Blizzard Sells $2 Million In Virtual Livestock In Four Hours

from the celestial-bubbles dept

From Farmville to Second Life, there’s no question that if you’re able to create a virtual world in which people pay real money for virtual goods, then you’ve got a winner on your hands. For years now, virtual sweatshops have existed to farm World of Warcraft for gold and rare items, that can then be sold for real money. For example, a “Spectral Tiger” can fetch over $800 on eBay right now. That said, Blizzard has started to capitalize a bit on this trend, and now sells virtual pets through its online store. The latest is a “Celestial Steed,” which, for $25, allows players to “travel in style astride wings of pure elemental stardust.” In four hours, Blizzard sold approximately $2 million in virtual livestock — apparently Blizzard understands how to give their community good reasons to buy (which is fortunate for Blizzard, since WoW’s subscriber base is rumored to have plateaued).

This sale sparked off a bit of a debate amongst the WoW community, who argue that being able to “buy your way” through the game destroys the game in favor of profit. It will be interesting to see if this sentiment grows enough to warrant a Blizzard response — like we saw in the case of Dungeons & Dragons Online, who removed some recent changes because of overwhelming negative feedback. That said, even if the complaints remain at a dull roar, a glut of Celestial Steeds roaming the plains of Azeroth would wreak havoc on its street value. After all, even though the world is virtual, many of the same laws of economics that affect the real world also apply. Blizzard likely understands these economic concepts will and will undoubtedly stop selling the Celestial Steed at some point to maintain an artificial scarcity.

That said, the only reason such artificial scarcity works in WoW is because Blizzard has absolute control over the economy. Those that think that Blizzard’s success automatically means that people will pay for infinite goods in the real world will find that it is a bad comparison to make. So, if you want to sell imaginary, flying horses, then it’s best to build a virtual world over which you have total control, in which those horses have some sort of value — but that’s not trivial.

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Comments on “Blizzard Sells $2 Million In Virtual Livestock In Four Hours”

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Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

No Way Will This Destroy The Game...

Purchasers of the Celestial Steed are NOT “able to “buy their way” through the game. The Celestial Steed does not give any in-game advantages. It can only move as fast as your current riding level.

Blizzard not selling any advantages for real money, unless you count being able to get one mount closer to the Stable Keeper achievement. Even if you do count that, achievements don’t give any in-game advantage.

This isn’t any different than the sales of the Pandaren Monk, Lil X.T., or Lil’ K.T. mini-pets, which have also been quite successful.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re: No Way Will This Destroy The Game...

Hehe, wasn’t trying to correct you, just commenting on the game-balance arguments that you commented on. ๐Ÿ˜›

I do think that if they release too many pets, it will upset the minipet collecting community, but they’ve been doing it for a few years now, slowly, with no real backlash so they’re doing okay so far.

Beta says:

only a scientist

I presume that these animals can be transferred from one owner to another in the game, so that a market exists and we can watch the price over time. And I suppose that they can be killed…

I know that Blizzard is in it for the money, but if they were so inclined they could do some interesting experiments here. If they were to stop making this animal — permanently — and not continue to invent luxury species, then the population would be non-increasing over time. As they grew rarer, the price would presumably rise, and owners might go to some trouble to protect their animals from vandals or rivals.

And if they gave these animals the ability to breed, that would really be interesting!

Stephen Straka says:

Regarding altering the game’s economy, it is legitimately impossible (that is, without hacking) to transfer the mount from one player to another: it is given to a player and remains “bound” to each of those player’s characters. It has no street value to begin with because it cannot be bought or sold. This mechanic applies to many in-game items, usually powerful weapons and armor, in order to prevent players from buying their way through the game using in-game currency by simply buying off the most powerful items from someone who happens to have an extra.

Beta says:

Re: Re:

“…It is legitimately impossible (that is, without hacking) to transfer the mount from one player to another.”

Ah. And I’ll bet they can’t be killed either. I like computer games — some of them– and I can’t easily put into words how wrong this is. A “steed” that isn’t really an animal, or even a possession, but just a decoration that a player can buy. This is one more reason why I don’t play these games, but if I did I’d feel nothing but contempt for someone riding around on one of these things. It depresses me that such a huge part of the gaming community likes this trash.

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There really isn’t any difference between this or the accoutrements of any other hobby, be it the Batman watch, the witty T-shirts, or the Star Trek models favored by various fan communities. What’s your hobby? In what ways do members of your hobby community show their hobby love? Same thing, buddy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Beta says:

Re: Re: Re: oh look what a big sword I've got

If I were a serious numismatist, maybe a tetradrachma collector, and I saw the numismatic world dominated by people showing off their big sacks of modern change, I’d feel bad.

