Aghast. That’s the precise word to describe my reaction to Blizzard’s introduction of real money transactions to the game. Aghast.
Old timers will know why I am aghast but if you are new or just don’t recall go back and read this post wherein I stated my belief that the foundation for Warcraft greatness was the fact that it did not have real money transactions in the game.
Pets as Status Symbols
One of the major issues I have with real money transactions is that they are classist. They create a distinction between the haves and the have nots that is based upon a person’s out-of-game rather than in-game accomplishments. The fact that this distinction is merely visual (a pet) as opposed to functional (an epic) is of cold comfort. If anything, the visual distinction is much more “in your face” as opposed to an exp potion that no one sees you use.
Chris thinks the new pet store is just a logical extension of Blizzard revamping of account services but I don’t agree. If I am standing on the auction house bridge in Ironforge and your character that just had a faction change walks by I am clueless about any RMT activity unless I know you personally. If you have a RMT pet I know. I know because it is staring me in the face (my bank alt is a gnome.) With account services what is essentially out of sight can easily stay out of mind. Precisely because RMT pets are going to be always in sight the classist distinction will always be in mind.
This is also why I disagree that this move is just one tiny step in a history of selling pets by other means. There's a difference between a pet which is bought as part of another transaction and a pet that is bought directly. Taking off one’s underwear and hopping into bed is just one tiny step in a romance; most people would also acknowledge it’s a significant step. The first step on the moon was also one tiny step; it was also a giant leap for mankind. The size of the step doesn’t always correlate with what it portends. Little moves can signal big intentions.
An Accountants’ Game
Whether we see a full fledged RMT store will depend on the success of this pet foray. If the net profit margins meet expectations it will be full steam ahead. Don’t delude yourself into thinking Blizzard cares anymore about the fantasy world of Azeroth. This RMT development signals that in the future it is going to be the accountant, not the players or the developers, which is going to determine what is “detrimental to the game.” What the game boils down to now is profit maximization; that’s the greatness of the accountant’s game.
There is an old saying in politics that “elections have consequences.” Yet it never ceases to amaze me that people can talk about voting with their dollars and at the same time pretend those money elections have no consequences. When you buy a pet from the pet store you are not only buying a cute panda monk, you are electing to support with your dollars a specific business model. The consequence is that when you buy a pet from the pet store you are voting with your dollars for the sale of epics. It’s that simple.
An Issue of Trust
Most fundamentally I see RMTs a betrayal of trust by Blizzard. I began my hunt for a new MMO more than a year and a half ago by specifically eliminating any game that featured RMT or micro-transaction of any type. I joined Warcraft and invested my time in the game predicated upon the expectation that Warcraft was a subscription game and would continue to be so. The game had been a subscription game for the last three years; there was no indication in would not stay that way.
At the bottom of the Pet Store FAQ there is this question: “Will you be introducing the ability to buy epic weapons/etc. in the future, for example?” The relevant part of the response is “the Pet Store service is entirely optional and intended to provide players another means to enjoy World of Warcraft in a way that isn't detrimental to the game and that doesn't detract from the gameplay experience for players who choose not to use the service.” Notice the artful wording in that response. They avoid a direct answer to a simple question and that is never a good sign. Of course, even if they did directly say “no” I doubt I would believe them anymore. They also said they would never do faction changes or races either and well…you know what…they did. People keep insisting that the pet store is not on a slippy slope when all the evidence points to the fact it actually is on a slippery slope. Epics for sale. Wake up and smell the coffee.
What I want is for the bullshit to stop. Don’t tell me that these are just pets and they don’t make any difference to the way one experiences the game because unless one is blind they do. Don’t tell me that these pets are just $10 items and Blizzard will never sell epics because Blizzard has refused to commit to that when asked directly; everything they are doing says if they can sell epics they will. Don’t tell me that I can trust Blizzard because I won’t accept a blind faith that totally ignores a pattern of past behavior. Actions have consequences. This action by Blizzard has consequences. So don’t tell me that this action by Blizzard is not a game changer; it is. Whether it is a smart game changer is going to depend on how players respond to it. Because our actions have consequences too.
5 hours ago