So ArenaNet posted a blog entry on the loot system recently. It explains how their system works, and the “core item-related principals that shaped their design”. Unfortunately, the system described doesn’t live up to the principles.
If you take their principle #3 seriously and think players should look the way the want to look, you need a system that doesn’t give incentives to look a way you don’t want to look. Guild Wars 1 does a fairly good job of this. Lord of the Rings Online does an excellent job, with the ability to equip one set of armor for stats and another for appearance. All Guild Wars 2 manages is that players can look the way they want, if they’re willing to pay the cost.
So why did they fail at this? The most obvious explanation is that they wanted the money from selling transmutation stones. While I’m fine with them wanting money, I think this a very poor way to go about it. Sure, they’ll make some money from it, but I don’t believe the best way to make money involves making your game worse. It’s going to cost them some box sales. It may not be much, but I doubt the revenue from the stones is going to be huge either. A LotRO style system would also make inventory space more valuable, potentially making that sell more, and make it easier to sell armor art (if desired). It’s possible they’ll still make more money from transmutation stones – but there’s no way to know that. If I had to bet, I’d go with the one that results in a better game.
Of course, it could be that the obvious explanation is wrong. Maybe they honestly believe the transmutation system makes for a better game. Some of the commentators on the article about the system at Kill Ten Rats make good points about how it could be helpful – Vulturion, in particular. If that’s the case, it was still an incredible fail to not give any of the principles behind that belief in the article.