If I were a ship-model maker, who made a scale model of a yankee clipper in a bottle, brought it to a convention and saw nothing but crowds of people with identical huge styrofoam battleships they’d all bought from the same store, I’d feel bad.

If I were a writer, and I went to a workshop to discuss O’Henry and (*cough*) maybe a short story I’d written, and all people wanted to do was see who had the biggest sheaf of jokes downloaded from the internet, I’d feel bad.

If I were a golfer, and took the game seriously, and the course were crowded all day every day with people showing off their expensive gear and trying to dress and talk as much like Tiger Woods as possible… If I were a pianist, a vinophile, a film buff, a mountain-climber…

I used to play RPG games, and I put some creative effort into it. I made a couple of interesting characters and they had some memorable adventures. I played them in character, with weaknesses and flaws, and subtle relationships with other characters. They earned what success they had, and when they died they stayed dead (except in Paranoia, but that’s a special case). And there was nothing more boring than playing with someone who was just working the rules to be the strongest, richest and best-looking.

Dennis Yang (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Aha.. interesting, well even so, the only reason Blizzard can do this is because they have such absolute control over the game’s economics.

They’re able to peg the value of the celestial steed at $25 because they have so many artificial restrictions on what you can do with it.

However, it’s even more interesting that Blizzard themselves are bound essentially by the social rules (ie.. it’s unfair to “buy” your way through the game) of the WoW community — which is why, I suppose, this mount does not afford any in-game advantages, as Rose described.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s possible for Blizzard to keep sales of items like these in low supply and large demand, and thus able to charge a lot of money for some exclusivity, by restricting the amount of sales or the time period (maybe 3 days) in which they can be purchased.

People play WoW and other MMOs not only to collect stuff, but to be better than everyone else. One way of measuring “better” is having more exclusive in-game stuff. If you’ve seen the holiday events, it rewards players for being in-game during holidays and if you complete a bunch of silly quests, you get exclusive items that will theoretically never be available again. Or for example, finishing in the top X% of PvP ladder tournaments over the course of months gives you access to mounts that only maybe 0.5% of the WoW population has, and probably won’t ever be available again.

As long as you restrict the sale to a week or less, you can charge more per item for the guarantee of exclusivity for the buyers.

And to reiterate what others have written, this item grants absolutely no real in-game advantage to your character. It does, however, does enlarge a certain virtual organ upon usage.

mjm01010101 (profile) says:

Isn't this what Money is for?

money is the transferring of one value system to another. I see no harm in this practice, nor the iphone app that cost $500 and was a diamond. In one case Blizzard weighed that this will not tarnish their brand or the value of other goods/services they provide, in Apple’s case, they decided that having an app actually does damage to the entire Apple iPhone experience, and they kicked it.

What is scary (but still justified) is we have people buy into these platforms and economies where they attach value to objects that really do little more than fire off a few brain synapses. I can’t justify arguing against that, however, as I play some FPS’s myself and that would be hypocritical. ๐Ÿ™‚

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Spectral Tiger

You can purchase a code for the Celestial Steed and sell it to anyone else in the world that you want. But once you’ve redeemed the code for a Celestial Steed, you cannot sell that Celestial Steed to any other player for in-game gold.

You can purchase a playing card with a code for the Spectral Tiger and sell it to anyone else in the world that you want. Butonce you’ve redeemed the code for a Spectral Tiger, you cannot sell that Celestial Steed to any other player for in-game gold.

In other words, you can’t use real money to purchase an item, and then sell that item in-game for in-game currency. If you could do that, then you could use real world currency to eventually purchase in-game currency, which would allow you to purchase better gear. That would upset the game balance, and it would suck.

Modplan (profile) says:

Valve – the makers of TF2 – have been doing similar but not quite the smae things.

The game had a hat system added to it a little while ago. These hats are gained semi-randomly based on play time, or through the crafting system. They’ve been doing special events where hats are only available for a certain period, and recently have attathed hats to pre-orders of other games through Valves Steam service.

Zachary Asher Pennington (profile) says:

Spectral Tiger

The Spectral Tiger mount is obtained from a rare card available from the trading card game. The card has a scratch off code that can only be redeemed once. The way to obtain the card was to buy decks or booster packs and hope that one was inside.

