Even in 'World of Warcraft,' Writing Is a Shitty Gig

Endless work, guilty fun, and no reliable pay. The same is true for both the real world and Azeroth.

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May 2 2017, 11:00am

It's bad enough that writing already counts as "hard mode" for earning a living in the real world. Venture into World of Warcraft's Azeroth these days, though, and you'll find many of the same problems dogging the profession of Inscription, which comes about as close to professional word-slinging as playable Azeroth can offer. Whether it's the high competition, the absurd time commitments, or the teensy rewards for massive effort, the gang's all here. So much for escapist fantasy.

The game's Inscription profession is immensely attractive to a writer from the outside. Among other things, it's about scribbling glyphs on scraps of parchment that improve other players' characters by altering their skills, or crafting whole books with combat stats that players can visibly lug around as part of their gear. It's about dabbling with inks and penning steamy romance novels.

And it wasn't always bad. Once upon a time, players had to buy new glyphs from scribes every time they replaced them. The market thrived. Yet these days, players can use the glyphs they buy forever, and steady profits have screeched almost to a standstill. It's not impossible to make steady gold in this climate, but it entails plopping your ass in front of the auctioneer and continually undercutting newer glyph listings with your own. It takes a lot of time, to the point that rest feels like a luxury and having fun in the world beyond feels like a criminal waste of time.

In other words, damn, it's a lot like freelance writing. It's about producing hundreds of pieces of work for small gains and throwing hundreds of ideas on the marketplace that may or may not get accepted. In both the real world and Azeroth, you're up against a whole planet of competition that often doesn't mind making less money than you. Some days, despite your best efforts, you don't make any money at all. (At least you get paid quickly in WoW—freelancing in real life usually requires waiting a month for a check that sometimes never comes.)

Miniscule undercutting for the win. Image: Leif Johnson

Blizzard recently tried to shake up this formula by introducing "vantus runes," which deliver massive damage boosts for a single, specific boss for an entire week. In theory, it's a good, valuable idea. The problem is that it's aimed almost entirely at high-end raiding guilds, and these guys almost always have their own scribes who make vantus runes for them. If you're outside of a guild like that and trying to sell your services, you're at the mercy of luck and volatile market forces. It's sort of like the difference between freelance writers and full-time editorial staff.

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture. Much like freelance writing, Inscription is a crappy, unpredictable way to make money. Professions in general aren't in a good place in the otherwise excellent Legion expansion, but Inscription goods aren't in constant demand like the elixirs an alchemist peddles or the gear stitched together by a leatherworker. Even before the expansion dropped, people were declaring Inscription's death and asking if there was even a point to Inscription in Legion:

Obsolete just like writing, right? Image: World of Warcraft Profession Forums

Months into the new expansion, players were still arguing it was useless:

Image: World of Warcraft General Forums

Maybe it'll get better in the future. Some players have hope and great ideas about how to make it better. But the great thing about World of Warcraft's fantasy setting is that you're not stuck with it if you want an out. A simple click of a button, and boom, you're free to learn something like alchemy, which remains in constant demand and even delivers a few more personal perks.

If only such changes were so easy in the real world.