Despite the occasional drop in subscribers from time to time, World of Warcraft has been making a traditional subscription model work for over a decade. The powerhouse MMO supports a few million less players than it did at the game's peak, but there are still more than enough players to make the $15/month charge more profitable than an optional subscription fee with a micro-transaction system like the one found in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Although Blizzard has no intention of bailing on the monthly charge, the developer is finally ready to offer a potential alternative for some of the Azeroth's wealthiest in-game heroes.
Blizzard has gone on record many times in the past few years explaining that WoW is still plenty profitable and there is no need to reevaluate the subscription model. One part of the game that the company is less thrilled with is the third-party gold market. Since the game's launch, gold farmers have been turning a real-world profit by selling in-game currency in exchange for real world dollars (on whatever your country's currency of choice is). Most of that gold comes from hacked accounts and Blizzard has tried to fight this trend with increased security and secondary password authenticators. The developer has finally had enough and is ready to take the fight to the Gold-selling marketplace by opening up their own storefront.
Blizzard's plan is simple. The company will attempt to eliminate the demand for a third-party Gold vendor by offering the chance to buy Gold in-game (sort of). Players will be able to buy WoW Tokens (worth 30 days of gameplay) from Blizzard. These Tokens can then be sold on the auction house for in-game currency. Alternatively, players can save up in-game Gold and buy Tokens from the AH to save some real-world money. Lead game designer Ion Hazzikostas spoke to IGN about the new feature...
“I don’t know if I would characterize this as in any way being a move away from WoW being a pure subscription MMO... I think it’s just offering more access and flexibility in terms of how those subscriptions are paid. At the end of the day, every player in the game has an active subscription or a month of game time that’s been purchased by them or someone else in order to play the game. It’s just about the dual objective of broadening access and letting people have more flexibility about how they pay while striking a blow against the third-party Gold-selling market that’s been a blight on the game for such a long period of time."
The new option may appear to be Blizzard dipping its toes in the free-to-play waters, but the developer insists that this change is all about fighting the third-party Gold market. The company has been unable to shut down the Gold shops in the past and is attempting to find solutions from newer MMOs (like Wildstar's C.R.E.D.D. model).
“I think there’s no question we looked at how C.R.E.D.D. worked out in Wildstar, I mean that’s a game that’s certainly more similar to us and our ecosystem than something like Eve... [In WoW] while more gold is useful, it’s not the same lifeblood it is in other games. But looking at how it worked out elsewhere certainly gave us confidence that this was the right way to go... I’m certainly not going to object to a characterization of us as a group that’s willing to adapt and evolve and move with the times because I think we totally do. We’re also looking to improve upon the experience and the features that are out there.”
One important detail that is hard to determine at this time is how much the Tokens will sell for in the Auction House. The WoW community will determine the Gold worth of the Tokens and the value will likely vary a bit from realm to realm. Until the change is implemented and we see what players are willing to spend, it's hard to guess how will this experiment will work.
Do you plan to dodge the subscription fee by cashing in some Gold for a Token in the AH? Do you plan to make some in-game Gold by buying a few Tokens? Let us know in the comments.
World of Warcraft is available now for PC and Mac.