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.]
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A few quick notes: Tokens are completely untradeable through any means other than a dedicated section that will be added to the auction house, and they’re BoP once sold once, so you won’t be able to get any from friends, and there will be no reselling. However, Watcher confirmed there will be a method to buy a token with gold even if you’re not subbed and can’t access your high level characters.
Honestly, I don’t see this having a huge impact on the game. It’ll make the most privileged players a little more privileged, but the average player isn’t likely to notice any difference. I’m sure the gold prices for tokens will be enormous (I’m expecting at least 100K gold), so I don’t see myself or anyone else without a huge trove of gold being able to afford them. Basically what it means is that those with an enormous amount of time and dedication can now play for free, and those who are wealthy IRL now have infinite gold.
I’m not really a fan of the system myself, but again, I don’t expect the majority of players to notice much difference either way. Just a bit sick of Blizzard quadruple dipping on its business model. How people can still convince themselves this is less a case of being nickle and dimed than a free to play game is beyond me.
I just saw Tremayne’s post on this and added the link to my post, his economic analysis is very interesting. I’m not a fan of the system either, the idea of letting the most powerful players (economically) play for free doesn’t sit well with me either. Agreed on Blizzard being overtly greedy, I remain against re-subbing because, compared to games like FFXIV, WoW still seems to be in a content drought.
That’s pretty much where I am on the moment, too. If you’re going to charge a premium, you need to offer premium service, and I don’t think WoW is doing that right now.
I’ll probably be back sooner or later because I’m a big Warcraft fan, but the underwhelming nature of WoD and patch 6.1 hasn’t left me with any sense of urgency about it.