WoW: Is it Time to Open Wild Pet Trading?

I’ve had a mixed relationship with pet battles. It’s a fun mini-game, but I’d rather not spend too much time grinding out battles to level my pets and progress in the system. Instead, I’d much rather pay for some pre-leveled pets to get to some of that end-game pet battle content. Much to my disappointment, I discovered that the level 25 Terrible Turnip that I dropped 10,000 gold on couldn’t be added to my journal because I didn’t have an existing level 25 pet in my journal. There was nothing in the UI to suggest that this was the case, just some big fat error text after the fact. The design intent is clear (don’t buy your way to victory), but the experience itself was pretty frustrating.

The question that immediately came to my mind after this epic failure was: “With this restriction in place, why can I trade a level 25 pet from most sources, but not from wild pet battles?” happened pretty late in the Mists of Pandaria beta because the developers felt that “the option to buy these pets on the AH would take away from the exploration/collection gameplay of the system.” The new Pandaren elemental spirits and raid pets being tradable kind of runs against that philosophy, so what is the right way forward? What risk is there in opening up the trading of wild pets?

For one thing, it seems that (currently) all pets that anybody might eventually trade start at level 1. It isn’t very difficult or time-consuming to catch wild pets, and you can imagine that trained pets from other sources that started at level 1 would be less expensive if you could get an equally effective pet for a hundred gold that took someone 3 minutes to produce instead of many hours to train. But is that really that big of a drawback? Do we really want people to only be able to sell their hard-trained pets?

Perhaps we need a second way to progress pets besides levels so that you can’t just catch a wild pet and have it be as good as your current team. Pokemon has Effort Values (EVs), where individual Pokemon increase different stats depending on which enemies they defeat in combat (up to caps corresponding to their level). Such a system in WoW’s pet battles could add more customization and make wild pet trading more palatable to those that worry about the mass-production of powerful pets. I could imagine a system in pet battles working like character talent points: getting a certain amount of victories or killing blows with a pet gives you the choice of 3 exclusive and appealing options that could be swapped around to fit different battle styles. Would you choose a talent that increases speed, attack with elemental abilities, or attack with magic abilities?

Since you can’t add pets to your journal if you don’t have an equally leveled pet on your team already, I don’t see why you can’t trade the rare wild pet Minfernal but you can trade the rare Mini Mindslayer drop from Ahn’Qiraj. If they want to keep it exploration based, removing the ability to trade pets at all seems like the superior design decision. However, I much prefer allowing players to trade: it allows for rare pet collectors to make a profit for doing what they enjoy and others who want to participate in battling and collecting a different method for participation. For now, we operate with a weird compromise: farming raid bosses or buying pets from vendors (including reputation locked pets!) to sell pets is okay, but catching them is not.