Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blizzard and the gold-sellers

Not long ago I wrote about the connection between gold, time and twinking, and how some gold seller sites claimed they cooperate with Blizzard. At the time I didn't consider it, but a certain attunement needed if I want to join future raids have made me pause.

In order to enter some areas in the game, special effort is needed, or attunements. To enter Molten Core (MC) you have to get through Black Rock Depths (BRD) in order to get a fragment of the core, carry it back to an elf just outside the entranc and voila, you're attuned. Takes a bit of effort, but fairly easy, really. You just have to be a good enough player to get through a lev 54+ instance.

To get attuned to Blackwing Lair the stakes are a bit higher, you have to look for the letter that starts the quest - means killing some high level elite orcs. Then you need to go with a ten person raid through Upper Black Rock Spire (UBRS), kill the final boss and touch the orb behind him. No longer easy-peasy, but again, what it takes is skill and time.

Now, for the Onyxia attunment, you will be working for some time. You have to kill certain bosses in Lower Black Rock Spire (LBRS), then run around and deliver quests, collect items in UBRS, run a bit more, disguise as a dragonkin, talk to a dragon, kill a bunch of dragons, well, you get it, this is a loooong quest chain of things you have to do, and then you can enter Onyxia's Lair.

For the Ahn'Qiraj instances in Silithus, the entire server joined in for the attunement. Everybody have to work towards opening the gates, and once they are open, everybody can enter. This is both for the 20 and the 40 man instance: AQ20 and AQ40.

Now, up comes the newest, latest instance: Naxxramas in the eastern Plaguelands. For all the other instances, what you need to get attuned is friends, groups, gaming skills: the same kind of skills you need inside the instance. To get attuned to Naxxramas (Naxx), you need soloing skills and gold.

To enter Naxxramas, you must become attuned (which you do through the Argent Dawn) and then enter a Teleporting Spire in the Eastern Plaguelands. Although there is a green raid entrance deep inside Stratholme, it is blocked off by a gate.

The requirements for attuning to Naxxramas will depend on your reputation with the Argent Dawn:

5x [Arcane Crystal]
2x [Nexus Crystal]

1x [Righteous Orb]

60 gold

2x [Arcane Crystal]
1x [Nexus Crystal]

30 gold


The fastest way to get into Naxxramas is to run Scholomance or Stratholme until you are Honored and then simply buy the required materials. Prices obviously vary, but to give you a rough idea, the materials costs are approximately 250 at Honored (and about half that at Revered).

So: what you need for this attunement is either to give up all hope of entering for weeks of grinding, or to buy gold. Add to the equation that in order to get the equipment you need for Naxx, you need to run the other raid instances regularly to get new gear, because the only gear you can re-use is the nature resistance (NR) gear from AQ - and for some bosses some of the fire resistance (FR) gear from the dragon and fire related instances, but you can't even reach the FR bosses without the NR from AQ and most important in Naxx: frost resistance and shadow resistance. When you do heavy grinding of gear in raids, you spend a lot of the cash you make there on resources to maintain your presence: Potions, buffs, enchants, repairs. Raiding needs to be supported through grinding.

What does this mean? Naxxramas is a goldsellers' goldmine. Blizzard has built into the game an instance which ensures that nobody but the most devoted players can enter without either a very strong and generous guild supporting them, or through buying gold.

I am trying to understand what Blizzard gains from this. One thing is of course that goldsellers are players, too, and they have to buy the game and pay the fees. And they have to pay more than other players, as they have their accounts revoked each time they are discovered, and so they buy a new game to make a new account to get back into business. I would love to see an estimate of how large a percentage of the player population are gold sellers. It has to be a bunch, I normally get 4-5 whispers every gaming session from different gold seller sites, I report as many as I can, but they pop right back up.

An other issue is: Is Blizzard planning to make players buy their way into better positions in the game? The changes with The Burning Crusade (TBC), where mounts and gear is more advanced than ever, and where movement will be more restricted if you don't have the right gear, hints towards that kind of development. Today an epic mount riding skill costs almost 1000 gold. Before you could get one character to a certain status and buy cheaper mounts for your other characters and your friends. The recent changes makes this practice impossible. I can only guess that it means transportation will be more expensive in TBC. At the speed which I can grind - and mind you, I am a pretty dedicated player, I have to, in order to maintain a presence both with the raiding/role-playing guild and the researcher's guild - 1000 gold takes a month. 10 000 gold, which is the logical sum for a flying mount? Sounds like a year. A year of dedicated grinding, hours and hours of farming. I will never do that. What will Blizzard do to "help"?

Commodification is already an obvious part of TBC. Special "packs" offer goodies for players who buy them, like flashy funny mounts. Are Blizzard planning to beat the gold sellers by joining them?

I was looking forwards to The Burning Crusade. I would love a flying mount, a blood elf paladin and new areas to explore. Now I really don't know.


Esther said...

I really think this points to one of the flaws in the endgame. I don't think Blizzard realised that grinding doesn't have the staying power, and they did think that you would keep grinding, rather than buy that gold.

I'm just in the process of getting my tier 0.5 epics as my alliance mage, and the quest itself demands you buy at least one item that's 30g, and one that's 40g. Then there are 45g of 'normal' materials to buy. To get stage 0.5, you physically lose tier 0.0, which is ironically better until you have the whole lot assembled. So buying these again is another 150g at least...


Torill said...

Mark Bernstein comments this post, and indicates that it may be Blizzard's way to get rid of superfluous gold in the system. If so it is a strategy which has not worked for others. That is what Sony tried with EverQuest, and it lead to increased goldfarming and inflation.

When the amount of time you need to spend in order to get access to all of the game increases, those who can afford to buy their way in will do so. If the service is more expensive, more people will make money from it, and paying for it in the most time-efficient way will become more common. I can buy many many weeks of game-time worth of gold for the money I make in one hour as a teacher. Make the need for that gold more pronounced, and my threshold against gold-buying will become lower.

And gold farmers aren't in Asia. They have registered companies with offices on Manhattan, according to Edward Castronova.

Keystone said...

I just discovered your blog, and I must say I'm very impressed. It's always a pleasure to see intelligent post, especially on topics I can relate.

I believe that there should be gold-sinks in the game; however, make the currency sink a thing of pure fluff. In the MMORPG Ultima Online, it cost 500k (a decent sum of money) just to dye your hair a fancy neon color. The hair color did not give you a statistical advantage over your opponent, it did, however, show your high status.

There would still be people buying gold to achieve these aesthetic properties, but there would be no imbalance in combat for the casual, non-gold buying player.

The Koaladude said...

Thanks for this, it was a good read. I have a 60 Paladin and have never had more than 100g, I was also not a very dedicated player. I was really shocked when I found out that I needed 350g for an Epic mount and that was just to start the quest.
I can't imagine farming 1000g or 10, 000g.

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