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As the WoW Token Turns

You probably heard about the WoW Token already, and might even be aware it was finally implemented yesterday. What you might not know is that it does strange things to people.

Strange, terrible things.

Damn, so close to 2 years.

Damn, so close to 2 years.

What I knew going into this is that I wanted to jump on the opportunity the WoW Token represents, which is: a gold sink for the AH goblin that has (had) everything. Shit man, back in the day I was experimenting with selling stuff like Vial of the Sands, which was a crafted mount that required an extraordinary sunk gold cost right at the start. If it was not profitable, I would move on with the next bit of expensive AH R&D. It wasn’t millions of gold (Glyph spamming the AH was boring), but I was making gold just to make gold, you know? I couldn’t really bring myself to actually spend it on anything as I knew most things would be irrelevant by the next patch anyway; I wasn’t raiding, so who cares?

Queue my slight anxiety at the following error message:

Been down this road before.

Been down this road before.

Was I hacked? Had my sizable stockpile been removed? I mean, I can clearly see my fully-dressed namesake there in the background, so I wasn’t stripped bare. Plus, the Authenticator was still humming along, not to mention my frequent bouts in Hearthstone, which I assume might have been in jeopardy had my characters in WoW been banned. Then again, maybe not. Whatever the case, I wasn’t able to purchase WoW Tokens from the character select screen.

And the story might have begun and ended there. Purchasing game time so I could log in and purchase more game time kinda defeats the purpose of WoW Tokens, yeah? If you’ll notice in the first screenshot though, I was still able to redeem my free 10-day trial of Warlords and take full stock of the situation.

Where I logged off two years ago.

Where I logged off two years ago.

Observations:

  1. Damn, the default interface is still really terrible.
  2. I’m glad I set up the Curse Client all those years ago to manage my addons.
  3. Oh hey, the Curse Client updates addons but doesn’t save any of the settings.
  4. Recreating an interface I actually want to use is going to be an all-night project.
  5. I’d rather be playing Dead Island: Riptide.
  6. Oh, right, WoW Tokens.

I ended up purchasing four WoW Tokens at around 31,000g apiece. Before I logged off, I poked around the AH some to see the general prices of things. Even though I’ve only been back for a hot minute, my mind already sees the dollar signs creeping in:

It has begun.

I can’t turn that part of my brain off.

It’s just a matter of time until someone writes a tiny add-on that projects these prices in-game.

But will it actually matter in the scheme of things? It’s hard to tell. I ended up buying nine (9!) WoW Tokens before calling it a night. The limit is supposedly ten tokens per month, and I might end up shuffling gold around to do just that. You know, to say that I did.

But then it hit me: I now have nine months of WoW subscription. Assuming I play the game at all, that means pretty much any gold I generate between now and the next expansion will be pure bonus. So while I can still see those dollar signs in a general sense, what they represent (i.e. additional game time) is not nearly as valuable as before I had nine tokens.

By the way, between the time I originally bought four tokens and the last five, the price had dropped to 26,000g.

Now the fun (?) begins.

Now the fun (?) begins.

It shall be an interesting dynamic, yeah? On the one hand, I find it hard to believe that enough people have spent $20 on tokens to sell in the ~2 hours between the first batch I purchased and the second. On the other hand, Blizzard has so warped the playerbase over the years that $60 boosts and $25 character transfers have long ceased raising eyebrows. I personally know a few people who have transferred characters a half-dozen times (or more) following a migrating guild or chasing progression. In that sense, what’s another $20 here and there for gold?

The alternative theory is a bit more grim. Perhaps instead of there being too many extra sellers, maybe there aren’t enough buyers? If there is indeed an account-level limit of 10 tokens, there can’t be a mass-dumping of gold into the economy as even AH barons cap themselves out. We also know that the vast majority of MMO players are poor. So the actual market for these tokens will just be a narrow wedge of players who can make gold easily and don’t care about raiding, else they would be chasing the BoE epics that give them 5% better stats. And as I mentioned before, even these players will likely tap themselves out before too long – once you go past 3-4 months of paid time, what’s a fifth month really worth?

