Blizzard is heading back into real money trading with the introduction of the WoW Token for World of Warcraft. The recent announcement that players would be able to trade gold or real money for a token worth 30 days of game time in the shop or auction house. Predictably, the sky began falling to some players, while others saw the new option as logical. World of Warcraft doesn’t deserve alarm bells just because its payment method is getting a little more flexible. This is a very good thing in several regards, even without all of the info just yet.
WoW is an older game with a dedicated fanbase of players who often have patterns of leaving and returning. If you’ve played WoW long enough, you’ve probably amassed a bunch of gold that you have little to do with once you’re at a certain stage of the game. Many a WoW player (or former players) I know sometimes cite the subscription fee as a small barrier to them picking the game back up again until something like an expansion entices them back. The stored gold will be an easy way for veterans to score themselves game time, which helps increase the population and community. Players who find themselves cycling in and out might also be convinced to return longer term with the potential for free months dangled in front of them.
Blizzard’s previous foray into real money trading came in Diablo III, and that ended disastrously, with plenty of players leaving and many calls to dump the system. Ultimately, it was indeed removed. Yet Diablo III is a very different game that is, in large part, centered around being able to grab as much loot as possible. This WoW Token is more like EVE Online’s PLEX or WildStar’s CREDD, in which players can trade their play time for game time. EVE is one of the few MMORPGs to show large growth and, like WoW, many EVE players have a history of having more than one account. In part, these are covered by PLEX.
This doesn’t spell the end of subscription games, with WoW still raking in lots of cash globally, including from both monthly and hourly subscription options, depending on country. In China, for instance, WoW’s subscriptions come in blocks of time. Yet, with many players looking for a degree of flexibility and judging whether games are ‘worth’ subscriptions anymore, Blizzard is smart to be looking to fill this gap.
The other side of the coin is the declared intention to reduce the number of gold sellers and fraud. Gold sellers and fraud have been a long-standing problem for many games, including WoW, since it has been lucrative to sell gold. The question of why now is an important one. Real money transactions like this are still gaining traction, despite EVE’s success as a niche game on the market. While for some players, this sort of thing spells the beginning of the end, the greater community has been eased into cash shops on top of subs and other extras over the past several years. Most games on the market now are some form of freemium or hybrid. Blizzard is the company that had the most to lose from moving too early on something like this, although subscriber numbers dropped in many years. As the biggest MMO on the planet, especially with Blizzard working on projects like Titan for so long to possibly attempt to maintain its share, before moving onto smaller (and highly successful) projects the Blizzard of 2015 is involved with, the status quo seemed more important.
As for the community, this is nothing but a win. Blizzard already allows players to play as much as they want up to level 20, and has stated WoW wouldn’t be going free to play, but for those with mounds of hoarded gold and an itch to jump back into the fray in exchange, this will ignite some players desire to head back to WoW, and give others who play the game anyway some more incentive to possibly play enough to earn another month of time. While the potential for fewer gold sellers is nice, the real benefit should be for the players. This has been a long time coming, some degree of flexibility on subscriptions, and it’s a welcome change that will benefit the community on the whole.