Lately I have been playing way too much World of Warcraft. Like a lot of people, I abandoned the game a few months after Warlords of Draenor was released in November 2014. But Legion has made the game fun again, and I’ve been logging 50-60 hours a week in-game.

Anyway, ran across SimpleArmory.Com which, as its name suggests, is a simplified version of Blizzard’s WoW Armory. It has all the same information, just presented with a much more accessible design.

The one thing SimpleArmory adds is that if you click on any achievement, missing collectable, etc., the site will redirect you to the entry for that particular piece of content.

Working for $.60/Hour as a Gold Farmer in World of Warcraft

In early 2014, I stopped playing World of Warcraft and assumed I was completely finished with the game. The Warlords of Draenor expansion had been released in November 2013, and by March I was finished with this extremely disappointing addon to a game I had been playing for almost a decade.

My 14 year-old-son/WoW fanatic started insisting, however, that the game’s 2016 Legion expansion was going to change all that and make the it fun again. I was a bit skeptical but when the Legion came out, I bought the two of us a copy and we played together through to the new level cap.

And he was right–Legion is the most fun I’ve had in World of Warcraft since Wrath of the Lich King. One thing the thing I noticed early on was that I was earning a lot of gold considering my play style. Most players seem to rush to the level cap so they can do dungeons or raids. Honestly, I find dungeons and raids extremely boring. I prefer a couple activities that my son tells me are just not fun–world PVP and gathering.

I’m not sure why the gathering professions appeal to me so much in WoW; probably something to do with my borderline OCD personality (gotta collect ‘em all, etc). I only play a single character (unlike my son and many others who seem to have several different characters they switch between playing), and I’ve stuck with herbalism and mining on my character since 2006.

With Legion, though, all of a sudden I was raking in tens of thousands of gold just from selling what I collected from gathering things in the world through mining and herbalism. According to my son, there are some highly desirable player-crafted items that require mining and herbalism ingredients, which was why the price of these was so on on the Auction House.

So after buying a few things that had previously been out of reach, and a few items to earn some Achievements, I was left with a lot of gold and, frankly, not a lot to do with it given my playstyle.

And that’s when I first looked into the WoW token on my server’s Auction House.

World of Warcraft, like many MMOs, has long had a problem with gold farmers. These are people who will play the game just to generate in-game currency in order to sell it for real world money, typically through sites unaffiliated with the game.

Gold farming tends to distort game economies as well as create annoying side effects. For many years playing MMOs would result in message after message in-game from people wanting to sell you in-game currency for real world money. Companies banned this and tried to crack down on it with varying degrees of success.

In 2015, Blizzard Entertainment decided to bring gold farming and selling into the game itself by creating the WoW Token. The WoW Token facilitates transactions in game between people who have gold and those who want to buy it for real world money.

The person who wants to buy gold for real money purchases the WoW Token through an in-game shop. This costs $20 and adds a token to the player’s inventory. When the player is ready, he or she can post it on the Auction House. At the time the player lists the token on the Auction House, the player is told exactly how much he or she will receive in gold for the token. The actual amount of gold varies based on some still undisclosed formula.

The person who wants to unload gold can go the Auction House and buy the WoW token for whatever the price is listed at. What the token grants the buyer is a 30-day game time subscription to World of Warcraft. The person who buys a WoW Token from the Auction House with in-game currency can’t resell or relist the token–the only thing that can be down with the token is redeem it for game time.

So initially I was just interested in purchasing a WoW Token with in-game currency to actually go through the process and see what it was like. On October 4, 2016, I purchased my first WoW token from the auction house for 35,216 gold, and got 30 days of game time subscription added to my account.

Then I was curious how long it would take me to generate enough gold to purchase another one. So, four days later on October 8, 2016, I purchased a second WoW token for 36,413 gold, and added another 30 day game time subscription to my account.

Now I was hooked. I started focusing on gathering and gold generating activities to the exclusion of pretty much everything else in the game. I bought WoW tokens again on October 14, October 17, October 26, October 30, November 5, and November 11. now lists my World of Warcraft account as expiring on June 29, 2017.

And I’m well on my way to my ninth WoW token.

The weird thing, of course, is that generating gold in World of Warcraft to purchase game time is extremely economically inefficient for me.

In total, I have played 200 hours since starting my efforts to buy WoW Tokens. A WoW subscription costs $14.99/month, so the real world value I’ve obtained from this is $119.92. A quick trip to the calculator shows that I’ve been earning a whopping 60 cents/hour.