It will be an interesting year for WoW, that’s for sure. And if for some reason it isn’t… well, I’ll just let the account lapse and then revive it once it gets interesting again. For free. Forever.

End of Year

Looking back in the archives, it does not appear that I have any sort of New Years tradition, be it predictions or year-end reviews. I don’t see any particular reason to start now. Happy New Year!

…okay, I’ll write a little more.

Currently playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, at around 40 FPS on a good day. The overclocking worked for 5-8 FPS, which sounds small, but makes a big difference going from 35 to 40. There were a few moments of glorious 60 FPS when I wasn’t overlooking vistas and such, so I may chase that dragon at the expense of plastic hair or whatever people complained about at certain graphic settings.

One thing this year has heralded the end of, at least in my mind, is the tyranny of Steam sales. Between Humble Bundles, Amazon price-matching, insane GreenManGaming discounts, and general aggregators like IsThereAnyDeal.com, the best deals are generally not on Steam. This point was hammered home a few weeks ago when I realized taking advantage of cheap Steam dollars actually limited my options – almost to the point that I might end up paying more.

In the 11th hour though, Steam finally delivered some historic lows prices for the following:

  • Transistor
  • The Long Dark
  • The Forest
  • Child of Light
  • Wasteland 2
  • The Banner Saga

Two of those are Early Access games and both are sandbox roguelikes at that, but I enjoyed Don’t Starve so… yeah. Perhaps by the time I get around to playing The Long Dark and The Forest, the full games will be out. There were two games I eyed but did not pull the trigger on: Divinity: Original Sin and Wolfenstein. The Steam discounts of both were above historic lows, so I figure I can keep waiting a bit longer for them to fall deeper into discounts. It isn’t as though I’m hurting for games, right?

And that’s about it. In 2015 I anticipate coming back into WoW for at least a brief period of time; longer depending on if Blizzard goes forward with WoW PLEX, and what price gold price it ends up settling on. If the going rate for time-codes is 20,000g, it would be difficult to argue against buying the expansion and immediately buying 20 months of playtime. Even if I do not end playing that long, it would be a good hedge against inflation to keep gold locked up in time-codes (assuming the codes do not decay). You can take the goblin out of the AH, but you can’t… something something.

Beyond that, we will have to see what catches my eye.

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.

WoW PLEX

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.

Out of Game

You may or may not have been following the Gevlon + Rohan argument about whether PLEX-selling – that is purchasing a RMT item that confers 30 days of game time in exchange for in-game currency – constitutes cheating in EVE, or is “unfair,” or skipping content, or is ruining the simulation, etc. It has been a fascinating series of posts precisely because I find it almost impossible to relate to their worldview at all. Parts of the argument have the contours of unassailable logic; see Rohan’s near prose when it comes to inconveniences. And yet some part of my mind reels backwards each time I get too close to accepting their premises.

So, let us back up a bit: what constitutes out-of-game resources/thinking?

Rohan says:

I still think PLEX is unfair. All the arguments for PLEX have sidestepped the basic unfairness issue, and pointed to the good effects that PLEX has. But at it’s heart, Eve permits one faction of players to skip content for real money, but does not do the same for other players. It weakens the fidelity of the economic simulation that is Eve Online. […]

PLEX is like the designated hitter rule in baseball, or shootouts in hockey. It’s legal, it’s in the rule book. It’s popular, the crowds enjoy it. It might even be necessary for the continued health of the game. But baseball without the designated hitter is a purer form of baseball, as is hockey sans shootouts.

See what I mean about contours of unassailable logic? PLEX can exist within the game, in your cargo hold or on the AH, but it is not of the game, so to speak. You cannot be mining an asteroid and a PLEX fall out; you cannot assemble a PLEX from a blueprint. Every PLEX that exists came into being from a cash transaction outside of the game. In a very real way, it is a breaking of the 4th wall. Rohan is essentially correct.

…and yet, I cannot shake the nagging feeling of the arbitrary.

