World of Warcraft may soon offer players a way to pay real-world money for in-game bonuses. A new experience-boosting elixir was spotted in the Public Testing Realm data for Patch 5.4, the latest update for the MMORPG.
The item, called Enduring Elixir of Wisdom, increases experience from killing monsters and completing quests by 100%. The item description makes mention of an "in game store." There's no mention of how much money this item would cost or how long the bonus would last.
"We are currently exploring the possibility of adding a way for players in certain regions to make purchases directly within the game," a Blizzard rep said on the game's forums. "As part of this process, elements related to this will be appearing on the PTR. We’ll provide additional updates on our plans as development progresses."
Microtransactions have become a standard part of MMORPG's over the past few years, as the genre has moved to free-to-play. Guild Wars 2, Rift and other games allow players to buy progression boosts, cosmetic items and more. World of Warcraft has largely been the exception to this trend, though. They're one of the few MMO's left with a subscription-only business model.
Still, Blizzard has been exploring microtransactions for years now. They offer several in-game collectibles for real-world money through the Blizzard Store. A non-combat pet will cost you $10 while a mount is $25. If they're going to charge for cosmetic items, why not charge for items that people can actually use?
Selling in-game perks for money might be Blizzard's plan to keep World of Warcraft profitable in the long-term. The game's been bleeding subscribers over the past couple years, losing 1.3 million in the first quarter of the year alone. That's a huge hit, as most of their revenue comes from subscription fees at the moment. Microtransactions, however, would allow them to make a lot of money off of a smaller core of players. MMO's with much smaller player bases manage to use that business model to great effect.
If and when Blizzard launches these microtransactions, I'm sure they'll find a lot of interested customers. A booster like that experience elixir is a trade of money for time. Getting to max level in World of Warcraft takes dozens upon dozens of hours; there's going to be droves of players willing to shell out a bit of money to shortcut that process. It's not just going to be for casuals, either. Hardcore players might pay for an XP boost in order to quickly level an alt for raiding or arena.
There's going to be a lot of complaining among current players about how selling in-game perks is "Pay To Win." It's tough to evaluate that argument without all the details on Blizzard's plans. An XP boost by itself isn't exactly game-breaking, though. Let's not pretend like leveling in WoW is some great feat. All you need to get to level cap is a pulse and time. With the Enduring Elixir of Wisdom, you would need a pulse, some money, and less time.