Friday, December 19, 2014

Is World Of Warcraft Turning To PLEX?

One story to watch in 2015 is whether World of Warcraft adopts CCP's PLEX model of allowing players to pay for their monthly subscription with in-game currency.  WoW community manager Bashiok indicated that Blizzard is moving in that direction.  In a post on the WoW forums, he wrote:
"We’re exploring the possibility of giving players a way to buy tradable game-time tokens for the purpose of exchanging them in-game with other players for gold. Our current thought on this is that it would give players a way to use their surplus gold to cover some of their subscription cost, while giving players who might have less play time an option for acquiring gold from other players through a legit and secure system. A few other online games offer a similar option, and players have suggested that they’d be interested in seeing something along those lines in WoW. We agree it could be a good fit for the game, and we look forward to any feedback you have as we continue to look into this feature."
Instituting a PLEX-type payment model potentially could net Activision/Blizzard millions of dollars every year.  As an analysis on the Player Auctions website showed last December, the vast majority of RMT sellers look to sell WoW gold.  A pretty obvious conclusion considering that no other MMORPG in the western market comes close to WoW's over 10 million subscribers, but the amounts involved are enormous.  When looking at sales on the site yesterday, I noticed one seller in a half-day had over 3.5 million gold in sales recorded.  The total real cash earned from those sales was in the neighborhood of $2,500 - $3,000.  In comparison, sales of EVE Online ISK on Player Auctions typically result in all sellers earning between $10,000 - $12,000 per month.

Speculation is that if Blizzard institutes a PLEX system that the move would cripple gold sellers.  But would it?  Perhaps in the long run.  But gold sellers could have lighter wallets very quickly if the EVE experience is any indicator.  The RMT website MMOBUX performed an analysis on the price of ISK on the secondary RMT market between 2007 and 2011 and found a dramtic drop in the price of ISK associated with CCP allowing the trade of game time codes for ISK on the EVE Online fourms.

The price continued to drop until CCP began taking enforcement steps, the most noticeable on MMOBUX's chart Unholy Rage that occurred in June 2009.  But CCP continues its War on Bots, ratcheting up the pressure on those engaged in RMT to the extent that currently only of of the sellers listed on MMOBUX as selling ISK offers a price competitive with just going to CCP's website, buying a PLEX, and selling it in Jita, the game's main trade hub.  The combination of PLEX driving the price down and Team Security driving the price up through creating a limited supply of ISK eventually made ISK selling unprofitable for most of the websites, although buyers can find ISK to buy in other places.

Of course, the price of gold does not have to drop.  The experience in Runescape shows that prices actually rose.  Over the first 6 months of the existence of Jagex's PLEX-type object, the bond, the price offered by an index of websites I monitored showed that the price of in-game currency rose from $0.41 per million coins to $0.50 per million.

After driving the price down for the first month, the price of Runescape currency rose, both on the bond market and on the secondary market.  But the prices on the bond market have decreased, with the price of coins now at $0.62/million coins.  The index of websites, on the other hand, are still offering a median price of $0.50/million coins.

One big difference between CCP's introduction of PLEX and Jagex's introduction of bonds is enforcement.  PLEX were introduced in the Quantum Rise expansion in November 2008 but serious enforcement didn't really begin until the Unholy Rage operation began in June 2009.  Jagex, on the other hand, has waged an aggressive, although sometimes ineffective, war against bots and RMT for a long time, famously banning 9.2 million accounts for botting and RMT in 2011.

As both CCP and Jagex discovered, just implementing PLEX or just aggressively banning botters doesn't work.  Combating the scourge of illicit RMT in MMORPGs requires a coordinated plan that incentivizes players to not go to shady websites while at the same time works to reduce the profits of those engaged in RMT.  PLEX is not a quick fix for the problem of illicit RMT.  How Blizzard handles the situation in WoW is one of the stories to watch in 2015.


  1. Interesting story. I left WoW after Wrath and never went back. It seemed like that Blizzard tried to eliminate Gold Sellers by basically devaluing gold as a currency - things you could purchase with tokens were far superior to things you could purchase with gold.

