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Take My Money!

Joseph Sanicky Posted:
Columns All Things Warcraft 0

As I stood in front of the nameless Undercity Auctioneer looking for some cheap yet essential foliage to grind up for more potions, I wondered why the process of leveling my profession had to be so…gold intensive.  After giving up on that endeavor I looked through the glyphs I still didn’t have and teleported back to the front lamenting my lack of gold.  At times like these I often wonder if I’d be willing to throw down some cold, hard cash to alleviate my virtual woes.  I’ve done it plenty in other games like Vindictus and League of Legends, why not in the biggest MMO of them all?  Considering Blizzard’s next title Diablo 3 will have a cash auction house side by side with the gold auction house, I figure it isn’t too far of a stretch that we could see such a thing in the future of World of Warcraft… right?

“Perhaps” would have to be my tentative answer to that hypothetical question. After scouring various World of Warcraft fansites and the official forums I found various old threads and created some new ones on such a topic to discover what the community thought of such an idea.  There seemed to be a resounding initial response of “no thank you!”  Amidst the copious denouncements of such a tyrannical pricing model (voluntary as it would be) and promises that they’d quit the game there were plenty of reasonable complaints to be had.  A multitude were worried that the in-game economy would be irrevocably ruined for starters, while others commented that the problem of “welfare epics” would further devolve into “underserving” players simply buying full sets of raid and PvP gear, while still others were worried about the age old problem of free-to-play games, having to spend money to stay competitive.  Furthermore most of the commenters claimed it was utterly unrealistic to expect players to pay a monthly subscription along with putting money into a cash auction house. 

Would the prospect of spending and earning real world money make this scene more interesting?

All of these arguments are indeed valid though I dare to say that perhaps the fans and players are a bit quick to judge such a pricing model.  Let us consider two different scenarios, shall we?  Suppose Blizzard decided to institute a cash auction house (identical to the Diablo 3 one) alongside the current one with absolutely zero alterations to the current pricing model, what would truly change?  With the limitations set on the cash auction house you’d only have players willing to risk real money putting up auctions for cash (as there are 3 total surcharges placed on cash auctions, one on posting, and one on the seller and buyer both once the auction is closed successfully).  As it would stand it would be impossible for anyone to put the same item on both auction houses simultaneously (to fish for the best buyer within both realms), and you’d have to commit a decent sum of money just to post your cash auctions in the first place (assuming a multitude of auctions), so there wouldn’t be any cases of everyone instantly switching to the cash auction house and neglecting the old one.  The gold economy would still be intact assuming a large amount of players used only one auction house (or both), and depending on what you’re looking for one auction house would be more appropriate. Everything would be peachy, aye?

For the most part, it would probably be fine.  All of the doomsday scenarios put forth on the forums seem most unlikely, except for one x-factor, which would be the direct transformation of money into gold currency.  While I can only speculate I’d assume that making gold legitimately available via real money the value of gold would decrease, if not plummet.  How could it not?  This in turn would make the gold auction house more inaccessible to non-cash players and basically make it a secondary cash auction house.  Honestly my speculation of this instance ends here, as the actions the players would take cannot be legitimately assumed beyond the point of “some will use cash, and some will not.”  I won’t make any further assessment beyond that. 

The second scenario (and in my humble opinion, the more likely one) would be a larger revamp of how we all play World of Warcraft.  To address the player’s complaints of “why would I pay a subscription and use a cash auction house?” perhaps Blizzard would make the game free to play beyond the buy-in price of the expansions!  Regardless of your view on the free-to-play pricing model it should be obvious by now that such a system is prevalent and pervasive in today’s gaming culture, and this scenario needs to be addressed.  Consider that in the next decade World of Warcraft will diminish in either popularity or player count.  I’m not here to tell anyone “WoW is dying, WoW is dying guys!” because that argument is as adroit as ever (READ: not!).  However once Blizzard releases its next big MMO, and once World of Warcraft reaches its tenth birthday and beyond, its playerbase will be lower and/or it will be less popular.  Nothing lasts forever. 

What have many MMOs done to refute their fading into the past?

They’ve become free-to-play, and realizing that World of Warcraft already has a cash shop (filled with completely and utterly cosmetic and unnecessary items for purchase) Blizzard would need something else to drive players to want to pay them.  What other option would be more cunning and incentivizing than a cash auction house?  In this second hypothetical the cash auction house seems much more fitting, doesn’t it?

As a gamer and consumer I know that I appreciate being able to show my appreciation for a product, especially if it is in the form of supporting that product and working to actively make it better.  Despite the cons of most cash shop-type payment methods I’ve always liked having both a way to give as much money as I like to a developer and also getting instant-gratification for certain things in-game.  Thus I return to my auction house woes.  I’d have absolutely no problem buying some ingredients for my professions while simultaneously supporting a game I love to play while also simultaneously saving some of my own precious time!  Time is money, and money is time, and in such a trade-off I’d be accomplishing three goals and ultimately gaining more time to say, play some PvP (something I actually enjoy doing) instead of farming some herbs for a handful of hours or more.  Blizzard gets more money to put into their product that I’ll put more time (i.e. money) into: the cycle goes on! 

Oh don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the players that prefer to keep their cash in their pocket (or bank account or investment).  Blizzard being the fiscal geniuses that they tend to be ($25 mounts anyone? ANYONE?) would do their absolute best to not only draw in the crowd of players I belong to as well as keeping their original player base who preferred a subscription model if they followed either of these two hypothetical scenarios.  As all of you are probably familiar with there is a certain vehement doubt of game developers alive amongst forums the world around.  If we were to believe only the most vocal forumites it would seem that nobody trusts the developers and that their greed is insatiable, however I tend to trust my favorite devs to make the right decisions (if they’ve made good ones in the past), so I’m sure that if Blizzard makes any such actions in the future the vast majority would end up happy with the situation.

Either way, I’m headed back to flying around Azeroth looking for plants. Hooray.


Joseph Sanicky