An Interesting Thread
Today is my last day before going on a two week break, and I am absolutely pumped. However instead of talking about that, I am going to talk about an interesting thread I read yesterday afternoon. In the thread Blizzard talked about a series of potential changes coming in 2015 to improve quality of life. There was of course a mention of the new heirloom collection system that would make swapping heirlooms between characters on your account significantly easier. My hope is they also make the acquisition of these heirlooms significantly more straight forward. There was the announcement of a Legendary follower coming to our Garrisons as part of the legendary item quest chain. At this point I already have what feels like an army of followers sitting in disabled status, so that isn’t really that important to me, but its a nice to have.
However as you wade into the post there are significantly more controversial topics. For some reason a lot of folks on twitter seemed to stick on the fact that they were considering integrating WoW with twitter. This is one of the features that I absolutely loved about Rift, that I could hit /tweetpic at any point and send a picture to my twitter feed along with some text. Even more so I am hoping that they go as far as Rift did and allow us to see our twitter feeds in an in-game tab. I loved being to read and respond to tweets while playing a game. Now some folks are complaining that this is going to make twitter feel super spammy… and it probably will for awhile. That said we learned to tone it down in Rift so I am sure folks will learn the same lessons in WoW. WoW also doesn’t seem to give you an achievement every five minutes the way that Rift did, so that should help cut things down as well.
Long Live BLEX
The most controversial thing in the post was an announcement that Blizzard was considering creating a token system that would allow players to trade a month’s subscription on the auction house. Now this system works extremely well in Eve (PLEX), Rift (REX), Sony Online Games (Krono), and Wildstar (CREDD). From now on I have decided that I am going to start referring to this idea as “BLEX” or Blizzard Exchange, because it fits the Plex/Rex naming scheme. A good friend of mine suggested “BLUX” for Blizzard Bux, which is also pretty great. In any case this is not a new concept, but in fact one that is alive and working in many different games. The system has always felt like a win/win for me, but I know there are folks out there that are extremely skeptical of it. Essentially it allows two things… firstly players that have more time on their hands than money, can ultimately play the game for free by purchasing BLEX for gold on the open market. Secondly it allows players who have more money than time to purchase an extra months subscription and trade it off for in game currency.
Why this is important is that it almost instantly destroys the third party in game currency market. When I first started playing online games… gold farmers were quite honestly an army of players who sold gold and platinum to clearing house companies for real currency. While it was frustrating to see areas of the game camped by sellers… this was more a nuisance than a really dangerous problem. Then the account hacks started, as the criminal underground entered the business of selling in game currency. The primary source for the third party sellers was the pay folks to compromise accounts and then attempt to cleanse the money through a series of throw away alts before selling it to a customer. Every last bit of gold was in essence compromised because you could not tell the legitimately farmed currency from the stolen. When you legitimize the purchase of in game currency this market quite literally goes away over night. It becomes no longer worth the time to hack an account and steal currency, because the price gets driven down to margins where they cannot really profit from the sale.
BLEX is Good For Games
I’ve always seen these type of systems as a bit of an equalizer, in that if you are coming into a game your friends are playing months behind… you can spend an extra months subscription to help catch up on the currency side of things. In the games that have had the system it did not actually have any catastrophic effects on the market, in fact in many cases it drove the price of goods down significantly because they were no longer the sole means of money acquisition. The nice thing about having a market traded transfer of gold is that the value fluctuates with the game. When the REX system first went into play in Rift it was trading for roughly 900 platinum, now as the game has released additional content and the acquisition of money has gotten faster in game, that price has increased to around 1500 platinum. Items sold on the auction house themselves seem to move significantly more quickly, considering that players no longer feel quite so pressed for funds. During the Nightmare Tides expansion launch I crafted several pieces of armor that sold for a couple hundred plat a piece.
Rift however is not the only game I have seen this working in first hand. The Krono system also has been really good for Everquest 2. Prior to its launch there was an unofficial market of selling game time cards in open chat for platinum, much like there is an unofficial trade of purchasing items from the trading card game in World of Warcraft and then turning around and selling them for gold in game. The release of the Krono pretty much closed that market down entirely and with it no longer being an unofficial process… actually reduced the cost of a months subscription time. I watched the prices for Krono start about what folks were openly trading a game time card for a week before… and it quickly dropped down to something more reasonable for the players purchasing that account time. So ultimately this works out decent for the folks trying to purchase game time with their in game currency. I expect were BLEX to launch the currency tokens would start around 100,000 gold… and trend downwards for awhile. What is interesting is there is always a monthly up and down cycle… towards the end of each month the prices spike as folks are needing to purchase the next months game time.
Doubling Down on WoW
Ultimately I see this discussion that is happening as a positive thing. Blizzard has a strike against it in the RMT department, and fans are not quick to forget it. The real money auction house was a pretty horrible concept, but thankfully this “BLEX” idea is one that has been well tested in the market already. If they simply follow the same model that is working for everyone else, I feel like they will be just fine… so long as they don’t “tweak” it to make it more insidious. Essentially I see these changes as Blizzard trying to modernize their game. It lacks a lot of the features that we have just come to expect from other titles… and previously I think the end game was always that Project Titan would come along and offer a modern MMO under the Blizzard banner. However with that project now gone, and no new Blizzard MMO on the horizon… I see all of this as them recommitting to World of Warcraft being their flagship MMO title.
There are a lot of things that I would like to see integrated into the game. I still feel that it is in desperate need for a mentoring system, to allow you to play older content for real with your friends. One of my chief frustrations with the instant 90 system was that it functionally said that nothing released before Warlords of Draenor had any “value”. There is so much amazing older content, that I think players who have not experienced it… are missing something fundamental about the World of Warcraft experience. My hope is that they will devote the resources that had been lacking on making the quality of life changes needed to bring World of Warcraft back to truly top tier status. When this game launched it took the best ideas from all the games around it, refined them and applied a coat of polish to all of it. It is time for Blizzard to do the same thing again, gather up the current generation of MMOs best features… and integrate them into the game.