As you may or may not be aware of, Blizzard, the creators of World of Warcraft, have recently made available an in-game mount in the form of the Celestial Steed for the real world price of $25. This practice of charging real money for benefit in a virtual sense has become known as a “micro transaction”. Although $25 may not seem that micro to most people, it is in reference to the significance of the purchase not the actual dollar amount. There are many games/virtual worlds that rely entirely on micro-transactions for income. World of Warcraft, on the other hand, uses a subscription model and the purchase of game licenses. The idea of a micro-transaction like system implemented in WoW is one of the biggest fears of hardcore WoW players and many would rather see the game go away than see it succumb to the financial allure of the micro-transaction. While Blizzard has had a few purchasable pets and a few very rare items as bonuses in the trading card game, this purchasable mount is the closest Blizzard has ever come to a micro-transaction system. And the WoW community is all abuzz about it.
While I do not want WoW to become strictly dependent on micro-transactions, I think that a little is a good thing. The only guideline that Blizzard needs to follow is thus: Items purchased for real money can never allow a player to be more successful/powerful in-game. And the Celestial Steed fits this guideline perfectly. It is only as good as the best mount you have. It is really more of a “skin” for your mounts than anything. It is also available on all current and future characters on your account. Many of the WoW and game related podcasts and blogs that I consume have expressed a strong fear or out right hate for the idea of paying good money for in-game items as it is but a stones throw away from breaching the aforementioned guideline. In this particular case, a lot of the criticism is unfounded. I think that this item skirts the boundary so closely that the trigger happy out there are merely firing a verbal shot across Blizzard’s proverbial bow to keep them from going into the forbidden waters that is power for money. I understand their fear and hope that Blizzard is smart enough (read: not stupid enough to piss off their most loyal players, many of which own multiple accounts) and take that final controversial step into the micro-transaction world. As long as virtual items purchased for real world money remain strictly superficial, all should be well.
And on a more personal note…I am a sucker for mounts and hit the Blizzard store as soon as I could to buy me one of those winged equines.