One of the more interesting blue posts to come out of a WoW lately has been Blizzard’s flirting with a PLEX-like subscription option:

New Ways to Play
We’re exploring the possibility of giving players a way to buy tradable game-time tokens for the purpose of exchanging them in-game with other players for gold. Our current thought on this is that it would give players a way to use their surplus gold to cover some of their subscription cost, while giving players who might have less play time an option for acquiring gold from other players through a legit and secure system. A few other online games offer a similar option, and players have suggested that they’d be interested in seeing something along those lines in WoW. We agree it could be a good fit for the game, and we look forward to any feedback you have as we continue to look into this feature.

Reaction seems to run the gambit from “OMG P2W!!1” to “that’s not going to work.” Wilhelm has an exceptional review on the overall topic on TAGN. As someone who rather enjoys the economic side of MMOs, you might assume that I would be excited about this news myself. And you would be correct, in a sense. You would also be correct in saying that this both increases the chances I play WoW again and the chances that I do not.

To be clear, I think the argument that adding PLEX to WoW is somehow turning it into Pay-2-Win is ridiculous. People have been able to sell the TCG loot cards for ages, and I would argue that the ability to have multiple accounts (let alone the more recent instant-90 purchases) would qualify as P2W under similar definitions. This thesis is also being forwarded by Gevlon, whom believes EVE isn’t P2W, despite the advantages being demonstratively better in that game.

Because even if you bought full, top-tier raiding suit of gear in WoW, what then? What have you won? The personal advantage is immaterial unless you are also grouped with the best players anyway. And even then, the advantage is one that is easily met by anyone who has played WoW in the last ten years (i.e. anyone with alts). Or anyone who has taken advantage of Recruit-A-Friend. Or anyone who has a friend chain-run dungeons with them. Or, let’s be serious, anyone who has a friend, period.

Bhagpuss and Others may bandy about the whole “you’re getting paid less than minimum wage if you farm for gold” canard, but that’s completely irrelevant IMO. One derives a “virtual wage” from any form of entertainment, which is the reason you’re playing videogames and not working 18 hours every day. Indeed, every single day that you forgo the possibility of overtime work is a day in which that one or more hour of free-time gained is worth 1.5x your rate of pay. And if you think $0.18/hour or whatever is bad, think about the $0.00 you get from a single-player game!

No, the way that PLEX-like systems kill my enjoyment of a given game is by the transitive property of in-game currency. You are no longer spending 100,000g on that fun mammoth mount with the repair vendor, you are spending $45 or however many PLEXes you could have purchased with that 100k. I had this same issue in Wildstar, as you might recall:

Or, hey, maybe you just want to dye your clothes. Hopefully you enjoy pastel colors, because otherwise you are looking at 9.26 platinum (926g) to dye your clothes red, and a similar amount with the ever-suspiciously-rare black dye. That is quite literally $80. For one channel, out of three.

Or maybe you just want to unlock the AMP that is responsible for 20% of your class’s theoretical DPS. Sorry, it’s an ultra-rare world drop. Current price? 12p on the AH. Or $100.

Isn’t it wonderful what RMT does to one’s perspective?

And further back in Diablo 3:

…but today all of this has changed for me [when gold was directly purchasable on D3 AH].

That 722,500g is no longer a means of purchasing a better weapon with more Life on Hit for progression… it’s $2.24. Nor is the 900+ DPS 1H weapon I snagged for a 1.5 million gold bid (a true steal) actually 1.5 million gold – it’s a somewhat ludicrous $4.65 cash shop transaction. That I did not whip out my credit card is irrelevant; like most AH goblins, I have preached the opportunity cost hymn too much to ever look at such things differently. Given that I could use the weapon to help clear Act 3 and then resell it for 3 million, perhaps it is more like a loan. Or a Vegas gamble at the nickle slots.

Once I see the dollar sign in my gameplay, I cannot unsee it. The AH is no longer the fun little diversion that keeps me engaged for months, and instead becomes a subscription energy meter. Repair costs go from a figurative to a literal nickel-and-diming penalty. I start second-guessing my in-game purchases just as I second-guess my everyday IRL purchases. “Do I really need that BiS trinket, considering it costs $9.37?” The answer is always No.

So while it’s nice to see that my gold-hoarding tendencies might have a more useful function in the future, it comes at a… er, heavy cost.

