Warcraft and the Rise of Microtransactions
Recently there has been a lot of news covering the recently datamined item called Elixir of Enduring Wisdom. Which would increase experience gain by 100%. Would this be sold in game for real dollars, or maybe on the Blizzard store? How much would this buff cost you, $1, $2? Also how long would it last, would this be an 1 hour item or 2, maybe longer? Of course the standard freakout of players paying to win in World of Warcraft exploded on the forums and Zarhym, one of the community managers for Blizzard did little to dispel this, in fact emphasized this was something they were exploring by saying the following:
We are currently exploring the possibility of adding a way for players in certain regions to make purchases directly within the game. As part of this process, elements related to this will be appearing on the PTR. We’ll provide additional updates on our plans as development progresses.
Many other games which have gone free to play (F2P) have moved forward with microtransactions as a source for revenue. Guild Wars 2, is a buy this game and play for free, but there has always been ways for the developer to make more money through the use of microtransactions in their gem store. Most transactions are visual in nature, however they do also sell items that allow you to gain experience faster, just like what Blizzard is looking into. Of course Guild Wars 2 also allowed you to buy more bag space and more character slots with real money, hardly anything game breaking, just purchasing things that made the game more accessible.
Recently Star Wars: The Old Republic went the F2P route and opened up microtransactions to purchase pets, and vanity items but also experience boosts in their Cartel Market. There does appear to be gear you can buy with this microtransaction currency, so beyond the in-game pets, mounts, vanity items and boosts, you can get some gear for your characters. You can also unlock certain features like guild bank access.
The one thing both Guild Wars 2 and SWTOR have in common with their micro-transactions is they are all purchasable using a currency that you can buy using real money, but it cannot be used in game.
Blizzard is most likely going to use battle.net currency that they started implementing with the real money auction house in Diablo 3, where you can purchase items that way or with real money. Almost 2 years ago I explored the idea behind premium features, and many of my predictions were way off. However this test of a microtransaction to increase leveling speed opens up a door to more items. I would expect Blizzard to allow the purchase of vanity items, like transmog gear sets as another item, this seems like a no brainer along with their in-game pets and mounts.
But beyond the experience buff, and maybe transmogrification gear sets what else could Blizzard sell us to make more money? I don’t expect them to make us pay to access dungeons, raids or content we currently pay a subscription for, but player housing is something that may be on the horizon that could be purchasable, one could argue its not game breaking, it is probably just for vanity purposes so why not let people buy access to it, maybe even then open up decorating it costing real money. Go beyond that to guild housing. There is certainly tech in game now with the Tiller’s farm to support the idea, maybe even instancing player and guild housing.
I do still like my idea of a web or mobile app “mini-game” for professions. Allowing you to pay to access a mini-game to allow you to fish, do archaeology, etc. Though this I see as more controversial as I can see that some would say its needed to get food materials or other items to advance your character, so this feature could be a slippery slope.
As a business I see this as a smart move for Blizzard, it allows them to make in-roads into the F2P model if they decide to go that route in the future, but also opens up an additional revenue stream for current subscribers, especially those who right now dread leveling up another character especially from level 1. Its quite a mountain to climb even with heirlooms, guild bonuses and reduced experience for levels. At the end of the day, Blizzard is looking to make money, they are a business and they have shareholders, microtransactions are the wave of the future, whether you like them or not, the fact is they are working, if they didn’t, so many other games wouldn’t be offering them. Its smart for Blizzard to be exploring this avenue, I just hope in the end Warcraft doesn’t turn into a pay to win type game. If Blizzard keeps it as pay to look fancy, or have nice looking non-combat pets and level faster I think they will do well and keep the support of a large portion of their player-base.