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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

[WoW] $60 for a 90

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.

The 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.


  1. I've posted detailed comments elsewhere but I'll keep this one short and simple...

    Those who feel that Blizzard wants them to buy the 90s ("Blizzard knows this and they're hoping I'll spend $60") are against the price &/or the idea in the first place, those of us who are fine with it recognize that Blizzard is offering the service to those who want it. As they've pointed out, they'd sell a lot more 90s at $10 than at $60 and I firmly believe that they'd make more money at $10 than $60... they'd sell significantly more than 6x. The market at $60 is small... but for folks who don't consider 130 hours a joke even with guild perks, heirlooms, etc, those who don't have 130 hours to level another toon if they decide they want to try raiding with a rogue instead, Blizzard is offering them a service that won't be an automatic must-buy from anyone looking for a 90... the price is high enough that it does become a legitimate cost/benefit analysis for the player.

    Blizzard also doesn't want us to spend time playing it because it's a subscription game, if that was the case they wouldn't do things like have dailies that encourage players to log in every day, they'd make them monthlies... they get their $15 a month either way. It's an MMO, they want players to play because having players playing makes OTHER players play, too. A more active, vibrant MMO is going to be a lot stickier than one with a bunch of abandoned L90 toons. The leveling game is easy but even now it's time-consuming and it makes the world more lived-in. Offering players a way to skip that costs Blizzard in ways other than money, so they had to make it expensive enough to limit the appeal.

    It also undercuts the leveling services and gives players a legal option.

    I really struggle with seeing any downside to this... if you aren't in the market how does it affect you one way or the other? If you are and it's too expensive then just level, that's ALWAYS been the option. Nobody's losing anything and the people who will buy them are gaining something that they obviously wanted to have. The only niche group I can see having a legitimate gripe are those who want to buy 90s but can't/won't pay $60 for them... but I have yet to see any commentary from one of those people, the most vocal opponents have been those who aren't even interested in the service. WTF?

    Alright, maybe not so short... I did try, though.

    1. I'm not really convinced that they'd make more selling them at $10; it means 6 per person to meet what they would at $60 and it is more likely that $60 will get a person to stick around because now they've invested that much into a character. Charging me $60 so I can play someone new with my friends (and continue paying them $15) is a bit greedy in my mind. There are prices they could have chosen that still would have been a legitimate cost-benefit analysis to each player without being so high. But I don’t think it is going to give as many players pause as they imply it will. I think for enough people, $60 will be worth it to skip having to do Outland.

      As for dailies, they are an artificial block on how much progress you can make at a time. They ensure that it will take you X time to reach a goal (to be fair, they have remedied some of this in Mists). If they made it monthly, most players would realize "Oh, you're basically just charging me X months to get this rep," but instead, dailies pad out the content in a less obvious way. Drop rates on items, raid lockouts, dailies all do this. Yes, they serve other functions too, but part of their reason for existing is to require you to keep coming back and keep you playing.

      Below Murf articulated it well; Blizzard is somewhat taking advantage players who are tired of leveling by having the price point that high. The fact that the world becomes less vibrant as people get to 90 is in my mind a flaw of design, essentially Blizzard's fault, not the player's. They recognize that people are bored of it, but put the only way around it behind a $60 pay-wall when they could have easily introduced other means that might actually encourage them to play rather than leave (to avoid leveling again). Valor-for-1-level tokens for example. Rather than improve the experience of leveling or offer me ways around it that are still fun, they offer me a highly overpriced alternative.

      Part of the reason I am out of the market is the price point; were it slightly more reasonable (even as low as $45) I would be less vocal. But what I dislike is developers throwing out this price and telling me it’s for some sanctified reason rather than a desire to get as much money as they can without too many players getting wise. So I am out because of both the price and the reasons.

    2. At the very least, at $10 I'm actually in the discussion in terms of whether it's worth that to avoid leveling or not. At $60, it isn't... looking at the other cosmetic items they offer, they sell mounts for $25. Isn't it an obvious argument that the *value* of the 90 is at least twice that of a mount that'll, in most cases, only be used until the next one is acquired? While I've seen some general grumbling about the $25 for mounts, there are also a TON of them running around when they're release... I still remember the sparklepony days vividly and I wouldn't have been caught DEAD on one of those... yet the hardcoriest of our hardcore raiders were flouncing around on them. It's really hard to gauge a potential market for something from a single perspective and as always, Blizzard has 100x the info that any of us do on that kind of thing. If they price it at $60, which still isn't finalized as far as I'm aware, there are very good reasons for it... it'll be the best compromise of every aspect they're concerned about (actually selling some, not devaluing current services, keeping the leveling world somewhat active, both pro and con PR, etc).

      Sure, the "tired of leveling" folks are one of the potential target markets but I'm solidly in that myself... yet I wouldn't consider the $60. Not because I can't afford it but because I still actually value the gameplay of leveling. Tired of it, I've done it a LOT of times (if I make as many new toons in WoD as I did in MoP I'll be toon capped... and I had over 10 max-level toons going into MoP) but to me it's still part of the process when I decide to fire up the character creator again. I expect the ones who'll actually find value at $60 are those who are time-poor and would level if they could but can't and why shouldn't they have an option?

      I guess my main issue is that even before the price came out I expected it to be somewhere up there and for much the same reasons that they've given... and since I don't have any personal stake in the situation one way or the other, why's it Blizzard taking advantage when I came to the same general conclusion without that intention? It's just the price that made sense to me.

      I also still haven't seen any response, let alone a good one, to my last paragraph... there's no change to those who don't buy it and those who do buy it are getting something that was worth $60 to them. Where's the harm on either side of that equation?

    3. ... and just to clarify, I'm not using "flounced" in any sort of derogative manner, that's literally what they were doing, bouncing around with a "look at me on my sparklepony!" narrative... basically self-mocking for having just spent $25 on one. That's a particular type of consumer that I just don't get at ALL. Might be related to folks who hate-watch TV shows...

  2. Your Pay-to-Play character should at least come with a few free months included. That way I can share my regret of my purchase with others just like me, without having to toss even more money into Blizzard's Scrooge McDuck vault.

    Also, to reiterate my less snarky stance on this matter, Blizzard should fix leveling, not monetize their design flaws.