Here we go again!
The recently datamined info found on World of Warcraft’s public test server turned up an item, the Enduring Elixir of Wisdom, that offers a 100% XP buff from killing monsters and completing text. It seems like the kind of thing that would come from a cash shop – which Blizzard’s community manager didn’t exactly deny – and when a cash shop comes along, free-to-play is next, right? Right?
Take another look at Zarhym’s words: the Elixir is potentially “a way for players in certain regions to make purchases directly in the game.” As we’ve long known, the tendency for Asian players is not to buy subscriptions as we do here in the West, but to play in Internet cafes, purchasing time as they go. That’s why F2P “started” in Korea and Japan before migrating to the U.S. It was simply the better model for those regions.
If I had to guess, I’d suppose the Elixir – and any other cash shop boosts that might come along – is designed primarily for those players, and those are the “certain regions” Zarhym’s talking about. But adding an in-game cash shop takes time, effort, and money, and I’d be surprised if Blizzard was going to go to all that trouble for just one item, for only one, albeit significant, part of its customer base.
So let’s suppose Blizzard adds the Elixir and other (we’ll assume) non-gamebreaking items, as well as the usual plethora of mounts and other services, to an in-game cash shop that it makes available to all its players, worldwide. Now is it going free-to-play?
I’d say that it increases the odds by a not-small amount, but it probably still won’t be for a long time coming. 8.3 million players is still a lot, and it’s going to take a bigger drop than what we’ve seen to force Blizzard’s hand and make the momentous switch. Plus, with a new expansion likely coming next year, and the bump in player numbers that usually comes with it, we probably wouldn’t be looking at F2P until 2015 at the absolute earliest.
It’s entirely possible, however, that the Elixir, and whatever else comes after it, is Blizzard’s way of testing the waters of a F2P cash shop, both from a technology standpoint and a community reaction standpoint, to iron out all the kinks and make sure they present it in a way that’s palatable to its player base. Only after they’re 100% sure that everything is as it should be would they even consider turning the switch all the way.
Blizzard has always been willing to borrow concepts from other games and implement them in World of Warcraft. Eventually, they’ll probably take the big concept of free-to-play and make it their own, but they can afford to do it at a their own pace and make sure it’s done right.
By Jason Winter