Thursday, October 22, 2009

Should Blizzard Sell Gold?

I just read this article on Tobold's blog about buying gold, and it got me thinking. I wrote in fact a post about my thoughts on the matter a few days ago. What got me thinking this time, however, was the question of whether Blizzard should start selling gold or not.

Now that's a very thorny question because people are deeply divided over gold buying and selling. Personally, as I have stated in my previous article on the subject, I am against it. This practice generally ruins the gaming experience for regular folks and that's all there is to it.

The idea that perhaps Blizzard should get in on this gold selling business is not new. It, in fact, is probably as old as the black-market trade itself. Those who support it are, in most cases, also the ones who purchase gold or at least condone the practice. The reasoning is that if Blizzard were to sell gold through its own channels, it 1) would allow people to purchase gold legally, 2) would drive illegal gold sellers out of the market and 3) would make Blizzard some additional profits.

Let's analyze each of these points individually, shall we? First, remember that my stance on this is a firm NO. I would be against Blizzard selling gold as I am against illegal gold sellers. Perhaps I'll change my mind after my analysis. We shall see.

1) People would be able to purchase gold legally
In theory this sounds great. Those who can't afford it, will simply continue to do what they always did: create gold inside the game. The others will simply buy the gold and then use it to purchase whatever they need in the game.

All's well until you realize that this scenario is worse than when you have black-market sellers, for the simple fact that Blizzard will now be creating gold on demand. There will be no in-game cost associated with all this extra gold that will suddenly be injected into the economy.

Oops, now a large section of the population will stop doing dailies, farming or engaging in trade. Why waste your time on repetitive play when you can just pay a few bucks for thousands of gold? Unfortunately this large influx of gold and shortage of, say, farmed mats will cause inflation. Gold will slowly lose its value as over time there will be more of it created out of the blue. At some point, even players who don't buy gold will stop doing dailies due to the fact that the time spent on a quest is huge compared to the measly gold reward.

Furthermore, even people who never even considered buying gold before (from an illegal source) might now be tempted to do so. Even I could be swayed. Meh, why not, if the price is right? All I can see here is a load of problems.

2) Illegal gold sellers would be driven out of the market
Although there is a high chance of this happening, somehow I doubt every single one of them will disappear. For one thing, if Blizzard sold gold, it would give a signal to everyone that buying and selling virtual currency is sanctioned by them. Even if all other sources except Blizzard's would be considered illegal, you can be certain gold sellers won't care. They don't care now, so why would they care then?

The second, more important question is price. What would Blizzard's price be? Would it be low enough to simply make other gold sellers unprofitable? For example, let's assume that the lowest you can currently buy gold is $10 for 1000 gold (I'm pulling this out of my ass). Let's also assume that the lowest price that would make it profitable for gold sellers is $5 for 1000 gold. If Blizzard would start selling at $1 for 1000 gold, then we could safely assume that this would drive any and all gold sellers out of the market.

The flaw in logic here is that we don't exactly know what costs these people have and how they obtain that gold. Popular opinion has it that there are 2 main methods: farmers who actually grind the gold and hackers who steal it from other people. In the first case, farmers would indeed have a labor cost if they are using real people and very little costs if they are using bots. In the second case, costs would be arguably very low for a hacker.

Essentially, if gold sellers have little to no costs in obtaining this gold, they should be able to undercut Blizzard at almost any price, unless Blizzard simply decides to hand out free gold to people, which is guaranteed never to happen.

Though it is possible that some gold sellers won't be able to meet the costs when competing with Blizzard, I doubt this will kill all of them.

3) The scheme would give Blizzard an additional source of income
Although lately it looks like Blizzard is cooking new ways in which to milk us of our cash, this seems too low for them to stoop at. Maybe I'm mistaken (oh how I hope I am) , but I feel that, if nothing else, this is where they will draw the line. On the other hand, there have been documented instances where they swore that they wouldn't implement certain features, only to have them change their tune 180 degrees a few years later. If one day the mother company decides that gold selling could be lucrative, Blizzard might be forced into this. Truth be told, this is the only thing I'm worried about: corporate greed.

