Next WoW expansion introduces paid early access, but Blizzard promise it’ll offer “no long-term advantage”

World of Warcraft‘s expansion pack The War Within, out next year, comes in several flavours. There’s the standard version of the pack, which includes access to previous expansions, currency for cosmetics and a level 70 character boost. The Heroic edition gives you all that plus a mount, a pet and extra in-game cash. And then there’s the most expensive Epic edition, which includes a pet, two toys, 30 days of game time… and three days of early beta access to the game, yours for $89.99 in the states.

Naturally, World of Warcrafters are rather concerned about the last bit. It’s the first time Blizzard’s long-running MMO has taken the paid early access approach, recently adopted by Starfield and Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 – there have been early access betas in the past, but they’ve been doled out by lottery. Blizzard’s game director Ion Hazzikostas has now moved to reassure the grousers and gripers, promising that The War Within’s Epic edition won’t give minted early worms the edge over those poor peasants who scoop up the less pricey versions.

“It is a trend across the industry that we’re paying attention to,” Hazzikostas said of paid early access at large in a new PCGamer interview. “A number of games have done it.” He assured the site that The War Within’s three day beta will be calibrated to avoid creating competitive advantages, but admitted that the developers haven’t done a tremendous job of advertising this.

“The immediate concern that we knew we needed to tackle, and I think frankly I wish we’d done a better job of explicitly spelling out when we announced it on the web page as part of the pre-sale process, are the restrictions that are associated with the early access,” Hazzikostas said.

Blizzard have imposed certain limits on what The War Within’s Epic editioners can do, as with previous expansion Dragonflight. It won’t feature most endgame advancement opportunities, for example, though it’ll let you get a few days head start on levelling up before the World of Warcraft weekly content reset that follows the expansion’s release.

The paid beta period is “aimed more at a lot of players who may not have as much free time and not have the ability to take time off work, and therefore miss out on that first week of running Mythic Zero [dungeons], or running max level dungeons with their friends and their guild mates who are able to jump in,” Hazzikostas explained.

Rare spawn creatures, Mythic Zero dungeons, Mythic Plus, weekly profession cooldowns and profession specialisation points are a few of the things that won’t be available in The War Within till the weekly reset after the full release, once the owners of the regular and Heroic editions can play.

“We’re looking at endgame power advantages,” Hazzikostas commented. “Our goal here is, and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure it’s the case, that there’s no long-term advantage. You shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between someone by the time Season One [with its raid and Mythic Plus dungeons] starts, who had the early access to someone who didn’t.”

Which is all well and good, but doesn’t quite address certain other complaints raised on Reddit. Many World of Warcrafters feel that it’s a bit nickle-and-dimey to charge extra for early access on top of a subscription. Others argue that the early access period will split the playerbase and stop people experiencing the expansion as a community, though this was surely just as true of previous randomly awarded betas.

I don’t play World of Warcraft, but I’m interested in how the paid early access tactic shapes conversations in videogame communities, and skews impressions of games at launch. Looking at it from the press side, it means our reviews often land alongside verdicts from early access buyers, who tend to be more enthusiastic than the rest by virtue of being prepared to spend more. Any thoughts to share?

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