[GW2] Microtransactions – Philosophy and Market

There is a lot that was said in what will likely be a seminal blog article by ArenaNet’s co-founder Mike O’Brien. Fans are going to point to this piece for years, I would imagine. There are two major encircling themes in the post “philosophy” and “market.” O’Brien does a good job showing how ArenaNet envisions that the two will entwine in Guild Wars 2.


Philosophy is a hard sell. ArenaNet has been in the favor of “showing, not telling” for a long time. they continue to do so by letting press film video and discuss the experiences of Guild Wars 2 during the beta events. It’s tough when they are not ready to show, but feel pressed to tell, as is the case here.

O’Brien says that early testing of the Guild Wars 2 microtransaction system will be in this month’s beta test, so many NDA’d brethren will be able to see it. I am not sure if press will be able to discuss what they see. We can guess and argue all day as to what a “time-saving convenience item” will be such that it will not cross the pay-2-win “unfair advantage” line. Another philosophical debate better saved for another time.

What is important is that Guild Wars 2 will have a robust microtransaction system instead of an afterthought. ArenaNet is designing a full array of microtransactions from the get-go to launch with Guild Wars 2.


Whatever the microtransactions will be, there will be a gold-supported market to buy them from. ArenaNet will sell gems, the microtransaction currency to players for real money. Players can sell gems on a market for gold from other players. Gems and gold can be used for whatever. As is noted in the blog post, EVE’s PLEX system is very similar. The gem market is both fundamentally unexpected and interesting.

In most F2P MMOs the players with the most time spend the most money in the cash shop. ArenaNet turns this around and now the players with the most time can actually share this “time energy” with people with less time but some more money to burn. There will never be parity, but I would guess that this change actually has that most active, most vocal minority spending less money on Guild Wars 2 than another F2P cash-shop driven MMO. It will have the base of the pyramid spending more money than the top, which is quite a refreshing change, in my opinion.

The other thing is that players control the gem market, which controls the price of gold to real money, instead of real-world gold farmers. This change will not erase a black market run by gold farmers, but it will make it a lot harder for them to get real money for their wares. They have to work harder for less money, but this also puts account at higher risk. Hopefully ArenaNet is amping up account security measures because even if the accounts are harder to butcher, they also will appear

There is one critical difference too between PLEX and gems. In EVE, gold is vaporized every second. Inflation is critically controlled. Yes, miners mine all day turning time in to gold, but at the same time pirates and wars are turning gold into stardust. Except for WvW, I have seen very few gold sinks in Guild Wars 2.

I must say in Guild Wars, inflation has been pretty much kept in check with simple consumables and appearance items. The inflation constant is going to be higher in Guild Wars 2 as people are going to farm gold for gems instead of gold for… stardust. The gold will merely pass to the gem seller, who will be the one charged with using it or inflating the economy. I would say guilds with high-end gold projects would be something that could easily keep inflation down.

The philosophy of ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 microtransaction system is sound and can be very player empowering. It all comes down to execution. Some will see glimpses of it in the upcoming beta. Some might have to wait until after April 10th. That isn’t so long. To those that must debate, money is far stronger in telling someone what your money will do, instead of what it won’t.


55 thoughts on “[GW2] Microtransactions – Philosophy and Market”

  1. The system looks similar to that of Puzzle Pirates, minus the decay (which hasn’t been spoken of that I can see). It’s a sensible system that I’ve liked for years. They could still make a mess of it, sure, but for now, I’m still looking forward to the game.

    1. Yes, I thought of Puzzle Pirates too. That’s the only thing that worries me more than a tizzle…. PP and EVE have ways to reduce inflation built in DIRECTLY to the things that are “creating” gold.

      1. Agreed. You really do need sinks to make the system work properly. Maybe GW2 is sitting on a system of consumables or the like.

  2. This really surprised me. I appreciate the care for the money vs. time issue of MMOs, it wil certainly open new ways of closing gaps between players with different playstyles and time tables.
    it would still depend on how important money is as a whole though, or rather what you can actually get for it in GW2. personally, I hope we don’t see much in terms of purchaseables being real upgrades, but rather cosmetics (afaik gear hunting is not the same big deal in GW as a whole).

  3. There is some larger gold sinks already. In some videos there was ‘drinks for the city’ that turned gold into influence, then influence can be used to buy temporary buffs. I suppose it remains to be seen how much influence gold can buy or is it easier to spend time playing the game to earn it. Siege weapons can be destroyed, upgraded keeps (cost gold?) are reset when captured too.

