Those of you who have read my work in WoW Factor for a while will know that I tend to be very cards-on-the-table about my predictions. I make my guesses, I rate my overall accuracy around 65% (better than a coin flip, but not uncanny), and I stand by them. This is why I’m just going to put this here and let myself be judged on it in a couple years: By 2025, World of Warcraft will allow players to just go ahead and buy Trader’s Tender from the game’s cash shop.
None of this is to say that Ion Hazzikostas is lying when he says that there are no current plans to do that; as I’ve said in the past, the man is not a liar. But the writing is on the wall now, just as surely as it was clear well before Overwatch 2 saw the majority of its PvE content (also known as “the reason for its existence”) axed that it wasn’t going to happen. So I want to talk about why this is bad and why it is, at this point, pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Let me start with a trip down memory lane (comin’ outta Queensbridge) back when this feature was first announced in what feels like the Long Long Ago. It was actually back in December of last year, but 2023 has been A Year for me, I tell you what. Here’s what I said:
Plus, it’s still possible that they’ll announce some cockamamie monetization scheme in which you can pay to advance faster or get more Tender, and I am throwing up in my mouth just typing that. This has the potential to be a really good loyalty/player incentive program, and Blizzard has not earned the goodwill back to take that at face value. It may never earn that back.
So, yes, here’s that cockamamie monetization scheme on preview right now. Now, I have no doubt the folks who live and die in the Fanboy Mines are already hard at work pointing out that I’m jumping to conclusions, that it won’t make that much of a difference, and anyway why is this a problem? Well, I’ll tell you. Starting with the last point.
One of the examples that Hazzikostas cites is that in the past, the developers would launch promotional bundles that included, say, a pet someone didn’t want. This is, theoretically, not a big deal, except for the fact that most of WoW’s bundles are actually “pet and mount” or “two pets” or “two mounts.” Replacing one part of that with Tender functionally means that you’re already just buying Tender. If it’s $25 for the Champion’s Dreadhawk Reins or $35 for the Reins and 900 Tender, well, you’re paying $10 for 900 Tender. Obfuscating it by calling it part of the bundle is a sleight-of-hand trick lacking even the basic dignity of pretending to pull off the tip of your index finger.
But let’s assume that Hazzikostas was speaking of larger bundles, rather than the most common ones. That still is actually kind of a net loss. If you have a bundle containing a mount, toy, pet, and costume set, but now that same price of bundle contains tender… well, that is actually offloading the work of making a pet. The developers are selling you fewer things at the same price. That’s not apocalyptic, but it does mean that it’s just another form of game currency that the development team is happy to sell you.
And let’s not leave it merely implied: The leadership in charge of the game is perfectly willing to sell you currency. “Get out your wallet and bypass this currency wall” has become as much a part of WoW now as it has in any free-to-play MMO, except that you also pay a monthly subscription.
While I have no doubt that there are no current plans to just directly sell Trader’s Tender, you have to realize that when this change is rolled out, it has been confirmed as an “any day now” sort of thing. As soon as people are accustomed to it, and as soon as a few people make posts on the official forums about how “gosh, it’d be nice if I could just buy the Tender directly,” well, there you go. The Blizzard strategy continues to be about selling more things to fewer people, and the people in charge would find the money too attractive to resist even in the unlikely event that they actually had some deep-seated moral aversion to it.
So why is this a big deal? In contrast to selling gold, Trader’s Tender is actually divorced from power in every meaningful fashion. It’d be reasonable to see this as not being a big deal, and from a game balance standpoint, it isn’t. I want to make that entirely clear. Looking at this purely from a standpoint of keeping the game fair for players? This isn’t a big deal. It’s not game-breaking. It’s whatever. It’s disappointing.
What makes it a problem is honestly kind of subtle, but it comes down to the whole premise of the Trading Post. The idea of the Trading Post is that while it is not content, it is a content incentive system. Ideally, it rewards you for doing stuff you’re already doing and gives you extra bonuses along the way. You aren’t playing to clear the Trading Post, but if you’re already close, you might as well do something you otherwise might not just for another couple of objectives.
It’s akin to a loyalty program, in many ways, right down to having a rotating selection of stock and stuff that you have to pick and choose between. This is not actually a bad thing. Lots of good MMOs do it. While it is, again, not really content in and of itself, it gives you something to sharpen your goals for the month. It at least theoretically allows even players who do not fall into the ideal content cycles for the game to have some goals to work toward.
But… that is harder to justify when you also are reminded that you can just buy your way past those obstacles. No, it is technically not the same; no, you do not get the monthly completion reward if you do that. But it does give you a sense that all of these items can be yours if you play and choose or if you get out your credit card. Even if you can’t pay to bypass everything, the impression that you can pay to bypass some of it does a number on any sense of ownership or accomplishment.
Or, to put it another way, at this point it’s already possible for two people who play the game the same amount to feel like they are at wildly different tiers because one person has a social group dedicated to raiding and the other does not. The Trading Post was, at least in theory, a crumbling of that hierarchy. Selling the currency reassembles the hierarchy, just in the form of who has the most disposable income.
Have the designers made worse choices? Yes, absolutely. But this is definitely far into the “unforced error” region of bad choices. It offers an entirely predictable ending: There’s the lure of something that can be monetized, so it gets monetized, and it becomes contentious when it really doesn’t need to be. Instead of being a fun way to incentivize different content options, it becomes just another paywall you can bypass.
And yes, right now, there are no plans to sell it directly. But I am calling it right now and predicting that in two years, that’s no longer going to be the case. I’d like to be wrong… but I doubt I am.