WoW Factor: The debate over World of Warcraft’s refer-a-friend nerf

Ah, another day and another thing to enrage people in World of Warcraft. Last time, it was that the Allied Race unlocks might (will) require you to actually play the endgame a bit. This time, it’s that the refer-a-friend service no longer allows you to gain huge chunks of experience just for turning in a breadcrumb quest to arrive at a new zone. Or, alternatively, it’s that Blizzard has just noticed that a decade-old service could be used for some unscrupulously fast leveling roundabouts, and now that it’s sort of proud of the 1-100 leveling experience again, we can’t have that.

Much like the bit ages ago with Star Wars: The Old Republic and the pointless controversy over a cash shop lightsaber, this is one of those situations where everyone involved is being either willfully or unintentionally dim. It’s not that the players grousing about this are right, and it’s not that it was the right decision to make. So, just as I did for that, it’s time to sit both sides down and explain why this is dumb across the board.

You are not referring friends

Leveled legit.I’m sitting those of you who play the game down first because, well, you’re closer. And it’s time for us to have a real discussion about this, starting with the fact that I know with absolute certainty that this is not actually a complaint about trying to recruit new people into the game.

How do I know that? Because if your friend bought the game, your friend would already have a level 100 boost token sitting on the character creation screen, making any discussion about the price equivalency completely moot. And I know from experience (read: having actually done this) that even with just the heirloom boosts, you’re looking at two Legion zones cleared before you’re at 110. Tops. And that’s completely ignoring quests that don’t funnel into the zone’s main storyline, to boot.

You and I both know that this isn’t really about leveling friends you bring into the game. This is about leveling your alts and how this workaround no longer lets you work around anything. It’s like people arguing that weed should be legal because it can be used to make paper; it’s a tacit admission that you don’t think your real reason holds up.

In this case? Honestly, it doesn’t.

I understand enjoying leveling speeds of absurd degrees, I understand the impulse to have characters at max level, and I understand the argument that it’s more fun when you’re at the level cap and have your full suite of abilities. Those are all understandable points. But this is also one of the things that the changes were specifically meant to address. You can argue that they didn’t really fix all of the issues, but saying that straight-out is more useful than being upset that you can’t still do an end-run around the mechanics that are in place.

At this point, the simple reality is that if you want to level, you’re going to have to actually level. This is not such a dreadful prospect, considering that odds are good that there are zones and dungeons you haven’t seen. The experience is going to be a bit slower, but making it faster and less relevant all along the ay means that the old portions of the game may as well be outright deleted. Everyone starts at level 110, forget everything else.

If the process of leveling isn’t fun, that’s a sign that the process needs to be trimmed up and made more fun, not that we should just ignore it altogether. So the fact that you can no longer use this particular mechanic as a way of cheesing through levels like lightning is ultimately a good thing, not a drawback.

The system was broken, and honestly, it should never have stacked as thoroughly as it did. You knew it, I knew it, and Blizzard knew it. Let’s be honest about it.

You have not always been at war with Eurasia

Stop breaking the system we no longer want to acquiesce was ever broken!All right. Blizzard. Guys. Here’s the problem. I’ve just finished explaining that yes, this system was broken. Making heirlooms and refer-a-friend non-stacking and equivalent is entirely a correct and good change.

You know what would have been better? If you had made that change within the decade of time when this was not the case.

Seriously, this refer-a-friend program is not new. It did not suddenly show up in the game code by mistake. It’s not like you implemented this experience boost a few months ago and just now realized that this was a problem. You’ve had a huge amount of time in which you knew this was the case and chose to do nothing, and you’re changing it now because you’re actually sort of happy with the game’s leveling setup again and want everyone to take part. You were fine with it before because it let people just glide over the parts of the game that were… less polished, in other words.

All right. Fine. But lean the hell in on it, will you? Stop acting like this is some change that just came out of nowhere, and stop acting like you’re fixing an issue that showed up all of a sudden as if no one could have expected this outcome ahead of time. You knew about all of this well before now. These are old facets of the game and you have, quite intentionally, ignored them up until now.

This is a problem that you display consistently, as if everyone is just going to ignore what you were doing five minutes ago to focus on what you’re doing now. It has never worked in the past, and there’s no reason to imagine it’s going to work now, and that’s a lesson that should have been obvious with Warlords of Draenor and flight. I wrote a whole article about that, and yes, there are a lot of arguments for keeping flight out of the game. You’ve never figured out how to make zones interesting with flight, just obnoxious without it. So yes, there’s reason to say, “Flight should never have been in the game.”

But that doesn’t mean that you can just promptly declare “now flight never existed” and have everyone sagely going along with it. It happened. It looks worse when you try to get everyone to ignore the history than if you just explain why the changes are being made.

Refer-a-friend should not stack with heirlooms. It shouldn’t have stacked with heirlooms from its introduction, and it should have been addressed then. The time for making a certain cap on the experience gains as then. Making it now makes it pretty transparent that you were unhappy with things then but overlooked it intentionally until you introduced level scaling.

This, then, is the problem. You did a good by at least admitting that this was more or less the motivation, but you wouldn’t be losing points in the first place if you made these chances and stuck with them back when this was a new thing.

In short, for the love of crap, start planning ahead for more than half of an expansion.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to I’ve got alts to level, if you don’t mind. (They’re not refer-a-friend alts. They’ve never been refer-a-friend alts.)

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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11 Comments on "WoW Factor: The debate over World of Warcraft’s refer-a-friend nerf"

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Sally Bowls

A point not mentioned: they spent the effort to write the code to grandfather in the old method. But then they went live with a surprise “as of right now” instead of “in a week or two.”

