On October 10, 2011 Blizzard announced a new in-game pet for World of Warcraft that would become available at their online store called the Guardian Cub. Normally, such an announcement would not be cause for concern because selling in-game items at the Blizzard Store is nothing new. Beginning with Lil’ K.T. and the Pandaren Monk back in 2009, obtainable for $10 each, Blizzard paved the way for the current collection of 12 in-game pets and mounts which total a cost of $169.98 plus tax. What makes the Guardian Cub a departure from the norm however, is that this pet can be traded in-game for in-game currency.
At first, it may be difficult to understand why that change is significant. Let me explain how these digital purchases are made. After making an online payment, a code is sent to your e-mail address. The code may then be used online by signing into your Battle.Net account (Blizzard’s mandatory account system). After the code is applied to your account, every current World of Warcraft character, as well as every future World of Wacraft character, receives the pet as an item in his or her respective mailbox. The pet is a “bind on pickup” item. That means the item cannot be traded to another character.
Well, that is how it works for every item except the Guardian Cub. The mechanics for purchasing the Guardian Cub are the same except when it comes to how the pet is distributed to the characters in-game. Only one character per code receives the pet. Furthermore, the pet is not bind on pickup, but “bind on equip.” That means that the item can be traded freely to anyone until it is used. After it is used, it becomes stuck on the character that used it.
This brings up the first problem with the Guardian Cub. It is far more expensive than any of the other pets on the Blizzard Store. The standard pricing Blizzard has set is $10 per in-game pet and $25 per in-game mount. The Guardian Cub is $10, but it is only usable on a single character. Every World of Warcraft account can have up to 40 characters. Purchasing any of the other pets would give a pet to each of those characters for $10. If someone wanted to get 40 Guardian Cubs on his account, he would need to spend $400. Yikes! I know the dollar is losing value every day, but I did not think it was that bad compared to 2009 when $10 got you a lot more.
Furthermore, the Guardian Cub gives a penalty to players who wish to delete characters. For example, the current server limit of characters is 10. What if I choose I no longer like playing a certain character and wish to delete it in order to make room for something else. Normally that would not be an issue, except that if the character I wish to delete has the Guardian Cub as a pet, I am also deleting $10. There is no way to “transfer” the pet from character to character. The worst part about this problem is how easy a solution would be. By making two versions of the Guardian Cub, one which followed the same rules as all the prior in-game pets, and one which followed the current rules of the Guardian Cub, players could make the decision themselves over which to pick.
Blizzard has always fought against gold buying, and for good reason. The practice of gold buying can happen in several different ways, but it is always against the World of Warcraft terms of service. More often than not, the gold that gold sellers acquire in order to sell does not come from legitimate in-game methods but instead from gaining access to someone else’s account and taking all his or her gold. Other times, the gold comes from using external programs to automate some process, such as fishing, mining, collecting herbs, etc. to sell and make a profit. When purchasing gold online you are explicitly supporting these illicit acts.
And if all Blizzard had a problem with was this type gold buying, I would not be criticizing them. As it stands however, Blizzard’s policy extends beyond simple gold buying. Here is an official response from Blizzard on the topic of selling redeemable codes for in-game items:
“If the code is entered or redeemed on a webpage, it is an out-of-game item. Out-of-game items may not be exchanged for in-game currency (gold) or services. This applies to game time codes, pet store codes, and the TCG codes printed on the physical cards (among other things).” Source
Or how about this?
“Use this rule of thumb:
Can the item be traded from one character to another through the use of the in-game trade feature?
If yes, then you may trade the item for gold, but not out-of-game currency.
Despite this policy, Blizzard explicitly allows players to acquire the Guardian Cub and sell it in-game for gold. To reiterate, let us say I had a game time card. Blizzard’s policy would clearly prevent me from being able to sell the code in-game for gold. However, if I purchased this pet from their store, Blizzard has no problem with my selling it in-game for gold. What is the difference that Blizzard is hinging this distinction on?
If I purchase a game time card, I enter a code online to redeem it. If I purchase a Guardian Cub, I also enter a code online to redeem it. The game time card gives me the benefit, in-game, of having more time to play. The Guardian Cub gives me the benefit, in-game, of having a pet. Two different codes that are both redeemed online for an in-game benefit. Yet one can be traded in-game for gold and the other cannot.
According to Blizzard, the difference is that no in-game item exists for a game time card. In other words, I cannot trade an item in-game to someone for gold that could be used to give more play time. Instead I would have to trade the code itself. As a result, there is the potential for fraud because no one knows whether the code being traded is legitimate or not. But wait a moment. Blizzard is ok with out of game items being sold for out of game currency. That means Blizzard has no problem with someone taking a game time card or a Trading Card Game loot card and going to a website like eBay to sell it. The potential for fraud is just as great out of game as it is in game. Arguably, it is a greater fraud out of game because that involves real money whereas fraud in-game only involves game currency. How does a purchaser know whether the loot card on eBay has not already been redeemed? If Blizzard is concerned with fraud, it should take a consistent stance against it and not cherry pick what is the most convenient.
With the introduction of the Guardian Cub, Blizzard says to me that it is against gold selling websites, not because of the potential for fraud, and not because the gold is coming from hacked accounts, but because Blizzard is not selling the gold itself. Because Blizzard is not making any money off of it. And that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.