WoW Wednesday: Play to Win not Pay to Win

 

I hate to break it to you... ^^

I hate to break it to you… ^^

The recent upgrade to the 6.2 Patch notes on the 13th of this month has thrown up a rather interesting change to current gaming conditions which has subsequently put a few Warcraft players’ noses out of joint. Items that were previously only available by grinding an in-game currency (Apexis Crystals) will, come the patch we previewed in this column last week, be available instead for in-game gold. This will mean, for the rough equivalent of about $100 US, players will be able to buy a number of major armor items required to aim for an iLevel which would allow them to dive straight from dinging L100 into organised raiding content.

At this point, I’d like to say to the people who now confidently announce the Blizzard has ‘gone Pay To Win’, that this is quite a long way from the actual truth.

First up, it should be noted that the process of paying for in-game items with gold is not new. It was evident back in Mists of Pandaria (see above), but that selection of gear did not allow people into close to ‘current’ end game content, and crucially provided a selection of rings and trinkets which this latest change does not. However, anyone with a L100 Garrison will eventually see a new slew of rewards available to them from Naval Missions including Battle.net account bound iLevel 650 gear. Ironically crafted items, which have been much the poor relation in this Expansion, could again provide relevance by being purchasable via Token sales after a trip to your friendly neighborhood Auction House. I’d still suppose this gives anyone at 100 a greater opportunity to ‘mix and match’ gear from various sources to help them gear a new main, which is more likely to a temporary measure, due to the clearly inferior stat itemisation these purchases afford.

 

It isn't just about looking good, you know ^^

It isn’t just about looking good, you know ^^

I should also point out that anyone thinking this method is a cost-effective to begin with is probably on a far larger disposable income than I am right now (starving writer status not withstanding.) Yes, you can spend a ton of cash but what you get could be far more effectively ‘earned’ by some judicious grinding of dungeons and (gasp!) even LFR rather than stumping up the money. It is now very easy to buy a WoW Token for Gold should you so desire, that level of convenience should not to be belittled… and presumably this is exactly the reason that Blizzard stuck the items in game to begin with. What may become galling to some players is that their Token will buy very little in the US and associated regions but considerably more in Europe and in Asia, though there are signs Blizzard is playing with pricing. Needless to say, I’m pretty confident the gold ‘standard’ is simply introduced at this stage to help people choose the most effective method of playing at any given point. What they do with that cash is entirely up to them.

What I sense is a far bigger issue for most has become wrapped around the way Blizzard has handled the process of gearing via ‘static’ loot generation models such as the Garrison: you no longer need hard hours grinding in a Dungeon for a raid reward, all that is required is patience and the time to get Followers to a certain level so that they become eligible to ‘activate’ the rewards. Still, Blizzard are not foolish: you won’t get access to Heroic rewards unless you’ve completed a certain level of Normal content, and the same goes for Mythic via Heroic. There does need to be some engagement made by the player-base to unlock the specific tiers. But once they are done? For a Hardcore Raider running a slew of alts, this is probably the best it gets. For the casual player who only has a couple of hours a week? The same is now true, and adding gold-purchased items to the mix simply makes for the most cost-effective and convenient option everywhere.

Yet still the voices of dissent are heard, that somehow the casualization of content continues to devalue the heart and soul of the game… but that core of players evolved at the same time as the hardcore raiders. The multiple alters, or multiboxers, Roleplayers… a static playerbase that remains regardless of the ebb and flow of those with a lower attention span and more games to distract them. For those that remain, the Token has granted a measure of freedom from a monthly Subscription. It has allowed them the opportunity to make more gold than ever before simply by the totally legal manipulation of the game via Legacy Content farming. Transmog, old crafting materials, Battle Pets and even just selling everything that drops in a raid means in game gold is now easier to make than it has ever been at any point in a decade.

You have to begin somewhere, after all.

You have to begin somewhere, after all.

So why is there still this undoubted belief that being able to Pay to Win breaks the basic tenant of Warcraft gameplay, that the only way you truly succeed at this MMO is to beat bosses without any kind of external aid? I watched a guild on my server at the end of Mists of Pandaria make millions of gold for their plans of Server First achievements by selling Heroic Garrosh Hellscream kills, effectively giving players access to an all-important Heirloom weapon good for the first ten levels of their efforts in Draenor. People were lining up with alts to take advantage of the offer: for the price I paid it was well worth the ‘time’ spent to earn not only the weapon, but the gold itself to pay for the process. My only ‘win’ in that sense was getting to 100 without the need to secure the vital bow, gun or crossbow I’d need to be competitive while questing. I didn’t see myself cheating, I saw it as an advantage I’d be foolish not to take.

But it is easy to grasp how so many players can, with the benefit of ten years of time inside Azeroth, come to these kinds of conclusions about the direction the game is heading. The highly contentious Level 90 ‘boost’ offered with Warlords purchase still sits idle on both of my Husband’s accounts, unused because he has no desire to level anyone new, because by the time it was introduced last Expansion none of his regular characters actually needed it. I used mine to boost two low level alts and promptly never touched them again, because of the myriad issues I’ve had with progression in Draenor to begin with. Although that’s a discussion for another post, I will say at this point to the anti-gold for gear brigade that convenience is relative. If someone wants a 675 character badly enough and has the money? They’re likely to pay regardless. By offering the service, Blizzard open an avenue for revenue they simply didn’t supply previously.

What a lot of naysayers like to forget in situations such as this is that it takes good people to become decent players, and to be a great player in any game requires a level of effort that many people with full time jobs or family will never have the time to supply. It is entirely possible to casually raid and make decent, tangible progress and I can tell you of many guilds and players I know who do just that. However, everyone needs some help along the way. As time is ultimately the one resource you can’t put an accurate monetary value on, Blizzard now offer players the notion of convenience. And for all sections of the player-base, using gold as the major currency has had its shortcomings. Even Blizzard itself have admitted this fact in recent memory.

Everybody loves to make themselves some gold...

Everybody loves to make themselves some gold…

Lead game designer Ion “Watcher” Hazzikostas was interviewed by Venturebeat last week and admitted that removing Valor Points from 5 mans meant many players had no reason to run them. That currency had been what tied so many to a ‘grind’ of dungeons and LFR in Mists of Pandaria, and by replacing that with a new one you could only get via a daily Questing event? People stopped caring. Making those items now gold-purchasable won’t fix the Dungeon problem, and instead Blizzard will introduce two new iterations of five mans (Mythic, Timewalking) to try and address the issue in the short term. But it will be only that, a temporary solution whilst the company decide a next move. Will gold now take a back seat to a new currency in the next expansion? It is hard to say, but what must not be underestimated is how important gold has become to many people’s daily gaming lives.

For some players however, the damage has clearly been done. Being able to buy gold this easily has undermined the basic fabric of Warcraft game-play, and for others the notion that any major Raiding achievement past this point is effectively redundant due to at least in part the journey being ‘subsidised’ is a very real state of mind. What these players forget is that this game has been evolving solidly over the last decade, and like it or not the future is giving players the opportunity to dive in and play with the minimum amount of effort. That should mean in the not too distant future that a L100 boost will be on the cards, which may for many be a far more attractive reason to buy WoW Tokens for gold than any amount of relevant end-game armour. Looking at my slew of untravelled alts, if I could pay to get them to 100? You know, for at least some I think I might. If I’m considering this as a good use of my real-world cash, then Blizzard should already have this on the table for development.

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