10 Oct 2011

The Kitten Standard Economy?

A while back I wrote about the possibility that Titan, Blizzard’s next MMO, would feature a real money auction house. This followed on from Diablo 3, which introduced the concept in order to provide a safer alternative to the grey market that emerged around item trading in Diablo 2.

The main argument at the time was that Blizzard would never put in a real money auction house because it would affect the core dynamic of how players gain power. There was a claim that because Diablo 3 is a dungeon loot fest with no competitive play that there’s no harm to other players in buying high quality items for real cash.

The problem occurs when you try and apply the same logic to Warcraft. Currently the most powerful items and equipment are earned through either raiding (for valour points) or PVP (for conquest points). There is no way to shortcut buying them – no amount of gold will help you, while only breaching the Terms of Use and paying someone to play your character for you will get your character geared up quicker. Not something I’d encourage.

Sure there’s a few good quality BoE items from the top tier raids that can be sold on the auction house, but they’re few and far between. As a result, would it really harm the Warcraft mechanic of playtime=power if a real money auction house existed?

My hunch is that it wouldn’t.

Of course there’s the argument that it would ruin the feel of the game, or that Diablo needs this in order to stop a grey market for items springing up. But that still doesn’t make any sense. Warcraft has its own problems, from the gold farming to account hacking. The illicit trade in gold is huge.

Enter The Kitten

It’s a foregone conclusion that World of Warcraft only has a limited lifespan. With Blizzard admitting that they’re looking at free to play models, followed by the news that more people have played and quit Warcraft than are currently playing it, you reach a point where it becomes impossible to grow your customer base any more. Anyone who’s been interested in subscribing to the game probably already has. It’s only by launching the game in new territories that you can keep the subscriber numbers up.

With the expectation that Warcraft will eventually go free to play, it’s likely that Blizzard are looking at ways to tweak the existing economy. This is where the new Guardian Cub pet comes in. This kitten sells for $10 a time on the Blizzard store, but importantly isn’t bound to account. Instead it’s a single shot item that can be sold on the auction house and used on a single character.

This in itself is no big deal. Masses of people will buy the pet, flood the auction houses hoping to make a fast buck and drive down it’s worth in gold. After all, there’s the potential for an infinite number of kittens and only a finite number of homes to go to. In the end the price will normalise at whatever people feel $10 of kitty is worth in gold coins.

The Kitten Standard

Once the market decides how much a Guardian Cub is worth in gold, it then becomes possible to work out the cost of other items relative to the friendly feline. Can a Firelands raid BoE be bought for five kittens? Would a rare tailoring recipe be worth twenty? Can you sell spots in your Firelands 25-man for three kittens a person?

When players start thinking of items and services in terms of how many cats they’re worth instead of how many gold coins they’re priced at, the Kitten Standard emerges. From there it’s easy to track it back to dollars. In a roundabout way, the real money auction house emerges.

People will trade kittens for gold as long as the little furballs have a reliable value and can be exchanged easily. This is the big but, as it’s entirely possible for servers to become saturated with kittens. If no-one’s prepared to buy your cats any more you could quite easily end up like the Man from St. Ives.

The Experiment Starts

This is likely just the start of a series of ideas that Blizzard tests out on us over the coming months and years. Expect to see more things like this crop up over time as the developers seek to steadily reshape the virtual economy without upsetting the gameplay that Warcraft has become known for.

In the end our feedback will govern what kind of game we end up with once the free-to-play switch is thrown. That tide cannot be resisted, so it’s worth collectively getting our heads together and setting some ground rules about what we’d like our MMO economy to look like. How item shop items fit into that is just part of the puzzle.

In terms of timeline, I’d say we have 18 months or so. The expansion to be announced at Blizzcon is probably the last one we’ll see released in retail stores. I’m expecting that future ones will be by digital distribution only, paid for by Kittens, BlueBucks or whatever the new standard becomes.

Why? Simple. Titan is coming.

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13 Responses to The Kitten Standard Economy?

