I was listening to the WoW Insider podcast this morning and the subject of the infamous sparklepony came up [again.] As most rational people do, the guys on the podcast agree that as long as this bonus to the game is purely cosmetic and offered no real advantage in-game they had no problem with it.
What immediately came to me on hearing this was that for the major group of people buying these horses, a cosmetic advantage is the only type of advantage in-game.
I’m talking about people who either play WoW socially or as a form of escapism; as an online world they can inhabit with other people. People to whom even the gear upgrades they get might as well be a cosmetic effect, since they’ll never really contribute to any challenging content, but having better gear allows them to wear a higher gearscore and causes them to produce a bigger recount meter they can show off.
This is the market that covets these horses the most. They often call themselves “casual” players, though you'll find that these “casual” players may be online up to 30 hours a week and tend to be the ones least likely to have a “casual” attitude when it comes to loot drops.
I like the term Gevlon uses, so I call them Socials, and I have to believe they make up a larger percentage of our 11 million subscriber pool than any of us realise. And I think that’s why so many real players have been surprised by the massive number of already-paying subscribers who paid extra money for something that does essentially nothing.
While this horse may offer no real advantage to a WoW player* haven’t we been told time and time again, even officially, that these people are in the vast minority? Isn’t this fact the impetus for making raid content accessible to the people who don’t play the game like we do?
*I might end up using this term until I find a better one to distinguish those who play WoW as a game from those who inhabit the world socially.
And in keeping all that in mind, can we still say that this horse is intended purely as a cosmetic frill? I tend to think the high price-point as compared to the monthly subscription fee contradicts that idea, as I think would the five people I saw standing on their new horses outside the Dalaran bank giving me ample opportunity to notice their obvious superiority in having spent $25 more than other players in the game.