Sometime in the last five or so years, the notion that a game is something you keep on paying for after you've bought it took hold. We'd understood expansions and subscriptions for years, but this was something different. It wasn't about a drip feed of more stuff, or a wholesale extension to the original game, it was about paying for optional bits and pieces that came later. I no longer hear about an online game and wonder whether microtransactions are going to be introduced, but I do want to know how they'll be implemented. That's the bit that hasn't really become standardised, and each game that arrives seems to have its own take. Guild Wars already had a bit of a shonky payment model, but it was bolted on after the fact. Guild Wars 2, however, will have additional paid-for elements from the moment you start playing the game.
That's not to say that it's easy to understand, either. Guild Wars 2 will have three currencies: gold, gems and karma. Let's take a look at what that means.
Gold is the easiest to get your head around: it's earned in-game as a means to buy gems or spend in the player-to-player trading post. Gems are what's used to purchase microtransactions from ArenaNet, whatever they might take the form of. According to ArenaNet's Mike O’Brien:
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.
There's nothing specific in there about what you can buy, but at least you'll be able to earn what you want in-game.
So it seems you can either spend the time earning the in-game gold in order to buy the gems for what you want, or you can lay down real world money for the gems and pay for it that way. There's no indication of the worth of one compared to the other or the cost of items, so this could either be a good way of roping off the in-game economy from outside influences (because gold can be traded for gems and vice versa), or it could be an easy way for ArenaNet to dangle shiny baubles in your face and offer you a quick route to them. The upcoming beta will have some elements of the store, and we'll ask our brave reporter to see if he can figure that out.
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.
ArenaNet are drawing similarities to the Eve's PLEX system, which Jim thinks is a way of packaging it to test your response to it. If it's clear enough of a system, something they can sell as PLEXlike, then the response of players, and the press, might be positive. It's not exactly clear how it can be equated with PLEX, though, or if the kinds of purchases made will be the same. But anyway, it seems to me that they'll ultimately control the economy if you can only purchase gems from ArenaNet, which makes sense because if they allow players to set gem prices then they could easily be undercut. There's always going to be a set worth for the currency, which is super-important to control the more complex emergent economic things like inflation. If a certain amount of gold = a certain amount of gems, and gems have a real-world value, then setting gold prices in-game will have to take into account that base worth. Ultimately ArenaNet's microtransaction prices will set the base worth of your time, although I guess if you're dealing directly with another player you can choose yourself what a gold-to-item worth is, if you're feeling generous.
Karma's role in all this is as something you can only earn in-game and you can't trade it. It's used for unique items that you won't be able to buy in any other way. It won't really have a monetary function, so I'm unsure as to why it's considered a currency. I suppose we will learn more about that soon.
Check out ArenaNet's original post on this topic for more.