WoW Doesn’t Need More Revenue Streams

Blizzard loves giving more value to people who have more time. I hate everything about this, from the perspective where I am at as a gamer right now. Yes, this is a bit of a selfish rant (to be up front out of the gate)

Introducing the WoW Token

Coming soon to an Azeroth near you: the WoW Token, a new in-game item that allows players to simply and securely exchange gold and game time between each other.

Players will be able to purchase a WoW Token through the in-game Shop for real money, and then sell it on the Auction House for gold at the current market price. When a player buys a WoW Token from the Auction House for gold, the Token becomes Soulbound, and the player can then redeem it for 30 days of game time.

This rewards players who have a lot of playing time and who can focus on raising gold. In essence, they get to play for free, while the time starved still pay a sub fee. When I call for action on subscription fees to give a fair relative valuation on player’s time, this is the exact opposite. I’ve given WoW thousands of dollars over two accounts and two sub fees for years – and they want to reward people with extra time to spare with free subscription fees.  And in this MMO welfare state it allows Blizzard to double dip. Sure, they are giving up a sub fee but they are gaining a lot of hits on money that goes otherwise to gold sellers (that is the black market to fix the broken WoW economy). Don’t solve the economy issues, profit from them! But all kidding aside, why do this now?

Q: Why are you introducing the WoW Token feature?
A: We’ve heard feedback from players that they’d be interested in a secure, legitimate way to acquire gold that doesn’t involve the use of unauthorized third-party gold-selling services—one of the primary sources of account compromises. We also know players who’ve amassed large amounts of gold through regular play would be interested in the ability to trade some to other players in exchange for game time, helping cover their subscription costs. The WoW Token feature gives players on both sides of the equation a secure and straightforward way to make that exchange. It opens up a new kind of payment option for World of Warcraft players, and we hope that it will also help lead to fewer account compromises and a better game experience overall.

Isn’t this just going to further inflate the economy, with easier access to more gold, and force/encourage more people to buy more tokens, to buy more gold? I’m sure they misread the feedback – it probably went more like “players want the WoW economy to stop getting crazy inflated due to gold sellers and bots”. It makes sense for them to drive more profits, but please don’t try to tell anyone this is from player demand. This is a smart, very profitable initiative. If you really want to give players more payment options and flexibility, try some of these:

  1. Charitable contribution for game time – this could be via humble bundle or any choice. Make a $10 donation to the Red Cross for 30 days game time
  2. Game time for new player mentoring or community lead initiatives – this strengthens the community and makes it more likely new players become long term (and subscribing) players
  3. Limited time / Limited access accounts – players can’t enjoy all WoW has to offer because of busy life and schedules? Here is a WoW-Lite account for half the price. No Mythic raids for you (or other minor access barriers), but still, you can quest, to LFR, talk to friends, etc. If you need access to the top game modes you will have to upgrade though.
  4. A new, rental server model that I talked about in 2008

There are others too if WoW truly wanted to support different payment types and support players with access to the game.

I always make these arguments and then feel silly in some ways because it’s definitely not about the money. It has a lot to do with principles and I know principles don’t pay bills. I just want MMO companies to recognize that their empires were built by people investing time and money into them, and consider rewarding loyal customers. The value / sub / time proposition has been debated to death but I have tried to stay consistent on how I view it. It needs to feel right to me to make a purchase. I haven’t even done my expansion tour of WoD yet (which I was planning on doing). We’ll see how it all pans out. Clearly they don’t care if I do or I don’t. Someone buying gold through Blizzard will replace what my sub fee and box purchase would have represented in the first place.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the open market value of these tokens will be close to a sub. At the very least they will control this tightly and keep aggregate prices higher than what they are giving away in sub fees.  I dislike that WoW is the most successful sub game but that they also add (and continue to add) cash shop elements. Good for them for maximizing the return for shareholder value though. So all of this is pretty funny – the introductory sentence is really misleading because clearly Blizzard values people with more money (than time), they just found another creative way to get more of it from more people, while giving good economy players some free game time.  I suspect this is going to screw up the economy even worse because of price fixing by Blizzard and in order to participate on the AH you’ll have to buy gold at some point. This feels like a Zynga-esque move.

I support giving players alternate methods to fund their subscription time but due to the fixed, Blizzard set cost and way this is setup it is really just a revenue bump for Blizzard – not a true alternate method for players. It should be marketed more honestly – that is what disappointed me. I could end up eating crow here at some point if it launches and even casual players can raise enough monthly gold to cover their subscriptions but do we really trust Blizzard to let anything happen that hurts their eroding revenue base? I don’ t think that is realistic. This is more likely proof that Blizzard needs to increase it’s declining revenues from its subscription base. What’s next, true, individual player housing that can only be bought and designed through a cash shop? Players have provided feedback for years that they want this. Don’t confuse player feedback with another excuse to layer a revenue stream on top of the subscription fee. Most player feedback would sensibly want fixes to the economy and enhancements to the game as PART of their subscription fee. If not, what are they paying that for?

