Two days ago, World of Warcraft launched the WoW Token service, which will kill the game forever. It thus joins the list of every expansion and change to the game since launch as a herald of certain doom.
Joking aside, it’s understandable that players would be a wee bit apprehensive, since this is a bold new direction for the game. Sure, people have always traded real money for in-game currency, but before it was usually under the table, shady, and generally the sort of thing that resulted in bans and accounts being stolen. Now it’s totally legitimate. Plop your credit card on the table and get some game money.
But while it’s new territory for World of Warcraft, it’s not new territory for MMOs. There are a lot of titles that have, in various ways, codified the idea that you can drop some real coin and pick up virtual coins. To the great surprise of no one, none of these games has erupted in flames as a result of it.
1. Entropia Universe
Back when Entropia Universe launched, it used a business model that hadn’t been seen before and hasn’t, in fact, been seen since. All of the games listed here allow you to put your real money into the game and get virtual currency out of it or spend your virtual currency to get something worth real money. Only Entropia Universe lets you earn a bunch of virtual currency and then convert it back to actual money. There’s a fixed exchange rate on the game’s PED currency at 10:1, so 1,000 PED is $100, now and forever.
The net result is that everything in the game has a very direct and real value, and people who earn several million PED on bits of virtual real estate within the game have coming to them a lucrative payday. That’s super for the players who can do precisely that and perhaps no so much for the players looking at a new set of armor and realizing that they can actually plan it out in paychecks from their actual job. Really, if you’re dropping $350 on a set of in-game armor, don’t you kind of want some real-world protection instead?
2. Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 was hardly the first game to have microtransaction currency, but it made waves when it had the gem exchange in place from the game’s launch. Gems and gold have been linked since the earliest days of the game. Earn more gold, buy some gems, get valuable cosmetic bits from the gem store, and don’t actually spend any real money on the cosmetics. Win-win!
Of course, this has had some side effects, like the fact that players have more or less become experts at farming gold to unlock rewards, something that’s also in place when the game puts a lot of rewards specifically into the gem store rather than making them directly earnable via in-game activities. So it’s not a flawless system, but it does mean that the shiny new costume you see in the gem store isn’t specifically tied to a real-world pricetag.
3. EVE Online
If there’s one thing you think of when it comes to EVE Online, it’s… well, spreadsheets. Lots of spreadsheets. But if there’s a second thing you think of, it’s… well, constant open PvP leading to some people being unimaginable jerks. Still, the third thing is… that’s probably spaceships, isn’t it?
Let’s start over. Somewhere in the list of things that you think about when you think about EVE Online are those big, notable stories about ship destruction and loss of a huge number of PLEX. PLEX – which stands for Pilot License Extension – is a subscription time token, but it’s also a physical item in the game world. The result is that people load up ships full of these things, someone destroys them, and then a whole lot of real-world money is lost while someone gets very upset.
4. Star Trek OnlineStar Trek Online has had roughly 12 million currencies. The most prominent one in the game at the moment, however, is Dilithium, which is used to purchase ships, high-end equipment, reputation rewards, all that fun stuff. It is also used for purchasing Zen, the game’s microtransaction currency, which… well, that’s also used for purchasing ships, at this point. There are a lot of ships in Star Trek Online.
The most notable difference between this exchange and the Guild Wars 2 exchange is that Dilithium itself can be earned only at a certain rate in the game; there’s a limit to how much of it you can refine on a daily basis, and only refined Dilithium can be exchanged for Zen. The fact that the game also features a subscription option that gives players a monthly supply of Zen also muddies the waters a bit further, but it still lets you turn that real dosh into virtual coins. Or, in this case, virtual stones.
5. Champions Online
With the same developer and publisher, it’s not surprising that Champions Online has basically the same system as Star Trek Online. The main differences are that the game uses Questionite instead of Dilithium and the fact that Champions Online receives content updates at roughly the same pace as Halley’s Comet returning to the Earth.
When RIFT went free-to-play, it also introduced REX tokens. These are somewhere between the other options in that the tokens are bought and sold, but rather than give the player who uses them subscription time, they give the player two forms of currency, including loyalty points. And you can convert all of it into loyalty points if you so desire. So you can turn one kind of currency into another kind of currency that you then turn into a third kind of currency, and then you scratch your head and shrug.
Joking aside, REX retails for less than many of the other options here, and it’s sold on the auction house for players who want to pick it up. You can also just trade it to other players if you so desire; it’s a bit more liberating than some options, probably because it does a little bit less than a subscription token.
7. EverQuest II
Krono is the name, adding subscription time to EverQuest II is its game! There’s not a whole lot more to say about this one other than the fact that the price for this particular token is pegged to the server rather than gamewide, so it’s possible to be on a server where subscription time is cheap or one where it’s super expensive. Do your research first.
8. TERA[AL:TERA]Unlike all of the other entries on this list, TERA‘s Chronoscrolls no longer exist. When the game converted to free-to-play, it simply made all existing Chronoscrolls very valuable items to vendor. So you can’t purchase them any longer, and thus they have evaporated into the ether, a method of making your real money into game money that is now lost.
While they were around, the Chronoscrolls worked more or less as you’d expect: Use them for a month of game time; buy and sell if you want in-game currency. It’s not so much that the business end of these items didn’t work as it is the simple fact that players turned out to not care for the subscription model. Changes took place, and ironically, the Chronoscroll vanished into the depths of time.
While Guild Wars 2 embraced a direct currency exchange from launch, WildStar embraced a subscription token from launch. Near launch, anyhow; CREDD wasn’t available for purchase on launch day, but soon thereafter, meaning that you could turn WildStar into a buy-to-play game if you were dedicated enough with farming. That is pretty cool.
The dedicated exchange service for CREDD is probably the closest direct comparison to WoW Token operation; you can buy or sell only through a dedicated interface. WildStar does not have a full-featured in-game store at the time of this writing, however, which makes purchasing and selling CREDD a bit more involved than just sitting in the game and camping the auction interface.
All right, technically Skyforge isn’t out in North America yet. But it’s in open beta/soft launch/whatever you want to call it in Russia, where you can indeed convert purchased currency into the game’s main in-game currency of credits. Notably, this is different from all of the other entries here because credits are tied to one of the game’s advancement systems; upgrading your equipment slots is a big deal, and the fact that you can buy credits to your heart’s content to accelerate the upgrade process has some people already calling foul.
Of course, the counterargument (made by the designers) is that all you’re really buying is speed of advancement, so it’s not as if players who don’t buy credits will be getting in faster. It also works in both directions, so people can use credits to buy microtransaction currency, but it has some interesting implications for how the game’s power curve will play out. It’s not novel or groundbreaking, obviously; it’s just another chapter in the ongoing book about dropping real dollars and making them virtual.