Blizzard Entertainment Co-Leader Mike Ybarra has recently sparked a debate across social media after it was discovered that his guild is selling WoW Raid Boosts in the MMORPG World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft has had a fair amount of success with the launch of its recent expansion; despite several delays, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands rapidly became the fastest-selling PC game to date. Now, another dust-up has kicked off when it was discovered that Blizzard Entertainment Co-Leader Mike Ybarra participates in a guild that sells WoW raid boosts for in-game gold.
What Are WoW Raid Boosts?
WoW raid boosts are a service provided by some players or guilds where they will "boost" you through an in-game raid, saving you the trouble of finding other people to play with and acquiring the necessary gear to make it happen.
Boosting -- sometimes called "carrying" -- is not exclusive to WoW and is a fairly common practice in most MMORPGs. The practice is also used in other competitive games; for example, players will help you achieve a higher competitive rank in games such as League of Legends or Overwatch by actively helping you gain wins.
The key issues here involve real-world money getting involved, and Mike Ybarra, the current co-head of Blizzard, being involved. Pretty much every major game where boosting services are offered by players has an outright ban on selling boosting for money. That's where this becomes a problem -- after all, you can essentially buy WoW gold in exchange for real-world money by purchasing WoW Tokens (which can extend your game time subscription) and selling them on the auction house for in-game gold. That is a much trickier ethical situation -- and the involvement of one of Blizzard's top people has kicked off a vigorous discussion on the practice of boosting.
Mike Ybarra's Raid Boosting Divides Fans
A debate over WoW raid boosting kicked off yesterday when Blizzard Entertainment Co-Leader Mike Ybarra advertised his guild's carrying services on his personal Twitter account.
"Likely streaming our heroic SoD sales run and high'ish end m+ tonight (20-23) starting at 5pm PT," read the tweet from Mike Ybarra.
To put the above tweet into context, "SoD" stands for the Sanctum of Domination raid in the World of Warcraft: Shadowlands expansion. "Heroic" is a more challenging difficulty setting, and M+ stands for Mythic+, a series of rotating challenges that require a fair amount of coordination from players. Essentially, these are the most difficult bits of raid content in World of Warcraft.
A high-level company executive participating in the practice of boosting may have gained some attention under normal circumstances, but the recent troubles at Activision Blizzard mean that there are a lot more people carefully watching the company. Blizzard has been making an effort to redeem itself (most recently through several in-game changes in WoW), but that particular situation (and the company's legal troubles) are far from over and the company is under significant pressure to make changes.
Whatever the reason, people took notice and a discussion of the practice of raid boosting commenced. Replies to the Mike Ybarra tweet are split between two camps: on one hand, other players don't see an issue with boosting. On the other hand, some players take issue with the practice being allowed in the game at all -- especially considering the potential pay-to-win and RMT issues that come with it. The issue was also discussed on ResetEra and Reddit, and there is a similar split of opinion in those discussion threads, too.
For the sake of context, boosting in WoW is allowed under very specific circumstances. Check out this support article that explains the nuances:
Selling in-game items and services such as carries or boosting for real money is not allowed.
Selling items and services for gold is allowed but can only be advertised in-game through the Trade chat channel. Advertisements are not allowed in the Group Finder. The Group Finder is intended to help players find active groups that are being formed and advertisements make it difficult to find relevant groups.
As I've previously established, players can purchase WoW Tokens with real-world money and sell them in-game for gold. Although Mike Ybarra's tweet complies with the game's terms of service, the ability to purchase World of Warcraft gold with real money (albeit in a roundabout way) can be viewed as a pay-to-win mechanic.
Outside of the sanctioned method of exchanging cash for gold, there's also the issue of Real Money Transactions; some players and services will outright sell you gold in exchange for cash. RMT services affect the game's economy in several ways; firstly, they can artificially inflate the value of items. Secondly, gold farmers and bots will take up the limited space in high-value areas, depriving players of the ability to legitimately earn gold in-game.
Mike Ybarra participating in a guild that runs WoW raid boosts has reignited the debate about boosting and buying gold in the long-running MMO (and other MMOs in general). The community seems fairly split on the issue. It looks like this debate isn't likely to be settled anytime soon, especially since Blizzard is unlikely to remove the ability to sell WoW Tokens for gold -- a practice that is likely a major source of income outside of standard subscriptions and the recently-changed game time purchase options.