World of Warcraft: The New Economy

Although my reserach agenda for WoW appears halted (and likely just stone dead), I don’t think that necessarily precludes from writing about virtual economies. 

So in that vein I think I want to bring up a new design aspect of the WoW expansion (The Burning Crusade) about which, I must say, I am somewhat unhappy.  This concerns the way that the professions have been changed such that you are unable to buy and sell the fruits of your labors in the economy. 

For instance, blacksmiths were long separated between weaponsmiths and armorsmiths.  In the original version, even specialized smiths could buy and sell their goods and services as they saw fit.  With the expansion came a new (and seemingly unreasonable restriction) on that aspect of the smithing trade – and now armor and weaponsmith products can only be used by armor and weaponsmiths, respectively.  From what I understand, this has happenend also in tailoring, and though I’m not sure, probably in leatherworking as well.  I don’t know about jewelcrafting, though I do understand that there are certain products of the trade that can not be shared with others.

So why do it?  I’ll just focus my analysis on smithing, but I think with some modification it could be applied to the others.  The main problem may be that Blizzard simply made the products of the trade so powerful – far more powerful level-for-level than anything you can pick up in any non-heroic 5-man instance – that if, say, a warrior weaponsmith and a warrior armorsmith were to be able to produce and trade, they would have much less incentive to hit instances more than once or twice just to finish quests.  Still, this seems rather myopic.  Armorsmiths can’t make shields, and at a higher level the only thing they can really make is some crazy chest-pieces.  Wep-smiths can only make, well, weapons, so you couldn’t argue that the two could trade at higher levels thus significantly reducing the number of warriors that would be willing to be MT or OT in an instance.  In any event, by making the pieces more powerful than what you can pick up in an instance, they actually give you an incentive to bother collecting the materials for the recipe.  I mean, I spent a week getting together what I needed for the first epic chestpiece that I made.  I recall that before the expansion the prospect of collecting what you needed for armormithing was so daunting, and the rewards for your effort so small, that i never really bothered making anything.  I would just go in the instances and hope for good luck. 

Actually I really can’t think of one good reason why they would do it.  It doesn’t diversify the products in the economy; in fact, it takes upper level crafters out of the economy.  It doesn’t contribute to the social aspect of the game for the same reason: it takes people out of the economy.  I can only conceive that Blizzard reasoned that people weren’t crafting because they had no incentive to do so, so the specialized smithing professions were not contributing anything more to the economic/social aspect of the game. So, they thought, we can decrease the material requirements and/or make the crafted pieces more powerful than what can be acquired through regular instance runs.  But, if we do that, people might stop playing the instances, so we should require that only the professionals themselves can utilize their product.  So while weaponsmiths and armorsmiths might be crafting and using their own weapons and armor, they certainly participating any more in the social or economic aspect of the game as a results. 

Face facts, however:  While the pieces are better than what the professions used to be able to make, the materials are still expensive and collection is time-consuming.  I can’t imagine that loosening usage restrictions would actually hurt game play, especially when you consider the economic advantages that would attend such deregulation.  I know I would be smithing more often if I could actually really offer something to customers.


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