    Arenanet can easily limit the flow of gold into the economy, players don’t need gold for skills like other games, gold could be intimately tied to crafting resources and since nodes are per player they can throttle abnormal grinding that way.

    I’m seeing a lot of comparison to F2P games with similar systems, I don’t know about all but Spiral Knights has artificial barriers to progress you can’t craft higher tier gear without a huge grind or spending cash, that’s where the comparison falls down.

  4. I cant wait for Anet to start sending out a 1099V to everyone so they can report their in-game gold earnings (which now have real money equivalent) on their income tax forms.

    How many years away do think, maybe 3-5?

  5. I have to say this is a welcome development. I have thousands of hours sunk in GW1 but was promoted in RL last year. There is no way I will be able to put in that kind of time anymore. I’ve been afraid my friends would shoot ahead of me in Gw2 and I’d never be able to catch up. This is an elegant solution. They will be higher level and have better gear, i’ll spring for some gems, buy their old stuff and save a lot of time. They’ll use the gems to get costumes or other fun things which they wouldn’t spend RL cash on. Perfect!

    1. Your fears are less of an issue in GW2:
      – The leveling curve is flat, it will take the same amount of time to go from level 73 to 74 that it took to go from 33 to 34… an old ANet quote said it may be roughly 90 minutes per level.
      – You can be sidekicked up by your friends, to do Dynamic Events or whatever at their level, or they can come down to play with you and be sidekicked down.
      – The gear power plateaus fairly quickly after level 80. There won’t be the endless gear treadmill of other MMOs, where if I come in a year late I have no real hope of catching the people at the top because there are months of Raids ahead of me, during which those at the top are still progressing their gear too.

  6. The only thing that could potentially worry/annoy me with this system is if ANet implements lottery items such as Turbine’s and Cryptic’s droppable lockboxes that you need a cashstore-bought key to open. A thousand pleas to NOT implement this kind of system, ANet!

  7. It is a good system in theory, I look forward to seeing how it is implimented regarding the actual items available in the Shop.

    Assuming they are the cosmetic/convienience type items (Glowy Sword of Sameness, Golen Banker) and account related upgrades (additional char slots, expanded inventory) then this is a huge boon to both the casual and the hardcore player, regardless of income/ socio-economic status…

    The casual can spend real-life money to short-cut the major gold timesinks (think early wow epic flying mount) and can still have unique customizable looks without the highest tier raid drops being the best looking gear…

    The hardcore gamer can exchange their time and faming prowess for access to the Cash Shop.

    Again, its good in theory, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves.

  8. I’m not too worried about gold sinks. They’re not a lot per use, but we do have waypoints and armor repair. WvW looks like it cod get expensive if you buy lots of plans. Crafting could also turn into a sink if you spend more on ingredients than you can sell the crafted goods for.
    Overall, I like the looks of it.
    Interested to see what the “skip the grind” items are though. I could easily envision crafting supply bundles. XP tomes is something my guildmates immediately worried about – but with the side-kicking system, all that would really do is let you skip content and that seems counter-productive.

  9. I think people are blowing up the forums with some very unfounded claims about ArenaNet either selling power, or empowering gold farmers.

    Two things that are very clear are:

    1) ArenaNet will never be “selling power”

    2) ArenaNet is trying out a system which will reduce gold farming while allowing players who rely on purchasing gold to achieve their goals within a shorter amount of time– allowing the game to cater to everyone regardless of the amount of free time they have.

    A-Net is doing a fantastic thing by cutting out the middleman (gold farmers) through the establishment of a service that allows players on a tight schedule to still achieve their gold farming goals.

    I think that most arguments come from people who feel bummed about having to work hard to achieve their gold gains when they could simply buy and trade gems to make gold from money transactions. Pure jealousy at its finest.

    But just think for a moment; If you did end up working to earn all of your gold, think of all the money you saved in real life! Now you can still enjoy all of the things Rico Suave bought with his real life cash, except that your skill level is higher from having played the game longer, along with your progression in long term achievements! In the end it pays off more to actually play the game than to worry about who gets what from paying money!


    Mike O’Brien Quotes:

    “But it’s never OK for players to buy a game and not be able to enjoy what they paid for without additional purchases, and it’s never OK for players who spend money to have an unfair advantage over players who don’t.”

