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The Lawbringer: Fighting the gold fight -- how the strategy must change

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Running parallel to the games we love and enjoy is a world full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

Last week on The Lawbringer, I introduced you to the world as it is, a battlefield littered with the corpses of stolen accounts, inconvenienced players, and a priceless reputation on the line. This week, we look at concrete solutions to actually helping the gold selling system wind down and remove many of the hurdles that instant gratification with purchasing gold sets up for Blizzard. You might have mixed and angry reactions to what I'm going to talk about, but do give me the benefit of the doubt. I think being open-minded might win this fight.

So what can Blizzard do besides selling its own currency? Here are my suggestions for the first steps that Blizzard needs to take in the new war against gold selling.

Get rid of repairs and durability

Durability and repair bills are an outdated system of gear content gating and a PvP risk-reward mechanic that should have been removed with Cataclysm from the start. In the beginning, repair bills were a mechanic to make PvP graveyard bombing less efficient as a strategy. Repairs also were content gates in that gold was a hurdle you had to clear in order to access endgame content that was, at the time, set up for the hardcore. Much as in EverQuest, raiding was seen as the ultimate goal of the dedicated guilds, never truly thought of as something 10 people could ever do successfully.

Times have changed, and the name of the game is accessibility. The only thing repairs do now is artificially slow down casual players and raiding by making extended play reliant on the money in your purse. Even PvP had repair bills removed from it a long, long time ago. You might not see repair bills as a huge monetary drain because of the new ease of collecting gold, but that doesn't change the fact that repair bills remove an average player's gold from their purse at an alarming rate.

Getting rid of durability puts more money into the pockets of every player, allowing those players to spend that gold elsewhere. Without durability, one less negative effect on your gold purse contributes to the need to buy gold. You don't need to buy consumables to raid, nor do you need to pay for keys or content gates, but you do have to pay repair bills.

Step 1: Remove durability.

Of gold sinks and security

The pet store was a huge success for Blizzard, offering downloadable, account-wide content to players for a premium price. That price gave the player something fun and unique, binding the reward to every character on the account. The success of the pet store is not a fluke, either -- Blizzard knows that people will spend money on WoW for fun additions like the Celestial Steed or companion pets. Why not take things just a little bit further and help remove a huge chunk of the gold selling issue?

Epic flying is one of the most expensive perks that a player can purchase for his character(s) in WoW. The average player has to drop a huge amount of gold on this skill -- 5,000 gold (4,000 with a faction discount) -- to stay competitive in the gathering market, much less have a more enjoyable and fast-paced experience with the game. I come from a World of Warcraft where my flying speed, for longer than I care to admit, was slower than my ground mount speed. I hated every day of budget flying. Spending 4-5k in gold on each one of your characters is no small amount, and people are more than willing to purchase gold in huge amounts to pay for this perk. People already do it every day.

Here's my suggestion: The pet store should offer account-wide epic flying for mount purchases. Bundling epic flying with mount purchases not only decreases the amount of gold that players have to spend on epic flying for all their characters, thereby making bought gold look less efficient, but it also clues players in to a trusted source that they can buy from. Blizzard is accountable for its store and its wares; gold sellers are not. If you have your money stolen out of country by some gold selling operation, you are just kissing that money goodbye.

Bundling epic flying account-wide with a mount purchase seems dangerous to many people who bring up the slippery slope metaphor. Well, I agree. It is a slippery slope for things to be bought in the game world. However, it is a slippery slope I am willing to slide if it means the nature of the gold selling game changes to the point where it is not profitable or non-existent. Currency still exists in game, and the option to pay for epic flying is still there for players who wish to use their currency in that fashion. However, to combat the instant gratification that gold selling awards, Blizzard needs to make some of the most epic rewards available in different avenues.

You already buy mounts and pets. This is a natural and intelligent move to make, especially when faced with an enemy who is more than happy to collect the money out from under Blizzard and scam the customers with no recourse. I want my game world secure and safe, not littered with gold selling ads and people trying to steal from me. If we could reduce the amount of gold being sold by bundling epic flight with mount sales in the pet store and transfer that instant gratification money to Blizzard instead of the people who wish to subvert Blizzard, I choose the former.

