core Guild Wars 2 game prior to January 23, 2015 and who upgrade their account by pre-purchasing and registering any Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns edition before Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns‘ launch, we will add one additional character slot to your Guild Wars 2 account."
Original Article: This week ArenaNet revealed the pricing of Heart of Thorns, the first expansion for Guild Wars 2. The game's community has not responded favourably to the news, and, while it's hard to judge the size of any particular controversy, this one is undoubtedly big. A post on the r/GuildWars2 subreddit titled “Don't Pre-Purchase Heart of Thorns” has over 3,000 upvotes. It's the all-time most upvoted post in the subreddit's history, above even the expansion's announcement. On the official Guild Wars 2 forum there are multiple forum threads about the controversy, some of them reaching over 4,000 replies.
The controversy isn't just about the expansion's price—although that may be a factor. It's that the community feel like they're being ignored as part of ArenaNet's effort to attract new players. To a certain extent, I think they have a point.
Heart of Thorns isn't cheap. As a £35/$50 expansion, its price is comparable to many full games. Personally, I'm okay with the cost, because I've already had plenty of value from Guild Wars 2. There's no subscription, and, while I've probably bought about £15 of in-store gems over the two years I've been regularly playing the game, it never felt necessary to do so. Another £35 for more content, and more free updates, strikes me as an acceptable deal.
The bigger problem seems to be that this £35/$50 price point comes bundled with the base game. For new players, this is an excellent deal. For veterans? When I first saw the press release announcing the pre-purchase price, my first thought was, “OK, but how much is the expansion on its own.” It wasn't necessarily a rational reaction, but the combination of bundled deal and high cost meant it was the immediate one.
In fact, £35/$50 is the price of the expansion—as ArenaNet has confirmed. The base game is an added bonus for those who don't already own it. People who don't yet own Guild Wars 2 are getting an amazing deal. People who do—who have potentially supported the game for three years—are not.
The problem is exacerbated by a number of special editions that don't offer much in the way of extras. The Deluxe Edition is £60/$75, and comes with an additional character slot—a potentially useful extra—as well as some exclusive skins, finishers, decorations, and one of the miniature figures that are regularly touted as a prestige customisation option. (I've always found these weird. I have one for Queen Jennah—the actual queen of an actual place in the game's story. Why does nobody find it strange that I have a tiny version of their queen following me around wherever I go?)
The Ultimate Edition costs £80/$100 and, in addition to the above, gives 4,000 gems. If you regularly dip into the game's Black Lion Trading Store, this is a decent discount. But gems aren't really the prestige item you might expect from the top-tier special edition of a new expansion.
Here's the thing: we still don't know a whole lot about the expansion. ArenaNet says that it's built for repeatable, challenging content, and that the design of the jungle creates more verticality than ever before. But we don't know how big the expansion will be. When I asked Colin Johanson this, after the expansion was announced, his reply was that ArenaNet wanted to “do a smaller sized area for total scope, and focus really on depth.” Even after a beta weekend, we're still not fully sure how that depth will manifest.
This is the nature of marketing, of course, and ArenaNet has been revealing new aspects of the expansion over the last few months. But all these elements combined have created the perfect storm for the current controversy. Add to that the fact that ArenaNet offered no warning of the bundle beforehand—even saying, in a now edited FAQ, that you would need a copy of GW2 to play it—and the backlash doesn't seem unreasonable. It's great that there's a low barrier to entry for potential new players. The issue, for most, seems to be about the disparity between the two groups—those who already own the base game and those who don't—who are paying the same price and getting a vastly different value proposition.
ArenaNet has previously praised their community for their friendliness and support. It's true, too. By and large, Guild Wars 2 is a nice place to be. Whether or not you feel like long-time players should be rewarded, I don't think their attitude comes out of petulance or entitlement. And I don't think it would take much to keep the player-base happy. One of the top comments on that previously linked Reddit thread suggests that it would be enough to give existing owners an extra character slot with a purchase of the expansion's standard edition.
An MMO's players are a crucial part of the game. They're the ones that will be helping the newcomers when they arrive, and ensuring that GW2's dynamic events and world bosses stay active. A reward for that kind of continued support strikes me as a price worth paying.