11 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I never understand this “players with more time” thing when it comes to subsiding subs from within a game. The current UK WoW sub is £9.99. UK minimum wage is £6.50. So, it would take the lowest-paid worker approximately an hour and a half to earn the money for a month’s sub. Wilhelm is guesstimating a WoW token might run around 30k gold.

    How long does it take to make 30k gold in game? Can you do it in 90 minutes? Unless you value your time at zero (I do, as it happens, when it’s leisure time, but no economist would permit that) then surely the “time rich” players are actually the ones being ripped off?

    1. If I have more beer than I can drink, I have no problem giving you enough to get drunk. If I only have 5 beer and I like to drink one an hour, and I am planning on drinking for 5 hours then it will be harder for me to do that. People that are time/beer rich don’t value what they have as much typically – until it is gone. This is, at least, my own experience.

      Also -while playing a game (which is essentially ‘wasting’ time to many) it becomes even less valuable.

      Perhaps this was a bad analogy. I’d give you a beer anytime. Do you prefer lager or ale?

  2. “I suspect this is going to screw up the economy even worse because of price fixing by Blizzard and in order to participate on the AH you’ll have to buy gold at some point. This feels like a Zynga-esque move.”

    This is right on the money. Auction House prices for premium items are going to skyrocket. 60,000 gold for a raid-level weapon? Just a couple of tokens and I can have it now.

    1. I’d be far more interested in fixing the economy proper. I argue all the time that MMOs should be more like fantasy movies. The only point of money in movies is to buy drinks, maybe pay off someone to “look the other way”. It isn’t to buy goods or be a merchant. It’s just wrong. I’d love to see an innovation in this space.

  3. I am not a big fan either. I don’t care for Blizzard making even more money while dropping major patches like the most recent one. I also hate what gold has become in the game, as so much of the collectible stuff is either RNG or spend a huge fortune instead.

    1. I think it is the only untapped revenue stream they have left now, and of course they are going to ride this hard for as long as they can.

  4. I don’t see what the problem is. EQ and Wildstar already have the same system. In EQ the Kronos are more expensive than a normal month of subscription time so they make a small profit on them but other than that it’s hardly an economy ruining money grab. The only damage I can see is that more normal players might waste time farming gold now causing some extra gold inflation but it’s not like Blizzard is printing money to pay for these tokens, existing gold is just changing hands. The gold value of the tokens will vary per server based on how much gold is floating around and popularity.

    I’m guessing most of the people who will pay real money for these tokens will be people who have jobs and most of the gold farmers will be kids who don’t. I might buy a token with gold if I was in the end game and it was a choice between saving $15 this month or buying some dumb collectable pet. It will be interesting to see if/how the current gold farmers will make a profit on this once it’s implemented. Would you go to a shady site to buy gold just because it’s cheaper?

    1. One of the main issues is that gold in WoW is “broken” – the economy is. They could fix it, but they don’t want to. This drives people to buy gold from third party sites because the average player can’t make enough gold to buy what they want. Instead of fixing the problem of the economy WoW is (will be) now profiting off of it themselves. They could just take the effort and fix it (which would be a lot of effort, mind you.)

      I’d also have less of an issue with it if WoW was a true F2P game and this was just another way to pay – but it’s not, its sub mandatory PLUS cash shop. It’s the only game that does this WITH a locked token price (PLEX in Eve floats on demand. WildStar will be F2P or shuttered in the next 12 months, so it doesn’t count =) The reason why it’s locked down and not set to market demand is so Blzzard can ensure it doesn’t ever go less than a sub fee.

      It’s good business for them, and I am a entrepreneur so hat tip for that in some ways. I just don’t like it when companies fleece (in essence) their customers.

  5. I suspect that we’ll see a push by Blizz to take money out of the economy by valuing the tokens (to the seller) at about 30-45k and listing them at 80-90k+. Every 10k/month you have to pay for your sub, drops another portion of the playerbase out of the “play for free” zone. I think it’ll end up being only the best of the AH barons and the most time-rich gold farmers who will be able to consistently afford the tokens (for gold).

    1. Things I have read suspect the price will be more than subs – and I agree with that. It also front loads revenues. For example, lets say its 30k per token, at $20.

      I have 90k, and “sell” three tokens. They sell the first day.

      Blizzard gets $60 ($20 x 3) plus $15 x3 for sub fees for those three people.

      They only lose $15 from me – so they are up $45 from where they would have been – equivalent of selling three extra subs. Now, I get THREE months free, which is great. I sell 3 more the next month, and Blizzard is up $45 immediately, and only down $15 IF I sub past 4 months. I could sell three a month, Blizzard gets a LOT of extra money, but eventually I’ll stop using the free months. I can sell WAY more than I consume. Hell, if I was a top AH player I could sell 10 a month but never really use them all. That is why the system is flawed for the players.

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