Blizzard not only recently introduced the fourth expansion to their MMO World of Warcraft on their own BlizzCon exhibition, but also came forward with an interesting promotion. If you sign up for a whole year of World of Warcraft, you will get Diablo III for free once it is released, a unique in-game mount for WoW and guaranteed access to the Mists of Pandaria beta test coming sometime next year. Let’s analyze this deal a little bit.
First of all let’s be clear about the 12 month WoW subscription. According to Blizzards FAQ "any valid WoW subscription time qualifies". This means those 12 months have to be paid for. Be it game card (you’d need a total of 6 game cards for this), credit card or other payment methods which might differ regionally, you have to play the usual rates for the game time as far as we are informed. Blizzard already offers slight discounts when you commit to two or six months. When compared with the subscriptions, game cards are an attractive option, as they have come down in price over the years as retailers fight for who offers it at the cheapest price point. Any active subscription time at the time of committing to the annual pass will be counted towards the 12 month requirement.
Blizzard actually attached a price tag to this whole promotion. Ignoring the value of the mount and guaranteed beta access, it is the value of a free copy of Diablo III (or four months of WoW game time if you opt to get a Collector’s Edition of Diablo III). In both cases we are talking about around $60, ignoring that Diablo III might be cheaper from other retailers than Blizzards online shop. Plus, if you purchase a retail edition, you get a nice box (and the right to download the game for as much time as you want), while in digital edition only - you pay the same not to get any goodies.
While some might say, I’m going to play WoW anyway, so why not grab a free D3 and then some? Feel free to do so. Just consider you have to pay the money upfront and if you find out, that you don’t like to play WoW anymore after say 5 months, you can’t back out anymore. Sure you can stop playing it but the subscription will stay active.
One thing to consider in all this is, that starting with the last expansion called Cataclysm launched at the end of last year, Blizzard at the first time in the game’s history had to deal with dwindling subscriber numbers. In the last two quarterly earnings calls Blizzard had to acknowledge that from last year’s peak of 12 million subscribers, some 600,000 lost interest in the last year. The reasons for this are many fold and would make up an analysis of its own. Let’s just say, that while subscriber numbers might have always undergone fluctuations (i.e. some players leave, new players come), but until Cataclysm the trend has been upwards only.
In the light of this development it makes sense for Blizzard to come up with tantalizing schemes to keep people subscribed to the game or even regain some previous players who froze their account. At this point there is no indication, that the downward trend is going to stop anytime soon. Blizzard stays committed to keep players entertained with content patches and the upcoming add-on, but it remains to be seen how it plays out in the longer term.
This promotion looks to us like a way to keep players subscribed to the game in order to retain high subscription numbers which in turn make investors happy. Blizzard representatives even stated and recently started to activate the Freemium model, i.e. you get a basic game experience for free but have to pay extra for various services (you can now play original WoW free of charge, but have no access to expansions).
Earlier this year the game’s demo already got changed from a 10 day limited period to an unlimited version with restricted features (you can’t progress past a certain point in the game). We are probably quite some time away from this point, as we estimate that even with only half its subscribers it would still be a healthy business.
Some players used to return for content patches and/or add-ons for a short time but stopped playing after one or two months again. For such players a upfront 12 months commitment might not be the right thing. If you only actively use 8 months out of the 12 you are already break even with not making use of the promotion. Play WoW even less than that and the promotion starts to become a rip off.
So what to do? If you wanted to play WoW anyway, like to collect mounts and wanted to try Diablo III too, then go for it. In the case you make use of the entire WoW game time, it sure is a tremendous value. If you are unsure about how WoW evolves and whether you want to play it all along, get your Diablo III from another retailer and manage your WoW subscription time according to your needs. Just don’t call me out if you find out you would’ve been better off using the promotion afterwards.