  1. Mynsc says:

    It is indeed clear that WoW is heading towards a F2P model and the new BoE pet is probably one of the most important steps. One that I’m perfectly fine with.

    Kittens won’t really change much when it comes to the economy… we’d need a very different category of BoE items for that to happen (like flasks / potions). And I’m not in the least concerned… it’s Blizzard, they sure as hell won’t risk ruining a game by introducing too much stuff in their ingame store, especially non-vanity items.

    Not sure how all this will affect Titan… first we have to know if it will be P2P or F2P. Seeing the latest trend, you’d be tempted to say F2P, but Blizzard as a company clearly favours P2P. Remains to be seen which way they’ll go. If they choose F2P, I’d expect the initial ingame store offer to be very strong. Or maybe they’ll go the SC2 and D3 route and will find a way to their share from people that use the map marketplace or the real-money AH.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’m not sure how Titan will pan out. I think that Blizzard would like to keep the subscription model going – it’s a nice little earner for them. That said, I think they’ll also look at paying for the game and a smaller payment for each content patch instead, which may seem like a fairer contract to gamers.

      Anything could happen though. Titan is a casual MMO aimed at the casual market, so a pricing model that would appeal to them might not work for us.

      • Mynsc says:

        I’m sorry but no, we have 0 evidence or clues that suggest Titan will be casual. It’s a false rumour started by mainstream media from basically nothing.

        Blizzard has never used the word casual when it comes to Titan. They did use “broad appeal” and “wider reach” (and a financial analyst understood this as casual…), but these have a whole different meaning. Every Blizzard game until now had these 2 attributes and you can’t possibly say they were casual games. WoW for example is played by grandmas and grandpas everywhere, but at the same time it is home to some of the most hardcore gamers in the world… that’s broad appeal. And that’s how Titan will probably be, maybe taking the concept to the next level.

        For more details, you’re welcome to read an article I wrote when this whole rumour started, it explains everything in more detail: http://titanfocus.info/page/index.html/_/opinions/titan-a-casual-game-yes-but-no-r15

        • Gazimoff says:

          It’s difficult to say. You’re right, I was referring to the analyst comments that managed to echo round the media very quickly. But then again, I think that these days Warcraft is a casual game. It has hardcore players, but I wouldn’t put it in the same category as say Demons’ Souls or Darkfall.

          • Mynsc says:

            It’s a wide reach game. I definitely agree that it is far from Darkfall and the like, but I can’t call it casual either. Not as long as it has critical gameplay systems like arena ladders, heroic modes and tons of other challenges in the form of achievements, that are not really conquerable by 99% of the casuals.

  2. Tesh says:

    As much as I’d love to drop the subscription, I have a few time codes to use, still. Or maybe sell. Lately, I’ve been able to scratch the WoW itch with the free starter edition. I don’t want to be stuck with worthless time codes.

    …yes, I’m a terrible, terrible consumer.
    Tesh recently posted..Face FailureMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      Aye, being stuck with useless timecodes isn’t a position that you want to be in. Mind you, has anyone apart from Blizzard offered game time cards with a scratch off panel?

  3. Razerbug says:

    You’re just trying to work out the kitty-$ ratio to know how much the fuel for your Flaming Kitty Copter is going to cost aren’t you 😛
    Razerbug recently posted..Playing the Bad GuyMy Profile

  4. Loque says:

    I blogged about this “feature” too. There is a lot of buzz around it, because people (correctly) fear that Blizzard is sneakily experimenting ingame real-money tradings. The cub is not a big deal, so far. But it’s the first step towards a new economy model.
    Loque recently posted..Testing Diablo III real-money model in World of WarcraftMy Profile

  5. Greygamer says:

    Kittens were used as currency by demons/undead in Buffy the vampire slayer.

    I suppose you could guestimate the gold price of a kitten based on goldsellers in trade chat. But it would depend on demand for these pets. Based on how well normal vendor pets do there certainly is a market for them. Interesting times?

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