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Guild Wars 2: Pride Of The Black Lion Trading Company

Shop 'til they... oh, they don't drop

It's Guild Wars 2 Day, and may all the gods combined have mercy on ArenaNet's servers. I'm working on the WIT at the moment, and you can check out Alec's early impressions of the game here, but while we battle both foul monsters and bloody overflow server bugs, we're going to take a look at a couple of specific things of interest. Up first, the Black Lion Trading Company - the Guild Wars 2 item store that's a little more hooked into the economy than most.

At first glance, it's honestly off-putting. The basic concept of such a prominent item store still feels like an invasion from the free-to-play world, albeit mitigated by the lack of a monthly subscription. The items being pushed aren't exactly inspiring either - or in many cases, even apparently from this game. Aviator sunglasses for instance. I know this is a very irreverent fantasy universe where one faction lives in a comedy Borg cube and a third or so of human players canonically regret not being circus performers... but really? This is the top item? There's no more awesome fantasy stuff to milk before breaking out the cool shades?

Okay, maybe it's an anomaly. I'm sure the next thing will- BOXING GLOVES?!

Wish that Profane Armor was Profanity Armour instead. That'd be a bloody good deal, and bugger anyone who complains, the bastards!

After that, things start to make a little more sense - a mix of purely cosmetic 'town' clothes, like a pirate outfit and a cook costume for some reason, and proper armour sets that don't have any stats of their own, but can be applied to actual gear you have but want to look a little snazzier. It's restricted to its type though - a heavy armour set can only apply to heavy armour pieces, so you can't have your Elementalist running around in full plate even if you pay the toll.

Beyond cosmetics, there's a fair amount - the bulk of it consumables. There's the Revive Orb, which you can buy on its own or in packs of 5, special salvage kits to remove upgrades from gear, a one-use instant repair canister to save you a trip back to town if your gear breaks, assorted boosters, and more. These range from a boost that gives you double Karma (currency awarded for doing quests around the world) to the incredibly brief Killstreak Experience Booster which only lasts 30 seconds, but is reset with every kill. Make it count, I guess.

A sizable chunk of what's on offer is in goody-bag form. The store itself - as a specific purchase - won't sell you black dye simply because you want it, just a Dye Pack that contains 5 common and 2 uncommon/rare dyes and presumably explodes if you try to take it out of a bank. "Evon Gnashblade's Box O' Fun" likewise only promises five minutes of random goodies for you and any allies, including shape-shifting fun. Needless to say, Guild Wars 2 has those bloody crates that can only be opened with special keys. It also has the more unusual "Cow Finisher" for PvP players, which pulls an Earthworm Jim and drops a cow on your defeated enemies.

Price-wise, the minimum gem purchase - in real money - is £8 for 800 gems. Cosmetic items run from around 150 gems for a single piece to 700 for a set, boosters are 75-150 for individual shots, consumables run from 75 to 250, and most services go from 35 to 250.

Hey, it's the Fail Whale! Like Twitter, only involving way more than 140 characters.

Looking through what you get, nothing even approaches the dreaded Pay To Win barrier, with the boosters speeding up your progress but not at anyone else's expense, and most of the rest being time-saving or cosmetics. Probably the most interesting of the cosmetic side are the Transmutation Stones, which let you apply the look of one armour piece onto the stats of another, saving you being forced to wander Tyria looking like a refugee clown.

I just hope these aren't artificially scarce, especially now that it's an increasingly common thing to be able to do in MMOs. The wiki states that higher level ones are only purchasable with gems, while lower level ones will be 'available through other in-game methods', though doesn't offer any details on what those will be - drops, shops, or things that don't even rhyme.

The only one that really stands out as over-priced is the Additional Character Slot upgrade, which is a whopping 800 gems. For reference, you only get five character slots in the base game, which is one per race. However, there are 8 character classes for alt-a-holics to collect, not to mention the alternate versions of each race's story for hardcore completionists.

What makes the Black Lion shop interesting though is that it combines real-world and in-game money. You can straight-up buy gems, but you can also convert them into gold, and gold back into gems. The exchange rate changes over time, and you can put any amount in. At the time of writing, 10 silver worked out to 27 gems. As an experiment, I swapped 5 silver for 13 gems, which would have converted back to just a little over 3. Riches indeed.

As for the wider picture, player-to-player transactions use regular gold rather than gems, meaning ArenaNet gets a cut of the virtual funbucks both coming and going regardless of whether players are buying gold or converting their in-game cash to buy premium items. On the purchasing side, it's only one tiny step away from being a real money auction house. On the selling side though, there's no way to get money out of the system again.

WARNING: Do not consume keys orally.

Like a lot of Guild Wars 2, I'm as curious to see how the Currency Trading side of this works out as much as anything else - how the exchange rate will vary once people are really going to town on it, and how it'll change as and when cool new things are added. Handled properly, it's both a handy profit centre for ArenaNet and a clever way of getting gold out of the economy for the price of a few cool looking bits of tat. I have faith that they'll avoid the pay-to-win trap.

I do however hope they can resist the siren's call of the TF2 MannCo catalogue and try to focus on more setting-appropriate stuff than Aviators and boxing gloves when deciding what to flog. It's a thin line between fun and silly, and I'd rather stick to the other one while the game is still setting out its stall. That said, I guess a little goofiness won't hurt. If nothing else, surely there's only so many times they can talk about Krytan armour before doing what has to be done.

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Richard Cobbett