WoW PLEX, pt 2

In the comments on the last post, Kring took me to task a bit for not delving deeper into the sort of game design considerations regarding WoW’s impending (?) PLEX introduction. Part of the reason I didn’t was because how it impacts me in pretty fundamental: it introduces dollar signs into my gameplay. Whether the concept or implementation of PLEX itself fits WoW is immaterial to me – it could be the best thing ever done in the history of the game… and I’m still going to be calculating my repair costs and AH cuts in USD.

That’s my own neurosis though, so perhaps it’d be interesting to look at the broader picture.

Who is WoW PLEX for?

Kring suggests the following:

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 reasonable 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?

The real answer to this question is pretty simple: WoW PLEX is for the tens of thousands of players currently purchasing from illicit gold sellers every month. And that is probably the extent to which Blizzard has thought about PLEX being utilized. We saw this exact same line of reasoning single-handedly birth the abomination that is was the Diablo 3 AH, and I have little reason to believe there is some deeper design significance going on. WoW PLEX is solely to combat illicit RMT.

While there may be X number of AH barons who will be able to PLEX their accounts year-round, I do not suspect it will be the norm for them, let alone the average person.

Are there enough gold sinks in WoW?

Second, I have my doubts that WoW at the moment has big enough gold sinks to keep enough player interested to buy PLEX 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.

Four words: Black Market Auction House:

The Mariana Trench of Gold Sinks.

The Mariana Trench of Gold Sinks.

I could also include the more traditional “100k gold vendor mount” but that seems like small potatoes compared to the above screenshot of 840k (and counting) for the Flametalon mount. The genius of the BMAH – besides being able to have auctions get into the million-gold range – is that it targets everyone: the people chasing rare pets/mounts, the collector looking for one-of-a-kind or extremely limited items like the Arcanite Ripper, and then even the hardcore raiders with Mythic loot drops. Indeed, I don’t see much stopping even ultra-casual players from grabbing uber-high gear to help out in dungeons or to make rep grind dailies easier. Well, nothing stopping them other than needing tens of thousands of gold… which, hey, what a coincidence!

Now that I think about it, the true genius of the BMAH may well be that it was introduced first. Can you imagine the backlash if Blizzard dropped in WoW PLEX and then opened up the BMAH a week later? I don’t really believe Blizzard is that nefarious, primarily because that would require the ability to actually think ahead and plan accordingly. Which is demonstrably missing, as evidenced by their inability to release expansions on time.

Will WoW’s game design change because of PLEX?

Yes, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

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).

I do not believe that Blizzard will move towards anything resembling biweekly game additions, basically because I don’t believe Blizzard is capable of creating content with such speed. That’s certainly a snarky response, but it is somewhat rooted in the dev team’s rather consistent push-back against obviously-goofy things in the game. For example, the rather strict Transmog rules which prevent you from wielding giant fish. There have certainly been plenty of silly toys and such over the years, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the sort of GW2-esque Quaggan backpacks. When you cut out those category of items, you are left with a much harder problem in spending artist time designing in-universe gear.

The real impact might well be to go the other direction: being more cautious around implementing gold sinks. I’m not quite sure what the total gold cost of the Garrison ended up being, but imagine something like Epic Flying at 5000g when PLEX is sitting at 15,000g apiece. Honestly, PLEX will probably be closer to 150,000g than anything, but Blizzard will nevertheless need to be careful to not appear to be jacking prices up for PLEX sales. Some percentage of players might sell PLEX to keep up, but there is another (likely larger) percentage that would balk at paying a double-subscription fee and just get squeezed out of the game entirely.

Is this baby steps towards F2P?

Technically it could be, but I feel like people lose the proper sense of scale when it comes to WoW.

F2P really only makes sense for a game if F2P revenue > Subscription revenue, right? One of the fundamental ways of measuring F2P revenue is ARPU, which is Average Revenue Per User. As of April, SuperDataResearch lists World of Tanks as the highest ARPU amongst several high-profile F2P titles, such as League of Legends and TF2. That amount? $4.51 ARPU. Now, LoL is sitting at $1.32 ARPU in comparison, but it of course has tens of millions of more players and thus generates much higher overall revenue than World of Tanks.

The ARPU for (Western) WoW players is at least $14.99, if you have forgotten.