Across the main post and comments, Gevlon says:

You can only skip grind. If you skip competitive elements, you are cheating. Skipping any competitive element is cheating. Otherwise you are on the slippery slope of “I just skip one more element” until the point of you skip it all and buy a pilot with top killboard stats and peacock around without actually killing anyting yourself. That’s not against the ToS either. […]

@Ephemeron: true that for most people getting E15 is probably just as long as solo mining 500M ISK but it’s an out-of-game skill. Again, if we accept this, the conclusion is “the best way of winning EVE is being good in RL money making”

And also:

@Azuriel: you are an inch from being banned from here for being an idiot.

The second account ship obeys the same rules as the first. With 2 hulks you can mine twice as fast, true. But can lose two times more ISK to a ganker.

Real life money is real life money. Buying things in real life with it is normal. Having lot of money is winning RL. But a game is separated from RL for a reason. Buying an EVE-ship by having RL money is just as bizzare as buying a car from ISK.

Putting aside the unfounded belief in the objectiveness of sandbox competition, I see the contours in this argument as well. The ISK from the sale of the PLEX cannot be affected by anything Gevlon does; the credit card which creates the PLEX cannot be ganked, unlike the ship earning 500m ISK mining Veldspar.

But let us go back to our question: what constitutes out-of-game resources/thinking?

Where things break down for me, in both arguments, is when it comes to the arbitrary natures of the distinctions being made. Gevlon, for example, is perfectly fine with multi-boxing. He himself has three accounts running so as to have three separate characters gaining skill points… in an apparently competitive game. But at what point did a second and third account not count as buying advantage using real-life money? Those additional accounts are supporting the primary one: his original “competitive goal” of buying and piloting a Titan is only becoming a quicker reality due to the additional skill point paths he is paying a premium for. Using just one account, his goal would be months (if not years) farther off, as he cannot train Trading and Combat skills at the same time.

I find Rohan’s argument similarly arbitrary. What makes PLEX so especially odious and disrupting? The nakedness of purchasing it from CCP? Consider for a moment other out-of-game transactions. Does multiboxing reduce the fidelity of the economic simulation? Although both of your spaceships exist in the “pure” game world, the reality is that you are paying for an advantage over those with one account. A normal player cannot be in two places simultaneously, nor specializing in two separate skills, nor being able to jump around and trade on six different stations. And let us not pretend opening a 2nd account is any less naked than PLEX.

For the moment though, let us assume that multiboxing is fine.

Is it fine to accept ISK from a friend whom also plays the game? Is the competitiveness of the game intact, should he simply pay for all of your ship fittings and cover all of your losses? Does that constitute out-of-game? Let us even assume he received all of his ISK “legitimately.”

Suppose that instead of simply gifting you the ISK, your friend grants it as payment for letting him copy your homework. Or for driving him to the airport. Out-of-game? What if you offered to pay his EVE subscription for a month, in return for 500m ISK? Your friend still risked his ship getting ganked, still had to undercut Gevlon’s Veldspar by .01 ISK on the AH, and so on.

Rohan and Gevlon’s arguments have such shapely contours because they imitate the elegance of Plato’s Forms: the “pure” EVE is such, and self-contained. But it’s not. Other people exist, and the relationships can cross over between in-game and out-of-game. Ever play Monopoly? You may not have been able to buy Boardwalk by slipping the Banker a real $20 bill, but in the last game I played every single one of us brought in out-of-game resources in the form of favors, grudges, and so on. I gave my friend Andreas a railroad essentially out of spite; he had done nothing in-game to warrant such a one-sided transaction, but I was tired of Aaron winning all the time.

Point being, I can understand how PLEX appears as an “obvious” case of Pay-To-Win (assuming you subscribe to the notion of ISK = winning)… but I see no rational reason to draw such otherwise arbitrary distinctions. Using a Vent or Mumble server to coordinate attacks is an out-of-game maneuver. So is helping a friend with ISK, either freely or for services rendered. I would even argue that reading gaming blogs and Wikis and other 3rd party websites are absolutely out-of-game resources regardless of whether you can open up a browser in-game or not.

Where is the clearly delineated line? Does it start at the cash shop, or at the relationships you bring to the game? Is there one at all?