VideoGamer.com gets the chance to sit down with World of Warcraft game director Tom Chilton, and art director Chris Robinson, to talk about gold farming, subscription drops, consoles, and the ever-elusive subject of Pandaren.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the new transmogrification feature? Can you transmogrify any item or only Legendary items?
Tom Chilton: No, you can transmogrify any item within certain limitations. So the limitations are that it's got to be the same armour type. So you can't take a piece of plate mail and make it look like cloth. And then you also can't make something look like the Legendary, so for example you can't use Thunder Fury and make your current one-handed sword look like Thunder Fury. And then when it applies to weapons, it has to be the same weapon type. So you can't make an axe look like a two-handed sword.
Q: With Diablo 3, Blizzard has decided to combat third-party goldfarming sites by introducing a cash-based player-driven auction house. Is that something that could function in this game?
TC: I think it would be very difficult to make it work in WoW. Because our item-model is so different. Like Jay [Wilson, game director of Diablo 3] mentioned in the interview, Diablo is very much about trading and that's why everything that drops in the game is not bound to that character, where as with WoW it's much more about the accomplishment of having beaten the content and then getting the items that are soulbound.
So right off the bat that sort of eliminates the possibility of using it the same way that Diablo 3 will. It's always possible to extend it in other ways, for example we could theoretically allow players to sell their characters. Although it's not something we currently plan to do, so that's just, like, a theoretical possibility of how it could be used! So it would definitely be different [to Diablo 3].
Q: Is gold farming as much an issue for WoW today as it was a few years ago?
TC: Oddly, that has changed but not necessary for a good reason or in a good way. The reason you see less gold farmers out there actually farming gold is because that's the hard way to get gold. The easy way for them to get gold is hacking people's accounts, to take their gold and sell it. That's something we've been actively combating. I guess the small up-shot is that you don't see these guys out in the world in their little box farming stuff.
Q: So how are you combating it?
TC: More than anything else we combat it with things like Battle.net Secure, which is our built-in, it's sort of in the background, the infrastructure. It looks at your log-in, your play history. It's a lot like credit card security where it checks abnormal behaviour. It can trip security measures to say "oh hey, you've got to validate this is you by unlocking your account in your email or whatever".
Q: Obviously at the moment we're seeing more and more alternative business models rearing their head, with microtransaction models and even Guild Wars 2 on the horizon. Is there any incentive to incorporate more microtransactional elements?
TC: I mean, we have to some degree. With the pet store and being able to buy super ponies and that kind of stuff. So there's a little bit of that but it's still not an emphasis for us with the business model - it may make sense some day, it's just that right now it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a business standpoint to change what we've been doing since it's been working. I think that, you know, you certainly see our change-over in the Starter Edition goes a little bit more in that direction, although I can't say truthfully that the reason we did that was to go to more free-to-play model. Really that was more about, it didn't make sense for the trial to expire on people. When we looked at the data we saw that most people weren't even getting to level 20 before the 10 days were up so they just kind of got cut short. So we thought "Why do we have this thing expiring after 10 days?" There wasn't really a very good reason.
Q: Can you still be competitive in the market without having free-to-play elements at this point?
TC: So far, yes. I don't know if that will always be true. But until it's not true then we'll stick with what we're doing.