The very concept of an MMO, a giant game that grows over time, demands an option for both new players and veterans to get to the newest content as fast as possible. Sometimes that means speeding the leveling process by tweaking the rate you earn experience points, and other times it means re-designing an entire portion of the game to make it faster and more enjoyable. But with microtransactions slipping their way into non-free-to-play games lately, a third option is now available.
For Blizzard that means charging you $60 to boost one World of Warcraft character to level 90, the game’s current level cap. Pre-orders of the next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, which by the developer’s history will likely be around $40, will include a level 90 boost too. Once Warlords of Draenor arrives, the level cap will be 100.
In the past, the majority of new content was added to the end of World of Warcraft. You had to be sitting at the level cap to participate in things like dungeons and raids and new player-versus-player zones. Blizzard’s incentive to re-visit the leveling content was new races and classes with their own unique starting areas. It wasn’t until Cataclysm that the old content from the game’s 2004 launch was remade, or destroyed in the fiction. Cataclysm was a smart way to redesign the oldest parts of the game to adhere to the refined design philosophies Blizzard learned with each expansion. It was also probably exhausting and time consuming, considering Cataclysm also had to deliver on end-game content too.
Right now, getting to level 90 takes roughly a few weeks. And that’s an estimate based on playing the game consistently every day. If real life gets in the way, it might take a month or more. Keep in mind, a month of World of Warcraft costs $15.
I don’t have the knowledge to break down the economics of why Blizzard chose $60, but for someone like me, who has been in several situations where I’ve wished there was a way I could get one of my characters to the level cap by paying a fee, the price is fair. It’s not just because after playing the game for a few years the leveling process gets boring, it can be something like a guild needing a class for game’s most-challenging content, or something as simple as finding your current character stale and wanting something new. Or even a new player looking to play with friends quickly.
It’s expensive for a reason. World of Warcraft couldn’t handle an influx of players who bought $30 max-level characters. It would bloat the end-game player-base with people who may not have the required experience to withstand the game’s more challenging boss fights. They need a considerable barrier-to-entry. The option seems geared toward returning players and those who have been playing for a while.
MMOs suffer as soon as their new content releases get slower and the players stop playing. Now, there’s an option to keep you playing or to get you back. You could play the game similar to a standard, $60 game by re-subscribing and boosting a new character per expansion.
The level 90 boost is vital for a huge game like World of Warcraft. The boost might help its lower subscriber count, which as only recently turned around after steadily dropping for months. And while other MMOs currently offer ways to hasten leveling a new character, Blizzard’s new offer could influence how upcoming games tackle the inherent problems with the genre.