WoW… just… wow.

Note; the original article for this post was deleted. Please, ladies and gentlemen who read this, NEVER DO A BLOG POST AT THREE IN THE MORNING! Your brain isn’t capable of processing at that time, and everything reads like a mess.

So, it’s for real. Blizzard are selling vanity pets that buyers can re-sell in game.

I, for one, loathed the gold spam that became an inevitable losing battle in World of Warcraft. Updating the spam-blocking mods was a weekly task, and at times a daily chore as they discovered means to circumvent these user-made additions to stem the tide of yells, trade spam and whispers.

Now, Blizzard are going to sell a one-time use pet for $10/£10 to the community via the Blizzard Store, which can be sold on the AH for real money.

Many argue this is gold selling via a back door, and for once I can agree with them. It is, when you think about it, an advantage for those who have more disposable income to those who don’t, meaning that the once righteous “No items on the store that will give an in-game advantage” stance has been stabbed in the back, and hastily buried. You may even see Blizzard scuffing their shoes a little to try and cover the shallow grave.

But it’s a deeper and far more sinister problem for a game like World of Warcraft, one which once boasted 12 million players (the figure is substantially lower now, but more on that later). What Blizzard have failed at here is common sense.

The effect on the game will be two-pronged. First, Blizzard would like to assume this will make gold sellers obsolete. Heh, they wish. What Blizzard have done here is establish a base exchange rate – say the pet, which costs $10, sells for 50,000 gold on the AH (not an unreasonable ask). That means the sellers now have an official server exchange rate of 5000 gold to the dollar.

And will this chase them out of the game? No. Far from it, rather than quiet the spam and hacking attempts, the fact they’ll have to part with more gold for less money is likely to see them try even HARDER to compromise accounts, because they need lots of gold very quickly and cheaply to supply their demand. The nasty fake-GM warnings will get nastier, the spam will get more pronounced as they have to promote even more, and then there will come the second issue.

Supply and demand doesn’t work anymore. Goldsellers, and those with more money than common decency, will of course be at war – goldsellers will be eager to keep prices for the pet as low as possible, because if a pet sells for 5000 gold, that’s only 500 gold to the dollar. 50,000 gold, that’s 5000 gold to the dollar. Yet many players will try to keep prices artificially high so to get the maximum return on their real-world investment.

The inevitable outcome of this is economies are going to suffer immense damage. Each server in WoW, each server in any MMO in fact, has a very individual economic nature. If there are several top-end guilds, you can often find the epics needed to catch up cheaper, as the drops are more commonplace. If there is only one guild in progression mode, they can charge what they like – no competition to drive down prices. This also applies to the crafters – how many miners there are, blacksmiths, alchemists and such forth.

These economies have taken months, if not years, to develop. Most tick over quite nicely – this pet will bring in a massive gulf, a war between two sides that will shatter the fragile equilibrium of these economies, which will send prices into utter chaos. The confusion will be palpable, the war of words despicable, the victims – the players, who play normally. They will be caught between two warring factions who will do everything to keep their side on top, and all other prices will suffer as a result.

So why are Blizzard risking making WoW – which has become a very hostile game in recent months since the release of Cataclysm – even more hostile?

Well, it comes back to this issue of losing subscribers.

Blizzard have had huge success with their range of pets and mounts on the Blizzard Store, but there is an inherent problem in their system – each active account need only buy each one once, and then it is available to all their toons – past, present and future. This means that the pool to which they are selling is dwindling, and therefore so are any future profits.

The whole idea of this pet – taking the resale in-game out of the equation – is a cheeky slap in the face to the playerbase that has supported them without much resistance over the years. Rather than account-wide, now each pet has to be nominated to one toon.

A practical example is this – Jenny loves her Paladin, but also has a Rogue and a Priest she can play. Under the old system, her $10 would have netted her a pet for all three toons.

Under the new system, each toon needs a pet bought seperately, which means Jenny would now have to pay $30 to get the pet for all three of her characters.

See what they’ve done here yet?

Even taking out the damage this can do in-game, it’s the sheer greed and affront to their customers that is the most difficult thing to stomach here. Rather than reward their loyal fanbase, they’re now prepared to rip them off, repeatedly, for the same thing, for more money. And as long as people make new characters, there will be a market for these sales – be it the person buying it for themselves, or the person buying it to sell to a new toon, each new character is a potential extra ten bucks in the kitty.

I’d be impressed at how brilliant that business plot is if I wasn’t so bitterly disappointed in how Blizzard have gone about this.

The latest defense for this has been, “But TCG Loot is Bind on Equip/Use, and it hasn’t hurt things!”. This is true, but the two are not directly comparable either.

The thing is, most TCG loot only runs as long as they print the cards, which eventually get discontinued as they move onto their next “expansion set” of cards. This means not only is TCG loot rare, but limited edition. Once the set number of these items is used up, that is it. They are gone, never more to be seen for sale again. This makes them hold their value – limited editions always do hold their value more than those that, well, aren’t limited. Basic economics – the more limited a resource, the more it will be worth.

This pet isn’t limited edition though – it’s always available, always there, and unless they plan on restrictions, always tempting players to stock a few up for sale on the AH. Therefore it isn’t TCG loot, and it cannot be compared directly – or defended as such, because it is a different beast with a very different bite. It’s like petting a wild tiger just because you’ve become accustomed to petting your house cat – sure, they’re both felines. But one is quite likely to maim you senseless.

Ultimately though, Blizzard needs to stop trying to sweeten this up.

YES – it will balls up economies.
YES – it will provide an advantage for those with more disposable income.
YES – it’s a clever business ploy.
NO – it won’t stop goldsellers. Quite the opposite.

This is a complicated issue, but this pet becomes a worse idea as you sift through each and every layer of it, trying to work out where the rotten core of this concept is.

In no way is this a bright idea. If Blizzard want to introduce a real-money AH to WoW, like their plans for Diablo 3, then be honest. I’d say most players will be happy to oblige. If this means that WoW goes free-to-play in the future, that too I think most players will accept and be happy with, as long as they get to keep their subscriptions and whatever perks that sub will entail.

But slowly bringing it in and trying to play dumb when caught out isn’t going to win them awards. In the last year, it is estimated two million accounts have become inactive – closed down, or left abandoned. This is a serious issue that Blizzard must tackle before it tries to stick its hand down your trousers to your wallet.

It is a disastrous little PR exercise, and a good warning to people – desperate times don’t always need to mean desperate measures, because those can go horribly wrong in many new and amazing ways…

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