    A turn into a "PLEX" like market would change the economy of WoW drastically. It would be a very brave move from Blizzard to open themselves up like that. More likely (I think) is a move similar to the ill-fated Aurum store from CCP - add a new currency that is easier to control in an established economy.

  2. Very good article. I just recently found your blog, and I love it!

  3. A concerned MinmatarDecember 19, 2014 at 5:09 PM

    One thing to keep in mind is that, and correct me if I'm wrong, wow-gold has far less ingame utility than eve-isk. I do not see any reason to hoard gold in wow except for the novelty of it. From the gold blogs I've seen, it seems you hit the point where you could pay for consumables, repairs and BoE items for the rest of your life rather quickly. This leads me to think that the market for tokens will be very unstable.

    Does anybody know how CREDD turned out in Wildstar? It should be a better comparison than EVE-PLEX.

  4. I wish I did. But I didn't really like Wildstar so I didn't stick around to do the research. That's why I used EVE PLEX and Runescape bonds. For both of those there are out-of-game tools to gather the market information.

  5. A concerned MinmatarDecember 19, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    Perhaps you could tell me what the utility of gold is in Runescape, then? If you had unlimited means in that game, how could you spend it to advance your gameplay (I never played that game)? I'm asking because I'd like to compare it to WoW and EVE, and see how it relates to my conjecture that higher currency utility means more stable and viable ingame market for time tokens.

  6. I don't know, because I never played Runescape. It just has a link to the in-game price so I was able to keep track. But I know it's very heavily botted, although they are down to only banning 2 million accounts/year.

  7. I can't wait to see what the exchange rate will settle at if/when they launch this.

    The buzz on the forums seems to be a LOT of people excited about the prospect of playing for free, funded by their gold stockpiles. A lot fewer people excited about the opportunity to buy gold for cash in a legit fashion.

    I suspect that the massive demand for gametime, and the massive supply of gold - I shudder to think how much has been hoarded over the years - will lead to it costing a spectacular amount of gold to buy a month's playtime.

  8. "As both CCP and Jagex discovered, just implementing PLEX or just aggressively banning botters doesn't work."

    Actually, the implementation of PLEX resulted in a massive drop in illicit purchase of ISK. Prior to the introduction of PLEX, ISK sellers were spamming local 23/7 and doing a brisk business, with players who would prefer to pay for in-game currency rather than grind it.

    CCP even added a dedicated right-click menu option to report ISK spammers, but this didn't stop them (they just recycled trial accounts). The menu option is actually still there, but I doubt that anyone has used it in years.

    After the introduction of PLEX, this market dried up and ISK spammers quickly faded away. It was a major win-win for both players and CCP, since there was now a legit method to turn RL cash into ISK and that RL cash was now going to CCP rather than to the RMTers.

  9. I thought the lessening of the ISK spam was a result of aggressive policing by CCP. I remember seeing ISK spammers when I first started playing in August 2009.

  10. A concerned MinmatarDecember 20, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    I essentially agree with the last paragraph. An interesting twist would be if buying gold from chinese to buy tokens from AH turns out to be cheaper in real money than paying a subscription to Blizzard.

  11. Nope. CCP wasn't very effective at keeping ISK spammers out of the game, since they used trial accounts to spam local. CCP would ban the accounts and the ISK spammer would simply create new ones.

  12. Indeed - I know when I first looked at EVE, and saw the PLEX system, my first thought was "so, instead of paying $15/month for a sub, you could pay less than that, buy black market ISK, and buy a PLEX with it?". Of course, it seems that the ISK black market is a lot less healthy now than it was then.

    But yeah, people talk about how a system like this attacks the black market. Only partly. It attacks demand for black market currency by giving a legit marketplace, but you still need to carry on with your efforts against non-legit RMT.

  13. Gold is the only currency after the last expansion.

  14. The issue is that if a significant number of people buy black market isk and use it to buy plex, they are going to push the price of PLEX down until the two are close to equilibrium.

  15. In Runescape PvP you actually lose your items when you die and consumables are very important.