Last night I happened to strike up a conversation on Twitter with Sivation. Somehow I missed this fellow, and they're very interesting to talk with. They also run a blog. After some discussion in DMs, it was decided that I needed to publish this article.
Don't get too excited for Patch 6.1.2, this only puts the infrastructure into the game. From what I've seen we won't have the actual tokens in the game for a little while. When it does arrive however, I'm off the grid forever.
Blizzard's system is rife with issues, no doubt about that. I got a pseudo-chance to debate Elvine in his "expert" column on Wowhead, but that was almost pointless because, well, Wowhead. There's lots of concerns about inflation, paying to win, how people use their gold, and how unfair it is and how we should all be in some manufactured rage over it. I want to address something, and I'm no economist, but I happen to understand the mechanics a lot better than most.
At Issue: This is going to cause inflation
Since day one of the game's release, and prior to it's release, Blizzard games have tended to deal in RMT. That's Real Money Trading for those of you unaware. Diablo 2 supported lots of us with extra income to spend on hookers and beer, and I was approached prior to the release of WoW about joining up with a few Indonesian suppliers to sell gold in the game. At the time I regarded World of Warcraft as a crappy idea. I tried Star Wars Galaxies and hated the subscription model. Lots of us back then were going to buy Guild Wars just in protest. I actually did buy and play Guild Wars for a while and it was really good, so good that I remember actually carting my computer from Phoenix to LA just so I could play it while in a week of sales classes with the company I was with at the time. It took me over a year to come to the Warcraft scene and several D2 friends chomping at my hide to come PvP.
You think I learned my skills just experimenting for a few years in a make-believe sandbox? I was doing auctions for many years prior, and I love auctions because there's something in them that gets my blood racing. I should work for an auction company in some capacity because it's a real passion. But this experience taught me several things about how people online treat their credit lines and parent's checkbook. I learned that appealing to the masses was the best bet; giving them what they wanted and desired, at a fair price, and how they wanted it. I also learned that people want things immediately and have no time for bidding wars. When given a choice, they'll pay a premium if it means they can have their stuff NOW. Sound familiar? Well I found the AH at level 5 on my first character, and have been here raking in gold whenever I want it since. Today I consider a million gold pocket change, and soon to be a week's pay. How's your auctions coming?
In the time I've played, I've been asked to sell my gold to both players and wholesalers, and yes I've traded for a month or two of subscription time, most people I know have. While I don't excuse my behavior pointing to other people's behavior, I will say that there has always been a market for this type of trade. Making gold comes naturally to me and I'll never be broke. I log in to what many would consider a fortune every single night.
I've discovered almost every hole in each expansion since, and I've worked at exploiting them to their fullest potential and worked even harder keeping my discoveries under wraps and only sharing my finds with a select few people. If you want to be rich in the game world, and in the real world, you work at it and you keep your mouth shut about how you're doing it. Otherwise you take your clothes off for money online when you have nothing else to offer, and based on the twitch crap I've seen and "best of nominations", we're not far off.
Ultimately, I don't think this will cause much inflation, because people have always Mastercarded their way through this and every other game for nearly 20 years of online gaming. If there is an item or gold seller out there, there are people who are desperate enough to seek them out. In Warcraft, gold buyers tend to SPEND their gold, and that gold is either taken out of the game through vendors, or parked in someone's fat guild bank where it will never re-enter the economy again. Inflation implies a homogenous growth in the money supply causing prices to escalate relative to that available supply. This is only achieved when everyone is participating in the system and not in isolated cases. Inflation occurs at the beginning of every expansion because everyone is participating in quest turn-ins and increasing the money supply. So unless a vast majority of players suddenly turn into gold buyers, you won't see a huge spike in prices for general goods and consumables. I suspect many will buy their tokens strictly to get some gold together for day-to-day use. Buy 50k in gold, you are pretty well set for this expansion for casual raiding. People that buy their gold also tend to spend it rather freely, which is why they're always buying more. It's that old adage I like about giving fools a million gold, and taking a million away from me.
Where you WILL see a spike in prices will be at Madam Goya's shack in Nagrand. She offers all those shinies for gold that nobody has real access to unless they beat their heads against a wall in old raids for a year or two, or they magically come up with an outdated and limited supply TCG loot card off Ebay. The only way for the vast majority of players to come up with the gold to get those items is to outright buy it, and this can get expensive quickly. In the past buying gold could result in account closure, but now that prohibition is about to be lifted, everyone with a Mastercard, Visa, Amex, or Discover Card will be able to participate without fear that they will lose all their shit. The only people losing their shit are the Al Capones of the gold selling world who are about to get some massive competition.
This sounds rather strange, doesn't it? Am I saying that the token system will ultimately turn the Black Market Auction House into the Real Money Auction House people disliked in Diablo 3? Yes. I am. Welcome to the future of gaming folks, name an MMO out there today that doesn't have micros. After the system is released, you will enter Nagrand and you'll hear the faint sound of a vacuum cleaner sucking up coins. As you get closer to the Ring of Blood the sound will become deafening. This system is going to remove truckloads of gold from the game forever on every server with each passing day. I wish I could put together a graphic for you so you better understand it, but picture a cyclone over Nagrand dumping exclusive mounts, gear, and TCG items everywhere while sucking a train of gold into the sky. The Blizzard store now includes the ability to acquire every pixelated unique snowflake item in the game. It's the mother of all micro transactions, because there's no set price for how much you will have to pay everytime something comes up that people want! 20k? 1 million? The possibilities are limitless, especially when Blizz is going to set the price of what gold is actually worth.
