Blizzard's Diablo III Giveaway Designed to Protect World of Warcraft Revenue - HotHardware
Blizzard's Diablo III Giveaway Designed to Protect World of Warcraft Revenue

Blizzard's Diablo III Giveaway Designed to Protect World of Warcraft Revenue

At Blizzcon this weekend, Blizzard Entertainment dropped a bombshell—commit to signing up for a year of World of Warcraft, and you can have the upcoming, hotly-awaited Diablo III for free. For WoW subscribers, it's a great deal—Blizzard is giving the game to people in exchange for a promise to do what they were going to do anyway. The true genius of the offer is that it's also attractive to Diablo fans. Buy Diablo III for $59.99, and receive a year of World of Warcraft for just $9.99 a month.

It's a great offer either way—but it's also a sign that Blizzard is becoming concerned about the long-term staying power World of Warcraft. During Activision's Q2 conference call in early July, company president Michael Morhame noted that the game had 11.1 million subscribers as of June 30—down from over 12 million players in October. Morhame confirmed what we hypothesized a year ago, saying: "what we have seen is that subscribership tends to be seasonal and driven by content updates. So as we're heading further away from an expansion launch, it's normal to see some declines."


If early screenshots are accurate, Mists of Pandaria will feature more original art than any Blizzard expansion ever.

The pace of those declines, however, is increasing—something Morhame claims is driven by the rate at which players burn through content. As our players have become more experienced playing World of Warcraft over many years, they have become much better and much faster at consuming content," he said at the time. "And so I think with Cataclysm they were able to consume the content faster than with previous expansions, but that's why we're working on developing more content. We believe that this new in-game content will keep the game fresh for current players, and provide compelling reasons for lapsed players to come back."

Morhame's explanation may be true, but we're not convinced it's the only factor at work. There are two systemic challenges chipping away at World of Warcraft, and they're more significant than the pace at which players chew through content: First, there's the fact that WoW is, by any measure, a mature game.

That's not a bad thing—but it means that gamers hunting for the Next Big Thing aren't playing WoW. Blizzard has done a great deal to reinvigorate the game, including redesigning most of the core world in Cataclysm, but there are certain core design concepts the company can't change. Any attempt to do so would court disaster, as Sony aptly demonstrated when it overhauled Star Wars: Galaxies with the infamous New Game Enhancements.

The second issue is more subtle:  WoW isn't as challenging as it used to be. Few people mourn the days when only huge guilds with more than 40 raiders could attempt end game content, but Cataclysm made leveling absurdly easy—then yanked the difficulty meter too far in the opposite direction in the early dungeons.

Part of the reason dungeons felt so difficult, to be blunt, is that players had gotten lazy—by the end of Wrath of the Lich King, jumping into a random group and running a dungeon took ~20 minutes with no need for crowd control, tactics, or much in the way of forethought. Cataclysm combined 10 and 25-man raids, which helped make content accessible to everyone—but doing so cheapened the psychological reward of finishing the raids. If WoW began life as a banquet where only a handful of people got to eat the main course, it currently feels like an all-you-can-eat buffet of McDonalds food. Anyone can have as much as they want, but it doesn't taste as good.


Pandaria is an ancient land where the pursuit of harmony and balance matter more than one's factional allegiance.

Certain features of the just-announced Mists of Pandaria suggest Blizzard is fully aware of both issues. The 'Challenge Mode' dungeons Blizzard is introducing are likely meant to inject some difficulty back into the game without cutting people off from raid content, while the decision to create a new continent with an entirely different artistic style and a new class to go with it are both aimed at injecting fresh life into an established formula. It's also entirely possible that Blizzard created the Annual Pass offer because it's afraid of losing players to Diablo III, as opposed to a product from one of its competitors. Regardless of the reason, this is by far the most aggressive thing the company has ever done to protect its Wow-related revenue stream, and it speaks to the difficulty of keeping any game appealing after such a long time.
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So.... Why would they need to protect their revenue, World of Warcraft is doing fine; hell it's the most popular MMORPG out there; why the hell would they need to protect their profits. Would Diablo 3 and the ability to play online compromise their ability to get people to play World of Warcraft online? Who knows, this doesn't make any sense...

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Taylor,

Because the goal of any company is to increase profits. Blizzard's WoW-related profits went *up* in Q2, despite decreasing subscribers, thanks to the introduction of vanity pets and other items players can purchase from a store.

