TF2 is a great example of how insanely profitable microtransactions can be. They made so much money when they released the cash shop that it became more profitable to literally give the game away for free than to charge potential cash shop customers to come through the door.
The initial box cost of GW2 was probably a great way of putting a dent in the initial development costs, but it’s microtransactions that make up the lifeblood of the game post-release, and provide their continued source of income.
All in all, this is why the latest update (and subsequent outcry) is so surprising. If the company is desperate enough to depart from its entire design philosophy to sell more boxes, it must mean that the cash shop isn’t doing as well as they need it to.
Or, more likely, the buildup of hype around GW2 is giving them quotas that a steady cash flow from satisfied players just isn’t enough to reach. Game companies seem to be doing this a lot in the last few years – tossing out a steady long-term income stream in favor of a short spike in profit. It touches on one of the reasons WoW has been so successful – yeah, sure, not everyone likes WoW, but even a skeptic has to admit that they do an admirable job of holding onto their player base over more than one or two fiscal quarters.
1. During launch, they make money from huge advertisement that lures in huge amount of people. F2P + High graphic is the selling point.
2. After that, money comes slowly from seasonal costumes and players who wants to progress in-game faster. (2nd point is ineffective because the launch-state lacks progression. Everything can be achieve in 2 weeks to 1 month even without spending.)
3. Most importantly, the most money comes from players who wants to stand out more from the rest of the players. (Current : Few players quickly gain gold from converting gems to craft for unique skins. – The problem is, once players get their desired skin, they won’t spend again for another look to replace that skin. So it’s a one-time-spend thing. It’s not good for long term. Other kinds of progression is needed to make players constantly feel stand out. In that way, they’ll continously spend to fund the servers.)