The BfA pre-order mounts (Alliance gets a *****) have already been datamined. Legion preorder was announced just under nine months before launch. So unless the last Legion raid to BfA gap is going to be really long, one would expect BfA pre-order soon.

If you want at least one of the six new races, you can spend a lot longer grinding increased XP requirements against tougher mobs with nerfed heirlooms or pay for a race change or a $60 boost. Obviously, it is just a complete coincidence that spending $10 or $20 to RAF up all six races is not allowed and that six times $60 is 1800% of one times $20.

“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for leveling new characters slower.”


I don’t think I can add much because the sixty-buck elephant in the room is sizable enough that you really don’t need to highlight its presence in order to be made aware of it. We all know what I am talking about.

The entire RAF changes were an oddly missing “hole” in their new system and I was actually surprised it did not fixed earlier in the PTR cycle. It was unrealistic to expect it to survive in its previous, flawed form.

It’s a necessary change but one that inject itself in a set of circumstances that hardpress me into thinking their motives are sincere. Blizzard isn’t used in offering choices. If rehauling levelling is what they invested the bulk of their work hours for this one patch, by jingo you shall all partake in it… at lenght.

Unless you pay.

Money talk. And regardless of anyone’s stance on the entire subject matter, it’s hard to deny they just made the service they sell a -lot- more desirable.


I would agree with you if blizzard didnt sell a boost 60 euro… It is hypocritical the least.

Dug From The Earth

Im just upset because over the years ive played WoW, ive probably personally brought in 5 close friends, as well as referred another 20+ people from those I interact with often.

None of which I managed to do a “Recruit a friend” thing with.

Why? Because almost every time, the other person goes and buys the game and starts up their account before I got around to going through the hassle of saying “Wait, go through these steps first before you buy and sign up”. Most people when they want a game, go out an buy it. They dont wait for someone to send them an email with a link.

Or, its just a simple matter of, “hey, I decided to buy the game last night after you were talking about it, we should play together now!”. By that time, its too late.

They really need a system that allows something, even long after they bought the game, to at have ONE person they claim as “this person referred the game to me” that lets you get the bonuses (regardless of how small). Players should be able to go to their account page, and type in ONE persons battlenet handle that they claim “referred” them, that allows them to have this time of bonus in game.

I think of ESO, and the rings of Mara. You can pick ONE person who your accounts are linked to for in game Xp bonuses (and some other minor things i think). Doesnt matter when or how they went about buying the game and creating an account.

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Totes McGoats

I feel like Elliot’s entire arguement against the players is refuted by the fact Blizzcon sells an obscenely expensive level boost.

Do love anyone who appreciates path dependency though.

Nathan Aldana

In fairness, using recruit a friend is also pretty obscenely expensive if you use it more than once.

Sally Bowls

Old RAF, for example, you could level 4 pairs to RAF max, you get boost levels to get 2 more up. And still have a side of an additional 4 toons that you could transfer over for $25 each.

All of this cost $5 on sale in ’16 and $10 last year. Boosting six toons would be $360.

six toons is $5 vs $360 (+4 unused max level toons for future transfer)
ten toons is $105 vs $600

And this assumes you are a lazy casual :-) who would only level four pairs.

Sally Bowls

Appropriately, I want to quote (although I bet he said it better than my memory) Eliot on the flying contretemps: Flying was a mistake and they need to keep it in. The current system is not obviously awful; but players expectations and inertia after a decade of precedent is considerable. Stare Decisis! (note that Blizzard was willing to accept the RAF income over this decade)
I draw the distinction that this is a fine option but the mistake is making it mandatory. Level scaling is good and adds flexibility. But the leveling speed nerfs remove flexibility. Last week, you could finish any zone or get loremaster while leveling, it’s just it would take longer as some mobs/quests would go grey. But if you are of the “more time is OK, seeing all the story is important” crowd, then this should not be a problem. If you want a challenge, you could not RAF, not wear heirlooms and you can unequip enough slots to make it challenging. If you were a level 70 wearing nothing but just a weapon and a smile (Hmm, “just a weapon and a smile” could make for an adult movie title) I have to believe combat would challenge even the forum-warrior Eedgelords. SlowDowners can achieve something similar this week as last. But if you want to get to max level quickly, this week is very different than last.
I find the argument that “leveling is important” a lot less credible from Blizzard since they give out boost with expansions and sell boosts. You certainly learn more RAFing to 100 than pressing the boost button.
Some of the arguments are “well if you want to play with your friends ASAP, you can buy/use a boost. Well, if you go to any MMO forums – WoW or GW2 during PoF launch – and ask about what class to boost, the near-universal recommendation is “don’t do it for your first class.” If you follow the recommendation, the boost in your account turns out to not get you to playing with your friends quicker.
I use alts – preferably quick leveled – to compensate for design flaws in WoW. Most MMOs I experience with do not require a max level toon to do significant crafting. At least I can’t recall crafting restrictions after you left the starter zone in SWTOR, LotRO, STO, GW2, Wildstar… But if I roll a new toon on a new server to follow some soon-to-ADD-wander-away “friends”, then I want one of most professions to support a main and a healer and/or tank alt. That requires max level alts on that realm. If I want eight transmutation alchemists, that requires alts. Only max level toons can effectively craft, 2 professions per toon, and ridiculously high toon tran$fer co$ts mean I want alts.


Upvoted simply for the masterful language in that first paragraph. /clap

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Upvoted for porn movie name.


I don’t really care for myself since I never used the system nor did I plan to. However it does appear a bit hypocritical and/or greedy to fix a way that allowed players to level too fast while still selling an obscenely expensive boost on the side. This can either be about game play or money, and if you sell a solution to the problem of game play then it can only be about money.