WoW Tokens Five Years Later

The WoW Token turned five years old earlier this month.

The WoW Token highway has no exit

You can tell when I have started doing my month in review post as I am suddenly all about things that happened five or ten years ago, and such is the case now.

Way back on April 7, 2015 I posted about the launch of the WoW Token.

The purpose of the WoW Token, and other like items such as EVE Online’s PLEX or Daybreak’s Krono or Anarchy Online’s GRACE, is to fight illicit RMT, which has all sorts of fraud and theft issues associated with it, by giving players a legitimate way to buy in-game currency that both gives the developer a cut of the money and doesn’t dump currency into the economy.  The company is merely the agent between players trading the in-game currency for subscription time.  It is RMT, but “good” RMT so far as the developer is concerned.

That Blizzard and CCP and other companies have done this, and kept up with it over time, must mean that it is working for them somehow.  If nothing else, it is another revenue stream in a world where a monthly subscription is often a barrier for players.  Whether it has made a serious dent in illicit RMT I cannot tell, though it was interesting that some gold sellers seemed to revive with the coming of WoW Classic, where you cannot sell a token for gold.

And, of course, it isn’t any sort of panacea that will save a game.  WildStar built its plan initial business plan on their CREDD idea and that didn’t save it from going free to play then shutting down.

In WoW the idea itself took a while to grab players, at least in North America.

North American Prices – Apr 2015 to Apr 2020

When it launched at a starting price of 30,000 gold per token there were some people who declared that now was the time to jump in, that there was nowhere to go but up!

And then the price dropped immediately, landing below 20,000 gold in the first month.  It revived eventually, getting back over 30,000 in September, then starting to really climb come 2017 and peaking in 2018.  But there was an initial stretch there where it wasn’t all that attractive relative to illicit RMT.  Over the five years:

  • Avg Price – 109,057
  • Median Price – 117,552
  • Max Price – 238,572 on Jan 31, 2018
  • Min Price – 18,296 on May 3, 2015
  • Current Price – ~120,000 as I write this

The NA start was in some small contrast to the EU token prices, which started at 35,000 two weeks later and only went down a bit before beginning a fairly steady rise.  I am sure that says something about the two markets, though I am not sure what.

European Prices – Apr 2015 to Apr 2020

  • Avg Price – 173,225
  • Median Price – 180,158
  • Max Price – 401,827 on May 17, 2018
  • Min Price – 30,352 on Apr 25, 2015
  • Current Price – ~180,000 as I write this

Still, even though the token prices vary, the pattern of the prices over time looks remarkably similar when charted.  And no doubt they probably ought to in reaction to outside events, like when you were able to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 with WoW Tokens, which accounts for that peak price in 2018.

I am curious as to how people feel the advent of WoW Tokens have affected the game over the last half decade.

I, personally, have been only somewhat attached to the game over the last five years, playing it to see the game but not getting that deeply invested in it.  I have been a casual WoW player during that time for certain, and it was only the advent of WoW Classic that got me really back to Blizzard.

I have purchased two WoW Tokens.  My daughter pleaded for one so she could buy some RP gear for her RP guild when the price was around 100,000 gold and I bought one for myself one day when I was logged in and saw the price was around 220,000 gold and thought I might never see that price again.  But then the game sort of rains gold on you these days… going back to get flying in Battle for Azeroth I was shocked at how much gold I was given for random things when in WoW Classic I am grubbing for silver coins still… so I have earned more gold since just playing than I bought. (Mostly during Legion.)

My closest experience with something like WoW Tokens has been PLEX in EVE Online.

There I don’t buy it to activate game time but just to get a ship SKIN now and then.  But I’ve seen people who get pretty caught up in the idea of “PLEXing” their accounts every month, which becomes a mania with some people.  People who “crab” a lot… mine or run anomalies for ISK… are often suspected of being in it for RMT purposes.  And they often are, but not for illicit RMT and supplying ISK sellers and such.  They need to make the ISK to buy the PLEX in order to pay for their subscription.

The big nerf that hit last week with the Surgical Strike update will break the game for some people because they are invested in super carrier ratting… super carriers were pretty much invulnerable up until last week as they could kill small groups of subcaps and could survive to be rescued from larger groups… and with the changes they won’t be able to PLEX their accounts.

Azeroth is a lot different than New Eden however.   I know people who obsess about earning gold in WoW, but I am not aware if it has reached that level.

So how do you feel about WoW Tokens five years in?  I’m okay with them, but I am also out of the loop enough to not see or care much about the impact they might be having.  I’ll even put in a poll here.

If you cannot see the poll above this line… well, your web browser and ad block settings are keeping you secure.  I cannot argue with that, but you don’t get to vote unless you use the browser on your phone or something.

Data for this post cam from and WoW Token Prices.

The latter has nice charts on their front page, while the former wouldn’t let me see any of their charts even with ad block off and security down.

Seriously, I am looking at the ads but they still won’t show the charts

The latter site pointedly makes reference to this if you have ad block on.  But the former has all the historical data available as a .csv file, which I was able to download, so I have to give them credit for that.