Would WoW attract and ensnare at least 30+ million F2P players such that F2P would make economic sense? Could WoW attract that many? It’s very doubtful in my mind, and a rather absurd risk when you are already taking in a billion dollars a year doing exactly what you are currently doing. Blizzard won’t even enable flying in Silvermoon and you think they’ll restructure the entire payment scheme for the game? I can perhaps see them doing so sometime in the distant future, but that is the same future in which WoW drops below 5 million subscriptions. Which is still twice as many as anyone else has ever had.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I think WoW PLEX is a bold move on Blizzard’s part entirely meant to combat gold selling. I do not believe they are making an overt move towards F2P, I do not believe this change heralds the introduction of more gold sinks, and I do not believe many people are asking the right questions. Namely: how are you going to feel about dailies (etc) once this gets introduced? I already know it’s going to suck for me, because it sucked in Diablo 3 and Wildstar vis-a-vis hoarding currency for no particularly rational reason.

The idea is sound, and will likely work out for a lot of people. Just not me.

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Posted on December 26, 2014, in Philosophy, WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. “I do not believe this change heralds the introduction of more gold sinks”

    The garrison is a huge gold sink ESPECIALLY if you have alts. In addition they removed dailies as a regular source of income and changed non PvP alternative currencies (valor, justice) to use gold.

    I’d feel a lot better about this change if they had shown they had some sort of clue on how their economy works. As it stands professions like mining are completely worthless and flooded with materials while enchanting is starved of them and the high end enchants are selling for a bundle. Take a look at the professions forums and you’ll see that professions/economy are the biggest disaster point this expansion.

    The other part is that WoW is a skinner box. In GW2 there was no monthly fee and no reason to need upgrades to keep up with your peers. This is not true of WoW where that is what essentially fuels the game. The second I feel the need to spend real dollars on top of the 15 a month I already pay in order to be raid ready I am going to hit the door as fast as I possibly can.

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    • I actually spent about a half-hour looking for a link that specified what the accumulated Garrison gold price ended up being, but didn’t find anything I could trust. It would not surprise me if it were higher than what the average player is capable of generating in a timely manner, if Epic Flying is anything to go by.

      You know, if Blizzard doesn’t change anything more than what they already have, I can’t help but feel like no rational person would feel like they have to purchase WoW PLEX to “keep up” in raiding and the like. I mean, we already have BoE raid epics, so if you don’t feel the need to farm/play the AH specifically for those (extremely temporary) boosts then I don’t know what would change to make you feel like you do. Perhaps the increase in demand would rocket the prices of BoEs up?

      I dunno, outside of world-first guilds and the like, I kinda feel like the guild of friends you (hopefully) raid with won’t be impacted by your decision to not drop tens of thousands of gold on a raid-level upgrade, even during progression attempts. It’s hard to say something is P2W when there is no actual competition taking place.

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  2. I’ve thought about this exact item since F2P really started to take off. You’re right in that the sink needs to compensate for inflation. Ignoring WoD’s economy (which to pixel’s point, is broken) the money faucets are rather large in-game. My monk has made about 50K since launch with only the garrison and herbalism while leveling. Level 3 garrison in each building too, so there’s a fair chunk spent too.

    But the money itself doesn’t get you very far. I’m in a mix of heroic and raid gear without having ever stepped into either. The pets are free (except the rares ones on the AH that are not more powerful). So what are you going to spend gold on exactly?

    And that question is where I am stuck currently. The game just isn’t designed to have any form of sinks execpt for the BMAH rewards. I’d be really curious to see what design decisions were put in to make gold actually have long-term in-game value. And that hasn’t been the case for a very long time.

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    • I have always had the weird impression that WoW’s gold sinks were mainly AH barons soaking up gold on the AH and then dumping it into vendor mounts and the like. In other words, income redistribution. Because as you’ve said, the average player in isolation doesn’t need gold per se, beyond skill training, mount speed, and repairs. Every other “sink” is basically trading gold for time (BoE epics/mounts/etc), which just shuffles gold around, minus the AH cut.

      With the switch towards having gold be the primary currency for Justice (etc) rewards, perhaps the sheer, collective volume of the purchases will siphon a percentage of the gold out of the economy. It will be interesting to watch, for sure.

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  3. I checked mmobux.com. You can buy 50’000g for $37 on Mal’Ganis horde US.
    That’s 1300g per dollar.

    A WoW subscription is $15, which equals 19500g. That’s the lower limit, PLEX
    must never sell for less then 19500g or the cheapest way to play WoW would be
    to buy gold from gold hackers. That would surely increase their business.

    On the other side, let’s assume a PLEX costs $20 from Blizzard. With $20 you
    could buy 26’000g from shady web sites. it doesn’t make sense for Blizzard and
    WoW if a PLEX sells for more then 26’000g. That would leave money on the
    table. Why sell 1 PLEX worth 150’000g if people are actually willing to buy 6
    PLEX for the same amount of gold?

    I Think PLEX will go for 20’000g to 40’000g in the end. That’s about 1000g per
    day which is easy to earn for everyone commited to make a little bit of money.

