Blizzard has been adamant for years that it's not currently considering a switch to a free-to-play format for its popular World of Warcraft. That's still true, but the developer has come up with a new plan for introducing non-subscription-based options into the massively multiplayer online game.
The solution is something Blizzard is calling "WoW Tokens," and it may look familiar to people who have played Eve Online. As with the latter game's PLEX, WoW Tokens can be purchased by players with real money. They can then turn around and sell the Tokens on World of Warcraft's auction house.
Other players can purchase WoW Tokens off the auction house with in-game gold. Once purchased, they can be redeemed for 30 days of game time.
Unlike Eve Online's system, players will not be able to set their own in-game gold prices for WoW Tokens. Instead, they'll be exchanged to the auction house at a rate based on a special formula Blizzard has developed. This will take into account supply and demand for Tokens as well as other elements of the World of Warcraft economy in each region.
WoW Tokens can be purchased by players with real money
Since Tokens are sold at a set gold price, they're also not resellable. Once you've purchased a Token from the auction house, it's soulbound to your character and must be redeemed by you.
According to World of Warcraft lead game designer Ion Hazzikostas, this new system doesn't have anything in common with a move to free-to-play. "They're completely different," he told Polygon.
Instead, Hazzikostas says the system is more of an answer to shady third-party gold sellers. Players who want to spend real money to earn in-game gold now have a legitimate way to do so directly through Blizzard. The developer is hoping this will help stop third-party sellers from compromising the accounts of innocent players to steal gold.
Hazzikostas isn't ready to discuss specific pricing of tokens nor how much in-game gold they'll sell for, but he says it will be competitive with the third-party gold sellers that Blizzard is trying to put out of business.
Hazzikostas says Blizzard is currently planning to provide an option for lapsed subscribers who may have a lot of gold sitting around to log in and purchase Tokens without having to purchase a subscription at all. In effect, if you have enough gold saved up and continue getting lots, you could never have to pay real money for a World of Warcraft subscription ever again.
Unfortunately, WoW Tokens won't be available without logging in at all.
"The way it's built, it's very integrated into the World of Warcraft experience from the buyer's perspective," said Hazzikostas. "It's something that you get mailed to yourself and use just like any other item. It's connected to your character, so it's not something that could be done through a browser."
WoW Tokens will launch in each of the game's core regions — Americas, Europe, Taiwan, Korea and China — with each region having its own pricing based on supply and demand there. Blizzard has no set date for when WoW Tokens will launch beyond "in an upcoming patch."
Hazzikostas also declined to reveal what pricing will be for Tokens, though he said that gold prices will likely fluctuate a fair amount in the early weeks before stabilizing.
For more on World of Warcraft, check out our review of its latest expansion pack, Warlords of Draenor.