Welcome to The Lawbringer, WoW.com's weekly examination of the intersection of law and the World of Warcraft. Amy is being attacked by the Bar Monster, so there's a new, temporary sheriff in town.
Greetings, Lawbringer readers! As you'll soon notice, I am not Amy. Amy is currently studying for the bar and I've been asked to fill in for a bit while she studies for that hellish exam. I've been there -- it's a rough road. Her readers, however, are in good hands. So, please excuse me while I do my best to fill in. After I wrote my feelings about the Celestial Steed and heard many awesome responses, I wanted to talk a little bit more about buying and selling merchandise parallel to the World of Warcraft.
You'll never buy gold from Blizzard. There's a lot of reasons for it, both legal and economical, but at the heart of the matter is that it just doesn't make sense for a fourth generation massively multiplayer to capitalize on such a worthless item. "Gold isn't worthless," they decry! "Gold buys me many things in game. Gold allows me to fly epically and fill my bank with magic holes." All true, no doubt. But gold as a resource is infinite, and selling an infinite resource is a fools' errand.
Let's go down the list of reasons why Blizzard selling gold is a bad idea. Like I mentioned before, there are legal implications, economical implications and just plain bad business decisions.
Do you know how much it costs to sue?
America gets a bad reputation for being the lawsuit capital of the universe, and usually people are right. We sue back and forth about a whole bunch of stupid things. The fact you don't know is that most, if not a good amount, never make it to court. Judges aren't stupid. They've seen this crap before and just toss these people out of court for one reason or another.
But what happens when you do have a case? Money. Lots and lots of money. Deep, deep pockets are empty by the time the lawsuit ordeal is over. Lawyers get paid, court fees get paid, expert witnesses get paid, co-counsel gets paid, service processors get paid, associates, paralegals and everyone back at the office gets paid. When I tell you that it's a lot of money to sue, it is a lot of money. Especially when you deal with corporations, and even more especially when you're going up against someone like Blizzard.
Imagine if Blizzard sold gold. Gold would then have a real world value according to the creator of a currency. Therefore, directly, gold in Warcraft would have a value. A dollar value. The IRS here in America collects taxes, requiring all citizens to report earnings to the agency and pay a percentage of income. Shocker of shockers, we call that the income tax. Now that WoW gold has a value in our little made up world, and confers benefits to me, one could argue that my gold is income. Without real world value, gold is just numbers in a database stored on a server somewhere in Arkansas.
The last thing Blizzard wants to do is have to write out income reports for every player filing their taxes. Obviously this situation is ridiculous, right? It's all hyperbole to show you the dystopian gold future, where taxmen run amok in Azeroth, charging sales tax on every auction house purchase. But it's not! We've been talking about this since 2006. And we still don't really have an answer.
Imagine the costs of dealing with lawsuits for 12 million people. Imagine the potential tax implications for 12 million people. Imagine the amount of people Blizzard would have to hire to deal with legal and tax issues for 12 million people. Then multiply that number by at least a hundred. It's too expensive to sell gold in World of Warcraft.
"I should be able to buy this stuff in game!"
One of the bigger responses to the Sparkle Pony debacle of 2010 was that players should be able to receive any reward offered on the Blizzard store with a comparable in-game route to earn the item, either by achievement or purchasing the item. If you believe that this even crossed Blizzard's mind, you're more than likely wrong.
Achievements and gold are unlimited resources in Blizzard's eyes. What could you possibly price the Celestial Steed at in-game? Let's just go with 100,000 gold. I know people with well over that, and people who will never see nearly that much gold. So, I can either purchase the Celestial Steed for $25 or pay in-game 100,000 gold for the horse. That gets awfully close to Blizzard ascribing a real world value to gold, equating $25 to 100,000 gold pieces.
Gold and achievements are limitless within the world. Your money is not. The sale of a horse or a pet isn't about it being able to be earned in game. It is a purely optional cash transaction for the use of an item that, in its design, cannot be gained within the game. Maybe that's why people are so mad at it -- it really is about making some cash. It worked, though. They sold a heck of a lot of horses.
You'll never buy gold because gold is worthless to Blizzard. They would much, much rather have your $25 for a horse rather than your $25 for gold to spend on a horse.
It's bad business for Blizzard to sell gold. You've seen the cottage industry that has ballooned into a multi-million dollar juggernaut in China. Hell, it's probably in the billions now. The amount of gold being bought from China in WoW and other games is immense. I wish I could give you the real scope and scale of the industry, but it eludes me. It's just massive.
Blizzard does well to not stick its nose into Chinese politics. For what its worth, Blizzard has been wonderfully diplomatic about the gold selling problem. The game sold well in China and continues to make Blizzard money even during the long stints of Chinese bans on the game. Many Chinese players connect to WoW through the Taiwanese servers, in fact. Over the years, Blizzard has made decisions in China that have, for the lack of a better word, endangered WoW in the largest market on the planet.
Blizzard selling gold would create a huge problem for their relationship with China. First, it undermines what amounts to a Chinese export. Second, it forces a lot of Chinese out of work. Of course, they shouldn't be employed in this odd gray market in the first place, but it's there, it exists, and it is a fact of life.
You won't buy gold in World of Warcraft from Blizzard. You just won't. You'll buy mounts, tabards, pets, hats for your orc shaman, extra draenei horns, houses, guild halls, proto-proto drakes and whatever else your mind can dream up. But you won't buy gold, because that's a fools errand.
This column is for entertainment only. If you have a real legal question, consult a real lawyer. This edition of The Lawbringer was written by Mathew McCurley, WoW.com's Addon and UI columnist. Sometimes, he's a lawyer, too. Check out his weekly columns Reader UI of the Week and Addon Spotlight! Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.