WoW and the Token Subscriber

I was interested to see, in the wake of this week’s subscription announcement, how a few people commenting on the 5.6 million number felt the need to clarify that this included people who were subscribed via WoW Tokens, the PLEX-like item that Blizzard introduced to Azeroth back in April.

The WoW Token highway has no exit

The WoW Token… it’s like recycling, see the arrows!

My inference from this is that they somehow view those who subscribe using WoW Tokens as not being real subscribers.  After all, they aren’t actually paying to play the game any more, they’re just using the gold they have accumulated.

I’ve heard that same line of reasoning in EVE Online as well.  And it is completely bogus.

In fact, it is almost the opposite of the truth, because every single one of those WoW Token funded accounts is actually paying more money into Blizzard on any given month than I ever did with my account.

I tend to go for the “every three months” option, which gets me a small discount while not committing me to a long stretch.  It works out to $13.99 a month.

But a WoW Token, good for 30 days of game play, that is $20 here in the US.  Anybody financing their subscription with in-game gold is handing Blizzard $6.00 more than I am for the month of August, and I am getting 31 days while they are only getting 30.

And the quickly seen objection, that they are not, in fact, giving Blizzard any money out of their own pocket is irrelevant, because SOMEBODY is.  Saying that they are not a subscriber is like saying somebody isn’t a subscriber because their mother pays their bill.  Money has in fact been given to Blizzard that, in turn, has been used to add time to an account, and more money than Blizzard would have gotten otherwise.

Yeah, I know Tobold already posted something like this last week, but I had this written already and I need something for Blaugust.  Besides, I don’t think the topic is “used up” yet in any case.

Anyway, while we’re on this track, I have also seen people claiming that WoW is already free to play because of the WoW Token.  Again, no, because somebody has to pay for every active account.  Remember when WildStar tried to make that argument back before launch, that their CREDD system, another PLEX-like currency, effectively made their game free to play? (They liked to call it a “hybrid” model.)  Well, guess what they are working on right now?  Yes, they are actually turning WildStar into a real free to play game, because their claims about CREDD were marketing BS.  Free did not enter into it.

Finally, I was interested to see how some reaction in the WoW Token market during this week’s double whammy of announcements from Blizzard.  Looking at the WoW Token Info site, you can see that the price of a WoW Token in-game finally got back up to its original 30,000 gold price, peaking just beyond the 32K mark.

WoW Tokens this week...

WoW Tokens this week…

I am not sure what that means.  Why would it spike on the fifth just before the subscription number announcement, before dropping back down to its usual range, and then jump back up again after the Legion announcement?  And why was this a US WoW Token market only phenomena, as the markets for the other regions remained flat through the same period.

Are US subscribers going on hiatus and just keeping their accounts ticking along with the piles of gold they have accumulated?  Because an increase in demand is the only explanation for a price spike in this sort of market.


18 thoughts on “WoW and the Token Subscriber

  1. Neowolf (@Neowolf2)

    You do not, in fact, know that “every single one of those WoW Token funded accounts is actually paying more money into Blizzard on any given month than I ever did with my account.” You have no way of knowing if Blizzard is injecting extra tokens into the AH to keep their price (in gold) down and subs up.

    What we do know is that WoW’s revenue is now folded in with HotS and Hearthstone, so we can’t track changes in WoW revenue anymore. So, we can’t detect if they’re subsidizing these tokens now.

    BTW, do you know ANYONE who went and bought a token with $$$ to sell? I don’t. I know plenty of people who’ve been paying for their subs with tokens bought for gold. Something does not add up here.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Neowolf – “What we do know is that WoW’s revenue is now folded in with HotS and Hearthstone, so we can’t track changes in WoW revenue anymore. So, we can’t detect if they’re subsidizing these tokens now.”

    Actually, WoW revenue is still on its own line item in the financials. Everything listed as “Online” is WoW and WoW only according to the footnotes. It is not in any way folded into HotS and Hearthstone, and revenues were up despite the downturn total subscribers, so there is no evidence that Blizz is injecting any free tokens into the economy. The evidence is, in fact, the opposite.

