With the opening of an online pet store in 2009, Blizzard Entertainment started allowing players to spend offline money for virtual goods in the game World of Warcraft. Now, a new pet option that can be sold to other players has potential implications for the in-game economy and real-money trading.
In November 2009, Blizzard opened an online “pet store”, selling virtual items for real money. In order to not affect player abilities, available items are limited to $10 vanity pets and $25 mounts. Buyers are given a code that they link to their game account, or that can be give to another player. Codes can only be used by a single account. Once used, items are automatically bound to the account to which the code was applied and are not tradeable within the game.
In a new option for virtual good purchases, Blizzard has now announced a pet that functions differently. The Guardian Cub companion is not automatically tied to the account that uses the code, meaning that it can be given or traded to another player either directly in world or through the game’s auction house system. The economic implications of this development are interesting. In addition to serving as a gift, this pet makes possible a form of real-money trading (RMT), and has the potential to affect the in-game economy.
Blizzard has positioned the pet as a gift. The company points out that, “The Guardian Cub is also the Pet Store’s first tradable pet, meaning it can be swapped between characters in-game or given as a gift to guildmates, friends, family, or that special someone”. Along with gifts, Blizzard also acknowledges the possibility of residents selling the pets to other players for in-game currency, potentially allowing players who do not want to spend real money on a virtual pet a way to obtain one. In the release, Blizzard notes that, “Since the introduction of the Pet Store, many players have been asking for ways to get the companions we offer there without having to spend real-world cash. By making the Guardian Cub tradable… players interested in the new pet will have fun, alternative in-game ways to get one.”
Although the earlier pets and mounts available through the store could also be given as gifts, this is the first time pets purchased with real money have been tradable directly within the game world. These new tradeable pets appear to be at least partially motivated by an attempt to reduce real-money trading (RMT) through third parties, which can be unsecure and present issues for players. Although RMT has been banned by Blizzard, players still buy gold from sellers to facilitate their game experience. Because the pet can be traded or sold within the game, the Guardian Cub can take the place of some RMT transactions and doesn’t require a third party or any interaction between players outside of the game world. By buying a $10 pet, sellers have the opportunity to trade that pet for in-game gold for relatively little effort, essentially indirectly buying up game currency for real money.
The question now is whether there will be enough in-game demand for these pets to be profitable. If there is a large supply, or not enough interest from people who will not buy the pets directly from the pet store, selling pets may not be a viable option for obtaining game currency. These conditions will drive the in-world cost of the pets, and will determine how expensive or inexpensive they are. Consequently, they will also affect the conversion rate of real money to in-world currency.
In addition, this process requires that players who want to sell the Guardian Cubs bear some risk. If a potential seller buys the pet, there is no guarantee that it will sell, a fact that Blizzard mentions as a warning. What they do not explicitly mention is that if the demand is not enough, or the supply is too great, the $10 cost of the pet may not be worth the return in gold. Although the option to use a pet as a form of RMT may be far safer than relying on third-party gold sellers, if the return on investment is not high enough, players will be less likely to use this option.