MMO’s have been around for a while. Remember Ultima? No? Probably for the best. Everquest? Probably rings more bells. Lord of the Rings Online? How about Dungeons and Dragons Online? Rift, Aion, Star Wars: The Old Republic. Wow…lots of fantasy MMO’s there. I have no idea if Ultima is still around…I don’t think so. Otherwise, all those other games have something in common. Know what it is? Do ya? Do ya? You probably do. You’re smart. Kinda. Yeah that’s right, they are MMORPG’s that all eventually went onto a free-to-play model after having subscription numbers drop like that cartoon coyote in Looney Tunes. When this happens…things change. With the base game now being free, game developers and publishers need to figure out new ways to monetize their game. You know…to have a prayer of recouping the massive costs to make an MMO.
That new form of monetizing the game usually comes with a 2-tier approach. First…they keep the subscriptions for anyone who wants them. That subscription however, now becomes a greatly enhanced experience. Instead of being the baseline for people playing the game, it now comes with VIP perks; a sort of thank you for the continued normal income. The second and more popular thing that comes to free-to-play MMO’s is some sort of microtransaction shop. This is typically what saves these MMO’s from shutting down the servers, and even what causes these things to turn a profit. For many games, especially titles like Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online, and Lord of the Rings Online, this change has been a major lifeline. These games went from being money pits to largely popular services that allow people to play the way they want, for the amount of money they feel the game is worth. In a system like that, it seems like the perfect world for a MMO, and it would be great to see most MMO’s use this model from day one. It seems like the best way to make a return on the initial…insane investment a MMO is.
But then there is World of Warcraft. Ever since it dethroned Everquest as the game that ruins the lives of people, it has been an unstoppable beast. Topping out at 14 million…14 fucking million players, and since going to more like 8.5 million, Blizzard has had all these people paying at least 15 bucks a month for something like 8.5 years. That is…a lot of money. Recently though, Blizzard has started to branch out a bit, and milk more money from the players in the form of a digital Blizzard shop. This shop has offered two types of things; mounts and non-combat pets. While some may cry foul at Blizzard charging money, especially the money they are charging in the store; roughly 10-25 dollars a piece, you do need to remember something compared to most in-game stores. Mounts and pets, at least at first were purely cosmetic things. No one anymore in WoW cannot afford a basic, race-based mount. So anyone buying a sparkle pony or anything like that from the store, are buying not-needed additions. And before the addition of Pet Battling, you were simply buying a cute new companion to run around with you, and often these things were sold for charity. While yes, those pets may now be useful in game, they are by no means any more powerful than anything you can get in game. So yeah, really you get no tangible in-game benefit from using this store. Blizzard simply decided that on top of the piles of money they already make, they wanted to see if they could make some more, and who could blame them? Not really affecting anyone’s play experience versus another’s.
WAIT. THAT COULD NOW BE CHANGING. I hope you noticed my use of all capitalized letters back there. Just wanted you to know…shit is getting serious. But yeah, it has been revealed through the ever-popular datamining that something sinister sits on the PTR. Some sort of potion is sitting on the PTR that doubles XP gains. Since this has been datamined, the rumor-mill has been in full swing. In a somewhat smart move concerning this, Blizzard admitted that yeah, an in-game store for microtransactions will be coming. This will be rolling out first for the Asian realms, as their standard way of paying is not a month-by-month subscription, but they apparently pay by the hour. Obviously, that pricing model is the most obvious reason to increase XP per play session. Despite the reasons though, this Enduring Elixir of Wisdom is a very gray area…and perhaps a game-breaking element to introduce to WoW. Especially if this item spreads past the Asian servers…and it probably will.
If it does, this brings something that directly changes the individual leveling experience to WoW. While yes, things like recruit a friend brought increased XP gains; extreme ones at that to WoW, those gains were for the long-haul, and didn’t invite a system of pumping extra money into the game. This Elixir though…seems to only last for an hour. So while a Monk can get half this effect everyday for absolutely no money, Blizzard may be bringing a nickel and dime scenario into the game for every other class. Is this a bad thing though? Why wouldn’t it be okay for WoW to have a microtransaction like this, as people by no means need to buy it? For three very simple reasons. First, World of Warcraft is a game that is all about the endgame, as I have said before, where the leveling experience is secondary. The game has been like this for a long time, and really putting something out like this is very exploitative. Very often, people level alts for the express purpose of having choices when it comes to max-level characters, especially for raiding. For those people with this mentality, this microtransaction becomes something resembling a mandatory purchase, in enough of a quantity to get their toon to at this point, level 90.
My second reason concerns a very important facet of WoW that has been breaking down for a while, and this item will continue the breakdown of Azeroth’s social experience. By making a thing that one pays for with real money only last for a set amount of time, it now makes that time…valuable. Anyone under the effects of this product, paid for with real money, could no longer stop and talk to their guildies, or spend time in Stormwind on Trade Chat. They have to be out in the field, leveling as efficiently as they can. Their time is now quite literally money, and in doing so, turns the game into a beyond mechanical process. There are plenty of things that enrich the game for all at the expense of the social aspect, but this may in fact be going too far, as it now dictates the way one would play under the effects.
My third and final concern is a very simple one. This is a slippery slope. This elixir sets a precedent, and a very scary one. With WoW’s subscribers still numbering in the numerous millions, there is really no need as of yet to go to a free-to-play model. So while keeping the subscription model, does Blizzard plan on taking more of the player-base’s money by introducing more things that will feel mandatory? How about a potion that doubles rep gains? That would be needed to any raider at the start of an expansion, where their upgrades are the most desired. That to me, is only the most obvious next step for this sort of system, and it really makes me shudder to think what else could be brought into WoW under this in-game store.
Now…let’s talk about the far-flung possibility. WoW goes truly free-to-play. WoW decides that making the millions per month they currently do is less than what they would make selling these potions wholesale, and go with the model Turbine went with. That would make things a lot better, as it would more mirror the environment we are used to seeing with the free-to-play MMO’s. However, with millions of people playing for their subs, I really doubt Blizzard is going to change gears anytime soon. So really, this idea is moot, but still needs to be at least thought of. But Blizzard seems to have it in their head that because WoW is WoW, they can both have their subscription cake, and eat their microtransactions too. I am simply afraid the game will choke for them doing this.