WoW's experimental ban on 'GDKP' raids in Season of Discovery has set the community on fire—here's why

 An image of a raid in World of Warcraft: Season of Discovery - a heroic gnome warrior does battle with a giant turtle, surrounded by her fallen comrades.
An image of a raid in World of Warcraft: Season of Discovery - a heroic gnome warrior does battle with a giant turtle, surrounded by her fallen comrades.

As announced by Blizzard in its Season of Discovery Phase 2 post, gold dragon kill points (GDKP) raids in World of Warcraft Classic are going the way of the dodo on February 8. The dev team wants to "try things without this type of transaction taking place"—that's a huge experiment, considering how GDKP raids have become a key part of the community's lifeblood.

First up—an explainer. A GDKP is a type of raid that, in theory, allows everybody to get something for their time. Players bid on the pieces of gear they want, the gold they spend goes into a big pot, and that gold is divided up among the raiders. If you bought a big ticket item, you've got a piece of gear—if you didn't, you have more money to spend.

Blizzard writes: "While we understand that there are some benefits for those who find this a convenient way to gain gear, we also recognize that there are concerns surrounding the erosion of traditional guild and social structures that are a part of the spirit of Season of Discovery."

In a dev post to the game's forums, community manager Kaivax explains that while the team is "hesitant" to put a dampener on a social activity, "it's also undeniable that GDKP contributes to and drives a lot of illicit activity, such as real-money trading (RMT) and botting, as it creates a demand for in-game gold that would not otherwise exist. GDKP can create an 'arms race' effect that encourages participating players to purchase gold to be able to compete for the best items."

Punishments for illicit GDKP runs will be as severe as any ToS violation—"account actions up to and including suspension and permanent account closure." It's a serious clamping down on activity that doesn't directly involve RMT. Though the platonic ideal of a GDKP is innocent enough, greed has spoiled the broth for just about everybody.

Why GDKP runs can be unhealthy

An orc in World of Warcraft grins greedily into a bag overflowing with gold.
An orc in World of Warcraft grins greedily into a bag overflowing with gold.

Every MMORPG wrestles with inflation. Star Wars: The Old Republic's problems are a well-known horror story of runaway money boat—but it's endemic to MMO design in general. Every single monster, vendor, and collectable resource is a potential money-printing machine. To give you an example of how this impacts WoW Classic, a ring in Wrath of the Lich King went for about 3 million gold in a GDKP last year.

As a result, GDKPs motivate people to buy gold through RMT—but they're also a great cover for these operations, too. As this player on the classic subreddit points out, "one person breaking the ToS by buying gold for RMT can come into a raid and spend it among people who are not breaking the ToS … now all that gold is clean and gets used to buy raid consumes which are farmed by bots, who use that gold to sell back to the gold buyers." The snake eats its own tail.

GDKPs also create a culture of exclusivity, locking players who might otherwise do fine in a pick-up group out of a game's casual raiding scene. Plenty of GDKPs have buy-ins, with one player in November alleging that a Wrath of the Lich King group was asking for 144,000 gold for a lifetime spot. There's even accusations of players shelling out actual money to get their foot in the door.

This is made worse by the fact that GDKP runs hamstring player motivation to get out into the world (of Warcraft) and farm. Nobody likes to grind, and the GDKP payout means you can just go buy your materials and consumables for the next raid from the auction house. But this can create a sort of symbiotic relationship between gold farmers and actual players—the only people giving a supply for the demand inevitably become the ToS-violating organisations that nonetheless make this sort of thing their day job.

On paper, GDKPs are a great idea—harkening back to the days of pirates divvying up hauls, where everyone gets some sort of share. In practice, the involvement of people mucks the whole thing up beyond recognition, made worse by game systems that inevitably print money forever.

Players are being very normal about all of this

A night elf faces off against an orc warrior in World of Warcraft Classic, amidst the dense shadowy woodland of Ashenvale.
A night elf faces off against an orc warrior in World of Warcraft Classic, amidst the dense shadowy woodland of Ashenvale.

As for the community response, the ban is either a draconian clamp on emergent player systems or a long time coming, depending on who you ask. "I am making multiple discords, talking to a lot of players. I'll snitch on anybody who I see attempting to run GDKP of any kind," boasts user WTF_CAKE on the Classic subreddit. One commenter responds "Holy shit, what has Blizzard unleashed", like they've just watched a newly-birthed Joker crawl out of a vat of acid.

Things are fraught on the Season of Discovery forums too. Bergelmir writes: "I exclusively run GDKP for my guild as well as pugs because it is objectively the best option I have, despite the very obvious downsides." They make the argument that GDKPs scrub away the typical meme-generating drama which accompanies WoW's raiding scene—and some of their points are genuinely salient.

One particular pro of the GDKP is that they keep raiders playing even after they've nabbed their best-in-slot, since they're able to get a bit of pocket change for their time. Within the hour, a player commented "The more tears I read the better I feel inside." So, ah. That's the tone of the conversation at the moment.

One solution that may spill out of the cut purse of GDKP is a return to, well, DKP. Dragon kill points harken back to the days of Everquest, and they're a kind of in-guild social currency that, similarly, could be used to bid for or outright buy certain items. Get dragon kill points for slaying dragons, use them to earn those gloves you always wanted.

The issue with that? Gold is quantifiable, it's a number you can point to in-game and say 'I have this much, and nobody can argue with me'. DKP only exists for as long as everybody agrees it exists—if your guild dissolves, so does your currency. In this case, guilds may be replaced with Discord servers—but then we stumble right into a minefield of potential drama and unpleasantness. Whatever moves in to fill Season of Discovery's GDKP vacuum, it'll have problems of its own.

Hopefully, those problems will be contained to interpersonal dramas, rather than tearing into the game's economy. Part of me does feel like Blizzard should be cutting off GDKPs through in-game mechanics rather than updates to its Terms of Service, but this is ultimately an experiment—and tweaking the game's loot systems carries risks of its own.