Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 30, 2015
 
Breaking the 4th wall the wrong way

When Frank Underwood in House of Cards turns towards the camera and speaks directly to the audience that is called breaking the 4th wall, an expression coming from the idea that a stage has 3 visible walls around it, and an "invisible" wall towards the viewer. Breaking the 4th wall in that direction, from the actor towards the audience, can be interesting. But sometimes that wall is broken in the wrong direction, with the real world intruding on the imaginary world. Ald shot first has a post on how he got an epic shield from the salvage yard and couldn't help thinking how that could pay for his WoW subscription if he sold the shield and bought a token for the gold. What used to be a game is suddenly a financial transaction. There are already addons out that directly translate gold prices into money prices. You might have been willing to pay 120,000 gold for a Reins of the Grand Expedition Yak, but are you willing to pay $120 for it?

[Tangent for the nitpickers: There is no actual fixed number for the exchange rate between dollars and WoW gold. Not only is the price fluctuating, but it also depends on which region you are in: In Europe the equivalent of 120,000 gold is just €60. Furthermore there is an endless discussion whether you should count 1 WoW token as being the equivalent of $20 (it's purchase price) or as being the equivalent of under $15 (what you save on a subscription by using the token instead of money). I'll use $20 for a WoW token, exchanged for gold at a rate of 20,000 gold per token on a US server, because that gives an easy $1 = 1,000 gold exchange rate. I'll count €1 = 2,000 gold for the same reason. YMMV]

This intrusion of the real world has some consequences. At first I wondered why a WoW token would go for twice the gold in Europe than in the USA. But then I realized that "Europe" in the Blizzard sense of the word includes Russia and other eastern countries which have a lower GDP per person than the USA (or the EU). The thing is that $1 doesn't have the same value for each of us. The question is basically what percentage of your disposable income a subscription to WoW represents. As in Russia that is presumably a higher percentage, the WoW token is more valuable, and people are willing to give more WoW gold for it. The Chinese realms just introduced the WoW token and there it goes for between 50k and 75k, because the token is worth even more there, relatively speaking.

At 30k to 40k gold for a WoW token in Europe I am pretty much indifferent to it. I can see myself both buying and selling, depending on my current needs. Yes, I have plenty of gold on some characters. But all my gold is only about a year worth of subscription, while the money I have in my bank account would easily pay for my subscription until death do us part (either mine, or WoW's). I don't need the addon to translate gold to €/$, because I am just as comfortable with spending 5,000 gold for a battle pet as I would be with the idea of spending €2.50 for it. But I am aware that depending on ones situation in life that might not be the case for somebody else. I can see how it would break immersion if something happened to you in game which translates into a dollar value you would actually care about.

Comments:
In an genre dominated by F2P cash shop funded games that have their hand out at every turn... LOTRO, for an example, appears to literally have a "buy now" option in every single dialog in game... it seems odd to fret about breaking the fourth wall in WoW because of WoW Tokens.

You, I, and the people who are really into WoW and the genre as such are pretty aware of such things, but it is also pretty easy for people not like us to ignore. And, as we both clearly know, there was a thriving third party market in illicit WoW gold, so there was an audience out there that was willing to bring the financial element into Azeroth on their own.

It would be nice if Blizz didn't feel they had to do this, but I've felt a lot more impact from illicit RMT in the form of guild members getting their accounts hacked and looted than I will likely ever feel from WoW Tokens.
 
The WoW token just makes knowing the real money value of an item easier, but those items always had a real money value. At any point in almost any MMO, since UO in 1997, you would sell an in-game item for real money, and in-game currency had a real-world value.

This is more a situation that the "ignorance is bliss" is being removed for some, rather than the token doing something new that wasn't around before.
 
Tobold: "Furthermore there is an endless discussion whether you should count 1 WoW token as being the equivalent of $20 (it's purchase price) or as being the equivalent of under $15 (what you save on a subscription by using the token instead of money)."
That depends on the way the transaction works. If you want to buy the Yak for 120k gold, you have to spend $20 per token resulting in the Yak being priced at $120.
If you buy tokens for the gametime, then you will only get $15 product value.
 
GW2 is even more direct since you buy gems, which can buy gold. I know there are occasions where I see someone compare an item to real cash, but I don't think it's endemic to GW2's culture.

It always feels to me like wealth through gameplay seems to be the forethought and buying gems to advance time seems to be the afterthought. I just don't get the feeling that the 4th wall is part of the normal analysis of item worth.

Now perhaps in WoW it will be different since tokens also equal the lifeblood of playing. People will ask would I rather gain wealth or the ability to play for another month (without paying cash).
 
There's also the limit on how many tokens you can reasonably use. I don't have to look at the Yak as costing money at all, because I can't convert my gold into money anymore. I've got enough tokens and the income from my garrison to cover more tokens should I want more next year.
 
My psychology is such that it will affect combat gear the most. I will always have a battle pet or even mount.

A level 91 can spend $120 for two 4/4 il675 weapons. Which is nice; I saw a leveling bg with two alts doing 3-4k each and the 2x4/4 rogue doing 30k). But how long till that level is not special? Or replaced with questing greens in 7.1? One needs to care about progression - or be more indifferent to money - than I am to justify it now.
 
@Camo

"That depends on the way the transaction works. If you want to buy the Yak for 120k gold, you have to spend $20 per token resulting in the Yak being priced at $120.
If you buy tokens for the gametime, then you will only get $15 product value.


Or, as has been speculated for some time now, the RMT Gold farmer price for 130,000 Gold is at a special price of only $53.00 at the moment. Not condoning this, but just throwing it out there for illustration purposes of how the illegal RMT trade will remain prosperous.
 
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