World of Warcraft players have been begging for a free-to-play option since the game was released back in 2004. But Blizzard has repeatedly crushed the dreams of fiscally conservative gamers by persistently billing their credit cards. However, it sounds like the cheapskates will finally get a break.

To be fair, WoW's subscription fees aren't going anywhere. Players can still crack open their real-world piggy banks to pay for their addiction. But Blizzard is introducing the "WoW Token," an in-game item that converts gold into game time.

Here's how Blizzard explained the tokens in a recent blog post:
"Players will be able to purchase a WoW Token through the in-game Shop for real money, and then sell it on the Auction House for gold at the current market price. When a player buys a WoW Token from the Auction House for gold, the Token becomes Soulbound, and the player can then redeem it for 30 days of game time."

On the surface, it looks like Blizzard is testing the waters for a legitimate free-to-play system. But according to lead game designer Ion Hazzikostas, nothing could be further from the truth. In an interview with IGN, Hazzikostas explained that WoW Tokens are an attempt to crush the third-party gold trade:
“We needed to get a sense of whether this is something there’s broad support for among our playerbase. We certainly saw advantages in kerbing the behaviour of illicit goldsellers and the third-party market. We’re well aware of all the negative impact that’s had on players who have their accounts compromised and cleaned out in this never-ending thirst for gold, but we floated it at the end of last year to say we were considering it. We were happy to broadly get a very positive response from a large segment of the playerbase, on both sides of the potential transaction, who were excited to make use of this feature and had maybe made use of it in other games. And that kind of steeled our resolve that this was the right move going forward for our game.”

WoW Tokens

The genius behind this plan is the way it attaches real-world dollars to WoW's in-game currency. The tokens will be tradable on the auction house, so anyone who needs some extra gold can simply purchase a token and sell it. Not only does this mitigate the need for shifty third-party gold sellers, it could add stability to the in-game economy.

Since players can't set their own token prices, the market will ebb and flow based on supply and demand. But because some of the tokens were purchased with real money, it could change the way players think about auction house prices.

Plus, it gives in-game millionaires the chance to catch up on some real-world debt.

Right now, Blizzard is playing coy with the release date and pricing information, but it's probably safe to assume that WoW Tokens will show up in the next patch. Though, given Blizzard's famous disregard for deadlines, who knows when that will be.

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