Protecting WoW's revenue stream means making sure people pay their $14.99 a month regardless of how much time they spend in game. There are only so many hours in a day. People who are playing Diablo III (or Star Wars: The Old Republic, or whatever) *might* decide to cancel their WoW subscriptions, at least temporarily.

If you jump for the 'Annual Pass' offer, you promise to pay Blizzard regardless. Therefore, they win.

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Joel H:
Because the goal of any company is to increase profits.

I'm aware of that, always have, always been... However, which such a commendable lead, it just doesn't work to announce such a deal like this. I mean sure, existing players will pay a year just to get Diablo 3 for free and early but it's not going to pull in any new subscribers to the fold of WoW, and I doubt that Diablo 3 and it's online functionality will replace that of World of Warcraft. I do feel like Star Wars: The Old Republic and and other worthy competitors may grab a bit of WoW's share but why would Blizzard want to cannibalize their own successful MMORPG game? That would draw loyal players away from their own game...

You're right about the commitment thing though, but still...

 

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It's so much easier to produce momentary schwag for the masses than to simply knuckle-down and fix what's wrong, eh?

Here it is in a nutshell - spelled out simply so even Blizzard can understand - a process which explains why (experienced) players are leaving WoW:

-- people create toons and through the game experience "bond" to their toons...

-- Blizzard releases a patch which requires a player to either relearn their toon's play (rotation, style, etc.) or respec to another talent tree entirely.

-- Blizzard releases the hero class -- e.g.: horribly unbalanced class that requires minimal investment...

-- Blizzard releases a patch which requires a player to either relearn their toon's play (rotation, style, etc.) or respec to another talent tree entirely.

-- Blizzard releases a patch which requires a player to either relearn their toon's play (rotation, style, etc.) or respec to another talent tree entirely.

... And so on and so on ... until Blizzard succeeds in divorcing the player from any sense of investment and/or completely eliminates any character identity whatsoever.

After several years of playing, and re-re-re-learning nuances for various toons, eventually experienced players just go "meh" and invest their entertainment dollar in a competing venture that provides consistency and overall superior play experience.

How is this so hard to understand?

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@MShallop

Actually, I and quite a few players I know view your three (distinct) points as at least partial positives. Changing abilities, mechanics, and talents for the most part keeps gameplay fresher and more interesting than otherwise. Having *something* to do in an all-to-familiar world, even if it means constantly nuking target dummies with a different spell rotation than you've been playing for the last 8 months, keeps players who have already willingly attached themselves to the game curious enough to continue with playing it.

New classes (even the 55 hero DK) are a blessing in that regard, in introducing new playstyles, even if their novelty wears thin in the long run.

On a second note, two other benefits not covered in the article to the 1-year commitment include the Tyrael's Charger mount and guaranteed beta access to Mists of Pandaria, which any hardcore player could view as indispensible for familiarizing themselves with the new class and world content; in effect, it secures dedicated members to a greater degree than most, and doubles as a telemetric device for stratifying the playerbase and formulating further plans to retain what could be the greater bulk of those who will not subscribe to the contract.

Would love to see how many people buy into it in the long run.

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After 3 years of play WoW (pretty obsessively) I finally gave it up in January after hit 85 with my characters in the new expansion. While I miss some of the people and I enjoyed some aspects of the game a lot, I'm really glad I gave it up and looking back I have no idea how I found the time to play so much.

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As someone who's been playing WoW since six months before the game launched, I think you've drastically over-stated the reality of....well, all of those, actually.

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Why the hell do 11 million people still play WoW? I played way back, shortly after it started, and stopped almost right after I hit level 60 because raiding sounded too hard/much of a commitment. Came back and raided causually in Burning Crusade for awhile, came back briefly in Wrath of the Lich King, but was pretty confident that when I quit I wouldn't go back and I haven't. It just isn't that fun anymore. The only thing I found consistenly fun was twinking, and they ruined that in my opinion. I have been happily playing League of Legends for over a year now, and the fact that it is free makes it easy to walk away from, yet I have played it more than any game I can think of. I have gotten some FPS games and not even finished them despite the few hours that takes just because I was having more fun in LoL. The difference has been fun though. WoW probably saved me money because I didn't buy all the new games coming out that I would probably play through once or twice and never touch again. LoL does the same yet I play it more exclusively because I enjoy it, not because I am paying for it monthly and feel obligated to at least log in and *** around on all my characters for a little while like I did in WoW.

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