Mike O’Brien on Microtransactions in Guild Wars 2

by Mike O'Brien on March 20, 2012

In this month’s closed beta event, we’ll do some early testing of the Guild Wars 2 microtransactions system. Our microtransaction content isn’t nailed down yet, but we have a good framework in place to support it. So, I’d like to take a moment to explain our goals and the system we have developed to meet them.

We believe in microtransactions because they fund ongoing development of the game in a very straightforward and open way. You, the customer, get to decide how much money you spend on the game after launch, based on how compelling it is to you. You get a complete and playable game no matter what, but we think we can provide additional content and services that you’d be happy to pay for. And when you pay for them, you help fund our support of Guild Wars 2 in a way that benefits all players of the game.

Here’s our philosophy on microtransactions: We think players should have the opportunity to spend money on items that provide visual distinction and offer more ways to express themselves. They should also be able to spend money on account services and on time-saving convenience items. 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 spend time.

I know none of this is new; the original Guild Wars also had microtransactions. But microtransactions were an afterthought in Guild Wars, whereas with Guild Wars 2, we had an opportunity to integrate the microtransaction system from the ground up, giving players more options and more convenience without sacrificing our design principles. So, here’s what we’re doing differently this time.

In Guild Wars 2 we have three currencies: gold, karma, and gems. Gold is the common in-game currency. Karma, which players earn in-game but cannot trade, is used for unique rewards. And gems are the currency that’s bought and used to purchase microtransactions.

We have a new player-driven market that allows players to trade gold for gems and gems for gold. If you want something, whether it’s an in-game item or a microtransaction, you ultimately have two ways to get it: you can play to earn gold or you can use money to buy gems. We think that’s important, because it lets more players participate on a level playing field, whether they use their free time or their disposable income to do it.

MMO veterans will note the similarities of our system to EVE Online’s PLEX system. As in that case, our system takes gold trading out of the hands of real-money trading (RMT) companies and puts it directly in the hands of players.

We think that’s a great thing.

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.

We also like the tradability of gems and gold because it makes the rest of the game’s economy more compelling. We’ll have a player-to-player Trading Post in the game—it’s like an auction house but better—which we’ll discuss in an upcoming blog post. Because gems can be traded for gold and vice versa, we don’t need two different trading systems, one for gold and one for gems. In Guild Wars 2, everything on the Trading Post is traded for gold, but of course, somebody who wants to earn gems can just sell items for gold, and then convert the gold to gems.

We have always taken our responsibility to players seriously with the original Guild Wars, and we will continue to do so with Guild Wars 2. We believe the foundation I’ve described here is the right foundation for us to build upon, and we look forward to sharing more details with you in the future as we nail down our microtransaction content.

– Mike O’Brien