Warcraft and Micro Transactions

When I read the datamined information about the Enduring Elixir of Wisdom my mind spun in several directions. Now the blue post about it said they were just exploring the possibility. So much like the datamined tri-spec it may never happen. However, what if it did? What would it mean?

My mind instantly went to the two other games that I play, Swtor and Marvel Heroes, both have cash shops and both are free to play. Which as I said made my mind spin in a number of different directions. This could be nothing but the very fact that they are exploring the possibility opens up a world of options. What could this mean for the game?

The current store
To bring it back down to earth to begin with they already sell game items in store. Currently these are just vanity items and this store is also the main blizz store, it’s accessible through the browser and not in game. Now in the last patch they put in files for an in game browser, currently this is just being used for the help section. However, now the technology has been implemented they could use the same system to have the store accessible in game. The blue post said it was just exploring having store access in the game so rolling it out like this could be all it is. Having a new item created, this Elixir, would allow them to tinker with it, without inadvertently affecting anything else which using an already existing item might. It would allow them to work on getting the basics of the store working before they added things people already have. I’ve been stung hoping that datamined items are reality before, the non-existent Stromgarde scenario a recent example, so I can easily believe it’s just a dev tool, and therefore means nothing.

So this isn’t exactly groundbreaking and is in fact in line with their other initiative right now, the new blizz launcher. This would combine all the games into one launcher, allow you to see your battle.net friends without going in game, view news etc. all from one handy interface. Combining and streamlining seems to be the buzzwords of the day, so having the store accessible in game is just the same. Nothing groundbreaking, nothing more than we already have, just more convenient, maybe leading to more impulse buys, or at least I bet that’s what they hope.

Increasing micro transactions
However, what if this Elixir isn’t just a placeholder? Isn’t just a creation of the dev team to try things out, what if it’s real? Well, it would mark the breaking of a boundary line. So far all blizz has sold in the store has been vanity items, nothing that affects gameplay. Selling something that makes you level faster, could be if you wanted to level faster quite an advantage. However, it’s not the sort of advantage that hurts anyone, it just means someone can max their characters faster if they choose. So long as they don’t nerf xp gain, so that in reality with the elixir it stays at the rate it is now, and non-elixir users have to level slower, then whether someone uses the elixir or not it’s still a choice. There’s no real buy to win angle there.

It’s a slippery slope though, having an elixir that affects gameplay is a first step, not a big deal, but if we accept that what else are we opening the door for? Marvel Heroes sells an xp increase potion and a rarity increase potion, the latter increasing your chances for a rare drop. All it does is increase your chances, it doesn’t actually give you the item. Apply that to Warcraft there are plenty of rare items on a bosses loot table, mounts spring to mind first, then there’s legendary drops.

I would gladly pay blizz if I could increase my chances to get the runestones I need. This would enable me to complete my legendary faster, therefore making me more powerful as a result. It wouldn’t be selling gear, but it would be selling the possibility of obtaining it faster. Personally I wouldn’t be buying it for the power, I’d get it so I would have to run LFR less times, I do loathe LFR, but I digress. This is only one step further onward, nothing that on the surface looks momentous, but adds a buy to win angle. With the nature of RNG even with a rarity potion you have no guarentee of getting what you want, but an increased chance is an increased chance. Would any top guild pass up on that? Would anyone cash rich and short on time?

What other items are in a similar vein? Swtor sells a valor boost consumable, which increases valor earned. This is just like the XP elixir, boosts the amount you get for a period of time. Much like the Valor of the Ancients increases valor earned on alts once you are capped on something. This wouldn’t mean you got more valor, it would just mean you would get capped that much faster. This would be less game breaking than a rarity boost, much more in line with the XP boost as it doesn’t really hurt anyone else.

When the mounts and pets first started to be sold in the store they provided an advantage that they no longer do. Back then mounts and pets where character bound, not account wide like they are now, so buying a mount in store gave you that mount on all characters, even ones created afterwards. So you never needed to buy a mount in game again, which did save a bit of in game gold. It provided convenience for people, an advantage like gaining XP or valor faster, but didn’t really break the game. It reached the line but it didn’t cross it.

The big what if?
The huge big what if when getting into micro transactions is what if Warcraft goes free to play? I can not see it happening, they would have to be crazy. Sure subs have decreased but many times more people are still subbed, than are subbed to the next closest sub game. Maybe in a few years if subs keep dropping then going for a hybrid model like Swtor would make more sense for them, but that day is a long way off. However, lets just play the pretend game and say that they were considering it. I know it won’t happen anytime soon, if ever, but let’s pretend.

What could they then sell in the store? Well Marvel Heroes sells heroes, it drives me mad that they don’t have bundle options to buy all the heroes at once, but I digress, they are essentially selling classes. Now if Warcraft went f2p they could keep releasing expansions, or they could release segments of expansions in different ways. Buying the DLC expansion could increase level cap and open up new zones. The extras that an expansion brings like new race, new class etc. could be sold separately in the store as unlocks.┬áMarvel Heroes also sells costumes which is like transmog, something that Swtor also does although some of the gear you can modify to have stats it seems. Warcraft could easily sell iconic sets, perhaps in costume form so you’d only have to have one inventory spot, rather than half a dozen for a unified look.

With Swtor’s hybrid model they also sell unlocks for flashpoints (their dungeons), operations (their raids), warzones (pvp battlegrounds) and space missions (would could be analogous to pet battles) which means rather than only being able to do a couple each week, you’d have unlimited access. Now I’m not actually entirely sure what Swtor’s restrictions on flashpoints and operations are as I don’t do those, I do like space missions though and you can only do 3 of those a week as f2p, if you want unlimited space missions you need to get a weekly pass, or subscribe.

Now for anyone that plays Warcraft a lot, like me, purchasing a weekly pass would be stupid, so I would keep subscribing. For someone that doesn’t really do these things, much like I don’t in Swtor, then they could purchase a weekly pass on the rare occasion they wanted to do more, and not pay the rest of the time. However, I do wish I could get a lifetime space mission pass, I do like those. Anyway this is why I think Warcraft would be stupid to go for a model like this at this time, they have people paying now that wouldn’t under the new model.

Well I went into fantasy land for most of the post. I honestly think that this elixir could just be a placeholder while they set up the tech to access the store in game. Should the elixir be real then that sort of temporary gain, which helps someone cash rich and short on time, without taking anything away that people currently have, or disadvantaging others, is as far as they will go for a long time.

They would be downright insane to go for a hybrid model, and they would be selling their soul and what people like about the stability of Warcraft if they ever sold gear. I can’t deny that it would be nice to screw RNG, that when I’m really frustrated and haven’t got the drop I want I wouldn’t be tempted to buy it. However, that would really, really hurt the game. Buy to win is a terrible idea and I don’t think it’s something they will go for, for at least the foreseeable future. If subs tumble and they start to lose money, I believe them capable of doing anything to stay viable for a while longer, however while subs have decreased they have a long way to go before blizz would get that desperate.