There is also data for the WoW Token markets in Taiwan, Korea, and China, but I did not dive into those as there are different dynamics in play there that I am even less aware of.

20 thoughts on “WoW Tokens Five Years Later

  1. Nosy Gamer

    I always thought that the differences in the North American & EU prices for WoW tokens reflected that European players valued their time more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Shintar – I am somewhat indifferent myself. I wouldn’t quit if Blizz brought them to WoW Classic, but I also feel like the effort related to getting together some gold for mounts or whatever is part of the vanilla game. But then so was illicit RMT, so what are you going to do?

    @Nosy – I have heard that theory before, and it is something that seems reasonable I suppose, but I do not know how to test it to see if it is true. And it all depends on just how many WoW Tokens are chasing how large of a pool of gold. Higher prices imply either more people buying tokens with gold or fewer people selling them for gold. Maybe it is people in NA that value their time more, so there are more of them buying tokens, thus pushing the price down as supply competes with demand? I don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kaylriene

    That lotion even looks like a graph!

    In all seriousness, though, I do think the token has been a net good for the live game. There are players I’ve heard of who pay their subscription solely through gold, which is something I wouldn’t personally want to do but it is an interesting skill test for goblins to play with and I’m sure Activision loves the $5 markup. Their value definitely seems tied to in-game events – times like now, it descends a bit, but when Shadowlands hits I’d expect them to spike, and if Blizzard announces preorders for Overwatch 2, I could see them spiking again, so there’s an interesting speculative market to them (you could conceivably horde tokens to the max now to sell at Shadowlands launch for some increased gold, but that may not work out after all).

    I’m not a Classic player, but I would argue they shouldn’t be in Classic just because they aren’t something that existed then. I wouldn’t be opposed personally, but I’m not the audience for Classic so I considered that for my no answer.


  4. Redbeard

    Meh. The token isn’t what ruined WoW. Blizzard ruined WoW by creating storylines that seemed to be created out of a 4/20 weed session.

    All of the storylines of the past several expacs makes me wonder if there are any “real” people left in Azeroth. You know: farmers, shopkeepers, hunters, and tradespeople. Retail is so far removed from the world of Vanilla/Classic that I now have a hard time believing the two are related. Except for the Old Gods. Everything –EVERYTHING– points back to the Old Gods. Even things as simple as “kill ten rats infesting a shopkeeper’s basement” end up pointing back to the Old Gods far downstream.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. NoGuff

    The issue I have with the WoW Token has always been about the “time is money” debate that people with deeper pockets always use a means to justify its existence, and as a reason to buy them. It is this same argument that drove the rise of illicit RMT before the WoW Token was even introduced. If you apply this same logic through to the end, someone in China who played WoW for 18+ hours a day, and slept on the floor in unsanitary conditions with dozens of other people(well documented cases), was making a Westerner’s life a lot easier when that Westerner could simply whip out their wallet and bypass the grind that someone else was willing(or forced) to do. I was never comfortable with that idea as a Gamer, and it was the reason I was(am still) so opposed to illegal RMT.

    All the introduction of the WoW Token did, was to shift the ethics of the situation into different territory. Someone is still grinding the Gold to provide to those who value their time more than they do their money. If the Gold value of the WoW Token falls, then those who grind it get a bigger windfall. If the value rises, those who buy the Tokens benefit more. Either way, Blizzard holds the secrets of this hidden value mechanic behind the curtain as they benefit from both types of gamer’s grinding/spending habits.

    Meanwhile, the subscription model still chugs right along side of the WoW Token. Odd, that.


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @NuGuff – “Meanwhile, the subscription model still chugs right along side of the WoW Token. Odd, that.”

    That doesn’t strike me as odd, at least not for the WoW Token. You have to be able to use it for something or people wouldn’t grind gold to get them. In the case of WoW, a token is worth a month of subscription time. Likewise in EQII or Rift, where Krono or Rex are consumed to give players a month of premium game time in otherwise “free” games. Even in EVE Online, where PLEX can be used for other things, the primary concern is always the price of 500 PLEX, which translates into 30 days of Omega time.

    Without the subscription side, Blizz would have to come up with something else on which to spend your WoW Token… like other Activision games I guess.

    I am sure games do that without a subscription. Doesn’t GW2 have something like that? But the WoW Token seems to prop up the subscription model in the case of WoW.


  7. bhagpuss

    GW2 has Gems, the cash shop currency, which can be bought for in-game gold. I’ve never paid cash for gems because I always have a ton of gold I can dig into if anything appears that i want. Mrs Bhagpuss, on the other hand, spends all her gold as soon as she gets it so she quite often pays cash for gems (a lot less on average than a sub would cost, though).

    It is indeed the same principle as all the tokens that can be bought for gold and exchanged for game time.


  8. NoGuff


    You misunderstand. The subscription model was lamented as the evil revenue model of the time(still is, perhaps?) by those who used the “time is money” argument as the basis and reason for the calls of its demise, and WoW has been the proverbial whipping post that the argument has centered around. Blizzard simply incorporated the WoW Token as an additional revenue stream right along side its subscription model. A brilliant move in my opinion, but in the end, the reality of the situation is that the “time is money” proponents did not get what they want – the demise of the subscription model.


