Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Tokenomics

With further details of the WoW token released by Blizzard yesterday, it's time to review what will happen when it is released, which should happen in the Americas first. It will be rolled out there "in the weeks following Patch 6.1.2’s release". I imagine Blizzard will want to get Noblegarden over before the launch, so they can start collecting data in a "normal" period, rather than one where prices might be driven by a seasonal event. So let's say the Tuesday after Noblegarden, Tuesday 14 April. [Edit: it actually appeared the previous Tuesday, 7 April]

Blizzard have also firmed up the earthly price ($20 or the equivalent in your currency). What they haven't yet done is firmed up the Azerothean price. Gold is still selling on various "illegal" websites for about 1500g/$, so I think that 30 000g is a reasonable place to start. I imagine, though, that Blizzard will want to make this attractive to gold buyers, and put pressure on third-party gold sellers. That makes me think the initial price will be 40 000g for a token. [Edit: the initial price was 30 000g]

Let me first distinguish two tokens here. There is a WoW Token that Blizzard sells for $20. It has only one use: you can sell it in the Auction House for an Azerothian price set by Blizzard. When it appears in the Auction House, it is transformed into a WoW Token that can be bought at a price fixed by Blizzard, and it too has only one use: to add 30-days of game time to your account. As their icons are different (one looks like it's made of steel, the other is golden), I'm going to refer to them as the $teel WoW token (costs $ to buy) and the Gold WoW Token (costs gold to buy).

So let's look at the buyers of the $teel WoW token. Firstly, these are our avatars on earth (the 'players') rather than ourselves in Azeroth (the 'adventurers' or 'characters'). Players buy these tokens for $20, and presumably assign them to a particular adventurer who then lists them on the AH. Why would players do this? Because their adventurers are poorer than the players - they have less gold than they want, while the players have more dollars than they want.

The wants of the adventurers can be split into one-time wants and ongoing needs. Take the typical raider: she may want some pets, mounts and toys. These are one-time wants in the sense that once she has the item, she doesn't need another. To stimulate this want, Blizzard will have to release more pets mounts and toys that she can buy for gold (expect expensive flying licences for Draenor later this year).

Her ongoing needs are mainly for flasks, potions, food and repairs. She also needs gems and enchantments as she gets some gear. Up to now, she has been struggling to meet her repair bill, eats other people's food and skimps on flasks and potions. On a typical raid night, her bill should be about 250g for repairs, and another 250g on the other stuff, but she struggles just to scrape together the money for repairs. If she raids twice a week and does LFR/dungeons another night, she could easily want 1500g/week, though in reality she keeps the bill to 500g by skimping on consumables and not repairing damaged gear before and during LFR. Selling one $teel WoW token will initially cover these ongoing costs for about 26 weeks (if the initial price is 40 000g). Or fewer weeks, but leaving spare gold for one-time wants - mounts, pets and toys. For the sake of argument, let's say the gold lasts the average buyer 20 weeks, and then they will want to buy another.

Who are the buyers of the equivalent Gold WoW Token? They are players with a stockpile of gold, with nothing else worth spending it on. They will be wanting to buy 30 days' game time. If the cost of the token is 40 000g, they need to be earning 1333g/day to keep up. Otherwise, they will run down their stockpile and eventually will have to spend dollars again.

If the price is to remain in equilibrium at 40 000g, then the number of Gold token buyers, who want to buy a gold token every month, must be about the same as the number of buyers of Iron tokens at any time. But we've seen that they need only buy once every 20 weeks or so, while the buyers of Gold tokens want to buy every 4 weeks or so. So the pool of Iron token buyers must be about five times as large as the pool of Gold token buyers for this to be possible.

Now lets look at week 1. The prices will be around 40 000g/20$ that week. Almost every $teel token buyer will spend their $20 that week to get the gold they want. Every Gold Token buyer will be spending their 40 000g to get their free game time. All $teel token buyers will receive the gold they want. Blizzard will see to that. Even if it means printing gold, I very much doubt that Blizzard will return a token unsold to a player. If the pool of $teel token buyers is indeed five times the size of the pool of gold token buyers, all gold token buyers will be satisfied.

What will happen in week 2? Nothing much. Buyers and sellers of both currencies will have dried up, as everyone did what they needed to do on week one.