    “From a player’s perspective, RMT companies have all the wrong motivations: the more money they make from selling gold, the more they spam ads in the game, run bot networks to farm gold, and hack accounts to loot them for gold. Conversely, under our system, players have all the right motivations. If a player buys gold from another player, he gets the gold he wants, the selling player gets gems she can use for microtransactions, and ArenaNet generates revenue from the sale of gems that we can use to keep supporting and updating the game. Everyone wins.”

    1. How does being able to make gold from selling gem to other player isn’t Selling Power. The way i see it, they are just breaking the in-game economy, by letting people get gold by paying RL money.

      1. If you pay RL money, you get more gold. And sure, that means you can buy more at a time. But there are still level reqs on equipment and (to our knowledge) there are no experience-boosting consumables. Seems like the most increased gold will do you is allowing you to get prettier equipment (which is what gems do for you anyway), or to get nice things more quickly, or to play another few rounds of a mini-game.

        This system doesn’t sell power simply because power is limited in so many other ways.

        1. I still feel like it’s using a cheat code in a game.

          What happens if you want to play the market or make money as a crafter. Doesn’t that give you more power to sell gem in that case.

          The only place where it doesn’t help his killing mob or other player, but don’t you think a MMO should have more deep than that ?

          1. Crafting and power trading give you more money when you have more money; gem selling would just give you a head start, in the same sense that it gives you convenience with regards to upgrading equipment.

  10. I see the WvW area as being a decent gold sink in itself. A lot of the siege equipment costs a lot and they are easily destructable. Most of them don’t even move from the place you set them up which will require you to go buy more blueprints.

  11. I expect the goldsinks will be there, and its simple enough to introduce gold sinks as part of an expansion or patch.

    Think: Mounts, Housing, Guild Upgrades, etc…

    I could design in 10 minutes enought fluff content to suck millions of gold out of the economy without unbalancing any aspect of the game, and ANet have been at this for years…

    I think they won’t have any trouble keeping the economy in balance and combating inflation.

  12. I’m glad to see that the complainers seem to merely be a vocal minority but I’m worried about them scaring off players who don’t yet understand GW2 is skill based not gear based, or know about grind minimizing like guaranteed dungeon and event drops, no RNG, PvE scaling up or down via side-kicking and instant access to max everything for PvP, and all the other factors that make impossible for this game to be play to win or a forced grind with diminishing returns.

    1. Only superficial players who aren’t serious about buying the game in the first place would be scared away some flaming posts in a forum somewhere ( *cough* guru *cough*)

  13. Remember, Gems do not create new gold, unless someone is dumb enough to vendor items they purchased as a result of Gem transactions. You can’t sell a Gem to a vendor for “new gold”. You can trade it for items with very little vendor value, or trade them for gold that is already in the economy.

    1. Promotional or cash-shop items in GW1 couldn’t even be sold to traders, so that point is probably even moot.

  14. I think it’s an excellent design. I also have complete faith that ANet will have cash shop items that exactly comply with the philosophy in the blog.

    GW1 did so many things right and GW2 looks like another big leap forward in content and fun.

    I’m so excited for this game. More so than for any other game I’ve waited for — even Baldur’s Gate I. I’m counting the days to 4.10.2012!!!!

  15. They mention “time-saving convenience items”. I am guessing exp pot and the like but its very ambiguous and they can sell anything:)

    I think they are and will be selling “power” but I think we have accept that in the current MMO market.

    1. And your basis for saying they are selling power is?

      (an answer of “because everyone else is doing it” would demonstrate a level of ignorance with regards to ANet as a developer).

      1. …because they’ve been doing so for years in GW, after doing a volte-face on their promise never to do so?

        1. Sorry but you’re going to have to be more specific. Name one item that is sold for power in GW1…

          1. Given that power in GW doesn’t really reside in items, that would obviously be difficult. Power lies in skill unlocks, which they’ve been selling for years despite their early promise never to do so on the grounds that that would be selling power.

            1. That is not selling power. That’s selling convenience which complies with their philosophy.

              Why? Because you can obtain those skills but working for them (earn faction and buy them from the NPC).

              You are not buying “new” or “different” skills that nobody else has access to. You are buying the same thing that every other player can obtain (either by time investment or monetary investment).

              Unless there’s another example that proves otherwise, it’s safe to say ANet has never sold “power” in a cash shop, and we have no reason to believe they would in the future.

            2. This. The closest thing they sell to power is campaigns (that is, the game itself). If you have all of them, you have all the same tools at your disposal as the most powerful players in the game.