Of course, there are MMOs out there which really do sell virtual currency to players for real cash. I can't point my finger at a particular one but I have a feeling that none of these games is as popular as WoW. All I know is that such a "business move" on Blizzard's part will almost certainly cause me to quit the game permanently and a large number of other players as well.

My personal conclusion is that Blizzard will never sell gold in World of Warcraft if they want to keep the business strong and, more importantly, the respect of their fans. And maybe I'm naive (or not) but I believe that the majority of players are also opposed to this. Time will tell. I hope I'll never be proven wrong.


Lorfallis said...

Seems like there would be far better business models of in-game things to sell rather than gold. Mounts, non-combat pets, and other "trivial" items could provide a steady flow of real cash to blizzard from devoted collectors. This model might have been tested when the Blizzcon '09 in-game pet was available by purchasing the video feed from the conference.. many people paid just to get the pet.

Anonymous said...

The lazy part of me likes the idea of buying gold. Dailies can get tedious very quickly and grinding is even worse so just clicking a few buttons for more gold is appealing. But I also hate the idea that progress in the game can be partly determined by how much rl money you have. Buying mounts, pets etc directly from Blizzard would also devalue any related achievements so I regard it as no different to selling gold. Occasional collectors edition or Blizzcon pets and TCG mounts etc are acceptable. I think (or maybe hope) that Blizzard are smart enough not to devalue what they have by selling it off to whoever has the most moolah.

HokieJayBee said...

wait, so by my take on your article, you're saying that you think blizzard is currently *not* involved in any gold sales?

evian is naive backwards.

Gyldenfeax said...

Blizzard's seeling gold? HokieJayBee can you please post a link so I can check it out.

Anonymous said...

I like Lorfallis' idea of selling trivial things rather than money. I don't know if I would ever pay very much for those types of things, but it would be a lot more fair to other players because if they were things that didn't confer any type of advantage (regular mounts, pets, etc.) than people who can't/don't want to pay extra wouldn't be losing out on anything.

As far as the game that you pay for currency go, I used to play a game like this but I actually liked the model. It was a free to play game, but there was a secondary currency which you could either buy with larger amounts of in game money, or buy with real money. People who wanted to get more of it quickly paid, people who didn't could play for free. I don't expect Blizz to make WoW free obviously, but I don't see any problems with paying a little bit extra for something you could get anyways.

trigger said...

i think gunbound is a good example. They used to be a free game based soley on an in game currency that you slowly earned as you played. You permanantly bought pieces of gear for huge sums, made getting the best gear in the game quite the accomplishment. But, they eventually sold out, and now anyone can buy/rent (you can borrow gear now, or still buy it but the new costs are ridiculous) with real money and it's not a very fun game to play.

Anonymous said...

I can see the ridicule now in trade chat and/or pst for riding on a "purchased mount". One good thing about Blizz selling gold is that at least the farmers won't be sucking up the resources the rest of us non-goldbuyers want to harvest.

Darth Solo said...

Guys guys, Blizzard has always said that they won't sell anything (for real money) that would give an advantage to someone, that's why they are limiting these micro-transactions to cosmetic stuff like appearance and name-changes and vanity pets.

@HokieJayBee I have an inkling of what you are thinking but please be more specific. I'm not afraid of controversy, in fact Controversy is my middle name ;)

sQren said...

Why not make a marketplace like in redlight center and Second life, were people can buy and sell there gold to each ohter. That woulden't do any harm to the inflation.

BTW I LoL'ed IRL when I read this article and was presented for gold selling ads :)

Ri said...

I played Atlantica Online for about a year and its a F2P game in which you could buy vanity and convenience items for real money at their item mall. These, in turn, could be sold in-game to other players for *large* amounts of in-game currency so you could effectively use the item-mall to purchase gold.

Now unfortunately, they considered things like mounts and the ability to teleport around as "convenience". What this meant is that if you were not spending real money, you probably had no mount and probably couldn't teleport back and forth between quest objectives and nearby towns. As a result, you were often not wanted in groups because you'd slow everyone down.

Someone above said "I can see the ridicule now in trade chat and/or pst for riding on a "purchased mount"." I think if Blizzard started selling stuff like that, you might actually see the opposite -- being ridiculed for riding around on a plain old "in-game" mount.

