Today marks the arrival of Mat Langford at Biff Bam Pop! Look for him to cover the wide open world of gaming. As you’ll see from his debut column, the guy knows his stuff. Welcome, Mat!
When you examine World of Warcraft — a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) whose pricing model relies primarily on a monthly subscription – it’s easy to see why so many players flock to it. It’s simple: you pay one monthly fee, and everything else is free. You can use the game in its entirety, and not worry about incurring any additional costs (bandwidth and expansion packs excluded). It’s a win/win, Blizzard Entertainment (the creator of the Warcraft franchise) gets a steady monthly income, and in return the players get an online experience that is arguably one of the best in gaming today.
So I was interested to hear that WoW had recently shifted towards the rising trend of “free-to-play” games by allowing players to start a new character and play, at no cost, until level 20. It’s a trend that many online games have already adopted, and although this new scenario would technically allow players to play and then leave the game without actually paying the monthly subscription, in reality it is a pretty safe move for Blizzard, and here’s why:
In a gaming industry that has steadily moved into the micro-transaction riddled world of “free-to-play”, WoW has been able to hold strong, based solely on their addictive formula. Where other games and platforms rely on these micro-transactions (for example Facebook games where you buy ‘turns’ or ‘money’ in order to play beyond your daily limit, or other games such as League of Legends, starts as a free to play game, but can quickly end up costing you a fairly heft sum as you purchase upgrades and in game items), WoW is what you make it. If you spend more time, you get more things. Simple. A once addicted player myself, I have recently freed myself from its clutches (cancelled my subscription), not because of lack of interest, however, but simply lack of time. Once you start playing, it becomes more than a game, it transforms into a place of social gathering, and believe me, it is time consuming. Also, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just “nerds” that play, either. Throughout my WoW tenure, I’ve been surprised more than a few times at learning someone who I would have never guessed played is actually a hard-core player. In it’s essence, it’s a place where a real-life timid young weakling can, in a fantasy world, wield a sword and banish gargantuan monsters with a swing of it and then bask in the glory of the rewards reaped from the heat of epic combat. Sounds great, no? Who wouldn’t want to do that?
This is primarily why WoW can give you a tiny piece of their game. They are confident enough in their product, in the way it reels potential players into its world. They can almost always rely on the inevitable post-trial subscription. And when I say a tiny piece of their game, it’s for good reason: playing to level 20 will not even give you a taste of what Warcraft has to offer. With more than 4 characters at level 85 (the top level at the time of this article) I can assure you that if you invest the time to advance to level 20, you will want more. The majority of the exciting content in Warcraft happens once you hit the max level and can begin raiding (grouping with 10-25 person groups to tackle the games’ top bosses). It’s made this way, there is constantly something to strive for…as the levels progress, you learn your first important spells, then are able to ride “mounts” or animal/mechanical companions that can move you around the world faster, then you upgrade your spells at certain levels, then upgrade your mounts…it goes on and on. There are also instances or dungeons. You have to meet certain level requirements in order to complete these, which gives you the best items for your level…and so it goes, you strive to get to higher levels to receive better items and open up better content. It becomes a constant competition to see who has the best things and who is the best player.
Sound enticing? Well perhaps not to those of us with busy schedules, who couldn’t fathom taking 4-8 hours out of their day to wander Azeroth in search of excitement. But to WoW’s 11 million + subscribers, it’s a draw that keeps them coming back again and again, letting them endlessly improve their characters and weapons/armor, meet new people to quest/raid with and just generally give them an entertaining way to spend some time.
And they’ll happily pay a subscription fee to do that.