Blizzard started off the week by formally announcing the WoW Token, the game-time currency they alluded to in their World of Warcraft in the New Year post from a few months ago. Although many specific details remain vague (like the cost of the token or the estimated gold value), a few interesting facts have come to light.
The WoW Token will be unlike any other item available on the Auction House. In fact, saying that the WoW Token will be put on the Auction House is incorrect in its own way as well. Instead of using each Realm House, the WoW Token will be placed on a special market that applies to the entire region. All WoW Tokens in the Americas or Europe or Asia will be grouped together. Blizzard wants to ensure that the health of an individual server has no bearing on how the WoW Token performs across regions.
Also, to ensure that players are fairly compensated, the buying and selling price will be dictated by Blizzard. Once a Token is purchased from the store, it can only be placed on the special Auction House, and the price will be set by whatever the current going price for the Token is. There is no undercutting. Players sell the Token to the Auction House, wait for the Token to sell to another player, and receive the gold agreed upon at the time the Token was put on sale.
For the buyer, they can purchase the WoW Token from the Auction House for a value determined at that moment based on supply and demand. The interaction is instant, and all the player can do is use the Token to claim 30 days of game time. There is no trading or reselling of the token. Blizzard has cut out the ability for any standard Auction House activities surrounding the Token – there is no secondary market, no stocking up when Tokens are low and then dumping them on the AH when they are high. All a player can do is pay their set price and then claim their game time. To ensure that there is no confusion about which Tokens are bought or sold, there are currently two separate implementations of the item on the PTR; There’s a Token for Selling and a Token for Game Time. By heavily restricting the actions players can take with these Tokens, Blizzard is ensuring that their effect on the economy will be severely controlled.
That is the most intriguing part of the Token. Blizzard will set the price they are sold for on the Auction House, and Blizzard will set the price for how much they are purchased for on the Auction House. Ostensibly, these values, at any given moment, should be the same, as they are calculated from supply and demand. But players can never know the true number of Tokens being purchased for real money and placed on the Auction House – they can try to count Tokens that are listed for sale, but there is no reason to suspect that the number would be accurate. More importantly, given the differences between the Token Auction House and the current Auction House, listing available Tokens next to a price makes no sense since all the Tokens will cost the same. If anything, the interface will have a price in gold and then probably a number showing how many are available at the moment. But without being able to canvas WoW players across the continent, the number of available tokens cannot be verified.
What Blizzard has set up with the WoW Token is a system by which they can directly infuse and remove gold from the economy. While the primary benefit of the WoW Token is that it allows Blizzard to directly compete with illegal gold sellers, the true value of the currency is that it gives Blizzard utmost control over the economy. As poor players looking for gold spend real money to subsidize the playing time of the rich, wealth distribution will balance itself out, with the majority of players finding themselves closer to the median gold amount. But more importantly, Blizzard can use the vague nature of their algorithm to set the sale and purchase prices of the tokens to intentionally different values. If Blizzard feels there is too much gold in the economy, each token can be bought for less than it cost to place the auction. Conversely, if Blizzard wants to infuse gold in to the economy, each token can sell for more gold than the actual seller of the item would receive.
Blizzard can even manufacture Tokens to sell if there aren’t enough players paying real money to resell them, although they would do that at a direct cost to themselves, as each fictional token is worth $13-$15 in game time for the purchasing player. Conversely, Blizzard could sell less Tokens than players purchase, in which case, the full dollar amount goes to Blizzard’s bottom line and is never redeemed for in-game service. While that practice would be highly suspect and uncharacteristically greedy for Blizzard to actually attempt, players would have no direct way to validate the numbers that Blizzard will claim regarding WoW Token Auctions.
Perhaps Blizzard will design a transparent system where players are able to confirm that the number of Tokens for sale matches what Blizzard claims. Perhaps Blizzard will publish their pricing algorithm, so that players can calculate how the price of the Tokens should fluctuate, allowing them to make the best choice for when to buy or sell. But given the amount of power Blizzard can claim over the economy by serving as a shadow broker for WoW Tokens instead of a visible auction house, there is little value in doing so. As long as players either get their WoW Gold or Game Time at a fair value, there will be little incentive from the community to look into the practices that Blizzard is engaging in.
On the surface, the WoW Token appears a boon to everyone who plays WoW, except for the illegal gold sellers. But Blizzard is definitely the group that benefits from the Token the most, as it gives them an unprecedented level of control over the economy. Many are looking forward to the Token’s debut, and not just because it is an opportunity for more gold or free game-time. It will be interesting to monitor how the Token affects the Patch 6.1.2 PTR when that goes live.
The Developer Q&A with Ion Hazzikostas is up from last week. Is it just me or is Ion the only developer with free time for interviews and chats lately? http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/18141106/developer-qa-video-available-3-2-2015
The Cindermane Charger is now available as a Recruit-a-Friend mount. What’s with all the burning mounts???? Gnomish saddle-cooling technology must be quite impressive. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/18089480/new-cindermane-charger-rides-into-recruit-a-friend-2-27-2015