Posted on December 24, 2014, in WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. “Once I see the dollar sign in my gameplay, I cannot unsee it.”

    This and so much this! Its one of the reason what put off me GW2 and other similar games. I was not seeing the in game currency any more but only seeing $ and that just took the fun out the game for me. I just don’t want RL affecting my game world and this is another way in which RL creeps even more into my game world.


  2. Hmm this is a very good point, and one i think influences me more than i was aware off. In EVERY single mmo i have played where subscription or “cash shop items” were available for purchase somehow with ingame currency, i always had that as my primary goal in the game. In some cases it was fun, at least for a while, but in all cases it severely hampered my progress on the “fluff bought” front. Would i buy a 100k mount in wow if I knew the same money could save me x dollars in sub? Nopes, i wouldn’t, unless i had enough gold to safely pay for sub as long as i want it, and still had 100k left over. I dislike cash shops to a point where I have never paid more than the minimally possible in order to play a game (required sub, game has to be bought, etc), maybe its because im a cheap bastard, but i think its cause i share the thoughtpattern of Azuriel: ” Do I really need this item… Nopes, i don’t”.

    I am vehemently against paying for any sort of progress in a game, if the same progress could be achieved by playing. Of cause it is true that i gained the gold by spending time in game, but once it also holds a clear legal rl value, spending gold on something is not that different from spending rl cashon it. Which has the effect of having me behave ingame as if I was dirt poor, even if I do have a decent amount of gold.


    • Nice post, and it is definitely a good point about a pitfall of RMT in MMOs.

      The obvious counter point I can think of is that you can already do this… right now… and for many, many years in fact. A quick googling shows that websites today are selling 10k gold for about $7. So that 100k alliance mount costs up to 70 dollars. That hundred gold repair bill is seventy cents. Etc. Etc..

      Right now it’s kinda outta sight, outta mind for most people of course. Legitimate gold sales from Blizz just brings the market, and its problems into plain view.


      • Also I am bad at math.

        And there is a bit if a difference between “buying” gold and “selling” gold. But the jist of what I mean is there.


      • It’s definitely true that illegal RMT exists, but as you say, it doesn’t feel “real” until Blizzard implements it in-game. There is also the volume side of things; once everyone can do it, there really won’t be any escape for those who do not.


    • Yep, all those gold-sinks suddenly become cash-sinks, which are not the same thing at all. I’m already retroactively kicking myself over some of the more outlandish purchases I’ve made.


  3. There is (at least to some people) a huge difference between buying gold legally or illegally (or you know, legal, but disallowed by blizzard). For one the risk involved in the illegal buying of gold is real, both of getting hacked, but also of blizzard finding out you broke their rules and banning you. I have previously had my account permabanned for goldtrading (by mistake, and it was rectified after some mails), and the thought of losing the account ive been playing on for 10+years now, wasnt exactly great.
    Theres also the point that a lot of people just dont like breaking the rules…:-)


  4. It’s funny how my cost/benefit analysis changes depending on the situation. Out for a few drinks with friends? Don’t think twice about that $4 or $5 beer. 99 cent app on the app store? Steam sale game for $4.99? All of a sudden I’m Scrooge, spend 15 minutes debating myself over the ‘value’ of the game/app and sometimes have buyers remorse seconds after clicking the button.

    Same thing with WoW’s Plex equivalent. A $15/month sub is really pretty insignificant for me, but if this goes live I’ll all of a sudden stop buying anything in game because hey, that’s real money right there!


    • That is me, 100%.

      In our defense though, we’d probably be thinking about that beer if we routinely ordered one and never drank even a sip of it until four months later (if at all).


  5. Good point. BTW this very same thing happens in Cryptic games (STO/NW/…), where you have an “action house” to exchange in-game currency with real$$ currency.
    It’s interesting how the perspective changes when instead of the one-directional transaction (put $ in, get game time/advantages out) the transactions become two-directional, leading to the “conversion” of in-game time/items to real-world money.


  6. I didn’t see the canard in Bhagpuss’s statement – it appeared to me that he was musing that anyone with a job would probably find it a better use of their time to simply pay real money for a month’s subscription. His statement was then qualified by many experienced players who assured him that serious and/or established players would find it fairly easy to come up with the in-game currency to pay for a month’s subscription, rendering his assumption somewhat ill-founded.