Week 5? Any $teel token buyer [who as you recall is a gold token seller] bought and sold in the first few weeks. They have their gold. It'll last most of them 20 weeks or so. But gold token buyers, who want free game time, need to use a new token; and unless they stocked up on week 1, they are going to have to buy one. While sellers are still thin on the ground, buyers will be turning up in their droves, camping the AH to snap up any that might appear. Prices will rocket.

So. Whatever the initial price is, be clear that it will rise steeply in week 5 if not before, and continue to climb until $teel token buyers run out of gold again, or see the gold value of a token as too mouth-watering to ignore.

Recommendation: buy Gold WoW tokens on day 1. Buy all you can afford. There will never again be such a concentrated glut of sellers. The price will never drop to 40 000g again. Don't buy $teel WoW tokens before week 5, once the upward price momentum of gold tokens is obvious.


Addendum: I expect Blizzard to be a little surprised by this. Once they see the inexorable rise of the gold WoW token, they'll be scrambling to find things for people to spend their cash on - expect expensive new mounts, new toys, new pets, soon. Also expect repair bills to rise and gold sources (such as quest rewards and mission rewards) to dry up. See also Plexing Warcraft for the social effects of this move.




Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Controlling the Market

Blizzard have announced their long-awaited PLEX scheme, the WoW Token. I wrote about it back in December: first about the idea itself, and then about the price. True to form, Blizzard have found a way to do this that minimizes player agency, and maximizes Blizzard's stranglehold on the world.

Of course Blizzard sets the dollar price, as it is the only manufacturer of WoW Tokens on Earth. But Blizzard has also decided that it alone will set the Azerothean gold exchange price, and once bought, the token cannot be resold. You can't decide what price you want to sell it to other players for, or what offer you will make to other players to buy it. You can't undercut other players, in order to make your sale happen earlier. You can't buy when there is a glut for resale when there is a famine. You can't bargain with other players at all. Your choice is this: sell at Blizzard's price or don't sell at all. Buy at Blizzard's price or don't buy at all.

Blizzard say that at any given moment, they calculate the gold sale price of a token dynamically, and that all tokens on sale will be at that price, but the price the seller receives is fixed at the moment of offering it for sale. How is that going to work? How can the price the seller receives be calculated dynamically when she puts it on sale, but the price of all tokens on sale be the same at any moment? There are a couple of possibilities.

1. There is a disparity between sale price and buy price. Blizzard takes a variable commission depending on the dynamically calculated price. For instance, let's say there are 10 WoW tokens for sale at 25k gold each. If I offer a WoW Token for sale, Blizzard might tell me that I will get 24k gold for it, and then Blizzard will list it at 25k, making a 1k commission. Or (as a variant of this):

2. Blizzard keeps it's price promise, and makes up the difference from its own gold mint. For instance, let's say there are 10 WoW tokens for sale at 25k gold each. If I offer a WoW Token for sale, Blizzard might tell me that I will get 20k gold for it, and then Blizzard will list it and all the others at 24k, losing 1k on the earlier, more expensive tokens. They might also take a fixed commission from the transaction to mitigate having to mint more gold.

3. In effect, there is only one token ever on sale. It is the oldest token in the queue. It cannot be undercut and will never return unsold from the AH. The dynamic price offered to new sellers is calculated depending on the size of the queue, but the price offered to buyers is the price of the oldest token.

4. A combination of 2 and 3.  The token on sale is always the oldest token, but it is on sale at the current dynamically calculated price (i.e. the price calculated for the newest token), while its seller gets the price that was dynamically calculated at the time she offered it for sale, less some AH fees. For instance, let's say there are 10 WoW tokens for sale at 25k each (and the sellers were promised 25k less commission). I offer mine for sale, and Blizzard calculates a new dynamic price of 24k for mine, less commission. The price of the other 10 are now set at 24k, and mine joins the back of the queue. When someone buys the oldest token for 24k, its seller still gets 25k less commission.

This is all just guesswork. Update: Blizzard have confirmed that it is option 4, and that there is no commision.

I don't understand why Blizzard doesn't trust its players to buy and sell these tokens normally*, nor why these tokens cannot be resold. If they are afraid of dupe bugs, they should first fix their game so that such bugs cannot occur.


* The reason stated on their blog made me laugh. They wanted to do it "without making players feel like they’re playing a game with their hard-earned money". That's exactly what we're doing when we pay our subscription.



Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tamriel Unlimited. Hololens

The news from Zenimax is that they are ditching mandatory subscriptions for the Elder Scrolls Online from St. Patrick's Day this year. It's going buy-to-play (which just means "buy" in everyone else's language). Wilhelm has the full story over here. One thing to which I'd like to draw your attention is that if you ever bought ESO, even if you let your subscription lapse (as I did), you won't have to pay a penny more after March 17 to play it again. Heck, they'll even throw in 500 crowns (whatever that's worth).

That's great news for me, because I got it at launch, but then found myself unable to devote enough time to it to justify a subscription, so I ended up letting my subscription lapse. Once it becomes free to play, I'll definitely be taking a look in (especially as Draenor is not floating my boat as much as I had hoped).

One of the games that attracted my attention recently is Elite: Dangerous. What particularly excited me about it was that the Oculus Rift works with it, and this amazing review from Ars Technica has just about sold me on it. What am I waiting for? Only for the Oculus Rift to come out of Beta.

But yesterday came fantastic news from Microsoft. They unveiled the Hololens, whose demo blew me away. The Hololens is not only a HUD display like Google Glass, it also holographically projects images onto your eyes so that you can see virtual elements (for instance a schematic) projected onto  the real world. Even better, it watches your hands, and allows you to interact with these elements (for instance zooming in or out, rotating, and so on). We will all be Tom Cruise in Minority Report. This is the future of gaming. Hell, this is the future of everything! Here's a review from Wired on it. Check out the video.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Cosmetic items and paying for power

Gevlon has a very interesting article on what defines a "cosmetic item" in a game. While I generally agree with much of this I have a few reservations. The value of "cosmetic" in Gevlon's definition is one that won't affect anyone's gameplay. Gevlon goes further and suggests that this is the basis on which we can determine if a game is pay2win*. If an item affects somebody's gameplay it is a pay2win game.

Whilst I can agree with that, I don't think it is sufficient to determine that a game is play2win. There are items that may not affect my gameplay that nonetheless increase the power of other players competing with me.

To take an example, let's look at premium tanks in World of Tanks. Premium tanks are acquired in one of two ways: usually they are bought with cash, either directly through the web-store, or indirectly by buying a currency called gold through the web-store, and buying the premium tank with gold. The second and more unusual way is to win the tank by completing an in-game time-limited mission (for example, I won a ToG II by completing a mission called Togtober last October. Most dedicated players were able to complete this mission: it wasn't onerous, only time-consuming. However no new player can ever complete the mission, because the closing date is past). Most premium tanks aren't available in this way.

My premium tank may be no better in a particular match than your standard tank, and will not change your gameplay, but I have two extra advantages that I bought with my premium tank:
1. I earn extra credits, so I can afford more credit-bought premium ammo than you can (all else being equal), and
2. I can share a crew between my premium tank and a standard tank, thus training that crew twice as fast as  you can train your crew - I mean that I'll have one well-trained crew capable of crewing two tanks, to your two half-trained crews (or well-trained and untrained) after an equal number of matches.

Of course, in-game, you won't know whether my crew was fast-trained, gold-trained or simply normally-trained. You won't know if my premium ammo was credit-bought after a long grind, credit-bought after a short grind in a premium, or shop bought. And you won't care. You'll never meet me again, and it won't change your gameplay - driving a premium tank doesn't signal any level of competence or damage-dealing ability to other players, and plenty of non-premium tanks carry premium ammo**. The tank itself is nothing special in battle. Nonetheless I buy myself power when I buy a premium tank, which seems like a cosmetic item. In itself it is not more powerful than your standard tank. It gives me a little more power than you over the course of several matches, but that is irrelevant to you, because we will only meet once in battle.

See Hetzer Forever for more on that.


* Syncaine makes the point that it's more exactly pay-4-power. I think we can all agree that this is what we mean by pay2win.

** Of course, premium ammo is a clear non-cosmetic pay2win item. My point is that the premium tank seems like a cosmetic item, while also being pay2win.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Tobold's Game

Tobold is at it again: pretending not to know the difference between toys and games. I pointed it out to him back in 2013. He doesn't want to know, though, because he wants to buy his progress in the cash store, and doesn't want to acknowledge that this hurts other people's games (see Toys and Games for why)

By the way, that's the second time Tobold has used the title "Everything is Pay2Win". The previous time was back in 2013. which prompted me to ask how Free2Play games could be monetized without being Pay2Win. Nobody came up with any suggestions. Can you think of any?

