If you haven’t heard yet, yesterday Blizzard announced the advent of items called the “WoW Tokens” coming to World of Warcraft in a future patch, to mixed response. Some are angry and upset with the change, some are content or indifferent, and some are convinced that this is the herald of WoW going free to play in the future.
Here’s how it works: You can purchase WoW Tokens through the in-game Shop for an as-yet-undetermined amount of real money, but presumably something close or identical to the cost of a normal month-long subscription. You then sell it on the Auction House for a set amount of in-game gold. The amount is fixed at the time the token is put up for auction, though prices will vary over time in accordance with supply and demand. Tokens are typically sold in the order they are put on the Auction House, and you will always receive the price quoted, without extra fees.
The purchaser will receive the token and it will become Soulbound, so they cannot trade it away to anyone else, and can then be redeemed for 30 days of game time.
The system is simple enough, and gives players who play a lot–that is, enough to amass large quantities of gold, the opportunity to trade the time spent in game for…well, more time spent in game. No word yet on what pricing for these things will be like yet, but presumably the pricing will be high enough that it won’t be accessible to strictly “casual” players. Tokens are not yet available, but will be in a future patch.
In an interview with Polygon, Game Designer Ion Hazzikostas assured everyone that selling WoW tokens is not a move to free to play. Rather, it is an attempt to counter third-party gold sellers. Those who want to pay real money for in-game gold will be able to do so legitimately by converting that real money to game time, and then selling it, thus lowering the amount of compromised accounts and illegal activity in game. Hazzikostas also stated that the goal will be to compete with third-party sellers pricing-wise, and put them out of business. There will also be a way for former subscribers to log in (through a special account status) and purchase game time, though new players are stuck buying their own time through the usual channels.
Unfortunately, things can’t be that easy. Gold farmers have a long history and a booming business within this game, with some particularly darker points as The Guardian has reported in past years. There’s no reason why such groups won’t simply adapt to the implementation of WoW tokens–cut costs, lower prices of gold, or find ways to exploit the system for their own gain. Why not sell gold to people at lower prices so they can buy game tokens on the cheap? Or farm gold, purchase lots of game time on an account, and then sell the account?
If abused, such a system could result in Blizzard effectively selling game time to players for much cheaper than they intend, to the ultimate benefit of third parties. This doesn’t mean things are going to suddenly get worse in terms of more 3rd-party gold sellers or exploited workers. But it doesn’t seem as though this addition to the game will ultimately change the existence of such markets. Prices will change, and new opportunities will be found, but the Internet being the Internet, someone will always find a way to take advantage.
What this addition definitely isn’t is a move to free to play. Regardless of who is purchasing it, someone is buying the game time. While those adept at farming gold may consider it worth their time to collect the amount necessary for a subscription through WoW tokens, it seems unlikely that most players, for whom gold might be scarcer (scarcer still considering how much is required to upgrade your garrison), will ignore the feature altogether.
The people this benefits most are those who love the game, but struggle to make the monthly payment. Some extra farming on a weekend could result in a month more of time. Guilds with players who might have to drop subscriptions could pull together and donate the money for game tokens so their friends can keep playing. For a small amount of WoW’s population, this could be a welcome relief and a chance at greater community and support.
As someone who would rather spend her time in-game being silly with friends, exploring the world, or unraveling the storyline, I will likely never achieve the lofty gold heights required to buy game time with gold. For myself and many of WoW’s players, this new feature won’t change much. WoW tokens are an opportunity for some who have time or money to spare, nothing more. Take advantage of it as you like, but WoW will remain solidly WoW with or without them.
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