OP-ED: Blizzard's Latest Attempt to Lure Back WoW Subscribers Reeks of Desperation
The latest attempt by Blizzard to regain former World of Warcraft subscribers comes in the form of the Scroll of Resurrection. To the company's credit it's a hell of an incentive to get back to playing what is still the world's most popular subscription-based MMO, but I can't help but wonder if it comes across as so desperate that it will make it harder to keep players coming back in the future without the help of another promotion.
Last year's big ploy, which continues to this day, was to offer the game for free up to level 20, a scheme I think is smart for WoW and other, non-F2P MMOs. (Blizzard also offered a free digital copy of Diablo III to anyone willing to commit to a year of WoW.) The newly-announced Scroll of Resurrection is geared towards bringing back former subscribers rather than trying to attract new ones.
Current subscribers can send a Scroll to anyone who previously had an account that was subscribed to WoW for at least 30 days at any point in time. By accepting, the recipient will receive a week of free game time, a free upgrade to the digital version of Cataclysm (the most recent expansion pack), a boost of any one character up to level 80 (preparing him or her for Cataclysm's content and level 85 cap), and a free transfer to the sender's realm and faction (which you'd ordinarily have to pay for). If the recipient accepts the invite and ends up resubscribing, the sender receives a special mount: the Spectral Wind Rider for Horde or the Spectral Gryphon for Alliance.
World of Warcraft has been bleeding subscribers since shortly after the release of Cataclysm in December 2010, repeating a pattern we've seen time and again where subscriptions spike when a new expansion comes along and then slowly fade until the next one hits. The drop throughout the latter part of 2011 was not as severe as those we've seen previously, and the game continues to have over 10 million subscribers, so it's not as if Blizzard is about to shut the game down or adopt a free-to-play model. Although the bonuses the Scroll provides are a limited-time offering -- only the seven days of free game time will be offered after the Scroll's first 90 days of availability -- giving away the latest expansion before the next one has even been dated doesn't seem like the sort of measure Blizzard would have taken in the past.
The Scroll of Resurrection can be sent in-game and through the Battle.net website; any current WoW subscriber can make use of each method once a day, allowing them to send out two per day. There is no limit to the total number that can be sent, meaning this isn't exactly a limited offering -- any former subscriber should have no trouble getting a Scroll sent to them. The supply may not be quite infinite, but it's not exactly one-per-subscriber, either.
There's also reason to be concerned that granting virtually anyone a level 80 character will upset things somewhat. While there are sure to be high-level players who aren't experts on the game as it currently works, getting to that point typically means you've developed a decent grasp on the mechanics of your class. It's the same reason many veterans in WoW and other games will encourage newcomers not to pay for someone to boost their character to the level cap -- the journey to that point is not only part of the fun, it also provides you with the opportunity to master the many aspects of your class. You could be handed a character more powerful than anyone else's, but if you don't know what you're doing it won't get you very far.
This injection of potentially inexperienced level-80 characters could be a turn off to the hardcore players who have continued to subscribe to the game. While this does present the possibility of making that demographic angry, it could be that Blizzard feels confident they aren't about to abandon the game they have invested so much time and effort in over such a thing. Still, players who have stuck around may resent the newcomers who didn't have to earn the money for, say, their flying mount, which is given to boosted players for free along with "all class skills and spells up to level 80." Creating a schism among players would not be good for the long-term health of the game.
But there is a different problem that could arise by providing such a massive incentive to former players to resubscribe. After this 90 days is up, the Scroll of Resurrection will still exist but only offer seven days of free game time to former subscribers. A few years ago that would have been more than enough to sign back up, but in a world where Blizzard has already handed out free expansions, realm/factions transfers, and character boosts? Signing up without getting some kind of extra bonus isn't nearly as enticing.
With my subscription to The Old Republic still active, I don't plan on resubscribing to WoW in the near future. But in August if the mood should strike and there is nothing special being offered to re-up my subscription, I could see myself waiting until I can take advantage of an offer making it more worth my while to do so. I don't believe for a moment this will be the last time Blizzard offers more than a few days' of free game time to get players back to playing, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way who would also be willing to wait to maximize the bonuses they get for resubscribing.
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