Feb 6, 2012

Microtransactions and Guild Wars 2

By now, everyone should be aware that the business model for ArenaNet's upcoming Guild Wars 2 is "buy to play".  You buy the game once for the going price of your typical game and then you're free to play forever, just like any single-player RPG and unlike many MMOs which charge a monthly subscription fee.

Many people have wondered how this model is sustainable.  After all, there are real ongoing costs for servers and network bandwidth that ArenaNet has to cover and the more players they have, the higher these costs will be.

However, they've done this before with the original Guild Wars and for all appearances, it's worked.  Part of the reason it has worked is that they've sold additional content in the forms of new campaigns and an expansion.

They have also had an online store where you could buy extra character slots or extra storage space.  For the PvP die-hards, they've had skill unlock packs which saved you the "chore" of playing through PvE content just to equip your PvP character how you wanted them.  A few years ago, they also introduced in-game costumes which would let your character don a unique apperance and allow you to differentiate them from others.

None of these (except maybe the PvP unlock packs) are what would be considered "buy to win".  This is a model which is becoming increasingly common in so-called "Free to Play" (or F2P) games where you can download the client and play the game for free; however, there are a multitude of cash purchases which can be made to make "winning" the game easier.  These things can be simple XP multipliers, or better gear or even content - quests, areas or playable races and professions.  If you can think of it, somebody has probably found a way to make you pay for it.  A lot of these purchases are designed to make the player think that the monthly subscription fee isn't really so bad (for instance, you can spend $10 to unlock one race, or $15 a month to unlock all races, all professions, tons of quests, etc.).

Most players feel that these "buy-to-win" purchases are downright evil and they have given the term "microtransaction" a very bad connotation.  It's not the microtransaction itself that is bad though -- it's just what companies choose to sell via the method.  Thousands of people lauded Apple when it put individual songs up for sale at 99 cents each because they would be able to listen to the music they wanted without forking over the price of an entire album.  This is an example of the microtransaction done right.  Still, in the MMO gaming community, "microtransaction" might as well be a four-letter-word.

ArenaNet has assured us that they don't believe in buy-to-win and that there will be no subscription fee that they need to convince us to pay for.  So I didn't give the in-game store too much thought.

But then I saw this: Job posting for a Microtransaction Producer at ArenaNet

And it got me thinking...  What can we expect to see in terms of microtransactions for Guild Wars 2?
Let's start with the easy ones: items with a high probability of appearing in an in-game cash store.
  • Extra Character slots.  If they don't ship with eight character slots, then extra character slots better be available at launch!
  • Extra Storage space.  This was in the original Guild Wars cash shop and it seems a "gimme" that they will return for the sequel.
  • Make-over packs.  Sometimes people get bored with a look.  They had this in Guild Wars, no reason it won't return.
  • Character Renames.  Again, these were in the original game and there's no reason to think that they won't make a comeback.
Since the above are not buy-to-win and are totally optional, I'm fine with them being purchasable add-ons.  So what would constitute an "evil" microtransaction?  If we take ArenaNet at their word (and there's no reason we shouldn't), then we should expect that the these items would not appear in the shop:
  • XP scrolls
  • Crafting Ingredient Packs
  • Achievement accelerators (kill 1 Centaur, it counts as 2!)
  • Consumables Packs (items that grant you a boon for a period of time when used)
  • Character Attribute enhancements (stat boosters)
So, what does that leave us with?  What kinds of items could this new Microtransaction Producer put in the shop for the gamer with surplus funds who doesn't mind buying "extras" with no gameplay benefit.  Here's what I've been able to come up with:
  • New content.  People have no problem buying games and expansions from Steam, so why should the Guild Wars 2 cash shop be any different?  Whether it's a single, new dungeon or a full-fledged expansion (Cantha!), as long as the price is right, we really shouldn't complain.
  • Exclusive Weapon skins.  No stats involved, simply new artwork that you can use with Transmutation Stones.  Purely cosmetic for those who want to stand out.
  • Town clothes.  Cosmetic outfits to dress up your toon with, again, purely optional.
  • Transmutation Stones.  Originally, these were going to be sold exclusively through the store, but they are now a Karma reward.  However, since they are cosmetic-only, they could still be sold through the cash shop.
  • Furniture and Decorations for your home instance.  Going out on a limb here, but it's still just "cosmetic", so why not?
  • Store-exclusive mini-pets.  Again, strictly cosmetic.  It might start the "elitism" argument, but if a person wants to show off that they have money to burn by buying a virtual pet -- let them.  I don't mind somebody else financing the servers I play on!  The one restriction I'd put here is that they shouldn't be trade-able, otherwise this could be a backdoor method to purchase in-game gold for cash.
  • Emote Packs.  Extra character animations for the role-players.  For me, this treads the line between valid (it is cosmetic only) and the evil side of microtransactions (because I consider emotes as "core" functionality and something that adds to the fun of the game).  I'd probably buy them but would be complaining that it should have been free content for everyone.
As a player who purchased costumes in the original Guild Wars, I don't have an issue with there being a cash shop to supplement ArenaNet's income.  They are a business after all.  As long as the price is fair and the items there do not affect gameplay, or are things I'd buy at my local game shop (expansions), then I don't have an issue with "microtransactions".

How about you?  Is there anything you'd like to see as an optional purchase in the cash shop?  Or do you view anything with the "microtransaction" label as the start down a slippery slope?  Share your thoughts in the feedback section!


  1. Good write up. I agree with you wholeheartedly. As long as Anet abides by their very own ideology, the micro-transaction formula will be a win-win situation. As long as, like you say, they keep the prices fair. This seemed to work well in GW1 as far as I have heard and it's obviously worked for them to be confident to try it again.

    With the potential GW2 has for a player base, this could be very lucrative and that can only benefit the players, if Anet can stay focused and not give in to greed.

    The only thing I have reservations about is the vocal minority on the forums. Time and time again, forum undesirables have changed games for the worse. Yes they do help sometimes, but often developers give in to things that go against what the company stood for in the first place. Let Anet stand their ground and we shall rejoice!

  2. This may be out there, but I wouldn't mind purchasing voice packs. Let my character have a different voice than the default one. Yes, I am aware that there is a LOT of voice acting in the game, but hey, I'd pay a pretty penny to make my toon sound more unique. Like I said, it's a bit out there, but we're all just tossing around ideas yes?

    I guess they could also add in more character customization options too as a microtransaction... Buy the 'beard' pack and have access to a new set of beards to the types of races that can have them. Or a 'Hair' pack with new hair styles for all the races. Something like that... Just thinking out loud here. =P

  3. I just really hope that there will be character slot packs so you can just buy a bunch at once. Hated the buy 1 by 1 at ridicilous price concept in GW. Something similar to the way they sold Mercenary heroes would be awesome