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People paying in-game money for powerful players to “carry” them through top-level World of Warcraft content has been a common practice in the game for years, but the revelation that Blizzard’s co-lead is participating in the practice has sparked a new flurry of discussion about “raid boosts” within the community.
The chatter kicked off when recently-instated Blizzard co-lead and former Xbox VP Mike Ybarra tweeted a few days ago that he would be streaming his WoW guild’s “heroic SoD sales run.” For those who don’t play WoW, this is Ybarra advertising that he would be streaming his guild playing through the game’s most recently released raid, Sanctum of Domination, on heroic difficulty.
The “sales” bit indicates that his guild group will include a few folks who had paid in-game gold to be there, as opposed to joining or assembling a high-level group of their own to clear the challenge themselves.
Likely streaming our heroic SoD sales run and high’ish end m+ tonight (20-23) starting at 5pm PT. 👍👍🎃😍
— Mike Ybarra 🎃 (@Qwik) October 16, 2021
What Is Raid Boosting?
This practice is known as “raid boosting” and has been common in World of Warcraft for years. Like most MMORPGs, WoW has multiple levels of difficulty to its raids. And while options have been added over the years for players who don’t necessarily have highly-skilled guilds at their back to at least see the story and boss content available, the higher levels of difficulty — Heroic and Mythic, currently — require serious coordination and specific numbers of people playing certain roles to finish.
Unless you’re in the upper echelons of WoW players, finishing a raid on this level can cost a guild lot of in-game gold to buy potions and other necessary items, not to mention the weeks and weeks of preparation and practice required to fell a raid’s most difficult bosses.
For those who can manage to clear them, the rewards for high-level content are substantial: stronger equipment, other cosmetic rewards like mounts, prestige in-game achievements, and sometimes even bonus story content, dialogue, or extra boss encounters you might not see on easier modes. So it’s natural that players covet them.
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But if you don’t have the time, skill, interest, or energy to put into finishing these time-consuming raids, then paying in-game gold for those who do to carry you through a raid once or twice to get the things you want seems like a reasonable solution. It benefits the guilds as well, which empty their coffers raid after raid to finish them the first few times and necessarily will need to refill them before the next raid releases.
But there are a few reasons why raid boosting and Ybarra’s participation in it has turned people sour. The first, somewhat less common opinion, is that raid boosting cheapens the experience for those who get “legitimate” kills through skill, time, and teamwork. It can be frustrating to watch someone pay their way into the same rewards you took weeks to earn.
Another issue is that the in-game “group finder” tool, intended to be used by players to find others of similar skill and interest to clear raids or dungeons with, tends to get bogged down in advertisements for raid boosts, making it difficult to use. But while annoyance at these issues is certainly valid, they’re not the main reason some members of the WoW community are raising their eyebrows at Ybarra.
The WoW Token Conundrum
Back in 2015 during WoW’s Warlords of Draenor expansion, Blizzard added a controversial new item into World of Warcraft: the WoW Token. The WoW Token is an item that players can purchase with real money, which can be exchanged for a month of game time. It can then be sold within the game to another player for in-game gold, essentially allowing players to convert real money into gold, or spend in-game gold to maintain their WoW subscription. The real money price for a WoW Token is set at $20, while the in-game gold selling price is set by the game, but fluctuates depending on supply and demand. In the US, it’s been sitting in the vicinity of 200,000 gold lately.
Jokes aside boosting isnt really a horrible thing but you shouldnt be required to boost to be able to compete. Also something about people paying to skip content tells me something is off. Should try to remove the incentives to boost and to get boosted imo
— Scripe (@ScripeWoW) October 18, 2021
A post on the World of Warcraft forums from Ybarra’s guild, Denial of Service, indicates that taking someone through a Heroic Sanctum of Domination run costs the individual 300,000 gold, with an additional 75,000 gold per boss for the group to “funnel” loot to the payer, or essentially have everyone in the raid group give them any items the boss drops that they can reasonably use, instead of just letting them roll the dice on what they individually pick up.
A player could certainly earn that amount of gold themselves, but a much faster way would be to buy WoW Tokens, effectively paying Blizzard $40 or more just to raid with its co-leader’s guild and receive certain desired items from the bosses they kill.
Denial of Service does disclaim in their post that they do not sell runs for real money, as accepting real money directly for a run would be a violation of Blizzard’s terms of service. The WoW Token system somewhat allows players to get around that — and has for years now. While some argue that the WoW Token is essentially legitimizing an illicit practice, others point out that the existence of the WoW Token has helped curb shadier practices, as those who want to buy and sell in-game gold for real money have a safe, legitimate place to go to do it. As opposed to resorting to shadier websites or tactics.
Raid Boosting’s Mixed Reputation
Ultimately, Ybarra’s guild is doing something that has been incredibly normal in World of Warcraft for expansions now, especially as the in-game economy has made it increasingly expensive for guilds like Denial of Service to finish raids at high levels. As their post puts it, “We do these sales to help with mythic progression, as the gold goes towards creating flasks, feasts, vantus runes, potions, and BoE gear. Every run you book with us goes towards killing new bosses, so thank you for supporting us!”
People going crazy cause Mike is doing sales runs, and I agree – I don’t like boosting much and wish it was less lucrative/incentivized.
— George (@RogerbrownWoW) October 18, 2021
Some players aren’t just indifferent to Ybarra’s participating in raid boosting, they’re thrilled. After all, a member of Blizzard leadership is publicly, actively playing the game at its highest level, streaming it, and engaging with the community as they do. To them, this means that the top levels of the company are engaged with the community and aware of the struggles that top-level guilds face, an awareness that may one day translate into positive changes for players like them.
But Ybarra, a top-level Blizzard employee, specifically participating in raid boosts has reopened a pre-existing community debate around whether boosts and how gold is exchanged for them are healthy for World of Warcraft’s experience as a whole, as this Reddit thread on the subject demonstrates. This is also all coming at a time when Blizzard is already under intense scrutiny from every angle due to an ongoing lawsuit targeting toxic company culture and harassment allegations.
Common practice though they may be, Blizzard’s co-lead actively participating has players who already disliked the practice frustrated with the more active endorsement of it, and despairing that anything will ever be done to tackle the issues of game design, balance, and economy that surround it.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.