  9. carson63000

    From the launch of the WoW Token, until Battle for Azeroth, was a golden age. Literally. During that time period, I never paid a cent to play WoW, and I bought enough tokens for gold to buy every Hearthstone adventure plus bundles of packs, Overwatch deluxe, Diablo III addons, Destiny 2, HotS characters, etc. etc. It was crazy. And all of this was without ever making any specific effort whatsoever to generate gold in WoW, just taking the gold that flowed in through garrison / class hall missions.

    I have no idea who was paying real money for tokens to sell for gold. It made no sense whatsoever that I could see.

    Anyway, once BfA dropped, the gold faucet was turned off pretty solidly, and I didn’t accumulate enough gold to buy more tokens after that. And once a six-month sub ran out, I was a little bored of WoW and haven’t played since then.


  10. kiantremayne

    It’s quite possible to play WoW “for free” without mad auction house skills or insane grinding. I’ve been finding that at least at the moment, running the emissary quests for 4 or 5 characters each day, plus a few side activities (tailoring bags, disenchanting for mats and auctioning drops) is earning me enough gold to cover the WoW tokens to keep playing.
    I suspect the token has kept the player base larger than it would have been otherwise – while I’m quite able and willing to pay the sub (but mean, err, frugal enough to go for the token if I can), there are going to be time-rich, cash-poor players who may well not want to spend cash to keep playing. Others will be using the Blizzard balance from selling gold as ‘found money’ to do race changes and other account services they wouldn’t have done otherwise.
    Like Carson, I’m struggling to see what anyone would be buying gold for. It’s not to cover incidentals like repair bills – even if you’re a hardcore progression raider the costs aren’t that high. BoE gear? You can get better gear through non-challenging PvE content (i.e. emissary quests). The auction house mount? I suppose, but you’d need to buy something like 40 WoW tokens to pay for that, which is a bit rich for my blood. Oh, and I suppose you can pay to get carried on raids or mythic+ dungeons, but I’ve really never understood the “pay to NOT play the game” mentality.


  11. SDWeasel

    I find it rather amusing to see how many people believe that the purpose of the WoW token was to combat RMT. While their initial pricing at 30k suggests that they took this into account, it’s still RMT, just “legal” RMT. They realized there was a market and chose to capitalize on it themselves instead of letting a third party make that money.

    As of right this second it looks like it’s still cheaper to buy gold via token rather than buy via gold seller, but this has an additional aspect to it as well.

    Of course, there are a lot of things I don’t quite understand. I’m assuming that token prices are set by free market pressures only and that Blizzard takes a “hands-off” approach to price management. If that’s the case, I find it odd that the black market price still seems higher. You would think that they would alter their tactics to encourage people to buy from them cheaper than the “official” alternative. It’s possible that most current gold sellers are actually buying Token gold and reselling with a markup to those with a less critical eye.


  12. SDWeasel

    Yeah, it’s just a common thread I’ve noticed in many different posts, not necessarily this one. You once mentioned price controls and quantitative easing as part of this. I’m hoping I can get an AWS set up to pull some data on Classic pre- and post-token so I can determine what the larger market impact is.

    I’m actually working on a completely ignorant analysis post of the Token price history at the moment.


  13. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SDWeasel – I thought about trying to map out the various peaks and valleys and such with the events going on in game like expansions and promotions and the like. And then I got tired and just went with what I had so far.


  14. Nogamara

    I am indifferent but I just noticed that I finally have enough gold so that I could buy a few months of gametime. I am 100% not interested in the other route. When it was so expensive that I would have had to sacrifice 50% of my whole gold for a month of play – nope, as long as I can afford the sub. But now an expansion is coming close and I am sitting on too much gold to spend on sensible things. I hate grinding, so it just kinda trickled in slowly… Maybe I should just buy 2 months worth of subs now so I can justify buying PLEX because I also hate earning ISK in EVE… :P


  15. Telwyn

    I’ve been subbed more months than not since Legion pre-patch, but always through tokens. My husband has more free time than me, and plays the game very much as his main game (he raids twice-weekly). He earns enough gold through leveling alts and emissaries to get a monthly token for himself and to subsidise quite heavily one for me too. Without the WoW Token system I would have only subscribed long enough to cap a few characters in Legion and again BfA before unsubbing once more. WoW hasn’t been my main game since Cataclysm, and at times I’ve only been playing begrugingly because I disliked the story so much. So the token system kept me in game for much of the intervening five years, without it I wouldn’t have been there at all.


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  17. Solf

    “I always thought that the differences in the North American & EU prices for WoW tokens reflected that European players valued their time more.”

    I always assumed the opposite — EU has way many low-income countries/players, so coming up with a sub is more difficult for more percentage of the potential player base, hence people are more willing to grind in-game cash instead of paying a sub, hence tokens cost more (since there’s more competition on the buying side).


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