Until you redeem the code, there is no interaction in-game regarding the mount. The rarity of the item is why the price is so high.

Scorp says:

Ok lemme break it down

This is a misleading article, The items WOW allows you to buy online are mearly “pretty items” They give no advantage, do not make you any better, they are usually a pet that follows you around and is just something to look at, nothing usefull at all, same with the mounts like this latest sell, But in regards to FARMERS, they are the real bane of a server they are usually chinese businesses that come in game and pay people to sit on it and farm materials and items etc etc, they then sell those items off in game for GOLD which in turn they sell on their websites for real money, WOW usually catches up with this quickly and it can result in your account deletion, which is devastating, i mean my account i have over 180 days game play soooo thats 4320 hours played. Thats just average for most player i know have over 365 days game play. So losing your account is bad deal, you cannot sell items that are bound to your account so anything blizzard offers is for your character only and gives no advantage and is with your account only, if you wanna spend the money to get a neat looking little bear that all it does is follow you around…. more power to you, and dont read soo much into the economy of wow with these we call wellfare items, they no way in any way effect the ingame economy because well they cant be sold traded or anything.

hope this shined some light on it

Rose M. Welch (profile) says:

Re: Ok lemme break it down

This article isn’t even remotely misleading.

Let me break it down:

In four hours, Blizzard sold approximately $2 million in virtual goods. This is a win for Blizzard and is a real-life example of giving customers a reason to buy without attempting to create an artificial scarcity. Yay!

That’s the point of the article.

Hope that shined some light on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isn’t Blizzard just doing their given right? Making money? People are always quick to call out Blizzard (as well as other game companies) for doing things like this and call them ‘money-hungry’ or the likes, but really, isn’t that why they are a company and have a series? Because they wanted to make money off it?

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t see anything in the article complaining about what Blizzard did in this case – just pointing to the rather loud discussion it caused amongst the more vocal part of the player base.

Personally, I don’t see any reason for Blizzard to ever stop the sales of these mounts or the in-game pets from the pet store. People don’t buy them for the rarity (after all, most people that can afford a $15 a month subscription are going to be able to put together $10 or $25 for a cosmetic item they really want), they buy them because they think they’re pretty.

This is actually something Blizzard have been doing for quite a while through the trading card game – the Spectral Tiger is the one that sells for the most, but there are other cards in that game which provide loot codes for various novelty items (such as a toy train set, or a flying rocket mount). As with the pet store items that followed them, these are all purely cosmetic items – they don’t help you level or get better gear or defeat other players in PvP in any way.

Blizzard are well aware of the line between acceptable items and those which affect the competitive aspects of the game (raiding achievements and PvP combat), and recognise their customers would have great cause for complaint if people could legitimately buy their way to an in-game advantage over other players.

Dennis Yang (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Exactly.. thanks Rose, and thanks everyone else who cleared up some of the in-game mechanics. Yah, I was most fascinated by the fact that Blizzard was about to clear over $2M in just four hours..

And it’s also interesting that there’s a “waitlist” for the pets — I assume that’s to avoid the glut of minipets that Rose was talking about as well..

Nick Coghlan says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The waitlist is actually pretty quick (measured in hours, not days). I think it is just a load limiting measure to keep their online storefront from getting crushed by tens of thousands of players trying to buy the pet at once.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Blizzard store for WoW in-game items is itself something of a novelty, and this is the very first purchasable in-game mount. Given the large player base, the ease of acquisition and the effectively infinite supply, there’s going to be a very large initial rush of purchases that will then dwindle to a comparative trickle.

As the existence of the store becomes less of a novelty, I expect players will start to become more selective about what they buy and you’ll eventually stop seeing such large purchasing swarms when new items are announced.

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How is this sheep shearing? It isn’t like Blizzard are making any secret of the fact that all you get for your money is a cosmetic in-game item.

(Plus, if people are genuinely unhappy with their purchase, I believe they can go through the Billing department to get the mount taken off their account and their money refunded)

Nick Coghlan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Nah, I don’t work for them. I do play WoW though (and could easily afford to buy all of the in-game items, but choose not to – like you, I don’t really see the point in spending real world cash on cosmetic items in a game).

However, I also don’t care to be overly harsh in judging how other people want to spend their money. I’ll (somewhat grudgingly) drop $20 to go see a 90 minute movie. After I walk out of the cinema, the only thing I have left from that experience is a memory, but the well-designed cinemas around here mean I feel it is worth it.

