In preparation for Warlords of Draenor's release Blizzard has rolled out its new system allowing players to spend $60 US to instantly bump a character to level 90. To put that in perspective, your average triple-A release costs $60 and you spend 1/4 (or so) of that every month just to subscribe. Furthermore, let’s be clear on one other thing, this is no arduous process. There is no scarcity to this product and Blizzard had near absolute choice in its cost. You are spending $60 to have an automated system change a value in spreadsheet.
In the context of gameplay you are spending $60 to skip ~130 hours of play (depending). Now for players like myself who are short on the patience needed to level through Outland or Northrend again, that might not sound so bad. If I have to visit Hellfire Peninsula again I may start seeing it in my nightmares. Blizzard knows this and they're hoping I'll spend $60 to avoid suffering through it one more time.
Like with any new change there were people on both sides of the fence, with some players defending this price point while others deriding it. Personally I think the cost is ridiculous (and truth be told, so is the cost for most of the "player options" Blizzard sells). They can get away with those price points because they are Blizzard and they own WoW, the biggest MMO in the world. Players have nowhere else legitimate to go for these services, providing Blizzard a virtual monopoly on the services. Their competition, SWTOR for example, sells similar services at half the cost (a name change is approximately $9 and a race change is approximately $7, and can potentially be purchased with in-game credits).
On the other hand it is a sharp blow to powerleveling sites. I won’t link them here, but a quick google search came up with prices around $150 for a 1-90.
Sanctity Accomplishment of Marriage Leveling
Blizzard claims that they made this decision, despite pricing it lower, to preserve "accomplishment of leveling". What exactly is that? I feel like players see leveling as some kind of initiation ritual, wherein everyone has to suffer for a time before they can step into the light of "max level content." If anything it's the vestigial limb of the MMO genre that each new iteration pokes at but none seem to be able to sever. We MMO players are an entitled bunch, we seem to expect that any trial or difficulty we suffered must be suffered by anyone else in the same degree for the same rewards, even if long after the fact. Look how inflamed passions once got about people soloing old achievements and content. Look at people shouting in anger at Blizzard easing access to raid content and making the item sets attainable (albeit usually in different colors). For some reason, MMO players HATE the idea of someone getting the same reward for less work, even if they've gotten to bask in its glory far longer. I almost hear "In my day we had to walk up Blackrock Mountain in the snow with no shoes..." every time the shadow of this discussion looms its head. God(s) forbid someone get to actually do max level content without the one trial we all shared.
The irony is that leveling is not even difficult, quite the opposite. To most it’s become mind-numbingly easy. I am leveling a death knight at the moment and I can kill most monsters with 3 buttons (Howling Blast -> Death Siphon -> Frost Strike). It is nothing but a time-sink, plain and simple. It's 120+ hours of mind numbing monotony wherein most of your time is spent scuttling between quest givers and mobs (I spend more time walking TO mobs than I do fighting them). Blizzard thinks of it as an accomplishment, but the only accomplishment I see is one in persevering through boredom and repetitiveness.
Leveling does not prepare you for endgame content (if anything, it creates bad habits that you have to break when you start), it just soaks up time. For many players it is simply a hurdle to the fun they want to be having. So why not disable the “achievements” for players who purchased an instant 90? BOOM! Problem solved, they now are differentiated from the players that did it the “old fashioned” way. Make them ineligible for achievements that rely on leveling a specific race/class or whatever until the player earns an equivalent amount of xp or spends an equivalent amount of time.
Besides with Recruit-a-Friend, heirlooms, guild buffs, and other bonuses, leveling is already something of a joke to begin with. The kind of player who they targeted this at; the one who doesn’t want to level again, is not experiencing the stories of zones, they’ll most likely blow through most of them and barely notice what was happening.
If you want to call leveling an “accomplishment” then make it difficult, make it something I have to work for, not a time-sink.
Time is money friend!
Another common argument is that somehow the $60 option is a money-saver. That's 120 hours you aren't spending leveling! If you make $15 an hour it's $1800! You've saved $1740!
Except it doesn't work that way. I'd wager that your average WoW player is not stuck deciding whether they are going to earn money or play WoW. Most people work for a specific number of hours per day and the rest is free time. What we're talking about is leisure time, time when most players are unable to potentially make money. Even if they were, we're talking about the choice of playing WoW and leveling, or playing WoW and doing max level content, neither of which generates you any revenue.
Instead, what you are actually doing is giving Blizzard 4-6 months of subscription for one max level character. Plus you're still playing the subscription fee for doing that content. Let’s say you're a particularly intense player and you'll get 6 months out of the current content with one character (I personally barely last one month, but for the sake of argument...). So 6 months (at $15 apiece) plus $60 for the character comes out to $150. Whereas if you leveled instead (assuming 120 hours of play to 90 and approximately 120 hours of leisure time per month at 4 hours per day for 30 days) you spent 7 months on content, or $105.
This is a subscription game! Blizzard WANTS you to spend time playing it! The only thing leveling is doing is padding their pockets with an extra month of subscription fee. They want rewards to require time because every month you spend subscribed is more money in their pocket; especially if they didn't have to spend any of that money developing any content because you spent your time leveling through old stuff.
Tit for Tat?
Let me not give the impression that I am arguing that the services should be provided at cost to the player. Far from it! But we need dispel the notion that there is any economic notion behind the prices Blizzard has set. Let’s say they set a five person team to this project and it took the team a week. Assuming a nice salary of $20 per hour, it cost Blizzard a mere $4000 to set this up. They’ll recoup that when 67 players purchase their instant 90. With a playerbase in the millions, I’d suspect they’ll have thousands of purchases inside the first week. The same could be said of their other services. So for all intents and purposes, anything above the $1, or so, of the fee that is legitimately spent on maintaining the system and recouping those initial costs, Blizzard is making almost pure profit. I am not saying that I should only have to pay that dollar, but that at anything above that cost and we’re just arguing over opinion on what is healthy for the game.
So let’s get one thing straight: they priced it at that level because their marketing and other departments concluded that people will purchase it at that level. They have all the metrics of people’s leveling habits, burnout, and people’s purchasing habits. They have all the information and people are taking the PR spiel at face value.
I think it is drastically overpriced and won’t be purchasing it. Frankly though, I do not care if other people do. It does not bother me one bit if someone buys a level 90. It does not take away from my enjoyment of the game (heck, if they use it to level a healer or tank, I thank them for the shorter LFR queue).
I would be more sanguine with the decision if they had done it SWTOR/EVE style and allowed players to buy and sell this bonus (and other character options) because at least that shows some element of good faith.