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WoWMar 13, 2019 3:00 pm CT

Gold sinks aren’t to remove gold, they’re to keep people playing

Update: This was originally published just for our supporters, but now it’s available for everyone. Enjoy.

Gold sinks have always been a thing in WoW, mostly for the prestige of having something rare. After Warlords of Draenor, when many players used a bevy of alts and the Garrison Mission Table to make their millions of gold, gold sinks became a little more outrageous. We saw things like the 2 million gold He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named mount, 1 million gold sparkle hippo pet, an overpriced large bag, and a cool toy during Legion from a rare-spawn vendor.

Players have typically assumed that gold sinks are simply to remove gold from the economy in order to control inflation. While this is true to an extent, in that it does achieve the effect of removing gold from the economy, it’s not necessarily to control it. When the Mad Merchant vendor came to light during beta, Watcher posted on the forums, saying that things like repairs and Auction House fees are more true gold sinks, and that the items from the vendor were intended to be rare rewards.

That will be 5 million gold, please

In Battle for Azeroth, we saw the largest “gold sink” yet: a 5 million gold auctioneer and vendor mount. Legion gold sinks were cosmetic, but the Battle for Azeroth gold sink is useful. The Mighty Caravan Brutosaur is mighty enticing, more so to the average player, as well as the more hardcore players who don’t care about aesthetics as much. It gives players instant access to the Auction House no matter where they are in the world or instance, as long as they can mount up.

The mount isn’t just a cosmetic change or another thing to collect, it’s an incredible quality of life addition. Auction House moguls will want it to decrease time spent running back and forth from mailboxes, raiders will want it for ease of access (who else forgets to buy flasks before raid time?), and everyone in between will want it simply for the cool factor.

Using the economy to encourage you to log on

Of course the high-priced items will naturally remove a large chunk of gold from the economy. But I would wager that there isn’t really that much gold moving around: much of the wealth is more likely to be sitting in players’ bags. After all, rich people don’t stay rich by needlessly spending their fortune.

With the game’s focus on getting players to log on daily, it feels like gold sinks aren’t so much about siphoning gold for the sake of removing it from the economy, but more about wasting gold so that people have to keep playing to make more gold. It keeps people logged in. Those who don’t have the gold will spend more time trying to earn it, and those who do will spend time trying to recoup what they spent. Meanwhile true gold sinks like Azerite reforging costs increase exponentially, and if players don’t want to pay it they must spend even more time farming up alternate gear. Either way, they play longer.

With “player engagement” and “daily active users” being tossed around in Activision-Blizzard financial reports, it’s in Blizzard’s interests to keep players online more frequently. Battle for Azeroth has been centered around getting players to log in every day, more so than Legion and even more than other expansions. We have World Quests resetting throughout the day, new emissaries daily, and Warfront contributions were changed to be daily turn-ins instead of having all of them up for the duration of the cycle. Reputations encourage daily grinding through Allied Race requirements, mission rewards, World Quests with contracts, Faction Assaults, emissaries, and Island Expeditions. Paragon rep caches keep the reps relevant throughout the expansion even after exalted.

As for gold, costs have gone up, whether it’s necessary maintenance or a splurge on something special, while gold sources have decreased in value. There are limited avenues in which to make gold. Those who know how to work the Auction House will simply spend a lot of time playing to implement their strategy and undercut competition. For your average player, the most consistent sources with a nice gold reward — emissary caches, Paragon caches, Call to Arms satchels — require that daily login.

Is there a purpose to this gold grind?

Gold sinks aren’t bad by themselves. It’s nice to have rare rewards that any person can work toward. And the Black Market Auction House gives players a chance to get other rewards like old gear and rare mount drops when RNG is being especially cruel. However, limiting the gold sources while encouraging the grind will do more harm as it goes on.

Players are more likely to want to log in when they know their efforts are worthwhile. The Legion and Warlords missions encouraged players to log on every day to make gold, and encouraged them to keep playing to farm resources to send out those missions. But when gold acquisition is just part of the same, monotonous grind, they’re not going to bother. And the last thing WoW needs is players turning apathetic.

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