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How much is that panda in the window -OR- why people hate the pet store

When JayeDub left a comment yesterday about Blizzard implementing paid vanity pets, I didn’t take it seriously. WoW’s not a cash shop game. They’ve spent the last year showing that everyone can achieve anything if they put in enough time. Imagine my surprise when I found out they were total hypocrites. Money trumps philosophy, is the take-home from this one and, for a company with Blizzard’s reputation, it can only be a sign of changing times.

When I read WoW.com‘s post, people seemed pretty torn about whether this was FTW or epic fail. People who don’t see a problem with it feel that it’s OK since pets are vanity items; they don’t affect gameplay, they’re just neat to look at and have follow you around. That’s true but it’s also a stance that completely ignores the other half of the argument.

Here’s why I don’t like “pay-for-me” pets.

The shady waters of item shops

WoW isn’t at the point of a real item shop yet but a lot of the outcry over these pets is based on what may be around the corner. Blizzard is putting their toe into some very murky waters, when it comes to charging for in-game items. It’s a slippery slope when you start offering things for sale rather than earning them in game. Now, it’s pets, but what happens in a few months? Consumables for time-challenged raiders? Crafting mats for similarly starved crafters? Using money to pay for things other players can’t earn undermines the value of everybody’s time and the line between acceptable and “crossing the line” is subjective at best.

It’s also up to the company to make sure item shops don’t segregate the player base. Even when items can also be earned in-game, when someone can just go and buy whatever it is, it draws a line between the “player” and “payer.” This separation becomes, not only obvious, but annoying to the average player and resentments start to fester. The only place to lay blame is on the parent company that cared more about cash than community. See: Runes of Magic.

Excluding players without credit cards

Not all WoW players have debit/credit cards and, contrary to what many people think, not everyone can get a debit card, unless you’re somewhere that sells the deceptively innocent appearing pre-paid kind that mostly tie you into contracts by using them.

What does this mean? If you’re one of the many, say, under 18, WoW players you’re out of luck. Unless, of course, you can convince your parents to pay for you.

But mooooooom… I really want it!

Cool should not equal cash

Right now, the lich pet is probably the coolest looking and most unique vanity pet in the game. Granted, it doesn’t affect gameplay but it leaves the door open to other likewise fun things being cash only. One commenter at WoW.com mentioned that this was no different than buying TCG loot cards on Ebay. He’s right, but those players buying the loot cards are bypassing a system that’s supposed to reward the time and effort of card collecting. In other words, they were cheating the system to get a one-up on other players.

Fun items shouldn’t be credit card purchases. They should require some vestige of effort more than typing in your three digit security code. As a player paying a monthly fee, I want the chance to get the same, or similar, item without giving up more money every month. Why am I paying a $15 fee then? So you can design vanity pets I can’t buy or to wait six months for a new patch? That’s why most games either go P2P or F2P with an item mall.

Ending the meta-game

Vanity pets don’t effect game play… unless you’re a pet collector. Blizzard looked the pet collectors in the eye and told them if they’re meta-game is at an end… unless they pay them $20. That’s lame, plain and simple.

There are only two things this could mean

After thinking on it, this decision could mean only two things. First, that Blizzard is looking to money grub. Or, second, that Blizzard’s not earning the way it used to.

Personally, I think it’s a mix of both. Making money is something all companies try to do but I tend to get a little sore when a company making way more money than all its competition tries to dig their customers even more by charging 2/3 of their monthly sub for a single pet. Hey Blizzard, word on the street has it that that’s about 1000% the average microtransaction. They’re digging because they can. And why not? Their investors can’t be happy they just lost the whole Eastern hemisphere through, you know, those silly things called laws.

Just to keep this in perspective, people’s problems with this pet store are mostly based on “tip of the iceberg” type thinking. In the interest of full disclosure, I can say that I like both of the pets. I’d probably get the lich one, if I didn’t care about not supporting this idea. Still, if they start offering anything else other than silly little pets and total vanity pieces, I’m going to call for either giving me a way to earn them in game, or lowering my subscription. I don’t like being dug and the potential is definitely here.


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  1. Andrew

    I’m all for RMT-based games, but I think that forcing a mandatory subscription and then adding an item shop on top of it (i.e. WoW, EQ2) is a bad idea.

  2. We Fly Spitfires

    No doubt we will be seeing more micotransactions coming from Blizzard. I bet it won’t be long before we’re seeing vanity items, clothes and exp potions.

  3. Chris

    I’d hope if they start shelling out exp. potions they’ll get rid of the subscription. They mentioned that WoW could move to that model last year but it was intentionally vague. I doubt they get rid of the sub. though. It’s only the hopeful part of me that thinks it’s possible.

  4. xXJayeDuBXx

    I agree, vanity items will more than likely be the next step for Blizz. As long as the items are not tied to achievements or screw with the balance of the game, then I personally am all for it.

  5. Derrick

    I’m all for vanity items paid for via microtransactions. It’s a perfectly valid revenue model.

    I don’t even mind a combination of microtransactions and subscriptions, however I feel the player should be able to choose which way to go – free to play with microtransaction purchased whatevers, or a sub that covers all that stuff.

    If you’re going to have both, then the items you are charging for should be freely available via time investment in game, so players are ABLE to get them without purchasing them. After all, that’s what the subscription is for isn’t it?

    In my opinion, a monthly subscription in an MMO should be an “all you can eat” pass allowing 100% access to all the games content (though not necessarily easily); while a non-subscription+microtransaction model should be “Basic stuff for free, microtransactions for the nifty stuff. Both of these options together (pick which you want!) would be amazing… but to charge for a sub, THEN charge for content is just double dipping IMHO. ALL content is optional in the end, and how important a given type of content is depends entirely on the player. Locking out vanity pets to only “Pet Store” purchases is no different than locking out specific raids to people who pay to access that specific raid.

  6. Dieter

    In my view this just kills WoW for any serious gamer. It was clear that something like this would happen when Vivendi bought Blizzard. A great game developing company gets changed into a soulless cash cow. Blizzard changes from being the Apple of the gaming industry to being the Microsoft. First it was in size and now follow the methods of exploiting their customers.

    I will probably keep playing some time because of my social contacts but i will try to fade it out and leave WoW. I don’t like being made a cash pig instead of a valued customer.

  7. Derrick

    Dieter;

    This has nothing to do with Vivendi/Activision/whatever. As soon as Blizzard became a publicly traded company, you (that is, the customer) became a – as you put it – cash pig. Nobody values customers in any serious sense aside from how they can milk more money out of you.

    Interestingly, you say “the Apple of the gaming industry” – are you referring to Apple the company? You think THEY value their customers? They produce a very high quality product (as Blizzard did and still does) but they do everything in their power to control how you use it, lock you in to their software, as well as numerous other shady practices. If anything, Blizzard is becoming MORE like Apple, not less. Apple doesn’t value it’s users as anything more than $ either.

  8. camazotz

    Well, as one of those pet collectors going all the way back to 2005, I was disappointed as it was when they released easily-attained in-game pets through the mystery eggs. Literally days after achieving the 50 pet target and plotting how I was going to somehow get the ridiculously rare pets I still needed to hit 75, it was suddenly a piece of cake for people who had been playing a few months to get to 75 before me. So after that bit crushed my soul and diminished my interest in the achievement portion of the game I was attracted to, this new announcement of a vanity pet store was “meh.” But I agree, its a bad trend, because they now have the system in place to stack additional vanity items, followed by booster and improvement items….could we see the day a year from now when one can shell out $20 and buy their top tier gear? Watch DDO for an idea on just how crazy micro-transactions (and not so micro) can get.

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