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Sixty Dollar Boosts

A lot of people have already weighed in on the $60 cost for instant-level 90 WoW characters, but let’s tackle this topic a week late and a dollar short. The funny thing is some people were actually surprised the price was so low. After all, the reasoning goes, it would cost more to buy another boxed set + expansion + character transfer to your main account.

Personally, the discussion regarding the “reasonableness” merely cements in my mind how completely unmoored from reality one can get in the midst of an infatuation. I mean, in the context of a game with $25 mounts and $25 to have your character transferred to different servers (in a completely automated fashion), sure, $60 sounds kind of like par for the course.

At the appropriate distance, on the other hand, it’s fucking absurd. That’s an entirely new AAA game. With the current Steam sale, that’s FFXIV plus four months of playtime. Hell, that’s four months of WoW game time. It’s the same sort of logic that considers it reasonable to suggest “investing” $20 into a F2P app like Dungeon Keeper.

Nevermind that Blizzard was giving away level 80 characters for free almost exactly two years ago. But hey, what a happy coincidence that the Scroll of Resurrection “ran out of chargeson the exact day of the $60 purchase leak.

The value of anything is subjective, true. Different people have different levels of disposable income, tastes, desires, and sees their gameplay time as more or less important. That being said, the fundamental constant in all this is opportunity cost. Sixty dollars here is sixty dollars not over there. Blizzard is banking (perhaps literally) on players not thinking their options through. I could give you a dozen game suggestions, any one of which could provide more entertainment per dollar than this exchange, even if you play WoW for 4+ hours a day.

Hell, the more you play WoW, the less sense $60 makes; heirlooms and guild mates could power-level you in a weekend. Recruit-a-Friend makes it so you could do it solo even faster, at a fraction of the cost (not to mention netting you three high-level characters). Seriously, do the math: the base warchest is $12.50 on Amazon and includes a free month, but the next month is also free since the veteran account gets it as well, just in case your casual dual-boxing takes a bit longer. So you get one level 85 and 42 bonus levels on whatever character for $12.50. Or you can purchase a second level 85 for an additional $25. Or take all of it over two months for $42.50.

Or, you know, $60 for one dude, I guess.

Trouble is that Blizzard put themselves in somewhat of an awkward scenario here. I would have suggested $25 as being an appropriate price for instant level 90 – the equivalent of a server transfer without destroying the original – but as with anything RMT, its mere existence instantly puts a price on everyone’s gameplay. Even now, there are people straining to control their incredulity regarding my suggestion that it cost $25. “Oh, $40 is the least it should cost!” “They’d be justified in pricing it at $100!” All of which is silly, because I just told you the price of a may-as-well-be-instant level 85 is $12.50 on Amazon.

Time will eventually tell whether the price of the character boost will be $60 or something else. Perhaps it will debut at that price to make the preorder of the next expansion seem like such a good deal, and then eventually get discounted. What isn’t particularly up for debate is that something was necessary. WoW has been hemorrhaging subscribers for years, and even though the flow has been staunched for now, the largest potential growth market continues to be ex-WoW players and not new ones.

I am not particularly convinced, however, luring ex-players into the Draenor expansion is going to make them consider $60 to boost their alts out of Cataclysm hell to be reasonable. After all, it is only after you unsubscribe that you realize the fragility of the “$15/month is cheaper than anything” argument. It may actually still be cheaper than many alternatives, but if you at any point deviate from that narrow path onto character transfer-land or RMT mounts, a single Humble Bundle or Steam sale can demolish you in dollar per fun. I played Terraria and Don’t Starve for 60 hours apiece. A subscription might get you 80 hours for the same price, but it’s the wrong comparison. How does 60 hours stack up against a name change? Or that shiny new mount?

Scroll of Ridiculous Value

Obviously there has been a lot of talk about the Scroll of Resurrection‘s instant level 80 character thing. But equally fascinating to me is all the other value-added things they stuffed in there. When they took the Scroll down the first time, I assumed it was because Blizzard was seeing people being Scroll’d and then defeating Deathwing via LFR before the week(s?) was up. Now? This is what you get:

  • Upgrade to Wrath. ($19.96)
  • Upgrade to Cataclysm ($26.99)
  • 7 Days of game time. (~$3.50)
  • Server Transfer. ($25.00)
  • Faction Transfer. ($30.00)
  • Free level 80 toon ($X)

Total potential value: $105.45 + $X.