Ditto for $50 (or more) for a day at an amusement park, or a ticket to a concert, a sporting event, or whatever. All transient, ephemeral things with no lasting value (except memories), but I (and people around the world) regularly choose to pay for them. Heck, I’m sure a lot of people would consider me insane for the fact that I’m willing to pay $15 for the privilege of playing amateur cricket of a weekend (since a large part of the time is spent either watching from the shed or standing around fielding).

When you play WoW, you spend quite a lot of time travelling around on your mount, so liking what you see on the screen is a good thing. The mount from the store also offers a few conveniences in the way it handles parts of the game where you aren’t allowed to fly, as well as the fact that it applies to all current and future characters on your account (potentially saving a few hundred in-game gold when levelling a new character). While I personally don’t want to buy the mount, I can easily see someone feeling that the (very pretty) appearance and the small conveniences are worth $25 to them.

Brock Phillimore (profile) says:

Like other commenter’s have said the “Celestial Steed” or other pets Blizzard sells for real world dollars offer no game play advantage. For instance having a faster mount could be considered a small game play advantage. The fastest flying mount in Wrath of the Lich King is 310% speed compared to the slowest at 100%. The fastest flying mounts can only be acquired through achievements in game play. The Celestial Steed will only go that fast if you already have a 310 mount. So what you are buying is purely cosmetic. Like a fashion accessory. An inexpensive purse can be just a functional as a Gucci bag, but many women would gladly pay for the more fashionable item.

Some people get a real kick out a cool looking mount, or a silly non-combat pet that does funny things and makes you laugh a little. Since there is a proven demand for them, Blizzard is making the game more fun for people who value them enough to pay for them.

> Aha.. interesting, well even so, the only reason Blizzard can do this is because they have such absolute control over the game’s economics.

Comments like this give me the impression you still don’t get it. Yes Blizzard has done a better job than most MMO’s at designing the game so it has a thriving economy, but it is not so much control as designing the game to be as much fun as they can. You can get hundreds if not thousands of pets in game without buying them for real dollars. Again these things are more like a fashion accessory. They offer no game play advantage, but can still be fun.

Narcuru (profile) says:

I’m kinda late to the discussion, but since I play WoW I do have some insider info regarding the celestial steed and blizzard’s plans with the store.

First, as Rose and others have mentioned the mount doesn’t give you any direct in game benefits (beyond having a interesting mount (though that is up to debate as some people make fun of purchasers of the mount)). It “scales” with your known riding speed, so if you have a 310% mount (currently the fastest speed, but only obtainable through certain “difficult” means (usually achievements but also being the top groups in arena play) then it can go 310%. Most people have 280% though and consequently they get a new 280% mount. The mount also scales on the ground as well (60-100%). If you buy the mount and start a new alt character once they hit level 20 they can buy the first mount training for a 60% speed increase. They can then use the CS instead of buying a different mount. Once they hit level 40 they can buy the 100% ground mount speed training (fastest ground speed currently) and the CS will auto-adjust its speed to be 100%.

Secondly, the code that you get from the store is theoretically transferable (I’ve seen many people selling codes for 10-15 thousand gold on my server), assuming of course you didn’t use it already. Once it’s used its useless to anyone else. Basically what happens is a person buys several of the codes, and sells them to people in game for whatever price in gold they agree to. I don’t know for sure if it’s legal (I don’t remember their ToS exactly in this case, but they can probably just say it’s like gold selling in which case it would be illegal), but people are (were) doing it. One person on my server supposedly sold 10 of those codes during the first few days of it being available. He/She spent $250 in cash but got back over 100k gold (supposedly is key they might have been scamming people by giving them used codes that were thus useless, but I hadn’t heard anyone bashing them in chat)

Finally, Blizzard has made it very, very clear they have no intentions in adding stuff to the store that will somehow make people better in game if they buy it (i.e. armor, weapons). They seem to shy away from “forcing” people to buy armor/weapon upgrades through their store becasue then you create a disparity between people who can pay and people who can’t. I would assume Blizzard would lose a large portion of their subscriber base becasue of that happening.

ann says:

Ok, i got this mount for my birthday among other things. The mount is a land mount, and a flying mount. Before the Cata expansion came out, we barely use the land mounts unless it was in BG, or in azeroth, or in a dungeon (rarely). Before cata came out, you cant use the flying mount in azeroth, so you have to switch mounts from land or flying. With the steed you have the option to not switch mounts. its both flying and a land mount.

Same as rocket mount, love rocket mount, etc.

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