Monday, February 6, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: What Have You Done, World of Warcraft?

Since World of Warcraft launched, there's been a problem with third parties offering services without Blizzard's approval. One of them is providing in-game currency (henceforth "gold") to paying players. These parties do so by abusing the game's Terms of Service, and even by compromising and usurping paying customers' accounts to acquire that gold. As it became clear that suckering people into compromising accounts is easier than working it up, that became the go-to means to get that gold. No matter how hard Blizzard tried, they couldn't put a stop to it.

So they decided to fuck them all over by doing it themselves, using existing technology and infrastructure to make it safe and secure. They called this "The WOW Token", and it started simple enough: if you have more real-world money than gold, you could spend $20 to (a) buy a token good for 30 days of game time and (b) pay a service charge to make it into a tradeable token.

Put the Token up for sale on the Auction House, and get a fat sack of gold; at this end, the quantity of gold is guaranteed to the post at the time the token is put up for sale. For the rest of us, we're able to use gold to buy gametime and essentially monetize our playtime; those skilled in playing the virtual economy are more than able to play for free indefinitely.

It's been rumored since this began that the Token would expand in functionality to allow for other things wanted by players. This finally occurred, and they did it in a most efficient manner: you can now redeem a Token for either game time or credit to your Battletnet account, allowing you to use gold to buy character transfers (or other such services), virtual goods (pets or mounts), or even other Blizzard games. Go on, look for yourself:

Does the term "perverse incentive" mean anything to you? It should, because that's what just went live.

The gold price of a Token varies by region (North America/Oceanic, Europe, Asia), with North America being about half of Europe and sometimes a fifth of Asia. Before it went live, the gold price in North America was stable at about 60K gold. When I logged off at 10:30 p.m. Central Time tonight, it had already spiked to 80K. Holy shit.

This won't hurt me right away; my game time is paid through January of next year. But it does mean that I now cannot avoid thinking of gold as anything other than a way to pay for game time, and consider all alternative uses of gold compared to that primary purpose. I'm hardly the only player recognizing this fact, and I think that the very reason the Token got created--to eliminate third parties exploiting the virtual economy is undermined by this change.

But that's not the real issue. The real one is that someone at Blizzard thought it was a good idea to turn gold into virtual company scrip, which might as well be real money (because--within the Blizzard virtual store--it is). It doesn't matter if it's restricted as stated in the video and clarified in the F.A.Q.- you are taking a fake virtual currency and making it into a real one, and that means the IRS (and its counterparts in other countries) are going to have a say about this soon, one that won't be nice for anyone but the taxmen.

You dun goofed, Blizzard. You undermined your own anti-goldseller scheme, and opened yourself to tax liability. Fucking brilliant.

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