WoW: Microtransactions in Cataclysm

In early November 2009 Blizzard introduced the Pandaren Monk and Lil’ KT to the online Blizzard Store.

In early November 2009 Blizzard introduced the Pandaren Monk and Lil’ KT to the online Blizzard Store. The Blizzard Store has always sold Blizzard merchandise, from t-shirts to collectibles but these new additions were special, they were the very first in-game merchandise sold for real-world money.  While it’s not unheard of for players to pay real money for in game items,  this practice is usually only popular in free-to-play games whose cash flow comes only from these item sales.  

World of Warcraft is most definitely not a free to play game, with players paying 15 dollars a month to play for just one account on top of the initial purchase price of the game, making this a huge risk for Blizzard. As was to be expected the WoW community was in an uproar over the announcement. Players took up both sides of the fight, some condemning the company for their greed, while others praised them for their ingenuity. Despite the seemingly large amount of scandalized players the Pandaren Monk and Lil’ KT turned out to be a hit.
The success of these initial pets threw the door for micro transactions in WoW wide open, and as we all know, once a door is opened it never truly closes. In the following months Blizzard unleashed several more pets with apparent success. Feeding upon these victories  Blizzard kicked it up a notch and presented the Celestial Steed, a 310% speed mount purchasable for twenty-five dollars, the most expensive in game item to date. Instead of being rejected by the community, the

Mini KT and the Pandaren Monk were the first virtual pets introduced to the Blizzard Store.
Steed was a mega-seller, astounding everyone with over four million in estimated sales in the first day, and a queue that would put the lines at Disney World to shame.

While it is sometimes easy to forget, Blizzard is a company and like any other company they are out to make money in any way possible. As such this overwhelming positive reaction to the newest addition to the store will most likely fuel the continued expansion of in-game items available for cash.  As long as players are willing to continue to fork out their hard earned money on the virtual items we can expect to see new and pricier items appear in the store. Perhaps eventually even in store only weapons, armor, and maybe even entire dungeons.

Many readers are probably scoffing right now, paying for dungeons indeed, what a ridiculous idea. I would have thought the same thing not too long ago, but with the majority of the WoW community embracing micro transactions so far and the changes to raiding coming with Cataclysm; purchasable dungeons may not be as far fetched as you might think. Here are some of the major changes that Blizzard has in store for raiding in Cataclysm:

The first of the refinements being made is that we're combining all raid sizes and difficulties into a single lockout. Unlike today, 10- and 25-player modes of a single raid will share the same lockout. You can defeat each raid boss once per week per character.

We're designing and balancing raids so that the difficulty between 10- and 25-player versions of each difficulty will be as close as possible to each other as we can achieve

For the first few raid tiers, our plan is to provide multiple smaller raids. Instead of one raid with eleven bosses, you might have a five-boss raid as well as a six-boss raid.

As pointed out by the Blizzard post above, Cataclysm will spell the end of 10 and 25 man raids as we know them, combining the two into a single lockout and scaling them  to be similar in difficulty. Cataclysm will also bring smaller raid dungeons reminiscent of Tempest Keep in place of the huge dungeons of the past. These changes will not only serve to make dungeons more accessible to a larger portion of players, but will cut down on the raid time for all players, leaving open large chunks of time that had once been occupied by raiding.

At first these changes will not prove to be a problem, it will take some time for all areas of the new dungeons to be opened, and once they are more time will be needed for players to complete them. However with shorter dungeons and more time to spend on them it won’t be long until the majority of the raiding player base has defeated them. Achievement seeking will hold the hordes over for awhile, but

The success of the Celestial Steed may mean bigger microtransactions in the future.
eventually the cry will go out for fresh content. Much like a vampire needs and desires blood, WoW players need and desire new content. Usually around this time Blizzard would have a patch in the works which once released would introduce a new dungeon or two to appease the masses, but why should they do it for free when they have the potential to make some extra revenue in the process?

It’s evident simply by observing the number of people with the various purchasable pets, and the numbers created by the sale of the Celestial Steed that so far, despite going against industry norms, Blizzard’s new items for cash gig is going very well. So with that in mind it’s not such a stretch to come to the conclusion that if the fan base is willing to purchase novelty items such as pets and mounts, what would stop them from digging a little deeper into their pockets to obtain a Blizzard Store exclusive dungeon?

While dungeons for cash would undoubtedly cause a backlash from the WoW community at large, I believe it would be a success albeit not instant. Players leaning more towards the hardcore would quite possibly see these purchasable dungeons as a way to set themselves apart from other raiders, giving them access to achievements and gear that few others could obtain. Assuming all members of a raiding guild would be required to purchase the dungeon, Blizzard would see large amounts of money in a short period of time. Eager for new content, gear, and to compete more and more guilds would take the plunge fattening Blizzard’s cash cow and further perpetuating the micro transaction plague.

Blizzard is indeed walking a very thin line here, and at any time they could stumble and fall, however it will take the combined effort of the players to push them over the edge and limit the micro transaction insanity. So the next time you feel the need to purchase that adorable new pet, amazing mount, or any other new items up for sale in the Blizzard Sore, keep in mind that by doing so you are inevitably one step closer to the edge of what is the slippery slope of micro transactions.  One false step and we could find that our pockets are empty.

What do you think is the future of micro transactions in Cataclysm? Would you pay real-world money for in-game content? Share your answers and opinions with us on our forums!

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