Further, thanks to the collection tab, you can also shop for these items across several servers on the same account. You don't have to pay money to only transfer 50k or a guild bank, you can now do this unchained across every server of your choosing. I suspect a TUJ style listing of each server's BMAH auctions will be heavily in demand because that stupid toy box needs filled. Just log into the server of your choosing, buy some gold, and go nuts bidding for what you want.
Consider further that one is completely able to pick up pieces of gear they otherwise wouldn't have access to. PvP gear and higher end PvE gear. Removed transmogs. Think of the catalog of Madam Goya, I think you may get my point. It's not pay to win because you aren't going to gain any particular advantage at this point. It definitely will save those with limited time to play a hefty amount of time.
Unclaimed Black Market Containers are also gambling for addicts. Much like D3's RMAH was considered gambling, these future scratch offs for gold are going to produce tons of revenue from the hopelessly degenerate gamblers. Will we see news articles about the people losing their homes chasing down those elusive rewards? One can only dream, right?
But Is This Really Going To Happen?
Will people actually throw down hundreds of dollars just to buy things in a stupid video game? I hear you, "Zerohour, you're full of shit. People don't just throw down credit cards on pixels. People aren't willing to spend hundreds or thousands on a stupid game." Wrong. Head, meet sand, population: you.
Look at Hearthstone. This game had severe Pay to Win elements. Were people pissed? Were they quitting over it? No, they were demanding ports to their phone and entire streams were dedicated to winning the game. I had friends who used to cash in their Battle Net Balances for Hearthstone cards. Hundreds of bucks to do it. This was merely a digital version of MTG and Pokemon, but people fell hopelessly into the business of feeding the machine.
Look at Diablo 3. The RMAH may have been hated by so many people that they were able to get Blizzard to reconsider it, but I assure you Blizzard did this with a heavy heart and lots of cash in the bank. It sucks they went to the soulbound gear system with no trading allowed, but this shows that they are quite aware of what would happen if they conceded and allowed trading. People would be spending tens of thousands on gear that they would never profit from in the REAL black market.
Watch for Overwatch. This is really nothing more than a reimagining of Team Fortress 2, and that's not Blizzard's fault. Team Fortress 2 specialized in fun FPS play and a gigantic shop for skins and flavor items. What gaming giant could refuse this opportunity? Blizzard saw this and obviously realized that they were missing out on a ton of money in FPS with overpriced pixel shops for special snowflakes. The prices people pay for these things is nuts, and if I was them, I'd Double It! Let's ask Jay Wilson what he thinks.
Thanks, Jay, that's what I thought.
Let me introduce you to Jack. Jack (not his real name) is a buyer of gold. Jack is a successful small business owner. Jack competes against me in GDKP runs, and Jack, like me, is loved because he pisses away gold with seemingly no care. Jack buys millions of gold from gold sellers because he's your average player with real money and this is his entertainment. Jack hasn't the time to farm up gold because his attention is towards making real money, not pixels. Jack pays out the ass for gear when he competes with me, because he pays 500:1 for gold. That means for every 100,000 gold he bids, he pays 50-70 bucks in real money. He's fine throwing down several hundred thousand because it would mean he wins. He's like me, a bully with their bankroll that likes to win.
A long time friend of mine from back in D2 days (I met him because he was a customer of mine) actually quit D3 when they removed the auction house. He doesn't have the time to mess around in the game looking for gear that might be an upgrade, he wants gear NOW because he has what those in the real world call "a good paying job". I remember what he told me after they removed the auction house - if I can't Mastercard my way through a game, I'm not interested. He was true to his word.
We have to realize that microtransactions are the future of games. They've been around in the underground since online gaming for items and gold started. Ultima Online, Everquest, Diablo 2, Star Wars, Dark Age, Guild Wars and Warcraft. The research is there, the experience is unquestioned, people will always buy gold for real money. Can you eliminate it or regulate it? I think regulation is the answer. It's a giant market, just like useless apps are a giant market for phones, micros are almost exactly like it. I can buy an app that tells me when to feed my dog for crying out loud.
So what does all of this mean for you, the average player who probably won't be buying tokens or selling gold to token buyers? Not a helluva lot unless you shop on the BMAH. There are people with both the means and the desire to acquire things with their real world currency. Is this fair? Absolutely! That's the free market. You are free to sit on your ass and do nothing or free to go try to make something be successful. If you cannot participate in this latest venture in either capacity, then the only thing you'll notice is a lot more Spectral Tigers riding around, more Mim's heads flying by, and people will finally have the means to pay those stupid repair bills because dailies are a pain in the ass and who has the time to run Heroic Firelands for 20 minutes?
If there is a reduction in gold in the game because of widespread overuse of the BMAH, you'll see prices of your flasks, your enchants, and your gems stay pretty much at the same levels. Why? Because the gold that is being unlocked has been rotting away in guild banks for years and has absolutely nothing to do with the future prices of materials and consumables. High priced stuff is purchased on a perceived value, and most regular players will never acquire these items. Gold for many of us is a dead asset unless we need to use it. Those with millions of liquid pixelated currency laying around have chosen not to let their gold work for them. You, however, have nothing to worry about.
Ok, Jay, that's enough now.
Now for me, I personally help the economy every weekend by redistributing 30-40% of my weekly profits to help my local world ranked raiders increase their gold supply in GDKP runs. Remember, these are the highest stakes GDKP runs in the world where a seat at the table requires a quarter million gold on hand minimum and the pot grows to several million in just hours. There are no friends in GDKP, and that's good because I don't have the room for more. I can't wait to see if this token system actually affects anything for us. And if you're on the US realms and interested in getting into these runs, please feel free to tweet me @zerohour15 for more information.
Thanks for stopping in!