How Blizzard is pulling players back into World of Warcraft

Ivowed never to touch World of Warcraft – or any other MMO – again after quitting to focus on my final year at university back in 2006.

So I deleted my level 60 character, closed my account and threw away the game discs to prevent myself from being tempted back into the sprawling online world.

But last month I broke those vows and today I am happily running around in-game again with a new level 90 character, paying 8.99 per month to do so. So what made me return?

Well – Blizzard’s strategy to claw back previous long-term subscribers has worked with me. It’s offering anyone who pre-purchases the upcoming 34.99 Warlords of Draenor expansion – out later this year – an instant upgrade to level 90 (equivalent to 40 or a few months of game time levelling up).

While this is of course available digitally, Blizzard interestingly launched empty boxes into UK retailers in June. The World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Standard Edition doesn’t contain a disc, only a digital download code, but it serves a purpose: to get in the front of shoppers’ minds and pull them back in.

Once the shopper buys the box and applies the download code to their online account, all the fresh game content from the expansion will automatically download as soon as it’s released.

"Blizzard’s strategy to clawback previous
long-term subscribers has worked with me.
It’soffering anyone who pre-purchases the
upcoming 34.99 Warlords of Draenor
expansion – out later thisyear – an instant
upgrade to level90 (equivalent to 40 or a
fewmonths of game time levelling up)."

GAME has already dedicated entire shelves to the upcoming expansion in its stores. It offers something different to the usual pre-order boxes and could be another way for publishers to charge for full-price games way ahead of their launch window.

It’s not just in-store where Blizzard has been busy. It also runs clever marketing and cross-game promotions using its own online platform.

Even during my time away from World of Warcraft, I still followed the game. I watched it reach a peak of over 12m subscribers in 2010, then lose a million or so each year down to its current total of 7.6m.

I’ve also seen other MMOs come and go in that time. Plenty have implemented a similar gameplay and payment structure to World of Warcraft’s, including Star Wars: The Old Republic, Rift, The Elder Scrolls Online and, most recently, Wildstar. While they present tough competition, if anything they have actually helped improve it. Blizzard has taken ideas from these games, like free-to-play for lower level players and in-game microtransactions, and has applied them to its own title.

Today, World of Warcraft is still number one – it’s the highest grossing game of all time with more than $10bn in revenue. Considering it’s almost ten years old, that’s a phenomenal achievement. And Blizzard’s latest activities will ensure it stays at the top for years to come.

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