So Blizzard will (likely) allow folks to purchase level 90 characters in Warlords of Draenor (where the level cap will be 100). While unofficial workarounds would have existed, which Blizzard even mentioned—namely purchasing a second account, getting a free level 90, and then merging accounts—turning it into an official feature means something a lot more.
I wanted to wait a few days to see what the reaction was going to be, but for blogs it’s either been non-existent, or rather optimistic on the outcome. The cesspits that are the MMO-Champion forums bring up a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth. However, the level of discourse in most forum threads isn’t precisely high, and I only survived a couple of pages there before my brain ran for its life, quivering in fear in the recesses of my skull.
WARNING: NSFW language.
This is how I imagine the MMO-Champion forums. Except this is probably more entertaining.
In my mind, granting the ability to purchase near max-level characters is Blizzard embracing the fact that they have two games: the levelling game, and the end-game. To be fair, many of the developers have outright stated that people want to play with their friends, and all the things that happen pretty much happen at end-game, but this goes a little bit further.
This is effectively World of Warcraft II, but anyone who already has level 90 characters are grandfathered into the new game, similar to the transition from FFXIV to FFXIV: A Realm Reborn. With a new model of questing from 90 to 100 based on the Timeless Isle, the pervasiveness and scale of the Garrisons, new character models, new level 90 introduction experience for boosted characters, the ilvl squish, and a new isolated continent (granted, a new isolated continent is kind of their modus operandi for expansions), they’re changing how the WoW levelling game plays pretty significantly, and potentially how that dovetails into the end-game as well. A new game within the game, if you will.
It’s basically the ultimate reset button short of making everything pre-90 completely inaccessible and declaring Warlords of Draenor WoW II, which they likely would never do because that’s a lot of content they have for “free” between pets, old raids/dungeons, zones, etc. And just because you can buy a level 90 character doesn’t mean everyone will. We don’t know what it will cost yet, and some folks just love leveling.
But as far as grandiose experiments, this one is still a doozy. It’s as close to “Paying to Win” as you can get without actually paying to win, ignoring the fact that the game really begins anew once you hit max level and level 90 won’t even be the max level next expansion. But if the only thing you care about is leveling—and many folks do—then yes, this is Pay 2 Almost Win. And you bet every other MMO developer is going to be watching this experiment extremely closely. If it goes remotely well, expect every other MMO to copy it.
In the end, though, I really don’t think this will turn out poorly like the Diablo Auction House did. And lest folks forget, we’ve already had an MMO where the leveling system was pretty much non-existent: the original Guild Wars. You were basically max level once you completed the tutorial, and you made personal progress by collecting skills and gear. So you can have a successful MMO without having levels at all. We’ll just have to see if WoW can pull it off.