            3. I don’t think you’ll find many people that will agree with you on “expansions == power”. Game expansions are content.

              That’s like saying ANet sells “power” by selling Guild Wars. If you bought GW, you are more powerful than me who didn’t by it because I can’t even play it! (buy GW ftw!)

              Humor aside, I think we can all agree that there are no examples of ANet selling “power” in the cash shop.

            4. Well, playing with only one campaign leaves you at a serious disadvantage regarding most content. Playing with only Prophecies, it’s difficult to compete with someone who has everything, because you’re missing 3/4 of the skills in the game (not to mention how ridiculous PvE-only skills are).

            5. You say “tomayto” I say “tomahto” (and so did the ANet devs, back in the day, when they qualified “selling skill unlocks for cash” as “selling power”, which was something they were never-ever-ever going to do until they decided they were.)

              Leaving that aside, and even leaving aside ANet’s rather questionable track record (remember when GW wasn’t going to have a cash shop? when there wasn’t going to be any way to unlock skills except through PvE? when skills were always going to work identically in PvE and PvP, and there weren’t going to be any PvE- or PvP-only skills?) at the end of the day they’re an MMO dev house.

              If I’ve learned nothing else from years of playing MMOs, it’s that when an MMO dev says “It’s going to be a clear, sunny day” stick your head out the window and check for yourself, and even if there isn’t a cloud in the sky, bring your umbrella along to work, because there will probably be a typhoon by lunchtime.

            6. This isn’t a potayto/potahto nuance — this comes down to what is “power” vs. “convenience”. The GW1 skill packs are purely convenience — there is no power benefit, only a time benefit.

              I was going to ask you to cite the source for your statement on the devs “qualified selling skill unlocks for cash as selling power”… but I’m not sure there’s any value in discussing that thought thread.

              I completely agree with the “stick your head out the window and check for yourself” comment — this really applies to everything in life. Free thinkers ftw!

              My point (hopefully in conclusion) is that ANet has not done anything in their development lifetime to indicate they would sell “power” in a cash shop. History has shown them to be on the “good” side of this discussion.

            7. You honestly don’t see a power benefit in having access to 7 mercenary hero slots?

              What is “power” and what is “convenience” isn’t black and white, and as we can see different people draw that line in different places, so when looking at any cash-shop model you need to look at where the developers currently draw the line and compare that to where you do.

              You also need to keep in mind that the line tends to move over time: I’m sure the people at SOE were sincere when they said EQ2 would never have a cash shop, and that the people at Turbine were sincere when they said the LotRO cash shop would never sell gear with stats on it.

  16. Axioms point that introducing the ability to covert gold to gems is in itself a pretty hefty goldsink is a bit overlooked in the debate elsewhere. If the cashshop has items that are temporary in nature and desirable to most players (like the mysterious “time-saving” doodads) it is also a perpetual sink; It would mean you cannot, given enough gems, buy everything once and for all.

    If Arenanet introduced something like a random lockbox for a gem cost that had a chance of giving you a really desirable, resellable skin, then gems could generate value beyond their equivalent gold cost (though in time the exchange rate would probably adjust for this). All it takes to keep gems effectively a goldsink is to not allow cashshop items to be traded or have high vendor values, and it sounds like this is the attitude of Arenanet as well (based on Martin Kersteins comments on Guru about “the gold has to come from somewhere”).

  17. Great points about the Gold —> Gems being a heafty goldsink in and of itself, however, I don’t think it is actually correct…

    Take this example into account. Numbers are fictional to illustrate the point:

    I spent $20 on 20 gems. You grind from a few days and ‘create’ 2000 gold. I trade my 20 gems to you for 2000 gold. You spent your 20 gems on consummables/ skins.

    Net result: economy has 2000 more gold, the same number of gems, and ANet has $20.

    There is not REMOVAL of gold from the economy in this transaction. It needs another componant, where Gold goes to an NPC, not to a player.

    Otherwise there is a perpetual creation and addition of gold into the economy, without the requisite removal. The gems serve only to motivate players to create gold, not a method to remove it.

    Let me say, I do not expect this to be a problem, as I expect ANet knows all this and will introduce the nessesary gold removal mechanics.

    1. One way to introduce a (small) goldsink to this would be to make gems only tradeable via the market. Then the usual market fees would apply to it as well.

    2. Your scenario is actually independent of Gems. Why? Because I ground out 2000 gold. That’s 2000 new gold into the economy regardless if I trade it to someone for gems, crafting mats, or other items.

