Though Warcraft traditionally hasn’t allowed the open trading of USD or Euros for their gold (a practice called RMT, real money trade) RMT has been a longtime selling point in games like Linden Labs’s Second Life. Players spend real money on shirts and angel wings and comically oversized strapons, and the sellers can use that currency to pay their monthly fees. Games like FarmVille take it a step farther. It’s part of what Bogost was critiquing, when he let Cow Clicker players pay real money to skip the four hours they’d normally need to wait before clicking their cows.
It’s also part of what Zynga CEO Mark Pincus meant when he said, at a conference, “I did every horrible thing in the book to – just to get revenues right away.” He wasn’t only talking about the compulsion loops built into the game, or telling players they were donating to charity (and taking a healthy chunk from that). It was the big green button they could push at any time, to skip it all. They could literally pay to not have to play the game. They might also spend their time taking arduous online surveys, for the privilege of more activity points in an arduous game.
In Cow Clicker, Bogost calls optionalism the choice between rote acts and, “delegation or, more often, spending cash money.”
Since the rapture of Bogost’s cows, even in the last couple of years, optionalism has become a major trend such that the only game expected to be a major challenge to Warcraft’s supremacy: Star Wars: The Old Republic, switched from charging players modest monthly fees (the Warcraft method), to “Free-to-Play.” They allowed new players to create a few characters for free, and level them up, but functionality like in-game email and player-to-player sales, all that requires that you spend a little cash. You want to level up super ultra fast? You have the option to spend dollars. Want the speeder bike with a 500-banthapower engine, to travel the drudgerous distances? You have the option to spend dollars. Sadly, the only thing that distinguished the game from every other “WoW-killer” MMO, or even Warcraft itself, was the game’s in-depth stories. Which became free. The rest of the game might have looked like Star Wars, but it played almost exactly like Warcraft. Only now all the grinds, embedding, and other painful bullshit had been strewn with deadfall money pits and cash landmines.
We didn’t need that. Warcraft was bad enough.