Blizzard co-lead Mike Ybarra courts controversy for selling World of Warcraft dungeon runs
World of Warcraft's own developers seem out of touch.
World of Warcraft is a game on the ropes. Over 17 years old, the game remains immensely profitable for Activision Blizzard, but its popularity has started to wane for various reasons. Disregarding the fact Blizzard is embroiled in a massive legal drama with the state of California, owing to discriminatory workplace allegations — World of Warcraft is just a downright bad game as of 2021. Weak writing, poor investment, slow updates, and an irredeemably toxic gameplay environment fostered by Blizzard's own design decisions have left the game in turmoil. Final Fantasy XIV and Amazon's New World have seen a wealth of interest this year, at least partially on the back of World of Warcraft's continued failure.
WoW fans found themselves in the midst of another controversy today, as former Microsoft staffer Mike Ybarra drew criticism on social media, advertising his own personal guild's sale of dungeon runs. These cost anywhere up to 300,000 in-game gold as per his guild's advertisements on World of Warcraft's forums (via PC Gamer). Given the fact Blizzard now lets players purchase gold in-game using real-world currency, this is Blizzard's co-leader effectively endorsing what is essentially pay to win, given that 300,000 gold works out to around $30 of real-world money.
Selling dungeon runs is a controversial topic in World of Warcraft. You pay an "elite" guild to run through a dungeon or raid without having to put in any effort on your own part, essentially bypassing the only portion of the game you actually have to put any effort into.
Blizzard's in-game systems also allow for third-party mods and services, which essentially rank players based on their participation. You can "trick" these ranking systems by, you guessed it, paying for dungeon runs, to inflate your ranking and thus, inflate other players' perception of your skill and dedication.
World of Warcraft's in-game chat systems are an absolute plague of ads for these types of services, offering to circumvent the game's mechanics for gold. Players can use in-game gold to buy game time for the game, bypassing the subscription, which incentivizes this type of player behavior.
And of course, Activision-Blizzard has no issue with this type of system, since it incentivizes players to, you know, buy gold using the WoW Token system, while avoiding "pay to win" controversy. In my view, this is indeed "pay to win." The relationship between the ability to purchase gold from Activision, and the pressure cooker Blizzard's game design has created, essentially shaming players who do not have high participation rankings not only erodes the quality of the game, but it leads to toxic player interactions.
High-end guilds do dungeon-run sales because of the inflationary costs of high-end raiding. Buying up expensive potions, gear, enchants, and other types of money sinks have become increasingly expensive in-game. The thing is, you could argue that's by design. Blizzard creates and manages these systems. All of this just highlights, once again, how Activision is choosing to incentivise paying for gold via the WoW Token at the cost of actually making a fun game, with systems that foster a happy, collaborative, and inviting player community. The difference between FFXIV and WoW's community is truly night and day, and that's purely as a result of game design decisions, in my view.
The fact Blizzard's co-leader himself is lauding these types of practices has been seen by many as just another indicator of how out of touch Blizzard has become with its fans, and possibly, an indicator of how WoW's death spiral is likely to continue.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!