The entire World of Warcraft has a gold problem right now, from the WoW Token and gold farmers to raids auctioning off spots to players.
"LFM BFD, FULL CLEAR 600G BUY-IN PST." I saw this message appear in the general chat of The Barrens as I was knee-deep in killing my 60th quilboar. The WoW Classic Season of Discovery is off to the races and many players are hitting the level 25 cap meant as a way for Blizzard to dole out content over time. However--and as it usually is when it comes to World of Warcraft--the player's relationship with the gold economy in WoW is unhealthy at best, detrimental to the game at worst.
If you spend any time on the various iterations of World of Warcraft these days it isn't uncommon to see third-party gold-selling or "services." That nebulous phrase usually means a guild or group selling full runs of the newest raids or Mythic dungeons, netting the buyer rare rewards without the hassle of playing.
However, all of this points to an unhealthy ecosystem Blizzard needs to contend with if they want their famed MMO looking its best come the next major expansion, The War Within. The publisher runs the risk of giving power gamers willing to spend IRL money the ability to muscle out the average player.
And yet, it's not too late to fix the problem.
WoW gold, farming, and you
First, let's go back and explain that post I saw in The Barrens that, to a sane person, looks like gibberish. The Season of Discovery in WoW Classic added a new ten-man raid for players at the level 25 cap. This comes in the form of Blackfathom Deeps (BFD), a former dungeon retrofitted into mid-game, end-game content. The less clear part for many is what that 600 WoW gold entails.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it's a buy-in.
At some point around the beginning of Wrath of the Lich King Classic it became a common occurrence for pug raids (groups of non-guild randos) to "sell" a spot in new groups. However, this is merely the beginning of your spending. The up-front fee merely got you in the door, with any potential loot drops you may want requiring you to bid against your fellow raiders.
This feels blasphemous for someone such as myself that's been playing World of Warcraft for its entire 19 years. The deal with going in a pug group is that everyone has the same lady luck-like shot at scoring gear. Fair, is how I would describe it.
Then, enter the WoW Token.
A feature originally found on retail WoW and brought to Classic this past year, the WoW Token allows players to buy gold straight up for real money. Meant as a way to curb and kill gold farmers, all the WoW Token has really done is created a new class of MMO citizen. All across the game gold prices both spiked and fell. This was typically based on your server's population and proximity to the big name streamers and guilds.
And yet, the WoW Token created two entirely separate but awul problems in the process. The first being our aforementioned class of high-rolling, big pocketed spenders. The second being a pivot on the part of former gold farming outfits to flooding servers with offers of "full clears" of raids and +M content.
While the latter is bad, it mostly boils down to being annoying spam that I constantly report. I suppose if someone wants to roll the dice on paying a third-party for a non-guaranteed clear of content then, well... go with God.
However, it's entirely another thing when a new layer of difficulty for the average WoW player enters the chat. This bidding system is preposterous, a bad look for the game, and not nearly as far as it thinks itself to be.
The bidding war
WoW gold lost in-game purchasing power after The Burning Crusade. This had a lot to do with more crafting professions and a split market at work. Suddenly, the auction house hounds of the world could make a tidy sum selling the former low-level crafting materials to leveling players not willing to wait. It was also easier than every to earn gold the old fashioned way: Playing the freaking game.
However, it would be silly to say that WoW gold doesn't matter.
After all, right-wing bloated corpse Steve Bannon once famously ran a chinese gold form operation. No matter what there will always be players looking to skip steps and get their gratification immediately. The advent of this new raid bidding system creates an unhealthy realm around the act of raiding. Suddenly, what used to be a mode based purely on merit of the player is a place where purchasing power is really all that matters.
Twitch streamers, bad behaviors
If we've learned nothing from the rise and fall of crypto, let it be that paying real world money for a fully intangible thing always ends with addicts and the ill-informed being hurt. And while it's funny to some to see goons like this lose real money while chasing a digital dragon, it's a greater societal harm than ever.
It's not too far from the skin gambling controversies across Twitch the last decade. In the above clip, we even see two of the biggest WoW-related streamers in the world casually drop purchased gold for an auctioned item drop. In a vacuum this doesn't seem like any big deal. Just people wasting their money. Yet, this not only creates a disturbing precedent but also fashions a new normal in regards to how WoW is played.
And Blizzard does, in fact, care. It was only this week that one of these two, Sodapoppin, got popped by Blizzard for buying gold in WoW Classic for raiding.
Plenty of impressionable people will see this as their way to notariety, waste real world money, and still not get what they desire. That's not the kind of impression you want for your once-world-killing MMORPG that is looking to rebound.
Here are some dark truths about WoW gold. There will always be someone willing to sell it, you cannot stop the process, and video game economies are busted for a reason. After all, as YouTube video essayist Dan Olson says in his acclaimed piece Line Goes Up: A balanced digital economy isn't desirable. It's the factor of softly guided inflation that allows players to participate, have fun, and feel like part of a community.
Gold selling and raid bidding does neither, while actively hurting both of those end goals. But what's the answer?
The most direct answer would be Blizzard creating a non-purchasable raid currency and replacing the tried-and-true dice roll looting system. Get rid of the equal chance and just introduce a built-in version of Dragon Kill Points that isn't manipulatable by any raid leader or player. This way, if players truly wish to bid something then it's based on merit and not on whether or not you bought a WoW gold token before the raid.
It's either this, or making every loot table for raid bosses unique to the player so that gear isn't potentially sharable or tradable. That's not a great option--especially in WoW Classic, but it may be the only way to right the ship. After all, what will returning players think if they come back for The War Within and find themselves faced with the likes of raid buy-ins, a ravaged WoW gold economy, and more?
As I told someone recently on social media, the end goal for Blizzard is to get people to play WoW. I can think of no better way to chase players away than to ask them to spend real money on fake weapons.
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