Over the years the MMO genre has gone through some changes, but has mostly stuck to well established norms. ArenaNet wanted to go in a separate direction with Guild Wars 2, going against what we see in MMO game design. One little feature that has become very common in MMOs, did make its way into Guild Wars 2. I'm talking about micro-transactions, which happen in the Black Lion's Gem Store. Does this mean ArenaNet kicked the need of skill to the curb, and embraced pay to win?
Micro-transactions are usually looked down upon by players, because the games that have this feature typically require you to purchase the strongest items in the game with real money in order to stay competitive. New items are constantly added to these stores, draining more money out of players wallets than if they just paid sixty bucks to buy the game. It also completely takes out the need to have actual skill, rewarding players only for their money. It really is a silly concept, but sadly has made some developers a ton of money. So of course now even subscription games toss them in.
ArenaNet is actually no stranger to micro-transactions, using a few during the first Guild Wars series. These included simple alternate looks that had no effect on stats, and micro-expansions, which were used to further the lore in the world of Tyria. None of these purchases had any effect on character stats, giving no one an advantage for paying extra money. Instead, you got to give your character a more unique look, and enjoy more of the game's story, which is similar to making the game longer.
Guild Wars 2 follows in the originals footsteps, offering cosmetic and convenience items. Players can get new styles for their armor and weapons, allowing players to customize their characters' looks. This has become a very important feature for players, which allows mixing and matching skins to get the exact visual feel for their character. This has resulted in a game where even in a large group, it's tough to find two characters that look alike, which makes your character feel special, and unique. If people want to pay for more cosmetic options, that's fine with me.
The gem store also includes items that brings some convenience to a player's experience. Are you tired of keeping track of your gathering tools? Are you always forgetting to restock on these items? Than you'll love the unbreakable gathering tools! Do they give you increased stats? No, in fact, the only advantage to owning this item is that you never have to go to a merchant to buy these items ever again. It's pure convenience.
Paying real money isn’t the only way to get gems. The gem store allows you to trade the in game gold for gems. It's possible for a player to go through the game, buying weapon skins and convenience items without giving ArenaNet another dime. The exchange rate does make it very difficult, but not impossible! And this actually works both ways! If you want, you may trade gems for in game gold, and with the exchange rates constantly changing. Some players have made a lot of gold in this market.
Alright, so you can't buy ultra powerful items in the store, but what about exchanging gems for gold to buy the games most powerful items from players? Really you could do this, but you better have insanely deep pockets. The exchange rate for gold to gems is so high that the exchange is really just there so you can grab those few last gems you need to buy a skin, or even a mini pet.
You could also "buy your way to max level", but I don’t recommend it. l have a friend who started playing long after the rest of our group, and we were all level 80. My friend went ahead and purchased gems, which he then traded for gold, and used the gold to buy crafting materials. It wasn't too long before he crafted his way level 80, and started to go on adventures with the rest of our group. There was an issue though. He had no idea how to play the game. His character was the right level for the content we were playing, but his skill level was too far behind. Yes a player can buy their way to max level, but in Guild Wars 2 it all comes down to skill and knowledge of the game. And once again due to the exchange rates, this mistake put a serious dent in his wallet. Really folks, just play the game.
Guild Wars 2 is only pay to play. Buy the game, install it, and then play it. If you want to buy a booster that makes you swim faster, go ahead. Want to create a custom, and private, arena where only you and your friends can hack and slash at each other in some PvP? Custom arena tickets are for you! You want the best items in the game? You better keep playing, because you won't find any character strengthening items in the cash store. Instead, you'll only find sweet looking armor skins, cute looking mini pets, and some manuals on exotic dance moves. ArenaNet made sure to use micro-transactions only to enhance a player's experience, not their characters stats. That’s using micro-transactions the right way.
The title of this column, "Is the Gem Store Ruining Guild Wars 2?" was designed to get you in here and read, I'll admit. But here's the answer to that question: no. In fact, I'm all for ArenaNet's implementation being added to other games. It doesn't beat you over the head to spend money all the time, and it doesn't affect the game negatively. I'd love for them to start putting in mounts, or even permanent out of combat speed boosts, as I'd rather have that then the instant porting everywhere. Maybe one day.
Have you purchased anything from the gem store? What is your favorite, or least favorite, item in the gem store?
David North / David North is a freelance writer for MMORPG.com. David loves to play and makes games, but now he writes about them! If you want to creep on him and make fun of his ability to draw, follow him over on twitter @David_the_North.
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