    Meanwhile, saying you don’t know anybody personally who has bought gold is an equally ineffective argument against WoW Tokens and illicit RMT. Somebody is out there buying it, as illicit RMT has been a problem for years.


  3. Soge

    @NeoWolf2 – Something like that would constitute a Security Fraud, which is a pretty serious crime. If they are actually doing this (why would they anyway?), I am pretty sure that they wouldn’t be rolling in those numbers with the subscribers numbers.


  4. Azuriel

    My question in this whole thing is the accounting portion of it. My account has lapsed… but I have 8 Tokens sitting around for use once Legion hits. Am I part of that 5.6 million figure, e.g. do they count me as a subscriber for the next 8 months because I already bought 8 Tokens? Or are the Tokens functionally time cards that have yet to be redeemed?

    In any case, one item I found interesting in the financials was how apparently the level 90 character boost ended up being a significant driver of revenue:

    “Deferred revenues recognized for online increased for the three and six months ended June 30, 2015, as compared to 2014, primarily due to the recognition of deferred revenues from World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor and from value-added services revenues for World of Warcraft , primarily from a paid character boost. [page 38]”


  5. bhagpuss

    There are some interesting semantics going on here. Allowing that every token has actually been paid for by someone and not just created for the market by Blizzard, that still doesn’t equate to the number of subscribers. The tokens that are sold in game are, presumably, purchased as a means of acquiring gold legally. One player, himself a single subscriber, could buy and sell many tokens (I believe there’s a limit but it’s not one token a month) and one person (like Azuriel above) could buy them and save them up.

    Tokens don’t equal subscriptions either when sold or when bought. They do equal subscriptions when used. Are Blizzard giving figures for Use or only for Sale and/or Purchase? Yes, Blizzard get the $20 for every token regardless, which is good for their balance sheet, but it doesn’t tell us anything about how many players are using them to subscribe to the game, does it?


  6. SynCaine

    Az: I could be wrong, but I believe un-cashed tokens, like PLEX, are seen is a debt for accounting purposes (service owed). I would also think that any account that is inactive, even if it has a token sitting on it, isn’t counted as a subscriber, but the minute you activate that token, you are. That said defining ‘subscriber’ is up to each company (Blizzard considers Asia account ‘subscribers’, so yea, for all we know they consider any account with a token on it as a subscriber, even if that token hasn’t be activated).

    More on topic, I like PLEX and its clones because it allows all of us to quickly identify anyone saying an MMO is now ‘F2P’ because of the system as being unable to reason far beyond 1+1, among other benefits of course.


  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Az: My thought is that they count the same way that unredeemed gift cards are counted. The money is in the bank, but revenue cannot be recognized until the card has been used.

    @Bhagpuss – Yes, but the original statement was that some people are attempting to say that if you have an active account, paid for by tokens, that you aren’t really a subscriber. Tokens being held on an otherwise lapsed account would not make that account count as a subscriber by the definition given of a subscriber in the financials, since those accounts are cancelled regardless of how many tokens the account might have laying about. From the financials:

    Subscriber Definition: World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers.
    The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules.


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Also, back to the first comment, when it comes to subscribers vs. revenue and margins, Blizz can easily convince the analysts that the subscriber number is irrelevant so long as revenue and margins are good. But bad revenue and margins with even high subscriber numbers are pretty much useless. See the post-call stock performance, which was up, not down, despite WoW dropping 44% of its subscribers since Draenor launched.

    The route to better revenue and margins is to incent people to buy tokens. You do that by making sure that people get more gold for their token purchase. Injecting free tokens into the system would have the opposite effect.

    So yes, I do not “know.” But it sure looks like injecting free tokens would be an action against self-interest for Blizz, so you’d have to prove why they would do this.


  9. Missy

    Don’t mind me, I am just popping by saying this was an interesting read. I can’t add anything because numbers and I don’t mix, and everything I would say would not add up :P


  10. Fenjay

    These posts bring up an interesting point. For us as players, active subscriptions are of interest because they indicate how many people are actively playing and enjoying the game. This is both for reasons of population (“who will be there if I sub?”) and as an indicator of quality (“how many people are continuing to resub because it’s fun?”)

