WoW Is Offering Paid Expansion Early Access For The First Time, And Fans Are Divided
The $90 Epic Edition of The War Within grants a three-day head start.
The standard version of The War Within, slated to arrive in Fall 2024, costs $50. A Heroic edition upgrade, which includes more Traders Tender currency to use in-game, a transmog set, and unique mount, is priced at $70. Shelling out $90 for the Epic edition includes everything from previous editions, but additionally includes a unique toy, pet, hearthstone effect, 30 days of game time, guaranteed beta access, and, most critically, three days of early access to the expansion.
It's that last bit that has divided players in the WoW community, many of whom aren't exactly excited about the idea of a paid head start. Though Blizzard has long offered Heroic and Epic editions with added bells and whistles, they've always only granted additional cosmetics or bundled together game time. Paying more money to play a game early isn't uncommon in recent years and has become an increasingly common practice. It is, however, more uncommon for community-focused MMOs where the act of playing is somewhat of a shared experience, though it does happen. Final Fantasy XIV grants early access to players who preorder, for example, and Lost Ark, despite being free-to-play, let players pay for early access.
Getting an expansion earlier than other players means those willing to spend more can be at the new maximum level, earning gold, finding better gear, and completing the expansion's main story, before most players are even allowed to play. The preorder page for the Epic edition does state that those with early access will be unable to access certain endgame features like Mythic dungeons or weekly quests, but there's no denying that players who pay for early access could potentially be dozens of hours ahead of players who don't.
On the WoW subreddit, responses to the news have largely been negative, with players lamenting the fact that part of the fun of a new expansion is playing at launch for the first few days alongside the entire community. As some see it, one group of players getting a head start destroys that shared experience.
"Yeah no, that's not 'early access, 'that's delay access for everyone else,'" user TemporalSpleen wrote, while another user, Sweaksh, simply stated, "Can't do that in an MMO." A user by the name Psychobolt put it another way.
"I don't think it's healthy to do this in an MMO," they wrote. "I don't think this is consumer friendly, it puts a lot of pressure on you to buy this edition…they say that there is no advantage but farming rares that drop gear, starting the rep grinds early and getting premium access to crafting and gather professions is an advantage, an advantage you get by paying."
One user who already purchased the Epic edition asked what others thought about the three-day early access period, stating that they wouldn't mind if it was removed or instead granted to all players who simply preordered the expansion. Though many players weren't a fan of the ability to buy early access, they didn't think anything would change.
"I don't like it, but there's no way they can take it back now," user someoneelse2389 wrote. "I believe you when you say you wouldn't mind, but they have already sold a ton of them, and a lot of people would lose their minds if Blizzard took back something they paid for."
Many players are additionally keen to point out that Blizzard made a point during BlizzCon 2023's opening ceremony to state future WoW expansions (three of which were announced all at once and are collectively called The Worldsoul Saga) would likely be coming "sooner than players are used to." Blizzard wouldn't outright state that WoW could potentially be moving to an annual expansion model instead of its usual two-year cycle, but it certainly seems to be on the table. If that does become the case, players who wanted to pay for early access would potentially be spending $90 a year, on top of the game's required monthly subscription fee.
Users on the WoW subreddit are encouraging players to speak with their wallets and not purchase the Epic edition, but it's unclear if Blizzard will address the early-access controversy or reverse its decision to offer it. What is clear is that some players aren't happy about what is usually an exciting shared experience being divided into haves and have nots.
"It's not about player power or getting ahead," user Squeeches wrote. "It's about the shared experience between friends that has always been central to the release of new expansions. The first few days of an expansion have always, always been special to WoW. Blizzard knows this and they're shitting on it."
Blizzard's announcement of three modern WoW expansions was just part of what's in store for the MMO in the coming months and years. The developer additionally announced Cataclysm Classic will be coming in the first half of 2024, with a new WoW Classic season, Season of Discovery, set to start on November 30.