Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Auction on the Go? Oh no...
Well it's not often in recent times that something drags me out of the cave to write during the week. But today in all the jumble of the final part of the last content patch of WOTLK coming out, Blizzard dropped casually some mighty big news. Continuing with the line of paid services that have rolled out over the past 12 months, blizzard is now developing Auction House capability for the Armory online and the Armory app on iphone. Here's the full announcement for reference:
Since the launch of the World of Warcraft Armory, we've been regularly releasing updates and new features designed to help players stay connected to the game even when they're not logged in. Today, we wanted to give you a heads-up about a new service now in development that will let players access the Auction House directly through the Armory website or Armory App for iPhone or iPod touch.
While there are still plenty of details to be worked out, we're designing the service to offer auction functionality similar to what's available in-game. Players have been requesting -- and we've been hoping to implement -- a feature like this for a long time, and we're excited that the Armory and the game have evolved to a point that makes it possible.
This is a fairly complex service to develop, due in large part to its unprecedented integration with the game, so we don't have an exact release date yet. It's important to note here that certain elements of the service will be premium-based, which we'll go into more detail on once the service functionality is finalized. As with all of the services we offer, we plan to integrate the Auction House and Armory in a way that won't disrupt the gameplay experience, and we won't release it until it meets the quality standards that we've set for our other features and services. You may be seeing bits and pieces of the Auction House service pop up in the test builds we use for the public test realms as we go through the process of internal testing. We'll have more info to share with you here and at http://www.WorldofWarcraft.com as we get closer to release.
So what we have here looks very cool on the surface. For any budding WoW businessman, now you can jump in and carry on your business when you are riding the train to work, or during a lunch break without needing to install Azeroth on a work computer or some other covert operation. You can become the Greedy Goblin you've always wanted to be! In fact, Gevlon may never get any real life work done again as he conquers the servers via his iphone or the online armory. I have to admit, I'd love to take care of the business aspect of my gaming in down moments, but then again, I don't have many down moments with the career I chose. In any event, this is bringing more convenience to the game.
However, there is something slightly troubling about this announcement. The first thing is the fact that this is different from all the other paid services. You see, race change is just changing some minor racial abilities and appearance, faction change is pretty much the same thing on a slightly larger level, pets are completely non-functional additions, server transfer is simply a change of venue for those with friends or other reasons to move. The point is, everything you can currently pay for does not affect the game in any substantial fashion. Despite this, the people (including myself) questioned if these microtransactions for real money were a trip down a slippery slope. Perhaps today shows us that indeed, if this is a slippery slope, we're headed right down it on a big old sleigh.
Being able to access the auction house with full functionality from out of the game takes a substantial part of the game and provides access to it for a fee. This "premium" service is another microtransaction, but one that has serious effects on the game world. Rather than just changing your outward appearance or your companions, now you can buy and sell gear and goods at any time you have access to your iphone, which means these people will have a serious market advantage over those who play the market and do not pay for premium service. Make no mistake about it: even if you are not active in the auction house economy, lots of people on your sevrer are and it drives the valuation of all the items you collect in the game. Giving some people more market access on this level could radically change the economy of tradeskills, a vital part of the game.
Furthermore, this is just another way for the gold selling companies to easily sneak their transactions through the system. Rather than needing to farm up gold on various different servers, they can just sell via online out-of-game transactions now that they have access to the auction house without logging in. If Blizzard tries to stop these sham-type transactions, it will completely kill legitimate passing of cash between your toons on opposite factions via the neutral auction house and the help of one buddy. Furthermore, it undermines any deterrance Blizzard currently has in going after gold sellers and account hackers. Perhaps mandatory authenticators and battle.net accounts will help this, but the gold sellers have to be rejoicing over this, and that is not a good thing.
Yet again, we come back to the slippery slope. You see, the argument for Blizzard in the earlier microtransactions was that these cash for play items were not affecting the game and making players better than one another based solely on their wealth out of the game. Make no bones about it...the battle daily in the markets is a fun game to play and I take part. But if someone wants to pay extra money to have extra market access and run everyone else out, then they will be the kings of the game as they will set the prices for many important in-game items. This leads to real advantages in the game, and is not all that different from paying cash for epic gear. In fact, with this system in place, there's no stopping Blizzard from moving towards a pay for epics model. While it's their game and their choice, this type of game is exactly what many people playing WoW believe makes Azeroth better than many competing MMO's. Real world wealth has no meaning in Azeroth, but that's about to change. Let the slide down that slippery slope continue.
Only time will tell how this new feature of the digital world comes to pass, and just what Blizzard means by premium. Perhaps Blizzard thinks this is the next step to keep people happy, or maybe they are like a winner at the casino who is cashing out while they still can before moving onto the next conquest. Let's hope for the former and pray against the latter.