    But for investors, the sub numbers are only a first derivative (if you will) of how successful the game is. The more people there, the more potential revenue, both from subs and from value-add services (cash shop, level boosts and other services, etc). But as Wilhelm observed, higher subs and lower revenue would not make happy investors, but they might make happy players.


  11. Mazer

    Didn’t they explicitly say they were going to be subsidizing the token market so you’d have some assurance of the gold payout? Not that that technically confirms the opposite case that they’re injecting tokens so that they’re always available to purchase, but I would think it at least puts it in the realm of possibility.


  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Mazer – Certainly their setup strongly implied that they could intervene if the market went one way or the other. That was my initial impression, that price supports would be an option. But that doesn’t mean free tokens. They might just choose to add in more gold to transactions to keep the price stable. if I were Blizz, I would have already been in there raising the price in gold to drive more revenue, not letting it loaf about below the initial 30K price for so long.


  13. carson63000

    @Mazer – not really. They just said that when you put a token onto the AH, the price was locked in, so you knew how much gold you were going to get for it. Given the price fluctuates only a small amount, it’s hard to see this could have any significant effect. Although, the fluctuation is so regular that you have to assume that sales flood in at the top of the curve, and buys flood in at the bottom, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a fairly regular subsidy of a couple of percent.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Tama

    I’m not sure a spike in demand is the ONLY cause for the price increase; the possible flip side to it is that demand has remained constant, but buyers of the tokens from the store has dropped, so the number available has dropped, leading to product scarcity and higher prices. And that wouldn’t surprise me because really – just how much gold do you REALLY need in the game? And how many people are willing to shell over the $20 real-life money over and over again for those things?

    I bought a couple of them when they first came out; I was curious how they worked, and I had a few things on my list of Stuff I Would Totally Buy If I Only Had Like A Ton Of Gold. Bang, I had 70K gold literally in a matter of hours, bought the stuff, and I’m pretty much done with the tokens for now. Wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of other people are in the same place, bought the stuff they were longing to have but could never afford, and now they just don’t feel the NEED to be buying gold.


  15. ootek

    “My inference from this is that they somehow view those who subscribe using WoW Tokens as not being real subscribers. After all, they aren’t actually paying to play the game any more, they’re just using the gold they have accumulated.”

    one other possible inference is that those people are just clueless.

    if all I know is that I bought a token with in game currency and now my credit card isn’t being used then I might wonder if I’m still considered a subscriber. I suggest that a lot of those “bogus” commenters have not taken the thought beyond that point.

    much like most people don’t think about where the food they’re eating came from or the amount of work that went into producing it.


  16. dachengsgravatar

    “Because an increase in demand is the only explanation for a price spike in this sort of market”

    It is a possible explanation. Here’s another: Blizzard are yet again tinkering with the algorithm for setting prices. They have made many such changes (and you can easily find them in the price graphs on This is probably another such change, and I find it hard to say that any particular spike is actually the result of an surge in buyers, rather than a result of Blizzard’s ever-changing and by-now-complex feedback mechanism. You’ve heard feedback in amps haven’t you? Sometimes it’s very different from the actual raw inputs.

    The underlying long-term trend in NA is currently upward (and has been from about day 3, if you squint your eyes and ignore the ping-pong). I have a little more faith in that.


  17. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @dachengsgravatar – I have seen no evidence that would convince me that you can spot algorithm changes at all, much less many of them over time. The actual normal operation of the market is a much more likely explanation to my mind.


  18. Compwhiz 3001

    WoW Tokens are not a true classical F2P implementation, but they are definitely implemented in the spirit of that model. Nothing is free; F2P and its hybrids subsidize your playtime in non-direct means, by other players, hoodwinking you into other ways to pay, as a form as limited advertising, or variations/combos of several forms.

    The only practical difference between the token approach and other “spirit of” F2P forms is that a token requires effort on your receiving end (i.e. you need the in-game currency to “purchase” it).

    F2P whale currency exchange variant.


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