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Should WoW reward its loyal players?

As the 9th anniversary of the game rolls around, and we open up our mail to yet another letter and set of XP and reputation-boosting fireworks, we're glad that the letter is at least accurate. Or not, as the references to Deathwing were simply removed, rather than replaced by something more relevant. It's a token, it's no bad thing, and the reputation and XP boost doesn't hurt either. And for new players, it's a nice token, something to indicate that they have joined something big, something long-lasting. A friend of mine I recruited last year couldn't believe how long the game had lasted, and that's pretty cool.

But what WoW's longevity should indicate is an issue suffered by a relatively small number of games. It's highly possible for someone to have played WoW throughout these nine years, and even before, prior to the official release, during the beta. Should that be rewarded? Should WoW reward players with what is approaching 10 years service? The open beta launched in early 2004, so the happy few who remain from those days are not far off their 10-year anniversary.


Rewarding Long Service

Blizzard employees get a shield after ten years, and it seems to me that rewarding long service would be a good idea for the players of their games too. Previous articles have focused on how much money players have ploughed into Blizzard's pockets over the years, but I'm not going to consider that. I mean, I could have started in Cata, multiboxing 10 accounts, and still paid more. It's the longevity that matters to me. It's the sticking with WoW through its ups and downs, through the ICCs and the Dragon Souls. Through the dailies and the grinding and all the great and terrible changes. That's what deserves a reward.

It's mentioned now and then, when there are particularly punishing sub drops, that churn is a big issue for Blizzard. They don't only have to look at how to pull in new WoW players, but how to keep the old ones. If you're an MMO gamer, currently, and have never played WoW, you're a rare breed. You either do play WoW, or you used to. Would a token of appreciation for the time you played WoW in the past be enough to bring you back?

And what's more, for those players who have been subbed continuously throughout that time, a reward from Blizzard, some kind of recognition or thanks for their commitment might just be enough to keep that person subscribed for another year, and another after that. Since Titan was pushed back, WoW has to be Blizzard's cash cow for a few years yet. They need players to stick around. Even if you've just been subscribed for a year, or a couple of years, or three, or five, or seven, some token of appreciation might help motivate you to keep that sub running for a while longer to get the next one. And what's more, it's just a nice thing to do. "Hey, you gave us a year's subscription? Thanks! Here's some nominal reward to recognize your commitment to our game."

Yes, the birthday rewards go some small distance to doing that, but you could have registered your account three days ago and still got that. It's just a date.

What is an appropriate reward?

Now it should be clear, of course, that this is all just opinion. But I hope I might have convinced you at least a little that rewarding players for long service is something that might be a smart move for Blizzard and for the game. But the question is, what should you give them?

We've been throwing ideas around in WoW Insider chat this morning, trying to hit on something that might work. Initial ideas were things like "You get tokens in-game like RAF for every year you've subbed. If you were around during Ulduar, you can exchange tokens for a Mim's head." We dismissed that because it seems like any system should allow newer players to get the same reward for 5 years of subscription as older ones. It shouldn't be the case that you would have to go back in time to claim the same stuff. We talked about pets, rewarding a different pet for each year, but if you're not into pets at all that seemed like a sort of paltry reward.

One thing we all agreed on is the idea that it should be some little thing you get every year. Maybe bigger ones on bigger anniversaries, such as five and ten, but something every time. In a perfect world it would count up your continuous sub time and use that as a marker, so if you took a month's break during 2011, it would only count 11 months of that year. It'd also be great to receive a little reminder of your time spent in-game, I for one have to go back and look at old logs and the like to remember when I actually subbed in. I love adding up my /played. Wouldn't it be cool to get a little reminder of that every year?

So something every year. It shouldn't be something that excludes newer players, it shouldn't be something so flashy that it really dominates, because who knows whether WoW will exist for another ten years?

Achievements, balance.

One thing I liked the idea of was achievements. So every year of continuous subscription, you get a little achievement pop up. Nothing huge, just a 10-pointer, or maybe one that awards no points at all. I'd considered the idea of titles, for 10 years or for 5, but again, these should perhaps be something newer players can hope to get their hands on, and something like that might not fit the bill. I do feel like 10 years of continuous subscription should award something, though, and as someone who hasn't subbed from the start, I would not begrudge 10-year veterans a title recognizing their longevity. Would you?
But the best idea that we hit upon in work chat was that of awarding battle.net balance. We thought about game time, but maybe people would prefer something in-game. Maybe a free faction change or race change, a pet or a mount. And then it hit us -- if Blizzard gave you a quantity of battle.net balance equal to that of a month's game time, wouldn't that be a great reward? You could either put it towards game time, so you're getting a free month for every 12 you pay for, or you could have it contribute to the cost of a server transfer, or a faction change, or a race change, an appearance change with the new models. Or you could use it to buy a pet, or contribute towards a mount. It could be battle.net account wide, and it could let you get pretty much anything that costs battle.net balance.

And what happened to the annual pass? That rewarded loyalty, too, if in rather more of a forward-looking manner. I think it was perhaps just too much of a difficult publicity pill to swallow for Blizzard, the number of people saying that it was just to cling on to subs during the tricky spell at the end of Cata was perhaps too great.

To be honest though, while I think battle net balance would be a great solution, I'd just be happy for some kind of recognition. Maybe this would make Blizzard pinch more pennies than they can afford to, maybe it's not possible. Maybe bringing it in is a terrible idea for reasons I haven't considered, but with the 10th anniversary coming up next year, maybe it's a good time to start.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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