There are some negative aspects of the Guardian Cub that don't stem so much from the in-game ramifications but rather from the people involved with gold selling. Gold sellers are not the target purchasers of this pet, obviously, because there are easier ways to get gold in World of Warcraft, including hacking accounts and stealing the sweet, succulent gold nectar within. Hacking accounts is far more profitable than purchasing a companion pet for a fixed amount of money and hoping that fixed investment turns into a profit on the open market. For players, it's not a huge gamble. For gold sellers with a bottom line, it's a business decision.
My buddy Keith demanded that I talk about the money laundering aspect of tradable, purchasable pets, so I promised I would. One of the seedier aspects of a system of purchasing a pet from Blizzard and selling that for in-game gold means that those same gold sellers hawking the X-53 rocket mount in trade chat with stolen credit cards will just purchase cubs, sell those companion pets on the Auction House, and have "clean" gold to then sell on the other side. Essentially, the credit card fraud associated with purchasing these Guardian Cubs has the ability to let scammers "double dip" into the scam, making gold off of stolen credit cards and then making real dollars off of selling the gold that comes from the auction sales. Is this a likely thing? Hopefully not, especially with the turn-around time frame of people reporting card fraud to their credit card company and Blizzard. There is probably a solution in place for Blizzard but, as usual, I am not privy to it. Laugh it up, Blizzard employees who are passing this article around the office.
The biggest negative to making gold off of the Guardian Cub is that the amount you will be able to make off of the pet is determined by the market prices of the cub on your particular server. Some servers are home to vast amounts of wealth and prosperity, with thriving Auction Houses and millions of gold flowing through their economies every day. Other, less populated servers have barren economies where only a handful of players have any kind of formidable wealth, meaning the demand for high-cost luxury items is low. Making gold off of the Guardian Cub is essentially a gamble, where nothing but the item you receive is guaranteed. Letting the server economies determine the value of the cub keeps Blizzard from ever having to set a value for gold, which is a good thing. It might be crap for you if the market is flooded with Guardian Cubs and you want to make a healthy chunk of change on your $10 purchase, but that's the gamble. Players might be getting into this whole gold buying thing with the wrong impression and be immediately put off when everything they've read about getting rich in gold off of these cubs doesn't pan out the way that they had hoped.
Beating the gold sellers?
There is no way that one companion pet can stop the immense amount of gold selling going on. There just isn't the volume of demand necessary to end gold selling completely. Over time, however, with new additions to the pet store that are tradable, players might have less incentive to purchase gold. As the market for gold dries up because players can either purchase these gold sinks directly from Blizzard or put them on the Auction House to make their own gold, the profit margins for professionals begin to get smaller and smaller, eventually making the whole thing just not worth it. Hopefully, one day that happens. Until then, we all take baby steps.
What this first step solution tells us about the WoW development and live team is really the big news. There has been a liberalization to the WoW team over the last year, where set-in-stone, hard-lined, and sacred principles of the game have been tossed aside amidst the complaints of a shrinking playerbase and increasingly adept competition. I once wrote that I believed the WoW team was unfairly conservative and systems like character customization were being held back by a misplaced sense of unease over player "acceptance" of change. After transmogrification was announced, the writing was on the walls. The hard-line principle of "players do not have control over what their character looks like" was utterly shattered, and players loved it. There wasn't the player backlash that Blizzard had anticipated. I think the same would be true for updated character models, but again, Blizzard doesn't think so.
With new games coming out of the woodwork offering complex customization, robust experiences, and more liberal ideas concerning the MMO genre, WoW has to adapt or die. The gold selling problem is obviously not unique to WoW, but it definitely has large roots firmly in place within the game. The problem is getting large enough that new steps are being taken to combat it. Escalation of the Gold War began at the first sign of account hacking, when gold selling became more than a harmless back-alley transaction. Now, people are invading our homes and stealing our things for the pawn shop. Remember when Commissioner Gordon said to Batman that because justice upped its game, criminals did as well, and we got madmen like the Joker? Same thing ... sort of.
Blizzard is attempting to escalate the Gold War into winnable territory with its first cannon volley -- the Guardian Cub. If this experiment is successful, we could see all future gold sinks have this dual purpose, living on both sides of the fence. These gold sinks can either be purchased with in-game gold from players who wish to purchase the item with real dollars to sell, or players can just bypass gold altogether and have their item. It's win-win for Blizzard and win-win for players who want the instant gratification that comes with these types of transactions. Are we going to live in an economy dominated by cubs? No. Is this as big of a change as you really thing? Not really. Will this affect your game in any meaningful way? Not unless you buy a cub with gold on the Auction House or from the store with real dollars. I will miss having pets that I purchase go across all of my characters, of course, which does make this cub less valuable for someone like me, but it's the price paid for the nature of this companion pet.
This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at firstname.lastname@example.org.