CCP introduced PLEX, the Pilot License EXtension item that could be bought for real world cash and sold on the in-game market of EVE Online or consumed to extended your EVE subscription by 30 days a little over five years ago.
It was very much an experimental move by CCP who proceeded with caution. As you can see from the five year old screen shot above, when introduced, PLEX was stuck in the station in which you claimed it. CCP didn’t want it becoming a loss mail item on day one. Later, when it became clear that players were going to accept PLEX as a thing, CCP loosened up its restrictions on PLEX… and hilarity ensued, with the first major loss being 74 PLEX in a Kestrel.
PLEX has had quite an impact on EVE Online. It has been a major tool in the war against illicit RMT for the in-game currency, ISK, by giving players a legitimate way to effectively buy ISK.
It has become a major indicator of the health of the in-game market. I think people mostly track Catalyst hulls, tritanium, and PLEX these days. (just kidding)
It has been opened up so that you can use it to enable other services or currencies. You can use PLEX to enable the training queue for a second character on your account or convert it to Aurum to buy clothes at the New Eden Exchange. (Need more/better hats!)
It has allowed some players to play for “free,” where “free” means exchanging time for ISK and then ISK for PLEX. (If you think anybody is actually playing for free, please go read up on the time value of money.)
Through the simple math conversion (Real World Money to PLEX, PLEX to ISK) it has given people a dubious way to assign real world value to losses sustained in EVE Online, so now every huge battle report that makes the headlines at the BBC must include an obligatory dollar amount which gives people the false impression that you buy ships in the game for real world money or some similar nonsense.
(I am kind of disappointed that Edward Castronova, who spent so much time writing about the EverQuest economy, never spent much time writing about EVE Online where things have gotten at least a little closer to his virtual economy vision.)
And, of course, PLEX loss is a staple of loss mail porn as people unwittingly, to be charitable, try to transport billions of ISK in PLEX in ships that cost a million ISK or less. Of course, every PLEX destroyed during such a loss is a win for CCP as that is a promise for 30 days of game time they do no longer have to honor.
I think we can safely declare PLEX a success. Certainly, CCP has not suffered from having it, and the game has continued to grow since its introduction.
Success, of course, attracts imitation. Since then a number of PLEX-like items have popped up in other MMOs. We have:
- Krono – EverQuest & EverQuest I and maybe other titles.
- CREDD – WildStar
- GRACE – Anarchy Online
- DUEL – Darkfall
- REX – Rift
- APEX – ArcheAge
Did I miss any?
The thing is, I have no real sens of how well the various PLEX-like currencies have worked in these other games which, even if they have a comparable player base to EVE Online… and you would need a lot of smoke and mirrors to make Darkfall or Anarchy Online appear to have a tenth of the subscriptions… they do not have the single, unified market of EVE, being chopped up into distinct servers, each with their own economy.
I have been peeking at the Krono market as I have been playing EverQuest II lately. There seem to be about two dozen on the market at any given time, with the low end hovering around 3,000 platinum coins for one Krono.
I currently have 300 platinum coins, and feel quite well off for having that much. But I am also playing a level 70 character and remember the days when earning your first platinum coin was a big deal and having 300 gold coins made me feel quite well off.
At 3,000 plat, the market seems somewhat static. The number of Krono for sale does not fluctuate much from day to day, so I have to wonder how much traffic there really is. (Though, granted, the trade channel is where you go if you want to sell something RIGHT NOW, but it is also so spammy that I tend to keep it off.) And I am on the Freeport server, which is one of the high population servers, somewhere behind Antonia Bayle, where all the cool kids used to hang out, and Splitpaw in activity, so what I see on my server might not reflect what is happening on other servers.
But my gut is that Krono hasn’t had the impact on Norrath that PLEX has had on New Eden. And with WildStar having problems keeping people subscribed, I am not sure there is a comparable case to EVE Online when it comes to PLEX… yet.
