I haven’t written on the blog for a while, mainly because I’ve not had a lot to say about WoW. Well, nothing I haven’t said before, and eventually the broken record gets boring.

However, I am moved to comment on all this ‘helms in the Blizzard store’ shenanigans. We know an explosion of player feeling occurs nearly every time something new appears in the store. Some people have strong views about a subscription game having such a store, and while they might wistfully look at the shinies and want them, they can’t bring themselves to hand over more cash when they already pay a sub. Or perhaps they simply can’t afford them.

Generally, game shops are the province of the Free to Play games – every one of those will have one because it’s how they get their revenue. So, some players ask, why does Blizzard have one for WoW? Is it simply just to milk more cash from their customers? Some people really think that’s the case and they feel bitter about it. They feel angry that players succumb to temptation and buy things, because in their view that’s just encouraging Blizzard to keep their prices high. Other players aren’t bothered – as far as they’re concerned, they can afford the items, they want them, end of story. I have bought every mount and pet, because I’m an avid mount and pet collector, and I’ve had a lot of fun from those items, so I’m not averse to the store per se. To me, it’s exciting when a new mount or pet appears.

But I am a bit perplexed about the new helms. It’s irrelevant to me what people might think about the look of the items. You either like them or you don’t – same as for the other store items. What puzzles me is the amount Blizzard is charging for them. I’m surprised they didn’t foresee the outcry this would cause. And this is down to the cost in comparison to similar items from the F2P stores.

One important point has to be made before going any further. The teams who design and develop the game we love do not make decisions about how much things cost in the Blizzard store. So there’s no point railing against the whole company. It’s the accounts departments, going ever higher up in the tiers of the company and its affiliates, which are responsible for these decisions.

Maybe a lot of players are unaware what F2P games charge for vanity items because they don’t play such games, and don’t read WoW forums. Maybe to the uninformed the hat price doesn’t seem that bad, but really it is a bit steep. While I’ve heard from friends what other games tend to charge, I can only speak personally about Rift. When Rift went F2P a couple of months ago, a veritable department store opened up. Loyal original customers were given very generous amounts of free tokens to spend in this shop, as well as a plethora of other free items such as mounts and pets. Loyalty was rewarded handsomely. With the tokens I received, I was able to buy a couple of the cool new mounts, transmog sets for some of my characters, plus other little bits and pieces and items for my ‘dimension’ or player home.

Let’s just have a look at this in real terms. You can buy tokens for cash in Rift and use them to buy things in the shop. £20 will get you 4870 tokens, which means that for £1 you get 243.5 tokens. Transmog sets, except for a few more expensive ones, are 765 tokens, so that’s around £3.14 – for a full set of gear. The most expensive mounts cost £6.47 and the cheapest mounts, found throughout the game itself, but which might cost a lot of platinum (the in game currency) are 5 pence. 13 tokens. This includes mounts from the opposite faction you can’t actually buy in the game. Pets range from 720 tokens to 180. All of the items are of high quality.

Rift needs people to spend money in the shop to survive now, and to me it seems Trion is taking the route of making everything cheap to encourage players to buy. What mount collector isn’t going to be tempted by the 5p cost to buy all the more common mounts they haven’t got or can’t afford in game? And there are a lot of them, which will amount to a few quid if you bought them all. I think the prices are very fair and there is a massive stock to choose from. In the transmog sets department, you are really spoilt for choice, and restrictions concerning armour type don’t apply. So you could buy a really cool plate set for a cloth wearer if you wanted to, or mix and match with other pieces to create your own unique look. Each piece of a set costs 39 pence if you break the price down.

Now when you look at the £10 being charged in the Blizzard store for the new hats, it is a bit gobsmacking, and that’s why I’m surprised the company didn’t see the fallout coming, or even why they thought it was a good idea to charge that much in the first place. I presume they must keep an eye on what other games charge for store items, and surely they must be aware a large amount of their player base are familiar with the F2P games and their prices. It was inevitable the comparison was going to be made, and in strong terms. A full transmog set at the new hat prices, if they ever appear, would cost £80, as opposed to the £3.14 we find in Rift.

Perhaps it’s not appropriate to compare Blizzard to a company like Trion, which is far smaller, and has a relatively modest player base. WoW is the top dog of MMOs, and in some ways it isn’t really surprising that its vanity items are going to cost more. It’s like buying supermarket produce from a top store like Waitrose or a bargain basement place like Aldi. I don’t think Blizzard would ever want to match the very cheap prices found in a game like Rift. But even so, their prices are considerably higher, not just a little higher. But so far, people have been mostly happy to cough up for the mounts and pets. However, the cost of the new hats and the associated furore is a shame, because now they have a bad rep, with people complaining vociferously across the internet. People who want to buy them, or already have, might feel awkward about wearing them. There are tales of people being kicked from LFR for displaying one of the hats, although I think that’s probably a WoW urban myth. But then again, who knows? The Celestial Steed caused a lot of hate when that came out, which I must admit did tarnish the shine of having one. I really loved mine too, but felt embarrassed about being seen on it in crowded places, which is just ridiculous. But people felt obliged to be rude, and that trend hasn’t gone away.

Blizzard already gets subs from its millions of players, so I can’t see why they risked invoking the Player Rage Spectre, so often invoked by store items, by placing such a high price on the hats. £10 for all 3 might have been acceptable, or £3-£5 per helm would have been fair. Lots of people would have bought them, and the bad feeling – I believe – wouldn’t have been so toxic.

Maybe the hats are an experiment and a response to the diminishing subscriptions. Perhaps the accountants want to gauge how much players are prepared to pay, and what they consider acceptable. Generally, the price has not been considered acceptable. As far as I know there’s been no official response from Blizzard over their decision on the pricing of the helms, but I would like to know their reasoning and what they think about the reaction.