    If a PLEX sells for more (like 150’000g) it wouldn’t work. Gold buyer would
    start to sit on piles of gold they can’t spend and player who think they are
    entiteled to “play wow for free” can’t afford it and leave.

    > WoW PLEX is for the tens of thousands of players currently purchasing from
    > illicit gold sellers every month. And that is probably the extent to which
    > Blizzard has thought about PLEX being utilized. We saw this exact same line
    > of reasoning single-handedly birth the abomination that is was the
    > Diablo 3 AH, and I have little reason to believe there is some deeper
    > design significance going on. WoW PLEX is solely to combat illicit RMT.

    Their RM AH (and even the gold AH) in D3 single handedly destroyed a good
    game. I was not able to beat Inferno, nor Hell Act 4 self farmed. Maybe I
    wasn’t a good enough player, but the AH always told me that beating it has
    nothing to do with skill, only with money. I stopped playing until RoS.

    Are they really going to destroy WoW without a plan? Just to combat gold
    sales? Are they really that stupid and repeat the D3 AHgate?

    I really hope not. I hope they have a better plan this time.

    I think PLEX is primarily designed to gain new player from the F2P generation.
    I think they want to use the people who buy gold to pay for future F2P player.
    They don’t mind being milked or they wouldn’t buy hacked gold.

    > Four words: Black Market Auction House

    Do people even know where it is and that it still exists? It is hidden
    completely off of the regular world.

    That Flametalon in your Screenshot (840’000g) would be $646. How many people
    are going to buy that much gold? And at $20 a PLEX that would be 32 PLEX, or
    32 month of subscription.

    I don’t think the BMAH can really drive the PLEX sale. There isn’t nearly
    enough on it and it’s to hard to access for most player. I couldn’t find a
    single item on the BMAH during MoP which would interest me. I bought a pet
    which a failed to resell for more. Most pets even sold for more (a lot more!)
    then the same pet on the normal AH.

    I think we will see a lot of new gold thinks, in the range of 10’000g to
    20’000g per month. Raid roll token are one (500g, 1000g, 2000g). Why stop
    there? Why not sell 5 per week? Why have a cap anyway?`

    Pets, you can add a new pet every month. Add a 10’000 apexis crystal cost to
    it to make it look like that’s the real price, then slap another 20’000g on
    top of it.

    Garisson Rank 4? That could consume a hell of a lot of gold.

    What’s interesting it that GW2 completely removed gold costs for repair or
    anything that you must pay.

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    • Do people even know where it is and that it still exists? It is hidden
      completely off of the regular world.

      That’s kind of the beauty of the system, in that everyone doesn’t need to know about the BMAH for it to work its gold sink magic. All you need is a pair of AH barons trying to outbid each other while siphoning gold from 10,000 casual players via hugely overpriced Glyphs or whatever. The people who want these items will get the gold from other people.

      That Flametalon in your Screenshot (840’000g) would be $646. How many people
      are going to buy that much gold? And at $20 a PLEX that would be 32 PLEX, or
      32 month of subscription.

      Probably no one, at that price. But if PLEX is actually at 150k/each, that’s closer to $120. Which is still pretty crazy… up until you realize that people pay $25 for mounts and $40+ for realm/faction transfers per character all the time.

      Besides, you aren’t looking for the one guy spending $120 or $646 buying gold for the mount, you’re looking at one guy collecting that amount of gold from 32 other people who bought gold to afford the first guy’s BoE epics (etc). Maybe he would have been better off funding his WoW sub for the next three years instead, but he’s playing now and who knows if he will be 3 years from now.

      Are they really going to destroy WoW without a plan? Just to combat gold
      sales? Are they really that stupid and repeat the D3 AHgate?

      Honestly, the two games have wildly different loot mechanisms. If you had infinite gold in D3 pre-RoS, you have everything you could possibly desire. Infinite gold in WoW gets you basically nothing in the scheme of things, unless you count buying Mythic runs from pro-guilds. Indeed, the D3 issue might have been as simple as introducing BoP and/or BoA gear.

      In any case, if PLEX prices are indeed in the 20,000g range, then I might agree with you that PLEX was made for the “F2P if you’re good player.” I don’t think it will be that low, as that was the price for a decent BoE epic back when I was last playing, and who is going to spend $20 on that? If it is that low though, the first thing I would do is buy 20 months-worth of subscription just to watch the economic carnage firsthand.

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      • I checked Titaniumbay for Mal’ganis Horde US. They claim that their “mostpopular” option is 100’000g for €123 (don’t know why they show me Euro for a US server).

        If that is really their most popular option a lot of people are buying 100’000g. You can’t really spend that much on glyphs.

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