Because suddenly World of Warcraft hove onto the scene. Last week Baishok put up a post about things coming to Azeroth in the new year which included this entry half way down the post, between garrison improvements and heirloom storage, under the innocuous heading of “New Ways to Play.”
We’re exploring the possibility of giving players a way to buy tradable game-time tokens for the purpose of exchanging them in-game with other players for gold. Our current thought on this is that it would give players a way to use their surplus gold to cover some of their subscription cost, while giving players who might have less play time an option for acquiring gold from other players through a legit and secure system. A few other online games offer a similar option, and players have suggested that they’d be interested in seeing something along those lines in WoW. We agree it could be a good fit for the game, and we look forward to any feedback you have as we continue to look into this feature.
Everybody paying attention immediately saw this for what it was, PLEX comes to World of Warcraft. This was met by various levels of excitement of despair, depending on various rational or irrational points of view and analogies.
Ages ago I wrote a post wondering if the World of Warcraft in-game economy could support something like PLEX in the way that the EVE Online economy has shown in can.
On the plus side, World of Warcraft does have a more vibrant economy than most of its peers. There is a lot of gold floating around looking for places to be spent, given the number of alliance choppers I have seen running around since they went up for sale. With the unification of economies across Horde and Alliance on servers, there are no more economic ghettos where one faction hugely outweighs the other.
Finally, here is a game that has an illicit RMT problem of epic proportions and which really needs a legitimate way for people to buy gold since it has become crystal clear over the years that people are going to buy gold no matter how many horror stories you tell them about account hacking and credit card fraud.
Plus, once you’re selling level 90 characters, what other taboo is there left to transgress?
On the down side, even with economies unified on servers, and across servers when it comes to the co-joined, merged in all but name servers, there are still a hundred or more individual economies to look at. Servers that had 8 hour queues when Warlords of Draenor dropped might fare differently than servers that never even got to a medium population load on opening night.
And then there is Blizzard’s tentative nature. World of Warcraft is the goose that lays golden eggs, quarter after quarter, and they are justifiably nervous about screwing that up. So, even after having had five years to look at how PLEX has worked out in EVE Online, two years to observe Krono over at SOE, and having run their own “cash to item to gold” experiment with the guardian cub three years back, Blizzard is still “exploring the possibility” of the whole idea.
I know I mock SOE from time to time for jumping into ideas with both feet before they have thought things through… and then being forced to adapt and change in front of a live studio audience. But here we are at the other end of the spectrum, where Blizz probably has all the data they are ever really going to get and they are out there being coy about the whole thing.
Yes, this could just be a trial balloon to see if the people who actually pay attention to these things explode at the idea. And yes, the whole real money auction house plan in Diablo III, which worked out so badly in the end, does loom over this, a point many people in the forum thread are quick to compare this to. However, I would argue that the RMAH in Diablo III, which allowed people to buy in-game gear directly for real world money and, more importantly I think, allowed people to cash out and walk away with real money profits, was a different and beast altogether and lead to problems people were calling out during beta. Furthermore, even the in-game gold auction house was a serious problem, leaving real money aside, Blizzard didn’t just close of the RMAH, they closed down both sides because both sides were killing the game. The auction house as a whole was the problem, not just the real money aspect.
World of Warcraft, on the other hand, has existed with an auction house for a decade at this point.
None of which gets around to answering the question in the title. I really have no concrete feel for how something like PLEX does affect a game aside from EVE, which remains unique in many ways in the MMORPG ecosystem.
I don’t think a PLEX-like item is a done deal for WoW either. Blizzard is very cautious about its main source of revenue and, as we saw over the last year, would rather sit and do nothing than do something that might go wrong. Add in the stink left over from Diablo III and my gut says it is only even odds that Blizzard will adopt something like this in 2015. We certainly won’t see it until the summer if they do. But that timing might make it a good hedge against another content drought. People might stay subscribed longer if they could just pay for their subscription out of the giant pile of gold they have accumulated in their garrison.
Do you think PLEX-like items in other games are working out? Do you think something like that will work in WoW?
Others on the idea of a PLEX-like item in WoW: