World of Warcraft instant level-up: Just add cash.

Blizzard will soon let World of Warcraft gamers pay to instantly gain Level 90 status. This is something I suggest in the Encourage payment as an alternative to achievement pattern.

If your game or product revolves around escalating levels of achievement, it’s likely that people with more money than time will want to pay for a shortcut. Try to find a way to enable this out-of-game purchasing without alienating players who have more time than money.

Now, Blizzard had already made it clear that players who buy the Warlords of Draenor expansion pack would be able to make one of their characters a level 90 , which ruffled a few gamer feathers. This latest move though allows any player to pay $60 in order to gain a Level 90 character.

$60 for Level 90 (WoW Insider)

$60 for Level 90 (WoW Insider)

It’s a fine line for Blizzard. The Draenor expansion pack will probably retail for a similar price ($40-60), so what can they do to prevent players who don’t have that type of spare cash from crying foul?

They could have reduced the cost to $10, but that would devalue the whole process of leveling and probably have broader repercussions throughout the game. They could have increased the cost, or created a market-driven exchange rate. But as Kyle Orland at Ars Technica points out,

Once you allow that people who “don’t have time to level” can pay for the privilege, the intrinsic value of leveling is immediately converted from a purely time-based investment to a mixed time/cash-based commodity. Haggling over the price doesn’t change that basic and important alteration.

Longer term, I don’t think the actual cost of the level-up is going to matter. Instead, the community will adapt. There are already players who purchase ready-made characters. They already get grief for doing it. Look for players to add subtle indicators to their characters that demonstrate “I worked for this level.” Are you a pLayer or a payer?

Blizzard have realized that the practice of paying to level up already exists, and they’ve taken steps to implement my second tip: They have decided to own the exchange, rather than leaving it to the third party sites. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll do to account for another one of my tips – minimizing the guilt that people feel about paying instead of achieving.