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Get Your WoW For Nothing And Your PLEX For Free

Blizzard dropped a tiny bombshell today: starting in a future patch, you’ll be able to pay for your World of Warcraft subscription with in-game currency.

This has some similarities to CCP’s “PLEX” system for Eve Online. The differences, however, are major and telling. Most notably:

Q: How much gold will I receive when I sell a WoW Token?
A: The gold value of a Token will be determined dynamically based on supply and demand. When you put a Token up for sale, you’ll be quoted the amount of gold you’ll receive upon a successful sale. If you then decide to place the Token up for sale, that amount is locked in, and the gold will be sent to your mailbox after another player purchases your Token.

Q: Why can’t players set their own prices for the WoW Token?
A: The WoW Token feature is designed to facilitate the exchange of gold and game time between players in as secure, convenient, and fair a way as possible, and without making players feel like they’re playing a game with their hard-earned money. Having a set current market price and a straightforward exchange system is the best way to achieve that—you don’t need to worry about whether your Token will sell or not due to being undercut or the market shifting, and everyone receives exactly the amount of gold they were quoted.

Eve’s PLEX resale rate in in-game currency are set by the players themselves in a free market (though obviously CCP sets the real-world rate by, you know, selling them). Blizzard, by contrast, plans to set both price values. I’m not really sure why they’re doing this; are they afraid that the in-game gold market will rapidly inflate? If the value is seen by the players as unrealistic, they simply won’t buy or sell tokens. Whereas CCP is the ultimate free libertarian market (spaceships, anyone can and will kill you for money, iron ore, or jollies), World of Warcraft is unapologetically embracing a state-run economy. A planned economy.

This is going to go well!

So, is Blizzard selling subscription tokens for in-game gold going to lead inexorably to Azeroth sinking under the grim rule of Communist gnomes? Probably not, but admit it, that would be kind of cool. As will watching how this experiment in state planning vs. free market economics in a reasonably closed system plays out.

And all three of you still concerned about the corrosive effect of real money trading on a fantasy role playing game? My sympathies, but on that point, Blizzard, along with every other major game company, is unapologetically embracing capitalism.

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  • Tremayne

    Oh I hate you. After spending half an evening slaving over a blog post likening Blizzard’s scheme to currency controls and a planned economy, I hit the ‘post’ button and then find that you beat me to the punch by a full day.
    Welcome back, anyway 🙂

  • robusticus

    A virtual economy that isn’t completely commanded is an incredibly difficult and largely unsolved problem. Game Developers somehow have this aversion to phallic trailer parks spawning up in their pristinely crafted zones. Even Eve, which admittedly I’ve never played, I would guess they’ve just hidden the pre-determined values behind a better curtain. What does one spend ISK on? Blueprints? Lack of miner bots?

    • There are plenty of things to spend ISK on in EVE Online; raw materials from miners to build ships or modules, or the ships and modules thus produced, or skill and implants or the monthly sovereignty bill on that bit of space you hold in null sec.

      Unlike WoW you cannot go out and kill some NPC to equip yourself beyond a very basic starter ship. In WoW a player could easily ignore the auction house forever, just running quests or instances or raids to gear up. In EVE you have to equip yourself from the market. And in EVE, when you lose your ship you have to go buy and equip a new one. So the market is a much bigger part of the game.

      • robusticus

        I do think EveO is a step up, for sure, from what I’ve read. But the comparison still strikes me as casino versus cartel economics. Sinks and Faucets. What’s the point? It could be much more. I don’t know that anybody has any incentive to make it so, however. It will probably have to be some sort of giant open source project that someone kicks off just for the fun of it. If there is no state, then there can be no state planned economy.

  • Vetarnias

    You know how much I tend (well, tended) to blather on about “the sanctity of the game world”, that nothing outside of it should be allowed to interfere or intrude with aspects of the game — especially when pay-to-win and especially intrusions into the game economy.

