At the risk of sounding dramatic, I'm afraid that WoW has finally taken the long, slippery downhill slope. You can probably guess what I referring to: Blizzard's new "microtransaction" model.
This is just one of Blizzard's many money-generating schemes but it's the latest and somehow, because it brings a new concept, the most unsettling. Before I get shouted at, I am well aware of several things: yes, I know that Blizzard is a business and their main purpose is to make profits; yes, no one is forcing anyone to buy anything; yes, other games have had microtransactions; yes, I know that it merely provides another option of acquiring pets and options are good.
I'm not against any of the above. What worries me is that this creates yet another precedent. I love change but only if it brings good things. To me, microtransactions in WoW start to stink like deterioration of the solid game that it has become. I have a suspicion that Activision has stuck its nose in this one too. Don't be naive to think that they don't have a say in how WoW evolves. These guys stand back in the shadows, all the while cooking new ways in which to milk their customers. And herein lies the problem: for a very long time, Blizzard treated us like fans. Now, we are slowly but surely turning into customers and nothing more.
There's nothing wrong with being a customer but I was expecting more of Blizzard, the company that has gotten more of my money than all other games combined and they made me pay over and over again because I wanted to.
I don't want to be the one who said "I told you so" but I'm seeing the signs and they're not good. Here's what I don't like about Blizzard/Activision's new/old business model.
I think server changes, faction changes, name changes, customizations, etc are a great idea. Although slightly controversial, all of these make people's lives a lot easier. I would love, for example, to move my orc shaman over to the Alliance side. Unfortunately, I can't. Why? Because I find the cost prohibitive. There's nothing "micro" about paying $30 for that. I mean, whoa! $30 is two months' subscription. Paid character transfer is $25. $10 for a name change. And so on. And now these wonderful new pets: only $10 each! A real bargain. Don't get me wrong, I could easily afford any of these so-called "services" since I have a job and I make a good salary. In good conscience though, and because I tend to be responsible with my hard-earned money, I can't justify spending all this money on top of my monthly subscription. I'm not saying that Blizzard should give these services away for free but perhaps they should at least try to pretend it's not all about the money. Make it more affordable: $5 for a faction/server change would be a lot more reasonable. Give long-time subscribers a bonus: say, a free change (faction, server, name or appearance) for every 12 months played (and paid). There are ways in which Blizzard could be perceived less as a money-grabbing whore.
Don't even get me started on the new pets. In fact, do get me started. Many people are thrilled by the prospect of being able to buy a cool pet with real cash. This way, they don't have to waste countless hours in game grinding for it. Right? Yes and no. $10 for a pet seems excessive, once again. Considering that the marginal cost for Blizzard to produce these pets is close to zero, they could at least have sold them at a more decent price. $0.99 or even $1.99 would be reasonable and I suspect a lot more people would buy them.
On top of everything, Blizzard has the nerve to pitch one of the new pets as a means of contributing to charity! Sadly, many people lose all sense of reason when they hear the word "charity". I'm all for charity but I would never trust an organization to manage my donated money. Now Blizzard is playing on people's sensibilities by pitching the Pandaren pet as a means to be charitable. Yeah, charitable with players' money. It's not like Blizzard is donating that money out of their own gilded coffers. I would have probably admired them if they had donated 100% of proceeds for both pets for the duration (2 months only). That would have been a nice gesture. This, however, is contemptible as far as I'm concerned. 50% for one pet, for 2 months. Truly grand. It's not like Blizzard is starving and can't afford the hit to their profits. If you truly wish to be charitable, take that $10 and donate it straight to the cause of your choice.
The future is promising. Expect to see more vanity pets, mounts, tabards, costumes and perhaps even items with stats in Blizzard's store. Who knows, perhaps even gold will be sold at some point, as I have lamented in one of my previous posts. What bugs me is that more developers will spend their time on items for the store rather than for in-game stuff. Let's not forget that WoW is not free: we still pay a hefty subscription for it. Instead of these pets, I would have prefered updated character models/textures, for example. But hey, it's all a business, right? Surely there are more ways to milk this cow.
Here's more food for thought. Many people, like myself, enjoy collecting vanity pets. There are achievements for this. Yes, these are all pixels but they provide another way to enjoy the game. What happens when a lot of these pets will be available only through purchasing? I'm sure that some will be happy to pay the $10 and get quick satisfaction instead of grinding for that pet. But there are better ways in which to make these pets available. How about through a nice chain quest? Or as a reward for certain achievements or milestones? Some of coolest ways to obtain pets include: the Sprite Darter Hatchling quest chain, the Mechanical Chicken chain quest, the Worg Pup and Smolderweb Hatchling quests, fishing for ultra-rare pets and a few others. That's one of the many reasons why we can't just buy "uber-epix" with real money. Although I wouldn't be surprised if that policy changed too, in the future.
The sad part is that people still fall for this scheme. There's high demand for micro- (or rather macro-) transactions and that's why Blizzard can get away with charging these ridiculous amounts for them. I'm not trying to convince anyone to stop spending their money on them. It's their money and their time; they can light their pipe with Benjamins for all I care. Here's my prediction though: the closer WoW gets to its demise, the more of these services we will see. Let's milk that cow dry before it dies!
Additional food for thought: Tobold has a similar view of this situation.
Patch 1.0.5 commentary
4 years ago