      The cool aspect of this is you spent $20 to essentially get 2000 in-game gold. Instead of that $20 going to a Chinese gold-farmer, it went directly to ANET and our quality of life stayed high (because fewer gold farmers is a good thing to our in-game enjoyment).

      1. Not exactly, Juno, because the Gems add another motivation for players to grind said gold. A player won’t spend time unless there is a tangible benefit.

        Thus in my example, player 2 might grind 2000 gold for their own ingame needs but they also desire “Cash Shop Trinket X” and they will spend additional time-capital to grind the nessesary gold to trade for those 20 gems.

        This still creates a net positive 2000 gold, over any scenario where the player would otherwise not farm that gold.

        Very few people farm gold just to have it. Rather, they farm it because of some motivation… Gems add another motivation. Thats all I was saying.

        1. “A player won’t spend time unless there is a tangible benefit.”

          …You mean a benefit like having fun? In a video game? That’s designed to be fun?

          1. Grinding gold isn’t fun. It is something people do out of nessessity to obtain something that they want.

            There are a few (very few) who derive fun from the meta-game of wealth ingame, but most people play to play whether pve or pvp, the farming and wealth gathering is a means to an end.

    3. Yeah, I should have thought that one through. It’s not a sink.

      It’s probably more correct to compare it to selling say random crafting materials I gather as I run past: It is also something of value that I get without any noticable impact on my playing time, that allows me to consolidate gold.

      Which is, of course, not a problem at all because my ability to “exploit” this is limited by the buyers amount of gold and the demand for what I am selling. Since Gems still do not introduce new gold, there is no problem in terms of inflation, and whatever redistribution issues there maybe can (and will) arise, can just as easily be accomplished with other high-demand, low-effort items.

      Incidently I think the idea is precisely that Gems are sold over the Trading Post, just like everything else you buy from other players, so a tax might still apply.

      So business as usual in MMO land, except ANet gets more dosh to make cool stuff. I’m a fan.

  18. Cash shop items have been leaked….

    Some are simply designed to exploit the gullible… I am sure this is what “respectable” developer do these days. Oh well.

    Loot bag – one random item
    Mystic key – will unlock mystic chest in hidden place or mosb in the world
    mini packs – 3 random pets.

    Karma booster – Karma was supposed to be the only thing that you earned via game play but even that is cheapened.

    1. Not sure how any of your “leaked” examples violate ANet’s blog on their cash shop philosophy. Nothing you list is “power” — in other words you could earn all of those items yourself by time investment.

      Nothing in that list makes my toon more powerful than your toon — I just got the stuff faster than you did if I buy it in the cash shop.

      Also you yourself can buy those things in the cash shop buy trading in-game gold for someone else’s Gems. So even the die-hard F2Pers would have access to the goodies by investing time.

      1. I normally do not like commenting on leaked information, but I do agree with Juno. Any adjustment of a stat does not equate to “selling power”.

        1. I find that a strange statement Ravious. If stat boosts arent a power boost and elite skills arent a power boost then how is selling armor with stat bonuses and special abilities any different, or a weapon with all of the above?

          1. Let me clarify. It appears the allergens got the best of my brain waves when typing that out. :)

            Any mere adjustment of a stat does not automatically equate to “selling power.” In most MMOs, Guild Wars 2 included most stat boosts really just equate to efficiency. More efficiency is usually more convenient instead of necessary to win. In Guild Wars 2 it’s even more lessened because non-numerical combat activity is more important.

            I do agree that elite skills and campaigns with new skills does seems to equate more with “selling power.”

            And again with armor and weapons, it has to be put in to perspective. Are you just letting people save a bit of time, or are you actually selling power. Quite a big gap.

            1. ok – thanks for the clarification. Ideally I would not like skills or stats of any kind available from a cash shop. Appearance slots and costumes, emotes, expansions, char slots – those are the no brainers. Then there are the questionable cash shop items: experience/rep/crafting boost consumables of various durations, loot boxes, unique mounts, unique pets. Then there are the ‘wtf please not in my game’ cash shop items: bag space, permanent stat boost items for character/armor/weapons, unique weapon/armor skins, keys to in game loot boxes (not available as in game drops), crafting mats, any items crafted by players (especially buff potions), mounts/pets that are also awarded from long grinds or difficult achievements in game, anything at all that works in PvP zones.

              Can’t wait to hear from the next beta testers.

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