    Well, the “sanctity etc.” has been given a grand burial years ago,
    when the subscription model fell out of favour (or when greedy
    publishers started double dipping with both a subscription and RMT). I still remember that time when you were discussing on this blog the addition of a horse (or some kind of mount) to WoW that was a cash-shop exclusive. No matter how insistently one may tell the players “don’t buy that, because you know you’ll get more of this to a point where even you might object”, they went and bought it anyway. And once the floodgates were opened…

    I liked the Puzzle Pirates model best, I think, which had free-to-play servers with a bought-currency system over every purchase, but also subscription servers where outside money could not corrupt the game world. As for EVE — CCP ruined it by allowing rich players to amass a fortune by simply buying PLEX and reselling them for ISK, while at the same time exposing those PLEX buyers to scamming and ganking that could potentially destroy what was a real-money purchase. If that doesn’t sound unethical, imagine how it could be if one roving band of scammers/gankers were in cahoots with CCP to destroy what other people had bought, just to force them to buy more. But I’ve long given up on EVE, a game that blatantly allows and even encourages multiple accounts and offline skill leveling — and that too is a violation of the sanctity of the game world.

    If you want a good example of a game where that sort of greed runs rampant, though, have a look at Wurm Online. Because I’m lazy, I’ll just quote myself here:

    “Indeed, my fascination with Wurm Online has now less to do with its
    offering a glimpse of my ideal game even when hopelessly flawed, as it
    did in 2012, than with its being a compendium of bad libertarian
    ideology that, just as in real life, consumed itself by letting the
    financial elites turn the tables and screw over everyone, including the designer of the game.
    Unlike the ruthlessly pragmatic core of his player base, Rolf seems to
    be fascinated with libertarian thought at its most esoteric, a trait
    shared by, I have no doubt, many in the tech industry, except that in
    his case it borders on the naïve. It was through the Wurm forums, for
    instance, that I first learned about Bitcoin.
    It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, and it still does not, but
    at the time it was a big deal for Wurm that players could turn their
    processing power over to the production of Bitcoin in exchange of Wurm
    currency. In a recent announcement, he supported using a certain auction site for exchanges between players, only for players to point out that that site was also encouraging illicit trade involving other
    games. If some of the decisions and business associations he makes
    appear to be shady, I tend to excuse him because he is not really the
    main beneficiary; instead, he might end damaging the reputation of his
    game.”

    In the case of Wurm, the designer (the aforementioned Rolf) actively encouraged players to not only pay for their subscriptions with in-game coins, but also to cash out of the game by letting players do private transactions not only over coins but also game characters. Originally, coins (the only form of currency in the Wurm universe) could only be obtained in a few ways: buying them off the cash shop, or selling the crap you produced to traders, who had a limited pool of money provided directly by the game company. Each server had a few public traders, who were drained very quickly since they tended to replenish by clockwork every month, but players were also encouraged to buy their own traders, likewise provided with coins by the company, from the cash shop; once they bought a trader (50 Euros back then), players tended to wall him up inside a 3×3 locked house to prevent anyone else from trading with them. End result: the payouts on traders ensured that some people, the most established players especially (since they had the skills to produce stuff that traders would pay a good price for), never had to pay any real money to the game, either to fund their deeds or keep their premium status. Back in the day (2012), it wasn’t uncommon to see those established players buy in coins the premium-game-time referrals given to newly subscribed players at barely below the price in coins of a month of premium in the cash shop. And since there was no way for a new player to obtain coins that hadn’t been bought by someone else before, it gave rise to lovely instances of wage slavery and indentured servitude which I’ve detailed elsewhere.

    When Rolf finally realized the entire trader pool scheme, i.e. provided with money by him to pay players who used it to pay it back to him, was insane (it still took him a year after having had to increase premium prices by 60% to figure that out), he slashed payments given out by traders. He even pointed out that “you buy a trader contract in order to place them, but you never “own” a trader since the idea is that they should be made available for public access”. Clearly not the way the player base had been using them for years. His restructuring of the trader scheme was predictably met with the tremendous equanimity and stoicism that have become the hallmark of video gamers — oh wait, who am I fooling here? Of course the trader owners whined, wanted to keep on draining them even if the game collapsed under them, how dare you get in the way of our making money, etc.

    At least Rolf’s new scheme is a bit more egalitarian — you have a small chance of finding coins while doing activities like foraging, etc., which are accessible to newbies, as the small chance seems to be the same regardless of skill rank — but he still has to figure out that donating free money from your pocket to pay you back (while encouraging private trades of coins which he himself sells in the shop, those private trades only making sense to the player base inasmuch as the exchange rate undercuts Rolf’s own prices) isn’t a good idea, financially.

    If you like to see player greed in action, though, Wurm’s the place to be.

    • robusticus

      Hmmm. Well, since we’ve all said our piece. My final answer is AI. Over MOO. But with definitely hints of MOO. I just wanted to vent my frustration with people who persecute their own salvation. And so the long winter may yet become spring…we hope.