When I quit WoW ~6 months ago, my criteria for ever returning was basically “when they started discounting server/faction transfers.” The game itself had not stopped being fun, it was the gradual bleed of friends that made me question the subscription. Even if I resubbed tomorrow, I would still be on the same shit low-pop server, stuck with the same inverted community. I have five level 85 characters and 400k+ gold that I’m not about to let rot, but neither am I paying $50+ a pop to save them. Simply put, there is a pretty severe barrier to reentry at this point.

So when said friends hit me up on Vent yesterday to chat, I knew the Scroll pitch was coming. And in some ways it was very, very tempting. The mental scenario played out like this:

  1. Friend rolls level 1 Horde toon on healthy server, sends Scroll.
  2. Accept Scroll.
  3. Delete an unused character, roll level 1 druid.
  4. Get the druid to level 80 instantly.
  5. Load druid up with 50k gold (the max transfer limit), other items.
  6. Free Server Transfer + Faction Change the druid.
  7. Paid Server Transfer + Faction Change for main.

That would get me a decent fraction of my wealth onto a new server, plus the ability to perhaps LFR Deathwing in that free week, plus a level 80 version of the only class I never played before, and technically a server/faction transfer at 50% off.

There are some unknowns, of course. Would I have to do the Server/Faction transfer immediately, or could I delay it? Are you leveled to 80 only after you move? Can someone send a Scroll from a level 1 character? Do I really want WoW back in my life, now, when there is probably another 6 months of just Deathwing?

The funny thing is… maybe it doesn’t matter. Even if I simply accept the Scroll on my main in order to just get the free server/faction transfer, maybe that’s enough. Log in, move the one toon, screw around for a week, let it expire. Then wait for the next promotion. By the time Mists finally rolls around, perhaps I will have moved several more toons somewhere else by using Scrolls every 3 months.

But OMG instant level 80 WTF?

It may be my relative distance from the game, but this does not strike me as particularly controversial or counter-intuitive as it may seem.

First, the Scroll can only be used on paid accounts created before March 4th. Brand new players are not getting level 80 toons right off the bat.

Secondly, and more importantly, nobody is really “skipping” the revamped 1-60 Cataclysm content here. If you were a veteran, you either saw it already or don’t exactly care about the questing your alts do. And if you do care, well, just don’t accept the level 80, yeah?

If you were someone who quit before Cataclysm, say at the end of Wrath or TBC or even vanilla, you are already past the revamped starting experience. This piece of the promotion is about skipping TBC and Wrath leveling, not 1-60. And if you are making a level 1 toon to take advantage of the instant leveling, then you have already decided that the new questing experience isn’t worth your time.

Does this set a troubling precedent? Well, maybe, maybe not. Death Knights are instant level 55. The Recruit-a-Friend promotion grants triple XP to both characters, and the referring account gets free levels to apply to toons up to level 60 – back in the day, I “recruited” myself to dual-box a rogue and priest to 60, then gave my level 28 hunter the free levels until he was 58. Nowadays, the triple XP lasts until level 80, and you can grant a total 40 free levels.

The one argument I am sympathetic towards is the lack of veteran rewards. If you have been dutifully playing and paying WoW all this time, you have gotten nothing. Sure, you have had the enjoyment and wonder of playing the game for the last X years, but you have paid for it in cash and tears. Promotions like the Scroll are great for people like me who might not have ever been tempted to hop back on the train, but it also makes the calculus of bothering to tough out the dry spells awfully fuzzy.

If I do end up pulling the trigger, I’m definitely letting the sub lapse again later. Because… why not? An unstable subscription is apparently worth more to Blizzard than a stable one. It sounds backwards and dumb, but it is perfectly rational in its own way. I paid $85 for a game (ME3) on Day 1 when I could have gotten that same game for $50+ less a few months from now. The people already subscribing/buying Day 1 are money in the bank; they need no convincing.

Moral of the story: it pays to play hard to get.

Of course, that probably works about as well in the long-term as it does in real relationships.