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Paying to lose

As I mentioned in "Plexing Warcraft", in EVE Online, paying for a powerful ship doesn't necessarily mean you become a powerful player. I'm learning the same lesson in World of Tanks, where my latest RMT purchase is the E-25. It's a light, fast, "tank destroyer". I put that in quotes because in fact, its accurate gun doesn't actually do a lot of damage per shot, though it does penetrate well, and has a fast reload rate. Anyway, I bought it for reasons of envy. Everybody else seems to have one, and they are in almost every battle where their tier is allowed. So much so that wargaming.net has decided to withdraw them from sale before every tier 7 battle becomes 15v15 E-25s swarming over each other.

So I bought one while I still could, and now I'm learning the hard way what EVE veterans know. I've paid for a tank that I don't know how to play. Its high speed makes me want to rush forward and spot. I seem to die very fast in every battle, though sometimes I grant you it is fun weaving between enemy heavies as they swing their guns in my direction, trying to swat the fly that's buzzing around their faces.

All the same, I've got to find a better tactic. It reminds me a lot of the ELC AMX, another tank that I can't play. Let me try playing as a sniper instead of as a scout.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

How much is a WoWPLEX worth?

Yesterday, I expressed my misgivings on Blizzard's plan to plex WoW. Today, to practical matters. How much will a WoWPLEX* cost? Let me first assume that it will be the equivalent of a 60-day game time card, which currently sells at $30 [Edit: Updated March 2015: after Blizzard announced it will be a 30-day game-time token, so I'll assume a WoW token will cost $15]. I checked a couple of gold selling sites, to get a feel for how much gold I could buy for that. It seems I can get around 40k-50k of gold for $30. Let's say, to make the sums easy. $1=1500 gold.

That price sort of puts a bottom on the gold market for WoWPLEXes. At that price, a potential gold buyer can get the same amount of gold by selling a WoWPLEX as he could for buying the gold illegally**. Let's say the gold price of the WoWPLEX drops below the illegal exchange rate. Some potential WoWPLEX sellers will go back to buying gold illegally, at a better rate, and the supply of WoWPLEX will reduce. That should bring its gold price back up.

So, 1500 gold / dollar, or 22500 gold /WoWPLEX  30-day token is the floor price. What is the ceiling price? To answer that, let's look at WoWPLEX  buyers in Azeroth: the people who pay gold to acquire a WoWPLEX. Apart from speculators, their purpose is to swap the WoWPLEX for 30 days of game time. This group can be broken into two: people for whom this is sustainable, because they earn more than 22500g per 30 days (or 750g/day), and people for whom this is (currently) unsustainable. They earn less than this, but they have build up a stash of gold that allows them to afford several WoWPLEX purchases before the well runs dry. Some of this latter group will step up their AH and farming activities so that they can be sustainable, and some will buy a few WoWPLEXes and then stop. So initially the demand will be higher than it will be later. That means that the initial price will be higher, too (Belghast is predicting 100k initially).

It is the fact of having to earn in gold a thirtieth of a WoWPLEX per day that tends to put an upper limit on its price; but I don't know what that upper limit might be. I certainly have less taste for farming and AH playing than I formerly did, but that might be because I have more gold than I need. Perhaps this new mechanism might encourage me to improve my earnings. I'm sure the same is true of everyone. It will also reduce the demand for 'fluff' items, in order to conserve gold for buying WoWPLEXes.

What will the effect of this be on gold sellers and bot farming? I doubt any bot will stop running unless caught. After all, they can pay for their own accounts, now. The demand for their services will be greatly reduced. That in turn will lead to them reducing their prices. That'll feed back to affect the floor that I calculated earlier. If the dollar price of gold halves, then the gold price of the WoWPLEX must inevitably double (or else some gold buyers will revert to buying the gold illegally, instead of through WoWPLEX, reducing the supply of WoWPLEX and hence raising its value).

So those are the tensions that will govern the gold price of WoWPLEX. Illegal goldsellers set the floor price and to an extent determine the supply, and the determination of players to farm and trade in-game to improve their wealth governs the demand and the ceiling.

Edit: March 2015: Blizzard have finalized their plans, which are reasonably different to Eve's PLEX. My take on it is here: Controlling the Market. And how will the gold price move? My predictions are in Tokenomics.

* I believe Wilhelm Arcturus originally coined the term way back in 2011, in a comment on Syncaine's  blog.

** I.e. breaking Blizzard's terms and conditions. This isn't really illegal on Earth in the sense that a court can send you to jail for it. But it does put your position in Azeroth in jeopardy. You might end up in the stockades for several months. You might even be executed.