For a long time Blizzard took the Moral High Ground with the view that anything a player wanted was available in the game at some level or another. Want a 310% mount? Go get that achievement done. But nothing stays the same does it? Enter the frame the Celestial Steed and Lil’XT. The only achievement required is hitting your credit card to the tune of $25 or 20 Euros depending on location, and that’s each. They look like this:
Very pretty indeed. But I wouldn’t buy them. In fact I didn’t think many people would. So I have been a bit surprised to see the number of characters sitting around Dalaran on their Celestial Steeds. Dozens of them! I did a little looking and it turns out Blizzard have hit a gold mine. I found this article 140,000 people queuing for the damned things! There were even worries they would sell out! How the hell could they sell out? I’m sure Blizzard have one for every schmuck in the queue and can get a few spares pretttty quickly if they need to as well. ‘Quick lads, getting those Celestial mares back to the breeding pens – we need more steeds!’ Well, it’s not quite like that. This is an infinite resource, just change the number in the quantity field in the coding and Voila: more steeds. No need to panic buy, I promise.
So onto the morals of this. $3.5m – that’s a shed load lot of morals right there. I’m with the accountants on this one, if the customer is prepared to buy it then by all means let them have it. Adam makes a nice point about the people who buy these items help keep the subscription down for the rest of us. I’d like to believe that, but I reckon it wont happen that way, or not for long anyway. Instead Blizz will be looking for maximum revenue from both income streams – subscription and purchasable in-game items. I just can’t see the latter reducing the former.
But the issue isn’t really about a mount or a pet, which despite looking different have exactly the same function as any other pet or mount available in the game without having to reach for the credit card. They may look different but there is no playing advantage to having them. The issue is how much could they make selling armor or weapons? That’s the real market, but if not handled properly they could upset the players and risk seriously reducing the player base. I’ll bet market research is underway even as I write to determine capital gained against reduced player base.
Picture the scene. Six weeks after the first kill of the Lich King on 25 man, you were able to buy any of the 10-man loot he has for $49.99 each. Blizzard could still claim they were not ruining the game because only the 10 man drops were being made available, and players have had ample time to kill the boss. The top raiding guilds would be OK because they won’t be focusing on 10 man raids anyway. Hell, the top raiding guilds could even claim moral high ground by killing the bosses so you other guys who don’t have the time to raid like us can get good loot too… That only 10 man loot is available, means the big raiding guilds still have the impetus to carry on and will still have some ability to score on the epeen points by having items which even money can’t buy. Now whether you agree with this scenario or not, can you try to convince me that Blizzard are not thinking along these lines in some respect? If something like this was implemented, would you really be THAT surprised?
So who would buy the epic items with real money? Those with the financial resources, but its a matter of carefully pitching the price to ensure you don’t rule out too many people by the item being cost-prohibitive for them whilst still trying to get as much as possible for it at the same time. But we create the market conditions here ourselves. Anyone who even wants to join a lowish-end raiding guild is going to get gear checked before taken into raid instances. At the lower end of the raiding guild hierarchy, they may be more relaxed but some level of gear will be required, if not no raiding for you. So the would-be raider spends time grinding through heroics and trading in badges, or he gets his credit card out and buys a couple of items which save him that time.
I’m fairly neutral on the whole thing, but having had such a big result on the current items I have no doubt these will not be the last of the purchasable items. Wouldn’t surprise me to see us practically at monthly released items in the future. For usable in-game items as opposed to Vanity only items, I think that day will come too. But probably not until after release of Cataclysm, maybe 6-9 months after that when things have died down a bit on the content front and people are focussing on raiding rather than levelling.
I can accept the moral argument for not buying usable items: ‘You didn’t put the effort in so you shouldn’t have the reward’. But the counter argument is ‘I don’t have time to put the effort in due to my work, so by buying an item all I am really doing is offsetting my lack of time by having a little more disposable income’. There’s no real ‘Right’ answer to this one. I can easily accept buying items is cheaper than grinding them if you put a value on your free time, but I’m personally not prepared to spend my hard-earned Real Life rewards on Virtual goods. 140,000 Celestial Steeds may however suggest I am in a minority.