Incidentally, even though I really dislike the idea of Blizzard ever selling gold, I completely disagree with most of the logic in your original post. As far as your worry about flooding the in-game economy with money, I admit I used to worry about the same thing, but now that I've seen actual examples of games which do this, I have to say that it doesn't actually work out the way you fear. There would certainly be a large influx of new gold in the wow-economy, but after some initial adjustment, it would be a fairly regular, predictable amount. Prices for everything would go up, but since that includes raw materials, the people who didn't purchase gold would on average be able to keep up. I agree that people might stop doing Dailys *for the gold*, but they'd do them for reputation or other reasons. Why do a daily for 10g when a stack of copper sells for 100g?

Also, any overall dramatic increase in the total amount of gold in-game could be handled by Blizzard introducing new gold-sinks in the way of costly must-have items sold by npc-vendors.

In any case, I found that Atlantica Online functioned perfectly well and was still enjoyable (to a point) by a purist who refused to spend real money. There were still illegal gold-sellers, but most people preferred to pay (slightly) higher prices to avoid the threat of having their account banned. And the parent company definitely made (and is making) a ton of money this way. The big difference between that game and wow is that the player-turnover rate is huge in Atlantica.

At that, really is at the heart of why I'm still strongly against Blizzard selling gold. I think what would happen is that the player base would eventually split into two groups of people, the very rich who will spend insane amounts of money and who will have the best of everything in a short amount of time, and the rest of the players who do spend a little amount to avoid being too far behind the power curve, and then who settle in to the usual pattern of questing/farming/raiding/crafting, as suits their playstyle.

Unfortunately, members of this second group (the great majority of players) will for the most part become quickly disinterested in working towards their end goals simply because of the constant reminder that there are a small privileged few who simply bought their way to the top. This will result in a massive player turnover rate and will effectively destroy the WoW social landscape. Even if it were to prove profitable, I really hope Blizzard never goes down that path.

Sorry for the insanely long post.

Darth Solo said...

@mmorpgguide perhaps a marketplace where people could buy/sell gold wouldn't be a bad idea. I know which activity I would engage in: selling gold. Maybe they could have something like Eve has: pay gold for play-time. I wouldn't mind paying 10k gold for 1 month of gameplay.

Don't mind the gold ads, I can't control what ads show up on my blog. Basically if I write an article about gold, it's guaranteed that gold ads will show up. That's Adsense for you.

@Ri thanks for the insanely long post :)
My logic is of course debatable because it's hard to predict what would happen with WoW's economy if Blizzard were to sell gold. As you pointed out, Atlantica is F2P, which is not the case with WoW and it will never be. I agree that in F2P games everything is "fair game", excuse the pun, including gold selling. And you are right of course, if certain items that would significantly improve gameplay are only available by paying real money for them, there would be a great divide between players.

What I wouldn't mind is the idea of paying gold for game time.

Shannara said...

Sorry, I need to correct this post.

it is NOT illegal to sell or buy gold. That is a known fact by anybody who knows a little bit about the internet ;)

People need to quit claiming otherwise.

Tony Bowman said...

I'm fine with not allowing outside companies to sell WoW gold, but I would be happy if Blizzard did something like a yearly "gift" of like 5,000g to anyone who had an active account for the previous 12 months.

Unknown said...

If blizz starts selling gold, I will quit the game.

Joe said...

Hey Darth, Long time no see, been off wow for about a month now, hoepfully when i get back in i'll get some elusive stuff ;)

My thoughts on this echo yours quite a fair bit. If you look at "wow economy" this will purely kill the game off.

They probably wouldn't sell gold for that reason. What they might do is sell something like "bonus valor of the monkey points" which in turn would only be usable to purchase unlockables that have no effect on in game day to day events other than say the "look of the monkey on your shoulder".

Buy a pet, or something that has no in game "value" then I could see them doing it, due to loads of people just wanting the pet at a price.

Gold selling will never work since its ingame effect and "value" covers everything.


