Monday, December 22, 2014

F2P or P2W?

Blizzard gave bloggers and WoW players an early Christmas gift by providing a big developer post a few days ago.

There were a lot of goodies for people to read up on, but the one that seems to be causing a bit of a stir is the section that was titled "New Ways to Play":

"New Ways to Play
We’re exploring the possibility of giving players a way to buy tradable game-time tokens for the purpose of exchanging them in-game with other players for gold. Our current thought on this is that it would give players a way to use their surplus gold to cover some of their subscription cost, while giving players who might have less play time an option for acquiring gold from other players through a legit and secure system. A few other online games offer a similar option, and players have suggested that they’d be interested in seeing something along those lines in WoW. We agree it could be a good fit for the game, and we look forward to any feedback you have as we continue to look into this feature."*

I'd posted my thoughts on a few other bloggers' commentaries, but I figured I'd summarize them here:

  • This sounds like movement in the F2P direction, but let's be realistic: WoW won't truly go F2P without replacing that lost income from somewhere. 10 million subs translates roughly into $150 million --depending on a lot of factors, of course-- and that's a LOT of money for Blizzard to replace. Even if you figure that the true number of regular WoW players who will stick with the game no matter what is much lower, say 2 million, that's still a variable amount between $30 million and $150 million.
  • Blizzard may say that they make games that they themselves would want to play --and their development staff may truly believe that, since I've seen no evidence otherwise-- but Activision/Blizzard is no longer part of a big conglomerate. They have investors to answer to every quarter, and until Warlords dropped they were starting to wonder whether Blizzard had lost its mojo. Now that Warlords is a success**, investors are now going to ask "What have you got for next quarter?" Suggesting a limited F2P option such as this one is going to bring up the inevitable "How much will Blizzard profit from this move?" To investors, this might simply be seen as a lose/lose scenario.
  • How will gold farming mutate to take advantage of this situation? Blizzard's devs will be the ones inevitably setting the exchange rate, so they'll be able to determine how much effort it would take to reap a return on investment. The seedy WoW Underworld of sweatshops won't go away, but Blizzard could make their ability to make a profit more difficult by exchange rate manipulation. If instead of a tradeable token, Blizzard decides to make any tokens Account Bound, the question then becomes whether a gold farming operation can offer enough gold for a monthly subscription at a rate less than the current WoW monthly sub rate.
  • While gold farming operations may be forced to adapt, the rewards for account hacking might just go up. There are a bunch of people who play the economic game in WoW, and going after their accounts would be a top priority for any WoW hacker. You don't even need to raid their account of gold, either, you just need to hack their account and mine data on their methods. Mimic their methods and reap a profit.  I can see the ads now: "Play WoW for free! Let us show you how!"
  • Will this system lead to a true pay-to-win environment? It just might, given that Blizzard would need to generate money from lost subs somewhere, and allowing people to buy LFR quality gear with their WoW Account would work. I'm not so sure that wrecking the raiding game is worth it, however.

The one thing that everybody seems to have overlooked in the great F2P/P2W discussion is this section of the post:

The new War Games skirmishes feature allows anyone to run an online tournament, and we’re excited to see even more community-run tournaments in 2015. We’ll of course be running tournaments with our eSports partners as well, and will release details as those plans are finalized. As you saw at the Arena World Championship, we’ve come up with an improved UI to help viewers better follow the action, but we’ve been working on a complete overhaul for next year—with the goal of making it widely available for use in player-run tournaments, partner tournaments, and online casting. We hope to be able to share more soon."*

I expect this to be the next big direction of professional online gaming that Blizzard will move.

When news programs such as CBS Sunday Morning cover online pro gaming***, you know that it is getting pretty huge. Blizzard already has made some inroads with Starcraft 2, but I expect this to open up Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin  (among others) to eSports.

If you thought that Blizz was responding too much to the needs of the PvP community, you ain't seen nothing yet.

*From, OP by Takralus. Edited by Xarishflar on 18/12/2014 19:13 GMT

**For the moment; MMO players are notoriously fickle, and have been even more these days than in prior years.

***They did kind of imply that the people who attended Blizzcon did so for the online tourneys, which isn't really the case. Aside from that, they did a pretty decent job of covering the basics. They could have gone on more about the money some of the top LoL players make --and their lifestyle-- but that they covered both LoL and Blizzcon in one breath has to make Activision/Blizzard VERY happy.


  1. This isn't a move towards F2P, after all nobody really gets to play for free - some people just get others to pay for their subs. In total however, it's going to increase the number of subs, as people will buy additional "sub tokens" that then float around the market to be traded but don't actually get used.

    It's basically the MMO equivalent of a store giftcard. I'm not surprised that more and more publishers seem to be getting interested in this model.

    1. Hmm, I think it will become a sort of F2P if you're good at the economic game. I liken it to EVE Online's version, and there are people (such as Gevlon) who play for free because they make enough money in-game.

      I wonder if some of the more high end raiding guilds will have lower tier personnel subsidizing the raiders by generating tokens for them by farming.

  2. That's a great summary, Redbeard. One thing you mention that I would find odd is the idea of Blizzard setting the exchange rate. Of course, they can set the dollar cost of the game-time tokens, but it will be in line with other ways of paying for your subscription. They can also set a lower bound on the gold value of such a token, by having NPC vendors accept it. I think that's quite a likely outcome, to make sure that "players who might have less play time" will have a viable option for acquiring gold. I think the upper bound is not easily estimated.

    1. I think that in order to make this work, they would have to set the exchange rate to some degree. If they go the EVE route of pure, unbridled capitalism, they're exposing themselves to manipulation on a huge level. I don't see Blizz wanting their name in the news for some of the shenanigans that goes on in EVE's space.