He de-Rifted, then he re-Rifted…
I covered Rift very early in this blog’s life. So early, in fact, that I hadn’t even come up with the “cheating on WoW” tag yet. I found it a technically competent but generic game, and ultimately, it failed to tickle my fancy. However, its transition to free to play gave me an opportunity to see how it had changed since launch.
I wrote up my thoughts for WhatMMO, so head on over to read my views on how Rift has changed.
As an aside, one thing I found bizarre is that Rift is apparently having some sort of cross-promotion event with Defiance right now. I had heard something about this a few weeks ago, but I assumed the event was already over. Imagine my surprise when I ran into a fire rift and found it full of Hellbugs.
On the plus side, I got a free mount out of the deal.
Dataminers discovered something interesting in the World of Warcraft test realm files the other day: An elixir that increases experience gain, listed as coming from an “in-game store.” Exactly like the kind of boosts sold in free to play games.
Needless to say, the implication that WoW might be getting a cash shop caused a bit of a stir. This could be an early indication of Blizzard laying the groundwork for a transition to free to play. Certainly, if they add a cash shop on top of the subscription, it would come across as rather greedy.
Now, WoW technically already has a cash shop for its pets and sparkle ponies, but what’s proposed by this elixir is another beast entirely. This would mean a shop accessible in-game, presumably stocked with a variety of boosts and items. Just like free to play and buy to play MMOs have.
Blizzard has confirmed they are looking into the possibility of implementing new ways for people to buy items in-game — and, presumably, new items to buy — so that more or less confirms a cash shop is at least being considered.
It’s worth noting, though, that they mentioned they were testing it for “certain regions.” Most people have taken this to mean “Asia,” and I think this is a likely bet. Asia is where the majority of the recent subscriber losses have been, so it makes sense for them to try and recoup their losses in the region, and Asian gamers have traditionally shown themselves to be more open to micro-transactions than their Western fellows.
Still, if the cash shop proves successful in Asia, it’s hard to imagine it not eventually making it to North America in some form. Which brings us back to the question of whether this going to be in addition to the subscription fee, or whether it’s a sign of a change to free to play.
[EDIT: I am hearing reports at MMO-Champion that Blizzard has confirmed the cash shop is only intended for Asia, but I stand by my belief that it will likely make it to the rest of the world eventually if it proves successful.]
Although I’m generally a defender of micro-transactions, I’d find the former a little distasteful. Considering how much Blizzard already makes off of account services, expansion prices, subscription fees, and sparkle ponies, it would make them look very greedy.
On the other hand, if it’s a sign that F2P is on the horizon, I’d be overjoyed. I’ve made no secret of my distaste for the subscription model, and it’s one of the reasons I find my interest in WoW waning. It’s not even a question of the money; F2P is just a more equitable and enjoyable way to play — when it’s handled well — than a subscription.
I do view a free to play WoW as an inevitability at this point, and no matter what happens, this news further strengthens my belief that WoW losing its subscription is now a matter of when, not if.
What say you? Is this the end of the world (of Warcraft), a sign of a welcome change in business model, or a non-issue?