My latest tinfoil hat theory

Since I usually write about my experiences in game, and since these days most of those experiences consist of garrison chores, out of boredom (or maybe the haze induced by my allergy meds) I decided to indulge my inner conspiracy theorist today. And anyway, since Blizz refuses to communicate with us in any meaningful way, wacko theories are about all we have to go on as explanations for most of their actions lately.

So here’s my latest tinfoil hat theory. It is about the WoW token and the secret Blizz machinations that they so blithely attribute to “supply and demand.” Mmmmmhmmm.

Take a look at the token’s value on each of the three regions it sells on. If you convert all the real money values into dollars, what you see is that North Americans buy tokens for $20, Europeans for $22, and Chinese for $5 (exchange rates at time of this writing, rounded off to nearest dollar). The Chinese model is not a subscription, rather a time card arrangement that allows — I think — 2700 minutes of game play, and the minutes last until they are used up, whether that is in one week or 6 months. At any rate, the amount and/or method of game play is irrelevant to my theory.

What we will look at is Blizz’s role as a gold seller. That is, how much gold will your dollars buy you? One glance at the regional graphs shows you there are vast differences. For example, just now the real world dollars spent on a token will buy North Americans 26,000 gold, Europeans 42,00 gold, and Chinese 66,000 gold. This works out to the rate of one dollar buying North Americans 1300 gold, Europeans 1900 gold, and Chinese 13,200 gold.

(On the flip side, of course, if you are buying game time with gold, it costs NA and Euro players much less than it does Chinese players. Coincidence? I think not!)

Well, you might say, that is because the Chinese demand for game time paid with in-game gold is far higher than in NA. And after all, Blizz has explained that they will set the rate based on supply and demand. I will counter with the observation that — absent any hard data from Blizz, what a surprise — one good way to gauge relative levels of supply and demand is by the wait time to sell a token. If Chinese demand for them is so vastly higher — on the order of a magnitude of 10 — than in NA or Europe, then they should sell roughly 10 times faster. Certainly the sell times for Chinese tokens should always be 30 minutes or less if the demand is so great relative to supply.

But no, what we see most often in the graphs is that the Chinese sell times are usually in line with the NA and European sell times.

If you have read any of the admittedly sparse studies on WoW gold (here’s one example), you know that since many gold farmers are Chinese, there is likely a huge amount of player gold sitting in that region. I suspect most of it is legitimate, too, as basically gold farmers are the sweatshop workers for gold sellers, making gold in game us what they do for a living. Even those who do not use illegal hacks or bots have learned how to grind out gold in the most efficient way.

The point is, there is almost certainly much, much more player gold sitting in China than in NA or Europe.

Similarly, although I do not have any scholarly sources to back this up, there is anecdotal support for the claim that European players average more gold than do NA players.

Now to the theory: Blizz pegs the cost of in-game tokens to an estimate of total player gold within the region. Supply and demand may be a factor, but if so it is a very minor one, affecting the token price (and thus the price of gold for the initial buyer) only within already-established upper and lower limits. That is, Blizz first establishes maximum and minimum allowable auction house prices for tokens for each region, then allows some fluctuations within those established limits, that it attributes to supply and demand forces. I suspect, for example, no matter how much demand there ever is for tokens in NA auction houses, they will never go above 35,000 gold. My wild-ass guess is that Blizz has established the NA token prices to be within 15k-35k. And they have established similar bounds for Europe and China, based on their estimate of how much player gold exists in those regions.

Any articles I have seen about player gold reserves — and there have been very few especially lately —  do not break anything down by region. Also, most of them rely on self-reporting by players who voluntarily respond to surveys. I have serious doubts about the validity of any survey thus conducted, especially if players are asked something like “What is the size of your gold stash?” No chance of exaggeration there, right? But what that means is that only Blizz has any idea what the amount of player gold is by region. We will likely never know.

And for that reason — complete ignorance of the facts — I stand by my conspiracy theory, indeed will defend it to the death, because that’s the tradition in these kinds of theories and who am I to change tradition?

OK, that’s it for today. If I have introduced a little more paranoia and wackiness into the world, then my work here is done.


About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

One Response to My latest tinfoil hat theory

  1. Pingback: Of grammar and tinfoil hats | Misdirections

%d bloggers like this: