Recently Blizzard announced the WoW Token, an item that can be bought for in-game gold to grant 30 days of game time. It’s a common enough feature of MMORPGs these days; other than the original PLEX in Eve Online, Everquest & Everquest 2 have Krono, Rift has REX, Wildstar even launched with CREDD.
What does this mean for me as an ex-WoW player who has no desire to pay Blizzard a subscription at the moment? Not so much really; the expansion Warlords of Draenor is still a barrier to entry as I’d have no new content to play without buying that. Even the cheapest online stores are selling it for about £23 (~$35) at present so it’s not quite at the “buy it without thinking level yet” (Pandaria is now only £8 by comparison) so maybe in a year or two’s time?
But ignoring the expansion issue I could apparently make use of the new Veteran account status to get back into the game without re-subbing. The quandary with a lot of these ‘gold for gametime’ schemes is that you need a sub to login in order to buy them or receive one as a gift. So you end up paying a month to then be able to play for ‘free’. The Veteran account change means I could log in on any character under level 20, or delete an old one and make a new level 1 character to get past that limitation. With the per-character limit of 10g you’ll definitely not be accumulating enough gold to buy a Token yourself, at least not the first one. But either you or a guild mate or friend could buy one with real money and mail it. Once you’ve consumed it you could then login your normal high level characters and get on with the gold accumulation for the next time.
What effect will all this have on the playerbase in the future? Well one aspect is that of players “un-subbing” when the next content drought hits. Unlike in previous pre-expansion droughts, players who unsub can buy Tokens to keep playing. Maybe the account game time generated will count as subs? If so then the total subscription numbers reported in the publicly released accounts will not dip as far as previous lulls in content. There’ll be an unknown number of Token-ers in the game who continue to play without needing to pay the sub, but who spend a probably significant amount of time every month doing dailies or playing the auction house game to make the needed in-game gold. So Blizzard will keep these players engaged, if they don’t become bored with the gold grind that is. Until we see how much a Token is worth in gold it’s impossible to assess just how grindy that grind will be. Getting that balance right will be important if they want players to remain engaged via this system. Unlike other similar systems there are a number of restrictions on the Tokens (e.g. can’t be resold) and Blizzard can manipulate the price easily enough to prevent it from crashing or rising too far.
[Bonus edit: I rarely go back to a post later but feel I should add this excellent post by Tremayne on the potential game economy impact of Blizzard’s design choices regarding the token.]