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WoW Archivist: An expensive history of gold sinks

Scott Andrews

WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?

If you had asked me six months ago what I imagined would be the most expensive mount in WoW's history, I would have imagined some kind of giant rock elemental where you rode around on its shoulder, possibly a 10-headed hydra that breathed green fire, or maybe a goblin shredder that transformed into a jet. As it turns out, the most expensive mount in WoW is now ... a cat.

Granted, it's a very shiny cat. It also happens to be five cats. It can fly. But why does it cost so darn much? And what other ludicrously priced items has Blizzard offered us over the years? Read on to find out!

Gold sinks come in two flavors. Some are service fees such as repair costs. The other kind are luxury items such as mounts, companion pets, and other frills.

Blizzard adds gold sinks to WoW to combat inflation. Last year, our very own Fox Van Allen wrote an entire article about why WoW needs gold sinks, so I won't repeat his thorough explanation here.

The original gold sinks

Repairs, of course, have been in WoW from the beginning. People sometimes complain about them these days, but at the game's launch, repairs were considered the most forgiving death penalty in MMO history.

Respec costs not only act as a gold sink, but they were a deterrent in vanilla from swapping back and forth too often. Blizzard wanted you to commit to your spec. Many serious raiders did it anyway, changing specs to suit each encounter, but it was a tedious and expensive process. Today, the Dual Talent ability has made respec costs largely irrelevant. However, learning that ability used to be a gold sink itself. Prior to Cataclysm, it cost 1,000g.

Training costs were another gold sink. Blizzard removed most of them from the game in Cataclysm. We now learn skills automatically when we level, but they used to cost gold to acquire. Vanilla players will remember, with perhaps a twinge of bitterness, having to choose which skill to learn because we didn't have enough cash on hand to pay for all of them. Leveling up led to tough choices. It wasn't uncommon for players to reach max level and go weeks before earning enough gold to train all available skills for their class.

The most expensive abilities to train, however, were riding skills, and they remain so today. Until patch 1.12.1, riding was an ability rather than a profession, and the abilities were tied to the mounts themselves. A regular mount cost 90g, and an epic one set you back 900g.

The most effective gold sink in the game is probably also the one that people notice least: the Auction House. Five percent of every transaction ever sold on your realm adds up to a lot. Without those greedy auctioneers taking their cut, inflation would have spiraled out of control in Azeroth years ago.

The wind-up train wrecker claims another victim.
Sink harder

Even with all these sinks in place, inflation was inevitable. WoW's design generates an infinite amount of gold. Mobs die and drop money. When they respawn they drop more, over and over again. Every day brings a fresh batch of dailies that reward you with cash. So the sinks themselves need to be potent to have any chance of keeping up.

Riding skills have been reliable gold sinks throughout WoW's history. Blizzard added the ability to ride flying mounts in The Burning Crusade. This skill originally cost 5,000g to train, which was some very serious dough back then. The devs followed that up with the Cold Weather Flying, Artisan flying, Master flying, and the Flight Master's License. Finally, Mists will give us the least plausible flying skill gold sink yet: Wisdom of the Four Winds for 2,500g. Many riding skills, however, have been made cheaper over time.

The Burning Crusade also introduced guild banks. Today, a fully upgraded guild bank costs nearly 40,000g. Late in that expansion, an NPC by the name of Haris Pilton set up shop to offer us stylish purses and overpriced jewelry.Haris Pilton and her dog Tinkerbell

In Wrath, Blizzard got a bit more creative with their luxury gold sinks. Besides a slew of new companions and vanity mounts, including one with its own repair vendor, you could buy upgradable teleport rings, annoying toys, and destroyers of annoying toys.

Wrath's achievement system may actually rival the Auction House as the biggest gold sink in the game. The system gives players a very tangible reason to collect all those mounts and companion pets. Some achievements are little more than shameless bribes for dumping gold. (And let's not mention the repair costs that I personally incurred earning Firefighter.)

In addition to the usual lineup of luxury gold sinks, Cataclysm gave us several new sinks of the service-fee variety. Reforging, transmogrification, and void storage are all designed to remove money from your realm's economy. Cataclysm also upped the ante on gold sink vanity mounts: Vial of the Sands costs 29,000g in vendor purchases alone. Of course, Mists has gone far beyond that with the Jeweled Onyx Panther and a 120,00g yak.

Legendaries have become increasingly gold sinkish over the years. Early legendaries mostly required crafting items and/or luck. Now, Blizzard makes us pay dearly for that orange font. Both Dragonwrath and the Fangs required thousands of gold to complete.

The greatest sink of all

To the inflation boss, all of these measures were mere glancing blows. Blizzard was clearly just as concerned as Fox over the state of Azeroth's economy during the lead-up to Mists. They wanted to create a gold sink that was both compelling and as unlimited as the game's own ability to generate gold.

Their solution was the Black Market Auction House. It sets your realm's multimillionaires against each other in bidding wars for the game's most exclusive items. The only limit is the size of your realm's own economy, and 100% of the gold spent disappears from the game forever. While some players have concerns, I think it's as close to a perfect solution as we are likely to see -- that is, until Blizzard creates that transforming shredder-jet.

After months of surveying, WoW Archivist has been dug back up! Discover lore and artifacts of WoW's past, including the Corrupted Blood plague, the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, and the mysterious Emerald Dream.

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