Yet, I’ve never had so much fun doing something that pays so little. I now think I have a better understanding of how Tom Sawyer’s friends must have felt after they got suckered into whitewashing that fence.

World of Warcraft’s Declining Subscription Numbers

Back in 2004 when World of Warcraft was initially released, I really wasn’t paying much attention to PC gaming. I don’t think I even heard about World of Warcraft until some students who worked for me started talking obsessively about it. I bought a copy in May 2005 largely to satisfy my curiosity, and have spent about 3,000 hours since then playing a couple of characters.

Like a lot of people, however, my interest in World of Warcraft at the moment is pretty much non-existent. Every time a new expansion has come out I’ve bought it, leveled my main character to the new level cap, and then quickly gotten bored and unsubscribed. World of Warcraft subscription numbers have declined to the point where–after announcing that in Q3 2015 WoW subscribers stood at 5.5 million (down from 10 million in Q4 2014)–Blizzard added that it would no longer release WoW subscription numbers.

There are a lot of reasons for the decline in WoW subscriptions, but ultimately the game just isn’t as fun anymore. I came to realize the game was likely no longer fun for a lot of people when I started talking to my 13-year-old son about the game. He’s the resident WoW fanatic in our house now, and he can (and will) go on and on about WoW mechanics, optimized builds and gear for various class/race combinations, etc., to the point where my eyes glaze over.

But here’s the thing–although he has a subscription to World of Warcraft, that’s not typically where he spends most of his time playing the game. Instead, he spends more time playing vanilla private servers such as Nostalrius Begins.

A private server is an instance of World of Warcraft that is not run by Blizzard. Blizzard tends to tolerate such private servers as long as they’re not exploitative and aren’t charging large sums of money to players. For the most part, people who play on private servers tend to be hardcore fans of the game who probably also play the official version, so I assume Blizzard sees benign neglect as the best approach. It probably helps that private servers attract relatively few players (Nostalrius is one of the most popular private servers, for example, but appears to attract less than 10,000 players).

The vanilla designation means that is designed to be identical to some official previous version of World of Warcraft. In the case of Nostalrius, for example, the server represents the game as it was before Blizzard released the first expansion to the game, The Burning Crusade. So my son and thousands of other people spend a lot of time playing World of Warcaft as it was almost 10 years ago.

The weird thing is that with the Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor expansions, Blizzard specifically implemented features and systems that were apparently designed to appeal to more casual or younger players like my son. I imagine the thinking was that this would expand the potential audience of the game (features like the battle pet system were clearly designed with this in mind). And yet it is precisely those changes which have led my son to spend more time on private servers, such as Nostalrius, rather than log into to Blizzard’s official offering.

My main takeaway after playing through Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor was that Blizzard went way too far in its efforts to simplify the game and its mechanics. I especially detest the new character “customization” system which has pretty much gutted customization to the point where they might as well just ditch it altogether. The game has gotten to the point where it offers as little challenge as something like the original Dungeon Siege.

On the other hand, there aren’t many games I’ve played 3,000 hours in only to say “yeah, after playing for 10 years this game finally feels kind of stale.” WoW is still one of the top 5 video games I’ve ever played, and Blizzard is to be commended for letting the private server system thrive for people who want to experience the game as it was before all of the recent changes.

World of Warcraft Subscription Numbers, 2005-2015

Per Blizzard, "World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules." 
YearSubscribers (Millions)
2005 (Q1)1.5
2005 (Q2)3.5
2005 (Q3)4
2005 (Q4)5.5
2006 (Q1)6
2006 (Q2)6.5
2006 (Q3)7
2006 (Q4)8
2007 (Q1)8.5
2007 (Q2)9
2007 (Q3)9.3
2007 (Q4)10
2008 (Q1)10.7
2008 (Q2)10.9
2008 (Q3)11
2008 (Q4)11.5
2009 (Q4)11.5
2010 (Q3)12
2010 (Q3)12
2010 (Q4)12
2011 (Q1)11.4
2011 (Q2)11.1
2011 (Q3)10.3
2011 (Q4)10.2
2012 (Q1)10.2
2012 (Q2)9.1
2012 (Q3)10
2012 (Q4)9.6
2013 (Q1)8.3
2013 (Q2)7.7
2013 (Q3)7.6
2013 (Q4)7.8
2014 (Q1)7.6
2014 (Q2)6.8
2014 (Q3)7.4
2014 (Q4)10
2015 (Q1)7.1
2015 (Q2)5.6
2015 (Q3)5.5