Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The WoW Token

Blizzard recently announced their own version of EVE's PLEX, except that it looks very different aside from the fact someone paid for a chunk of game time and sold it in game. This isn't surprising, given they mentioned it months earlier, but I was mildly surprised at the restrictions. However, I think the restrictions are a good thing.

The way the token works is as follows:
  1. Player A pays for a WoW Token, representing 30 days of game time
  2. Player A posts the token on a special version of the Auction House. Note this is the only action you can take with the token. It cannot be traded nor destroyed
    • When listed, the price of the token is set by Blizzard
    • You are guaranteed to get that amount once your token sells, regardless as to what it sells for
  3. Player B purchases a token on the special version of the Auction House
    • When purchased, the price of the token is based on supply and demand
  4. Player B gets 30 days of game time
    • The token is soulbound. There is no reselling it
Relatively simple. The actual processes of selling and buying are basically independent of each other. Blizzard also mentions that tokens sold are a queue: first in, first out

The picture above is basically how it works according to Blizzard's FAQ. So you won't necessarily get the money immediately. It depends on how many tokens are ahead of you in line, and how many people are buying. But you're guaranteed the listing price, so it's pretty low risk to the seller. It's just a question of time.

This arrangement is to induce a supply/demand elasticity that allows the player base to influence the price to something the market can bear, so Blizzard isn't constantly having to futz with the price, but does so in a way that as mentioned, makes it a very secure transaction for the seller. You'll get the gold you're promised. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.

Interestingly, if demand plummets, Blizzard would technically be injecting gold into the game. On the other hand, if demand spikes, Blizzard would be pulling gold out of the economy. Over a long period of time, ideally that would balance out, and this really would only have the effect of transferring gold from the folks who have liquid assets to the folks who have real-life liquid assets (or at least, those who're willing to spend money on the token).

Because there's no reselling, the token can't become an alternate currency the way PLEX works in EVE. There's also no risk of losing it. If your account gets hacked, they can't just hand off that token to someone else. On the other hand, if your account gets hacked, well, you've got bigger short-term problems anyhow. You can't destroy it by accident, either, according to the FAQ.

Now, there can be a minor amount of market speculation, in that you can choose not to post a token you just bought in hopes of getting a better price when the market spikes, but depending on how big a rolling window Blizzard implements for their supply/demand algorithm, that may be a moot point long-term.

As implemented, this is Blizzard clearly putting gold sellers in their cross-hairs. 

So How Much Will a Token Cost?

Elvine, a prominent gold-making community member, mentions that the going rate for gold on gold-selling sites is about $0.70 per 1,000g (I'm assuming USD). Blizzard stated not to assume that the price of the token will be the same as a raw purchase of 30 days game time.

So if we assume that it's about $20 for a WoW Token, to match gold sellers, each Token would go for about 28k gold. On the other hand, this is a secure method of obtaining gold that doesn't come with the risk of a hacked or banned account, and people are willing to pay a minor premium for ease, security, and legitimacy (also see: the music industry).

On the other other hand, gold sellers have the bonus of instant gratification. Selling a token could take time--we don't know how long it'll take to run through a queue of tokens. So it's not quite as good as those services. Faster, but less secure.

So here's the rub, would $20 for 28,000g be worth it for me? Nope. I have about 300k on hand. I find it pretty easy to net 28k in a day of AH work if I'm so inclined. However, buying a month of time for 28k? Yeah, I might do that. Or, most likely, for myself, I'll just ignore the whole system and keep paying my subscription.

What're Some of the Potential Side Effects?

As mentioned above, Blizzard wouldn't really be introducing or removing gold from the economy long term, just redistributing it based on different criteria than gold normally gets distributed in-game.

However, the system is regional. Meaning that on a local scale, economies would potentially lose/gain gold. If one server had a glut of folks selling tokens, and another server had a glut of folks buying tokens, in theory that would cause a transfer of systemic wealth from server to server. Given the population sizes, though, I doubt this is meaningful in practice. Since it's all one big queue, I bet this will average out over time.

That being said, 28k on a small server is probably worth a lot more than 28k on a big server, so perhaps I'm wrong and we'll see more token sellers from smaller servers and more buyers from bigger servers. This would cause inflation on the smaller servers, as there'd be an influx of gold, and deflation on the bigger servers. Frankly, though, the inflation effect, if it were to occur, would be bigger than the deflation effect due to sheer population differentials. But it would potentially normalize gold across all servers long-term

This could be mitigated by making the tokens regional, but the prices based on server. You'd have to contend with server transfer gold maximums, so you couldn't just transfer a character and buy a massive number of tokens, at least not easily. And since they're purchased to sell with real money, that cost is fixed regardless of server, so even transferring to another server with a bunch of tokens doesn't help you. You may as well make a level 1 character on the server you'd transfer to and sell them directly there, but you'd again have to deal with server transfer gold maximums to get it back to where you'd want to spend it. But making the prices vary per-server definitely makes the system a bit more opaque to the average user. Since Blizzard is already making both ends of the transaction largely independent, this isn't outside reason, however.

Another question is how this differs from previous experiments, like the Guardian Cub, or the Diablo RMAH. The Guardian Cub was an actual tradeable item, but had the issue that once you had learned one, you didn't really need any more, so it's not really comparable to something like game time. Limited audience, basically. The Diablo RMAH, however, broke the core loot loop (well, the whole AH did period), and gold was so easy to come by in Diablo that you didn't really need to spend real money to get those items.

Given how likely it is Blizzard will sell tokens for more than 30 days normally goes for in subscription fees, Blizzard will make more money than normal off game time, assuming this takes off. It's a clever way to moderately increase subscription costs without actually increasing it across the board. It allows folks to continue playing even if they can't afford it in real life, as long as they take the time to earn some dough in-game (which frankly isn't terribly hard if you put a little time and research into it).

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Short of some sort of market spike that I can take advantage of, I doubt I'll be participating in it myself, but it's definitely fascinating. #WorldOfWarcraft, #GameDesign, #WoWToken

1 comment:

  1. I think it's overall a good move, and their streamlined system cuts out most of the risk of scamming and such. My first thought was what you discussed regarding the gold disparity across servers but it could have a stabilizing effect as people move to servers where they find it easier to make gold. Not claiming any expertise, but I've seen people discuss moving from high pop to low pop to reduce competition so this might spur that on.

    Personally I probably won't use the system though just b/c typically when I've bought CREDD/PLEX in the past I end up doing the same thing I do w/ potions in Skyrim, sitting on them for a rainy day that never comes.