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Could Cross-Realm Groups Blur Line Between Expansions And Patches?

A day later, and World of Warcraft's latest announced feature is still being widely discussed. Now one of the most commented threads on MMO-Champion, the debate regarding the Dungeon Finder's new cross-realm Real ID grouping functionality rages on.

Players are taking to all avenues to chat with each other, offering their thoughts on whether or not this should be a premium service -- something requiring an additional fee to utilize. From Facebook to Twitter to the official forums, no corner of the internet seems untouched by this hot topic.

Some players are recounting past features developed for World of Warcraft that you'd think would be considered 'premium,' but were instead added for free. Twitter user @suicidalzebra points to patch 2.2, in which Blizzard introduced integrated voice chat. But there's probably a reason that didn't cost extra. I can't remember a time when I've personally used it, nor do I recall anyone in my Dungeon Finder groups doing so.

Does that make this new Real ID feature any different? Many players are operating under the assumption that this will have a "real impact" on their gameplay. They're disappointed that they now have something aside from their monthly subscription to deal with if they want to get the most out of the game.

While player feedback may have some impact on the final price, this probably won't go away like Real ID names on the forums did. Slorkuz wrote that this has been a complex feature for Blizzard to develop, meaning that it's also been costly. And it's not as simple as a flag that says 'display username' over 'display character name' like the forum situation. This is something nearing completion, as he went on to point out.

In the end, this new feature may be blurring the lines in what an expansion and a patch is. Premium content is usually reserved for expansions like Cataclysm, or delivered as something that doesn't have an impact on your gameplay experience.

Is this a sign that we may see smaller 'packs' of content, labeled premium, outside of expansions? Perhaps highly requested features such as mailing Bind on Account items across realms, player housing, or the fabled dance studio? While the Duke Nukem Forever of World of Warcraft may not actually see the light of day, some might as premium content.

The question then is, what's a suitable price tag? It would be silly to expect a monthly fee for this premium content. As countless players have pointed out, you would be better off simply realm transferring than using this new feature if so. So I'd bank on a small, one-time fee that will permanently unlock the feature for a given Battle.net account.

The only concern from there is that the actual expansions for World of Warcraft may get smaller, as chunks of content are held for post-release premium packages. Sony Online Entertainment tried this for EverQuest II with what they called Adventure Packs, with the concept faring poorly, until ultimately the firm decided to scrap it entirely. It will be interesting to see if Blizzard is following suit with their premium content.

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