The day has come. Pack your children into a suitcase, sell the dog, flee to the countryside and put all your energy into growing giant marrows. The end times are coming. The Great Doom has begun. The last bastion has fallen.
World of Warcraft now allows you, in a roundabout sort of way, to officially swap real money for in-game gold. RUN FOR THE HILLS.
Not directly, although Blizzard seem pretty cheerful about the loophole that enables real-virtual cash trades. It works like this: you buy one of the new Guardian Cub pets (a purely cosmetic flying thingy that follows you around) from Blizzard's out-of-game Pet Store, and unlike the vast majority of WoW items it doesn't bind on pick-up. This means that, instead of equipping it (at which point it does become locked to that character) you can sell it in the in-game Auction House - and in turn, your $10 ultimately becomes whatever the asking price for a Guardian Cub is in WoW gold. Blizzard are a-okay with that - in fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was their major intention with it, in the same way the recent Celestial Steed was their first, and enormously successful, pop at microtransactions. Here's what they say about Cubby:
"Since the introduction of the Pet Store, many players have been asking for ways to get the companions we offer there without having to spend real-world cash. By making the Guardian Cub tradable (much like the BoE mounts from the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game), players interested in the new pet will have fun, alternative in-game ways to get one. In addition to trading the pet, players can give the Guardian Cub as a gift to another character for a special occasion; guild leaders can use them to reward members for a job well done; and so on. We also hope this change will help reduce the number of incidents of scamming via trading for invalid pet codes."
"While our goal is to offer players alternative ways to add a Pet Store pet to their collection, we’re ok with it if some players choose to use the Guardian Cub as a safe and secure way to try to acquire a little extra in-game gold without turning to third-party gold-selling services. However, please keep in mind that there's never any guarantee that someone will purchase what you put up for sale in the auction house, or how much they'll pay for it. Also, it’s important to note that we take a firm stance against buying gold from outside sources because in most cases, the gold these companies offer has been stolen from compromised accounts. (You can read more about our stance here.) While some players might be able to acquire some extra gold by putting the Guardian Cub in the auction house, that’s preferable to players contributing to the gold-selling “black market” and account theft."
So, it could be to defeat the undying problem of gold farmers and third-party sales sites. Or it could be coming up with a new way to extract more cash from WoW's current, huge but gradually declining userbase while it's still king of MMO hill. In that respect, it's a very good idea. In other respects, it's hard not to feel a little sad about it. Striving, working, hoping: these were part and parcel of gaining in-game cash for most WoW players. Spending $10 out of game is, regardless of the question of spending more money on a game you already pay a subscription fee for, somewhat taking away the challenge. Of course, it's not like you have to do it- but the temptation will always be there.
On the other hand, it's one way to even out the gulf between the endlessly-playing haves and and the time-starved have-nots - as Eve already introduced with its Plex system. Whether it'll actually un/rebalance anything or just lead to more pocketmoney for some players remains to be seen. As does the extent of the demand for the pets - their value will surely slump as more and more Cubs flood the market (especially if professional scalps decide to try and game the system), so right now it only means a very short-term prospect of bonus in-game cash for those who buy the pets speculatively. Then again, Blizzard can always just release new kinds of tradable pets on a regular basis. The money train don't stop until they say it stops.