A key element to Neverwinter’s free-2-play model is the implemented ZEN/Astral Diamond exchange (ZAX). It allows players to trade ingame to premium currency and buy items from real-money stores without actually spending a dime. That doesn’t make the game truly free-2-play, because somebody still has to spend the ZEN, but it’s at least a major argument against the dreadful pay-2-win label.
The exchange has its limits though. It’s a user driven market that ranges between 100 and 500 ADs per ZEN based on the supply and demand of each currency. If people want ADs, maybe because of a sale on the Wondrous Bazaar, and trade in more ZEN, the ZAX usually goes down. It’s the opposite for ZEN sales, where the ZAX can rise substantially. In that case, users can even build up a sizable “backlog”. It simply means so many people want to trade in ADs that they have to wait for players to offer their ZEN. These backlog issues exist since a few years, but reached a new height recently.
17 Million Backlog
On the international dragon server the backlog this month reached a new record. 8,500,000,000 ADs are waiting to get converted to ZEN at the point of this write-up, which means 17,000,000 ZEN need to be offered to fill all offers. You can witness this by browsing to the “Sell ZEN” tab in the Astral Diamond Exchange. The backlog is the “Requested Quantity” at the top. This tops the former highest backlog of 2014, which was 13M ZEN and artificially inflated because of the Resonator Exploit. The situation is similar on the Russian server by the way.
So why is this happening now again? There are a couple reasons actually which lead to more ADs then ZEN going into the exchange. Some of them are temporary, but others more substantial:
- PWE temporarily closed down their Arcgames reward system, which allowed players to generate some ZEN for free.
- The 5-year anniversary in June is expected to bring major ZEN Market sales of up to 40%. Players anticipating that try to stockpile ZEN.
- We’re relatively late into the progression, which means AD sinks diminish. The main examples are Marks of Potency or Companion upgrades, but there are certainly more minor ones.
- The refining system’s main bottleneck are Wards, which are only available on the ZEN Market.
Waiting Times Are Increasing
Explaining what’s going on doesn’t make the situation less annoying though. As of right now, nobody can exchange ADs for ZEN right away. As rule of the thumb you should expect one day of waiting for every million backlog. So we’re approaching three weeks, and possibly more going forward. The Jubilee is still a solid month away, but unless you’re aware that you have to exchange your ADs right about now, you won’t have a shot getting ZEN in time.
The alternative to get ZEN is spending real money, which brings us to long-term implications. Whom is the backlog serving the most? Cryptic? High rollers? Can the game even be considered free-2-play at this point? And how should you deal with all of this?
Mainly an Issue for Casuals
First of all, I do believe three weeks of waiting until orders are served is an issue. You might say that the game is still free-2-play because you can technically exchange free for premium currency (it just takes time and gets more inconvenient), but unfortunately it’s not so easy. Hardcores can certainly adjust to a backlog, and even profit from it, but Neverwinter’s main population is casual. Players come and go, or only log in occasionally for a dungeon or an event. Those players do usually not even realize what’s going on with the ZAX, much less what it means to their gaming experience. You’ll probably have stumbled upon plenty threads of people asking why they can’t exchange ADs at the moment. There you go.
Casuals don’t plan ahead for weeks. If you’re logging in to have a good time on a particular day, having your ZEN available in 20 days or whatever won’t help. Also players that only come back because of an advertised sale are in for a major disappointment. They can’t exchange their ADs, and will probably just log off again. Don’t forget that folks are more likely to spend money if monetization is perceived as fair. And not being able to use the main free-2-play feature in the game certainly is not, even if Cryptic itself doesn’t entirely control it.
What About Cryptic?
Speaking about Cryptic, I’m not sure whether or not the good outweighs the bad for them. A ZAX at 500 (or 1,000 on .ru) is certainly great for them as spenders get the most possible AD for their ZEN. On the other hand, the free-2-play model takes a severe hit and the waiting time frustrates the players. Sure, so far this only has been that worse around major events, but our tracker shows that the dragon server is dealing with backlog issues for more than six months now. Im my opinion this can’t go on forever.
If Cryptic wishes to, they can basically do three things. Either take ADs out of the game, or inject ZEN, or both. Increasing the maximum ZEN exchange rate like the devs have done on the Russian server is certainly an option, but I’m not a huge fan of that. It’s not a solution to the issue, but just a workaround. Also a higher exchange rate would “nerf” the free-2-play viability, which you should obviously try to avoid. For the same reason I don’t expect them to lower the prices on ZEN. As great as that would be for spenders, it would probably lead to complaints about getting too much for your mom’s credit card.
Astral Diamond Sink
So it’s probably best to tweak the AD economy. It’s the path the devs have chosen in the past anyway. Module 12 and 13 didn’t introduce many AD sinks, if at all. Ultimate Mark of Potencys might be the only substantial one and for the upgrades the Mark is involved in you need plenty of Wards as well, which kinda counters the effect it has on the ZAX. I would definitely expect some sort of new progression element that requires AD in Mod 14 and beyond.
The only other parameter the devs can tweak is the Rough AD refining limit. Nearly all ADs are generated through the daily conversion and lowering the limit would certainly do the trick. Not too sure the devs really want to deal with the inevitable shitstorm though. Anyway, if you can live with the current situation for a while, this should ideally resolve itself in the future. But like I said, this definitely shouldn’t go on forever. It simply messes too much with the free-2-play element of the game and makes it too hard for the vast majority of the playerbase to profit from events and sales.
What’s your opinion on the rising backlog? Are you fed up? Or maybe profiting from it? Share your thoughts on our social channels, in the comments below, or the corresponding thread on our message board!
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