Updated Tue, Oct 18, 2011 by Mem
I remember it almost like it was yesterday, the moment I finally collected enough gold to purchase my first mount. At the time I believe the cost was right around 100 gold for the mount and up until the second I purchased it I was sure that this was an impossible amount to reach. I was of course wrong, and I did get my mount eventually, but not without a ton of effort and restricting my personal spending down to almost nothing. And don’t even get me started on the cost of an epic mount!
Today in World of Warcraft we all know that gaining 100 gold is not much of an achievement, and players across Azeroth have more gold than ever before, more gold than most of us back in vanilla WoW could have ever dreamed of. And gaining that gold is so easy my 5 year old could do it. Because of this, prices have inevitably risen to match. As prices go up and more gold streams endlessly into the economy the value of gold is falling with no clear end in sight. Now its easy to brush all this aside, but consider that this influx in money may have the potential to not only kill the bustling Azerothian economy but turn the virtual world we know and love upside down.
Like real life, some inflation in WoW is inevitable. Inflation is the rise in the prices of goods and services and consequently the erosion in the purchasing power of money. Making inflation the enemy whether we are talking about the real or virtual world. A real life example of inflation can be seen when you consider the average price of a gallon of milk just 50 years ago. Then a gallon of milk in the United States could be purchased for just around 1.00, today that same gallon of milk costs the consumer over triple the cost at a whopping 3 dollars or more a gallon. The same holds true in World of Warcraft where an item such as a flask, which once cost 20 gold, now can cost well over 100.
In successful economies this inflation as shown in the examples above is watched and regulated to make sure that prices increase slowly and the value of money doesn’t plummet like the Hindenburg. In the past Blizzard has done everything in its power to promote balance in the economy, usually putting in place a series of gold sinks, otherwise known by the much more entertaining term; meat sink.
For those of you unfamiliar with this term, gold sinks, are a non-essential items or services that take money out of the WoW economy. The Traveler‘s Tundra Mammoth is one of the more well known gold sinks in game asking players to spend a whopping 20,000 gold to own the reigns to this much sought after mount. Here are several other examples of common gold sinks in game:
Now, I know what you're thinking, why should I want to dump my hard earned gold down a perpetual black hole and what value do these gold sinks actually have? Especially when they are often viewed by most players as simply a way to flaunt their wealth. The truth is these gold sinks are so much more than luxury items and are one of the few things standing between the World of Warcraft economy and perpetual ruin. One soldier standing in the forefront of the battle against inflation.. Dramatic? Maybe, but true nonetheless.
Typically as WoW ages more gold sinks or more costly versions are introduced into the game. These gold sinks would either be mandatory or appeal to a large portion of the player base so that a significant amount of gold could be drained out of the economy thus lowering the amount of money players could amass and by doing this keeping prices lower and gold value higher. Recently it appears that Blizzard has all but given up on the gold sinks, and by doing this have possibly given up on the battle against inflation and because of this the in-game gold is piling up and up.
There are surely a few of you out there screaming “viva la free market”, so where exactly is the negative here? WoW players having more gold to stockpile can’t be a bad thing right? Wrong. Much like real life, WoW has three classes : upper, middle, and lower. Upper class players typically are more hard-core and spend tons of time working the Auction House and other means of money making, middle class players are made up of those who get into the money making game, but not quite as much, while the lower class is made up of your everyday casual player who has very limited time to spend in-game. We can always expect the upper class to get richer, they are money
The middle class typically set the prices of items and services as they are the main buyers and even play the Auction House a bit for minimal gain. Because of the excessive amounts of money being put into the economy, and the lack of gold sinks or other methods to siphon at least some of the excess out, the middle class has found themselves with more gold than ever before meaning that they will pay much more than they once would without even batting an eye at the cost
These middle class buyers are purchasing many items that more casual players typically purchase as well and here in lies the eventual problem. Because middle class players are able to amass so much more gold than lower class players and there are currently no gold sinks to even out the playing field prices will continue to rise until the casual lower class will find that buying anything besides simple repairs will become utterly impossible. And while it's true that the lower class does have more money than they have ever seen before, they simply don’t have the time, or sometimes the ability to work the Auction House, complete quests, or even run profitable instances leaving them unable to keep up with the rising costs. The worst part of this scenario is that the problem won’t stop here.
Inflation doesn’t stop on its own, instead it snowballs until it is out of control and even the middle class with their newly found wealth will begin to feel the pinch. Imagine having to purchase a glyph that once cost 150 gold for ten, twenty, or even thirty times that price. Eventually players of both middle and lower class will become frustrated with their inability to buy even the most basic essentials and will no longer help keep the economy filled with life. Leading more players to find themselves with an economy much like you would have found in the infant stages of WoW when little to nothing could be found on the Auction House
Inflation cannot be tamed, but it can be controlled so that the economy doesn’t begin to spiral out of control. This is why we the player, of all WoW classes, upper, middle, and lower, should embrace gold sinks as what they really are; the last stalwart line of defense against out-of-control prices and the eventual dissolution of the economy in Azeroth. And while gold sinks are clearly not the only solution to the inflation problem, Blizzard could simply offer more rewards for completing quests, instances, and other feats, however, throwing money at the problem will only make it worth less, and the real problem even worse. Gold sinks seem to be (at least in my opinion) one of the best ways to fix an ever looming problem, but whatever the solution Blizzard chooses something needs to be done soon.
How do you feel about gold sinks? Do you think they are essential to the game or do you have a better solution to limiting inflation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!