  7. The Mystical Mesmer is correct. My point is that, drawn from my own experience it would take far, far longer for me to earn the gold in-game than it would to earn the money in real life so it would be counter-productive in the extreme for me to use gold to buy game time. In EQ2, for example, where as Wilhelm says Krono go for around 3k plat, my highest level character has less than a third of that after playing for five years!

    Obviously if your normal playstyle results in you having so much gold that the purchase of a time-card from another player for in-game currency is trivial then the reverse of my argument is true. That, however, is not a situation I’ve ever found myself in in any MMO I’ve ever played.


    • Hmm. I was just taking this at face value:

      At minimum wage in the UK it would take, what, an hour and a half to earn the cost of a month’s subscription to the average MMO? How long would it take to farm that much gold above and beyond the gold you already need for normal in-game purposes? It just seems like a really bad way to spend your time.

      I don’t think we’ll be able to agree how much the “average” player would be able to farm, although I think we could agree that your typical playstyle is not likely to be conducive to currency acquisition in the first place.

      I’ll edit the post though.


  8. I think there are other interesting aspects which you unfortunately did not comment on. What does that mean for the game itself? And how must and will the game be changed to make that work?

    This whole system can only work if there is a healthy balance between the player who sell PLEX for gold and the player who buy PLEX with gold. Sounds obvious but the gold price for a PLEX must stay in a resonable range or player will constantly complain on the forum and hurt WoWs reputation. The price of a PLEX must not reach an absurd value like 1 million gold or the effect will surely be a negative one for Blizzard.

    Blizzard has problems to gain new players. I’m sure that if you can tell LoL players that “good player can play WoW for free” that has some appeal. And I think that’s their primary goal. To spread the news that “WoW is F2P for good player”. Which means PLEX must stay in a resonable range, they don’t want “good player” to complain that it is “too expensive”.

    Here we have the first question. Who is the player base which Blizzard thinks will constantly buy PLEX for Euro to sell it for gold?

    Second, I have my doubts that WoW at the moment has big enough gold sinks to keep enough player interested to buy PLEY with Euro and sell it for gold. PLEX will be consumed on a monthly basis, which means they must also be supplied on a monthly basis.

    I think WoW must be changed to add gold sinks. New huge gold sinks. And they must hurt the players which Blizzard intends to sell PLEX for Euro in the future.

    What will the new gold sinks be?

    It’s clear that with the PLEX system Blizzard will never again get away with 1 year of no content for the player base that buys PLEX with Euro. And if they can’t sustain the PLEX market in the second year of an expansion I’m sure a lot more player will unsubscribe. Who will pay 1 year subscription with Euro for no content if he was able to pay the first year, where new content was delivered, with gold?

    Blizzard will shift resources to mainly create content for the player base that buys PLEX with Euro. This will be their primary target and this will be the group that will get the most updates. Take a look at GW2. They setteled on a biweekly rythm of adding new items to the cash shop and delivering small parts of their living story. Blizzard will have to add a new gold sink on at least a monthly basis and deliver something for the PLEX with Euro buying player.

    What does that mean for the other player? Will we get even less “free” content? (free = not shielded with an insane gold wall).

    And is that their “end game”? Or is that only a baby step towards F2P?


  9. @Kring
    I don’t think I share the worry about price of the item in gold. Market forces will automatically fix it if its too high or too low. If the item is actually selling for 1 mill gold, then the exchange ratio from real life cash to gold is so good that a lot of players will buy it for cash and sell for gold. This will mean the goldprice will become lower as the supply rises, while the demand stays the same. If supply keeps rising then at some point the goldprice will be so low that people will stop buying for cash as they dont deem it lucrative anymore. This will stop the supply eventually making the price rise again. Untill at some point it finds a relatively steady level where it isnt high enough to cause a huge rise in supply, nor low enough to cause people to stop buying the item for cash to sell. (Simplified, but basically how it works with steady demand)

    About gold sinks. There are a LOT of ways to spend gold in wow that aren’t gold sinks in the usual meaning of the word, but that will still cause gold to have value. Like pets, boes, mounts, etc which you buy from other players. A gold SINK is relavant if you need money to leave the economy (because its created from nothing in mmos) its not needed to incentivize using money within the economy.


  10. Today i spent 300 bucks for platinium roulette
    system , i hope that i will earn my first money online


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