One of the enduring problems with the overall economy of Guild Wars 2 can be summed up in one word: karma. Though there are a couple other currencies that have a similar level of minimal worth, the design intent and execution over time of karma is a textbook case in what happens when a currency has ineffective sinks.
I’m going to analyze exactly why karma has practically no worth. Then, I will outline a way to fix karma in the short and long term, restoring its value without destroying the value of gold and other currencies.
The Problem: Vicious Cycle of Worthlessness
Karma was oversupplied when the game released. Expensive sets of armor that were meant to be a stopping point on the way to getting a full-blown legendary were gobbled up almost as fast as level 80 exotic gear bought with gold. Prestigious weapon skins (with respectable stats) landed in the same boat as tier 3 cultural: bought in no time.
People who wanted these top-level items got them, then had nothing to spend the karma on. And since karma had no cap, it just kept growing in the background while gold made the overall economy run. In short order, people had literal millions of the “rare” purple currency.
When new content was slated to be put into the game, karma wasn’t really an option on the table. Average stockpiles were so high that no remotely reasonable price could be put on such items. Many people (which included the vocal hardcore) would get any potential items instantly, making the sense of reward for getting them zero.
Combine these two things, oversupply and adding more rewards being pointless, and it turns into a vicious cycle:
- Tons of karma.
- Nothing to spend karma on.
- New items go to other currencies in some form.
- Repeat from step 1.
In other words, even after the karma rebalance, the currency is still completely worthless, its main value derived from the inefficient method of forging some linen-giving cloth and salvaging that.*
*Yes, I know there are weapons and armor that cost a relatively large amount and are quite attractive to many, but that is a taste-based sink, and not a reliable one. It also no longer works when a player acquires all of them.
The Solution: A Three Angle Approach
There is no silver bullet for reasserting karma as a valuable resource worth spending (by players) and worth introducing things for (by ArenaNet), but approaching it from several different angles should have the desired effect.
Angle #1: Drain
Everyone who has been playing Guild Wars 2 for a while has a pile of karma (for example, I have 1.6 million of it, and I’ve crafted 2 legendaries). Those huge piles of karma need to go away.
Rewind to September 2012, right after the release of the game. Several of the basic common crafting items were extremely oversupplied as people leveled up their first characters (think more worthless than silk scraps before ascended armor happened).
To address this one-time imbalance, a set of Mystic Forge recipes were made that “threw away” stacks of the low-level items for the chance to eventually build a Mystic Forge Conduit, alongside some other rewards.
Long story short, it worked. Excessive supplies disappeared into the Mystic Toilet, leaving in their wake a more balanced economy representative of a mix of level 80 and leveling characters. The recipes were removed, though the resulting items are still tradeable.
Do it again.
Instead of it being stacks of common crafting materials, have a merchant who trades tons of karma for account bound items that get flushed into the Forge. Out pops an account bound Mystic Forge Conduit, or pieces of it.
Also, just like the first time, announce it on the main site. Be just as upfront about the reasons, and stress the limited time availability of a really awesome convenience. Get people excited to drain their karma reserves.
Perhaps to sweeten the pot, consider adding other account conveniences. I realize that the vast majority of them have been part of the 0.0000000001% Black Lion Chest retinue of Permanent Contracts, but the karma drain has to have enough incentive to really be worth attempting.
One person might have no interest in a Conduit, but if you told them that with the application of enough karma they could get a permanent hair styling kit, they wouldn’t be able to run to the karma merchant fast enough.
(Note: to maintain the account-bound aspect of karma, all resulting items need to also be account bound. This has the handy bonus of not affecting the economy at large aside from a reduced demand from people who acquired what they wanted through karma means)
Let the karma drain run as long as necessary to see an appreciable drop in the stockpiles. People with a small excess might push for one or two items, while those with metric tons of karma will end up with more conveniences than they know what to do with.
I don’t consider this latter effect a bad thing, because in effect it’s rewarding long time players for playing the game. Karma can only be gained by completing events and other content. No credit card, no real shortcuts. It may on the surface look unfair to newer players, but the Trading Post offers each and every one of the conveniences.*
*With less demand, it creates the net benefit of dropping the overall cost of the items. Not by much, but by some. Interestingly, this increases the likelihood of a newer player still getting a convenience if they truly want it.
Angle #2: New Capstone Goals
Armageddon armor (42,000 a piece) and tier 3 cultural weapons (63,000 a weapon) were intended to be the capstone goals for karma. Aside from the potential 1,000,000 karma investment of a legendary, they are the single most expensive items.
They cost too little.
Introduce new items (perhaps even swipe skins that have become unobtainable for whatever reason, like Tribal and the PvP Commando) that cost a lot more. There is a lot of space between the existing armor and weapons and a legendary weapon.
Occupy that space with awesome-looking stuff. Reskin a weapon to have a new aura on it, or add a new dye channel to a slight retexturing of an armor skin. Slap massive price tags on them (100,000, 250,000, 1,337,500) at the same time.
Doing both causes several beneficial effects:
- Creates an ongoing reason to spend karma.
- Gives players new and old something to work toward.
- Makes being able to spend that much karma a status symbol. The game is all about cosmetics, and attaching unique looks to karma makes it valuable.
- Sustains the reduced supply that the drain created. With higher demand and more balanced supply, karma retains worth.
Angle #3: Keep Adding More
With the first two angles in place, a more stabilized, and worth-filled version of karma is present in the overall game economy. But capstone goals will be achieved, people will miss the drain period, and so on.
Going forward from that point will require continuing to add reasons to spend karma. Unique or hard-to-obtain skins need to trickle into the karma pipeline, filling in more spaces on the expense tree to interest people who didn’t find the first batch worth spending on.
Unlike gold, karma does not have the advantage of forced sinks through 15% Trading Post tax and universal usability. As a result, it needs consistent input from ArenaNet to maintain its value, at least starting out.
It is possible to reach a point where there are enough expensive things to buy that it won’t require that much maintenance any more. Perhaps that can be accomplished with far fewer items than the plethora gold supports.
There will always be people who don’t spend, or spend little, but the isolation of karma flips into an advantage: those people don’t affect the worth of karma to the community at large.
It’s the community en masse, with stockpiles of karma over and above anything they need or want, that have made the currency worthless. Reduce the supply in the overall group, and the perception of its value will increase.
Karma should be worth something, rather than being a currency that goes unspent for lack of anything desirable to spend it on. By adopting a three-tiered approach (Drain the excess, Create new capstone goals, Add more things to spend it on over time), I believe that karma could once again live up to its name.