And would they want to?
When Blizzard announce their Guardian Cub plans for the Blizzard store, the immediate comparison that came to mind was PLEX.
And while, as Massively notes, there are items in other games that have some of the qualities of PLEX, nothing quite matches it. CCP has something quite interesting on their hands.
PLEX is an in-game item you can buy in EVE Online for cash from their web site. PLEX stands for Pilot License EXtension, and it is essentially a consumable in-game item that extends your subscription by 30 days. You buy it and collect pick it up with your character in game.
Your character can then either use it to extend their account (which would be silly, since at a cost of two PLEX for $35, it is more expensive than a month-to-month subscription in most cases) or they can put it up for sale in the in-game marketplace and sell it to other people for in-game currency. The going rate currently is about 400 million ISK, the in-game currency.
This effectively gave players a legal way to “buy gold” as well as rewarding hard core players by allowing them to essentially play for free as long as they were able to part with 400 million ISK or so every month.
It didn’t seem to break the economy and has provided only a mild amount of spectator drama in the two years since it was introduced. There is a lot of PLEX for sale on the market in EVE and price has slowly risen over time, proving there is demand for it.
So could Blizzard pull off something similar in World of Warcraft?
My gut response is “no.”
I wouldn’t say it was impossible, but I cannot come up with a good answer on how or why Blizzard would go for it.
The 20,000 foot view seems to reveal this as an opportunity for Blizzard. WoW has something like ten times as many players outside of Asia as EVE Online. And they have a problem with gold sellers. A big market and a problem to solve!
But EVE is special. EVE may only have a tenth of the subscribers, but they all play on the same server and use the same market and contract system.
WoW players, on the other hand, are scattered over more than 400 servers in the Europe and North America. And there are two separate factions on each server, each with its own auction house. So there are at least twice as many economies in action as there are servers. (There is also the neutral auction house, which is active on some servers, but really isn’t anything like a full economy.)
So while it has 10 times the players, WoW is divided up into economies that are, on average, about one tenth the number of potential users as the EVE Online economy.
And potential users is another key. In EVE Online, the economy is the life blood of the game. You pretty much HAVE to use the marketplace. Everybody participates. When the Goons start doing things to impact the economy, everybody feels the ripples.
In WoW though, the auction house is a bit of a sideline. You do not have to participate. You can gear yourself up with quest rewards and instance drops for the leveling game, and if you move on to raiding, you aren’t going to find any of the tier rated gear you want for sale there. And while it is the place to go to make gold (Darraxus just finished a good series on the subject, though he needs to discover tags to I can link to the whole thing. The first post in the series is here.), I know people who hate the auction house and refuse to buy or sell on it.
And those people can not participate and get along just fine.
And so my first concern is if there is even enough economic activity on the dominant faction on a high population server that has a high percentage of auction house use to support something like PLEX being introduced into the economy.
Even in that optimum scenario, would there be enough players with enough gold to absorb all the… let’s call it WoWPLEX… that would enter the market so that it maintained a stable and viable price?
I cannot actually answer that question.
This is where my gut says “no,” but I cannot prove or disprove that feeling.
And “that” feeling is that the price of WoWPLEX would bottom out at a level too low to make it an attractive illicit gold sellers or that, at best, the price would fluctuate wildly.
And that is on the optimum server environment. The price would almost assuredly bottom out too low or be radically unstable on the short faction side of a low population server.
To which I can hear some of you replying, “So what?” Low priced WoWPLEX might be good for you, if not the seller.
And this is the second part of the problem, which is creating a set of circumstances under which Blizzard would see it to their advantage to adopt such a scheme.
Given that customer service is likely one of their larger expenses when it comes to the operation of the game, adding in anything that will generate phone calls that they might have to actually address is not going to fly at Blizzard. The thought of people upset about WoWPLEX, likely because the selling price on their server is too low for their tastes, flooding the forums or calling up customer service looking for a refund is probably enough for Blizzard to steer clear of the idea, all the more so when they start seeing what happens when the Guardian Cub market starts to fall flat.
I can think of a few things that Blizzard might do to mitigate the market problem.
- They could break down the wall between horde and alliance and create a unified auction house per server
- They could a special cross-server auction house for WoWPLEX alone
- They could put a floor on the price of WoWPLEX
- They could make the actual real world price attractive enough that people would not mind if they could not sell it immediately
But those all require some changes on the Blizzard end
What do you think? Could Blizzard be successful with their own version of PLEX? What changes to the game do you think they would have to make?
And, probably most important, do you think Blizzard should pursue this sort of idea for WoW?