Plus, think about the cool new mounts we could get with a new promotion advertising the new bundle. I'm all for it.

If you're not a fan of the purchase option, what about ramping up security with an authenticator program that grants you epic flight for your account when adding an authenticator to your system? While this is more of a stopgap, Blizzard could give players a "Secure Flight License" flag that grants you the next level of flight while your account is secured using any of the authenticator options available. Everything should be about lowering the amount of gold needed to compete and at the same time, making people's accounts more secure.

Personal currency is play-dependent

The storm drakes are a step in the right direction -- 4 unique models of one of Cataclysm's signature new drakes are available in 4 very different ways, not one of them costing gold. The Reins of the Drake of the East Wind are only available through taking the time and effort to successfully complete Cataclysm's first raid tier and raid achievements. The Reins of the Drake of the North Wind is a random drop from Altarius in The Vortex Pinnacle, making this mount a "eureka!" moment, a prize for being lucky. The Reins of the Drake of the South Wind is another such "eureka!" moment for raiders, randomly dropping after besting Al'akir. The Reins of the Drake of the West Wind comes from time and dedication to your faction's cause in Tol Barad, costing the player 200 Tol Barad Commendations which cannot be purchased with gold.

Gold sinks are not the same as time sinks. What the wind drakes show us is that Blizzard has the understanding and the means to put in plenty of different variations of mounts and rewards purchased or obtained through radically different means. None of these drakes can be purchased with gold outright -- each requires some effort on the part of the player or some time commitment. Personal currencies that are impossible to purchase with gold, like the Tol Barad Commendations, are especially useful for Blizzard in stemming gold buying -- giving players huge incentives to work on personal currency rather than shell out bought gold for items and rewards.

What tomorrow brings ...

There are more things that players spend purchased gold on, to be sure, but we're talking about quality of life improvements that are some of the biggest gold draws in the game today. Tomorrow, Blizzard could get rid of durability and bundle epic flying with mount purchases in the pet store. Tomorrow, all of the gold that people are buying to spend on these expensive perks and slow monetary raid content gating drips can be removed from the game. Blizzard can and should change the nature of its fight against gold sellers to be about giving access to more of the game's epic rewards through new avenues. People are already willing to spend their real-life money on the gold that they feel they need to play the game, so why not give them that chance to do it in a safe and secure way?

It doesn't just stop at mounts, epic flying, and getting rid of repairs. Blizzard selling its own currency is a red herring in terms of solutions to the gold selling problem. Over time, other pieces of the game could be tailored to be more merit-based or personal currency-based, much like collecting Tol Barad commendations for gear or valor and conquest points that allow you to progress through play. Some of the best mounts already go to people who pay and to people who put in the time commitment to save up enough Badges of Blank.

The problem is not that Blizzard is doing anything wrong in the fight against gold selling, but rather that Blizzard isn't doing enough to combat the root of the issue -- gold itself. Instant gratification. We can pretend all we want that we live and play in Azeroth because we want to work hard and save up; then one day, you can afford a house in the Orgrimmar 'burbs, settle down with a blushing blood elf bride, and send the kids to and expensive school. We want to play a game, and while a good amount of World of Warcraft is a slow burn to accomplishment, some pieces of the game could be made instant for just a few extra bucks and save the game from a terrible fate. At the end of the day, I play WoW because it's fun to get online and hang out with my friends, not because I am eagerly awaiting my dailies -- because in just a few more weeks, I can buy the thing everyone else already has.

Am I saying that Blizzard should get rid of gold completely? Absolutely not. Gold provides the means for WoW's economy to be as robust as it is for many players. Every player, however, is not part of that meta-game. Will these suggestions fix gold selling? Of course not -- nothing can, as long as that type of currency exists in an online game. What we can do is provide game perks through different means that accommodate everyone's playstyles. Let's face facts: Instant gratification is a playstyle.

Change the strategy. Fight the gold fight. Let players keep more of the money they earn, and begin to move toward providing more perks through different avenues that take players' money out of the hands of gold hackers. You'll see an almost instant change and begin to move into a future free of hacking and account compromises.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Economy, The Lawbringer

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