Blizzard boss draws heat for raid boosting, which many players hate

World of Warcraft
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Blizzard co-chief Mike Ybarra caused a stir among World of Warcraft players over the weekend when he tweeted about a "heroic SoD [Sanctum of Domination] sales run" he'd be taking part in with his guild. To non-WoW players it's a fairly innocuous invitation to come and watch, but the "sales run" reference is actually an offer to carry other, under-qualified players through the high-end raid in exchange for in-game gold, a practice known as "raid boosting."

Raid boosting, to be clear, is not against World of Warcraft rules, and in fact is a relatively common practice. The concept is simple: I, a new (or just bad) WoW player, want the swanky loot but have no realistic hope of ever getting it myself, and so I throw a pile of in-game gold at you, the veteran (and good) WoW player, to guide me through the game's toughest raids. Even if I die along the way, and I almost certainly will, I'll still get my share of the reward when it's over.

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And it's not necessarily about vanity. Redditor KiriyamaSTRIX explained that raid boosting can also be an important part of the process for players who want to get into high-end raiding. 

"For those who don't know, there is a website called warcraftlogs where each player's performance on bosses is parsed," they explained. "This is the MAIN metric high-end guilds will use to recruit players."

"What boosting gives you is it lets you bypass the gear grind. This gives you better access to lower end guilds that may possibly be recruiting anybody with gear. Once you get into this guild, you hunt for those nice parses and repeat this process until your parses are good enough to join a better guild. Now repeat this again and hopefully you get into a guild that meets your goals."

There's also a very good, practical reason for guilds to offer their services as tour guides: Mythic raiding is extremely expensive, and the best way to earn the money needed to finance those ventures is by selling services.

Despite all that, many players see raid boosting almost like a form of cheating, ethically if not technically, because players are gaining access to equipment and experiences they haven't properly worked for and earned. The unhappiness is amplified in Ybarra's case because in the eyes of detractors, he should know that the practice is bad for the game.

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The role of real money transactions in raid boosting complicates the matter even further. This World of Warcraft forum post from Denial of Service, Ybarra's guild, lists "full clear" Sanctum of Domination runs at 300,000 gold. Gold cannot be purchased directly in World of Warcraft, but it can be had indirectly with WoW Tokens. Tokens sell for $20 in the game and can be redeemed for 30 days of game time or $15 of Blizzard Balance—or they can then be sold in the Auction House for gold. Prices fluctuate, but online listings indicate that one token typically sells for a little north of 200,000 gold. If you're coming into it without any real bank of your own, in other words, you'd have to spend $40 for a full ride through Sanctum of Domination.

Denial of Service's listing states very clearly that "we do not sell for real money," and that if it catches players breaking Blizzard's terms of service, it will cancel the run and provide a full refund. But selling tokens for gold is not a violation: In fact, Blizzard's support page says very specifically that players "can purchase a WoW Token from the Shop for real money and sell it on the Auction House for gold."

Like many things in life, it's really a matter of optics: Players who are opposed to the practice believe that Ybarra is setting a (very) bad example.

There are those on the other side of the coin, however, who see it as a perfectly normal part of the MMO life—and some who even believe it's a good thing because it proves that Ybarra is a serious and committed player. "What's the big problem?" Resetera user Amalexia asked. "Guy plays the game and does what every top guild has been doing since 2003, there's bigger issues to be angry at in Blizzard."

Another, named B-Dubs, added, "I'll admit, it's wild as hell seeing the president of the company doing this. But it's honestly a thing players who raid at a certain level do and have done for a long time. He's just doing what any normal world's first raider would be doing."

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Ybarra declined to comment on the uproar over his tweet, but he did seem to obliquely reference it in a subsequent tweet. "Gaming is a unifying force... bringing us all together across the hobby we enjoy and love," he wrote. "While everyone has differing views and opinions, let's be kind and make epic memories in games we enjoy."

The raid apparently went quite well, too.

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Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.