on Oct 7, 2012
Guild Wars 2 has the most interesting and sane economy of any MMO I’ve played. It is not without the occasional amusing absurdity, but that’s probably inevitable.
To show off how different this is, let’s just do a few comparisons between this game and you know who.
For simplicity, I’m not going to go around expressing large values as “1 gold, 23 silver, 45 copper”, or 1g 23s 45c. We’ll talk about everything in terms of copper, as in: 12,345 copper. Note that a proper apples-to-apples comparison is probably impossible, but for the sake of pretending this makes sense I’m only going to include stuff up to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, which is where I found the level 80 quests. This will let us compare WoW level 80 to GW2 level 80, which is the best we can do.
In World of Warcraft a level 1 quest pays 25 copper. There are a ton of level 80 quests, but this one – chosen basically at random – pays 132,300 copper. So you will make 5,292 times as much money at level 80 compared to what you were making at level 1.
In Guild Wars 2, your starting quest (which is actually level 2, because level 1 is set in the tutorial zone) pays 45 copper. I haven’t even found a level 80 quest (I’m pretty sure at that level it’s all event-driven) but the quests in the late 70’s pay around 375 copper. We can probably extrapolate while making a hand-wavy gesture and say that if a level 80 quest did exist, it would pay 400 copper. So you will make just short of 9 times as much by the end of the game.
WoW scales up by a factor of 5,292. GW2 scales up by a factor of 9. In WoW, costs that are considerable at level 20 become a joke by level 40. You can solve all money problems by simply leveling past them. In GW2, money always matters. Even though your earnings are eventually multiplied by 9, your increase in expenses will far outstrip this increase. This forms a progressive tax* on your income. In the early game you make less, but keep more of it.
* If you think the words “progressive tax” are some magical pass to start talking about politics, you are about to have your comment visited in the middle of the night by my jackbooted jackass police. Inquiries as to where your comment disappeared to will be met with bureaucratic indifference and accusatory questions.
You have two major expenses to deal with: Equipment and travel. Let’s talk about travel. Here is a scenic little spot in the Human starting zone:
That blue stuff on the right, in the far distance, is the Western Divinity Dam. That floating glowy sphere to the left of my character is a waypoint. We’re in the area around the village of Shaemoor. Here is a map.
The blue diamond marker at the bottom center is the waypoint you see in the first image. Compare the first image to what is shown on this map and you should have a rough sense of the scale we’re starting with.
Shaemoor is one section of the zone called Queensdale:
In turn, Queensdale is just part of the nation of Kryta:
And Kryta is just part of the larger gameworld:
I haven’t sat down and tried to work out the square mileage, or kilometer.. age. Or whatever. The point is, this is a pretty big place.
If you wanted to go from the city of Divinity’s Reach to Stoneguard Gate, then you’d be talking about this trip:
You’d be looking at a short walk through the city, followed by a loading screen, followed by a hike through the countryside fighting the odd trash mob, followed by another loading screen. Note that the loading screens in this game are kind of annoying. On my computer they last for over half a minute. If you travel via waypoint, then you can shorten that entire trip to a single loading screen.
At starting level, the trip costs 8 copper. At level 80, this same trip costs 172 copper. So while your income might increase by a factor of 9 during the game, your travel expenses will go up by a factor of 21. Sort of. There’s a fixed base cost in all waypoint travel and I don’t think anyone has sat down and worked out the arithmetic behind it. So this comparison may shift based on how far you’re traveling. But no matter how you measure it, your travel expenses are going to go up a lot faster than your income.
This is even worse than it seems, since at higher levels you’ll be making longer trips. If you need to go from the city back to your chosen level 80 quest area, it’s going to be a very long trip, which might cost in excess of 350 copper. One trip can eat the income from an entire quest. If you jump out to the field, do one quest, and jump back, you will have lost money.
Oddly, this means that you become less mobile as you level. In World of Warcraft you’ll get access to mounts, then faster mounts, and eventually flying mounts. The higher level you are, the easier it is to get around. In Guild Wars 2, leveling up means you need to carefully ration your travel because making a lot of trips can bankrupt you.
Thankfully, there’s a work-around to get from the field to the city for free. Unfortunately, it’s an agonizing chain of loading screens. You click the PvP button to go to the Heart of the Mists. Loading screen. Then you walk to the Asura gate to got to Lion’s Arch. Loading screen. You’ll appear in a spot away from the city services, and you can either hike across the city or do another loading screen. If all you need is crafting / trading post / training services, then you’re good. But if you want to do business with one of the faction leaders, then you’ll need to jump through another Asura gate. Loading screen. From there you either hike or go through one last loading screen to get to the NPC. This is a long trip and a lot of time spent drumming your fingers. At low levels, you’ll think nothing of tossing away a few coppers to skip all of that. At level 80, you’ll need to make the hard choice between a brutal travel fee or wasting several minutes staring at loading screens. These are not the kind of choices that delight me in a videogame.
|Yes! By hiring a Human to kill the Dredge, the Dredge now fear the Norn. But that’s what I get for questing in someone else’s starting zone. Whatever. Thanks for the 56 copper.|
What about other income? I started a new character and ran to level 10 without opening any of my mail. (Money from quest rewards come in the mail.) So my only income was from loot drops.
The trick in this game is that you can salvage a piece of loot to recover some raw materials. In some hilariously odd situations, these raw materials can be worth more than the item. So, tearing apart a light armor coat worth 4 copper might yield a couple of pieces of jute that are worth 25 copper each. For the purposes of this test, I saved all those materials, which means they didn’t turn into money. Now, everyone is a little different when deciding what item drops to salvage and which ones to sell. I played it a little conservatively, only salvaging things worth less than 10 copper. By the time I hit level 10 I’d accrued 1,200 copper. For contrast, when I finally got around to opening my mail I’d earned 800 copper in quest rewards.
Going by this very rough experiment, it looks like most of your early income is from drops, not from quest rewards. Of course, if you do a lot of story missions you’ll probably end up losing money. The same is true if you do a lot of crafting in those early levels. On the other hand, if you’re doing world events you’ll probably have a lot more money, since those tend to give you a ton of loot.
Depending on how cynical you are, you can view this tight economy as a well-designed and balanced system that makes play worthwhile at all levels, or a cynical cash-grab on the part of ArenaNet. See, there’s always the gem store where you can pay real money for gems, which can be traded for in-game money. One side-effect of this tight, level economy is that you’re always wanting more cash. (At least, I am.) There are a lot of things I’d love to get. More exotic clothing dye. More bank space. Another character slot. The values for this are all steep, but attainable. You don’t ever need to put down real cash, but it’s easy to see the allure of doing so.
“Man, if I had three more gold I’d be able to get this Shiny New Thing before the dungeon run we’re doing tonight. I could throw down ten bucks and get it now. And you know, since I’m not spending fifteen bucks a month to play this game I can sort of take that money and spend it on gems.”
I’ve certainly used flimsier rationalizations to justify buying stuff when waiting would have been cheaper. It’s not all that different from the “Next Day Air” checkbox in an online shop where you can plonk down some money to get your thing faster.
This balanced economy means that play is meaningful at all levels. You’ll never be playing a low-level alt with the nagging doubt that you should be playing your high-level main because you need the money. I can’t believe those exponential growth economies lasted for so long. This is so much better.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.