Yesterday Blizzard announced intentions to explore trading game time for gold via in-game items that can be purchased with real-world currency. The full statement reads:
I cheered for joy when I read this. I can't wait to essentially buy gold directly from Blizzard.
If you want to buy gold right now, and from my personal experience many players do so, you have to go to somewhat sketchy third party sites and use systems that are inherently insecure.You have to violate Blizzard's Terms of Service and risk getting your account banned. No matter who the seller is, there is always a chance for fraud or deception that could result in loss of product on your end (from action taken by Blizzard), the entire non-delivery of product on the seller's end, or even the outright theft of your credit card's details.
Buying gold right now supports a system that has been well-documented as deplorable. From a 2007 New York Times article about a gold farmer named Li:
Twelve hours a night, seven nights a week, with only two or three nights off per month, this is what Li does - for a living. On this summer night in 2006, the game on his screen was, as always, World of Warcraft...
Without passing judgment on situations I have no right or authority to pass judgment on, that type of working condition is terrible. At the base of gold farming exists workers like Li, toiling away in the virtual worlds we live in. On the flip side are people that steal accounts through malware and other malicious means. We all know someone or have had it happen to us -- you log in and everything is gone, your banks emptied and funds drained. Gold sellers have struck, and you're the victim.
No matter if you support buying gold in-game now or not, those are the conditions that arise because of the current economy -- one that, despite Blizzard's best efforts, the market has deemed successful. Why? Because after 10 years of combating it, people still buy gold left and right from these illegitimate sellers.
The end game for Blizzard is easy, and they're taking the first steps towards it. When, and note that I do not say if, Blizzard makes in-game game time tokens purchasable with real-world money, they will immediately allow for a new gold-buying economy to spring up. The economy will be based around fair market ideals, rather than black market transactions. How much the game time sells for in-game will be determined by in-game market forces weighted against the utility of the dollar. This works in other games like EVE Online and EverQuest II. It will work with World of Warcraft.
At the end of the day I can spend $30 a month for 30,000 in-game gold without thinking. I'm a successful person that works 40 to 50 hours a week at my career, earning an additional 30,000g would take me an extra 20-hours a week of play time. That's not possible, nor is it something I want to do. In my 20s while I was starting out, without a wife and (hopefully) kids on the way soon? Not a big deal. Now, as I have evolved and WoW continues to evolve with me, it looks like the option of staying afloat in-game financially will be possible with my financial resources out-of-game.
I fully support buying gold from Blizzard, and I can't wait to make my first purchase.