HokieJayBee said...

sorry, was not avoiding conversation, went out of town and didn't bring the laptop (gasp).

what i meant to infer in my comment is that i think you're naive if you think blizzard isn't involved in gold selling, and if you think they are actively trying hard to shut down gold selling operations.

blizzard makes money from subscriptions. people continue to pay monthly subscriptions if they are happy and having fun in the game. people who do repetitive brutal grinds over and over again are not happy players. people who can swipe a credit card online for $50 and have a huge amount of in-game gold (and more in-game time available now since they don't have to grind it) are happy players. people who are happy players renew monthly subscriptions and buy new xpacs. blizzard likes happy players.

do you really honestly think blizzard cares about the integrity of the game or the control of the pixel economy? or do you think they care about keeping 11.5 million monthly subscribers?

it's much more intelligent on their part to *seem* to care about stopping gold buyers and tell us all they are fighting it.....yet.....allow it. then we all feel safe and comfortable that the good guys are fighting the good fight.......and we're all happy sheople paying our monthly fees.

so, i'll change my tune that i don't think blizzard is actively selling gold, like they're not creating in game gold in the computers purely for the sale of that gold through online gold retailers - but i will say that i'm 110% certain they're not *really* trying to stop the industry that helps them keep happy players (subscribers).


Darth Solo said...

@Shannara of course buying WoW gold is not illegal in the "real-life" sense of the word. Unfortunately for some, it is illegal in Blizzard's world and if they catch you they'll ban you. Simple as that.

@Tony Bowman that's not a bad idea actually. I would see it as a sort of "salary" or "income" that your character would get after reaching certain levels like 60, 70, 80... This would be a monthly affair and would give you, let's say, 1000 gold at level 60 per server (only where you have at least one level 60) per month played. The sum would increase by 10% for each consecutive month played up to a maximum of... I dunno, maybe 1500 gold. Every time you interrupt your subscription you will reset the salary to base, i.e. 1000 gold.

OR here's another idea: how about ~100 gold @60 for each character at or over 60, per server, per month played, with the same 10% bonus for each additional month etc etc.

I wouldn't mind that. On the other hand, we might argue that Blizzard is selling gold along with the subscription.

@Paul I'm with you.

@Joe welcome back man. I'm sure that Blizzard has a lot of things in mind that they can sell for real cash. It's probably gonna be innocent stuff like pets & tabards & stuff. However I'm sure that people will complain if they sell achievement-related stuff. So if it becomes very hard to obtain the achievement "A Shitload of Pets" which requires you to collect 200 pets, unless you buy the last 10 pets for $$, I predict a lot of people would be pissed.

@HokieJayBee that's one of the conspiracy theories that I keep hearing. I'm not saying it's not true because I have no idea. Yes, people have claimed that Blizz is secretly tolerating gold sellers because they are also paying customers and furthermore these guys usually buy several accounts to run their shady business. Meh, I just believe it's a lot harder to enforce this than it seems.

I realize that WoW is a business and Blizzard is trying to squeeze as much money out of WoW as possible. However, gamers are a fickle crowd. If something pisses them off sufficiently there's nothing to stop them from moving to a competing game. Thus, I believe that there's a fine line between maximizing profits and keeping players happy. Blizzard is probably constantly trying to maintain that balance. Otherwise they fail. To be honest, I almost wish for them to give me a good reason to quit for good because at this point I simply cannot do it, it's such a damn good game and I hate it for that :) Sounds twisted but it's love and hate, all rolled up into one.

Lorfallis said...

Hmm guess I was right predicting the sale of pets and stuff online.....

Anonymous said...


Day 1: Gold Farmer makes account, pays $15 monthly fee.
Day 5: Gold Farmer caught, account banned.
Day 6: Gold Farmer makes new account, pays $15 monthly fee.
Day 12: Gold Farmer caught, account banned.
Day 13: Gold Farmer makes new account, pays $15 monthly fee. And so on.

3 account bans in one month = 3 times the normal monthly fee.

I would say Blizz would make more money banning gold farming accounts, if they do so very actively. The gold sellers, in theory, should make enough profit to purchase new accounts rapidly. Just mho.

Darth Solo said...

@Anonymous oh but they do ban them. Problem is, there's too many of these idiots and there are only so many Blizzard employees who can handle them. Besides, I believe that Blizz takes great care not to ban the wrong people so I think they will investigate each case individually. That's why it's taking too long.