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.