WoWpocalypse 2011: On Devaluing Intellectual Property

Warcraft Annual Pass Reward - Tyrael's ChargerWhen World of Warcraft came out in 2004, I already had 6 years of MMO experience under my belt. I spent the majority of them in Ultima Online, which taught me a great many lessons regarding how large corporate entities can devalue its own intellectual properties over time.

So when Blizzard announced that anyone who subscribes to World of Warcraft for a whole year will get the full game of Diablo III for free (plus a Tyrael’s Charger in-game WoW mount and guaranteed beta access to Mists of Pandaria), my spidey-sense went to tinglin’.

Shenanigans, I say!

As an avid supporter of Blizzard since Warcraft: Orcs and Humans was new on store shelves, I find myself calling shenanigans on this promotion.

Tobold disagrees and has a pretty good argument for why its just something nice Blizzard is doing to reward loyal customers.

But here’s the thing: Blizzard has to do something to keep people playing.

Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 are poised to raise the bar for what gamers expect out of online games and Mists of Pandaria doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre like TOR’s top-notch voice acting and narrative focus and GW2‘s elimination of the Holy Trinity. On top of that, TOR is going to be a direct competitor with WoW (as it is a subscription service), and GW2 is opposite Diablo III itself in the just-buy-the-box corner.

So outside of direct, high-quality competition for both its games, Blizzard has done something potentially worse. It has devalued both of the respective intellectual properties involved.

As a long-time WoW-player who only recently quit the raid scene (yes, after only recently returning to it), I had every intention of grabbing Diablo III when it came out. I even thought I would stick with WoW until The Old Republic drops, playing with the new Raid Finder and killing Deathwing in some PuGs.

But not now. I’m done.

I won’t care about Blizzard’s games if Blizzard won’t care about Blizzard’s games.

Say What?

But, you may ask, why do I think Blizzard doesn’t care about its games?

Because, despite appreciating Tobold’s argument, I can’t see this as a simple promotion. As a company, Blizzard has invested a crap-ton of work into building its intellectual properties. Right now, there are only three active: Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo.

And despite World of Warcraft fans claiming the game’s expansion cycle has been too long, it’s nothing compared to, let’s say, the Diablo franchise. Diablo was released in 1996, and four years later, Diablo II was released to clamoring audiences. In 2001, just a year later, the only expansion pack to D2 was released.

Since then, nothing. Nada. For ten years.

And people want them some Diablo III after ten years of not having it. They will buy it. They will buy it a lot, and they will buy it hard. Blizzard is sitting on a mountain of cash and PR opportunities.

But instead of capitalizing on the value of their title that fans are crazy for and that the company has been pouring resources into for the better part of a decade, they are giving it as a way as a promo, a prize, a cereal box trinket for a seven-year-old MMO that is still king of the hill (and will probably remain as such, too).

It devalues World of Warcraft, too, because it shows how little faith they have in people sticking around for the long-term. WoW is being simplified with each new expansion, which is great for accessibility, but terrible for longevity.

Blizzard is fighting a battle with attrition, and in doing so, the company is devaluing its cash cow. By offering this brand new game as incentive for folks to stick with WoW for just one more year, they are screaming that neither Diablo III nor Mists of Pandaria is up to the same standard as their predecessors.

If it had been just a year-long contract for a price cut and silly mount, then I could buy it as promotion. By including the full digital download of Diablo III as a shiny extra, though, Blizzard is telling its players that neither game is able to stand on its own.

They are telling their customers in no uncertain terms that neither game is actually worth the asking price.

That makes me incredibly sad. I’ve invested far more time than I’m comfortable with on World of Warcraft. I’ve made a lot of really good friends there. I have spent mucho dinero on collector’s editions, monthly subs, and even Asian-farmed gold back in the day.

I have been a customer of Blizzard, a supporter, for since I was 11 years old. I buy their product because I see the quality and love put into it, but this is not PR and promotion. This is not customer relations. It’s like if Apple started selling the “iPaad” you might see in Hong Kong that runs Android 1.7. It’s close enough in functionality to have a similar name and most of the functionality as the genuine article, but it will still tend disappoint you in the end.

That’s not the Blizzard I support. So I just won’t be a part of it.

I respect Blizzard as a company, and that’s not going to change. I hope they win me back with Titan and prove to me somehow that they actually want me as a customer, not just as another subscriber statistic.

What a long, strange trip it’s been, indeed.


By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. I maintain that the subscription model undermines the nature of “customers” far more than promotions do. If they really wanted to compete for our love and money, they would adopt the GW model and make sure that every single box was worth the price we paid, because we wouldn’t be paying more for it.

    1. A subscription says that it is worth paying more for. A box says it sounded good enough to buy once, maybe off quality, maybe off marketing, and never again.

      I don’t mind Pandaren. But I do mind them being the focus of an entire expansion. I wasn’t the first to say this, but can we imagine if BC had been “Return of the Draenei” or “Rise of the Blood Elves”? Making a race the focus, rather than story or content, is a bad sign to me.

    2. I feel the opposite regarding subscriptions. I’ll toss the money on a box and forget about it pretty often. But if I’m going to maintain a long-term commitment to something, I have to possess some kind of loyalty to either the company or product.

      I’d love to see a game attain massive success with the GW or F2P model, but I don’t see it happening since so many people regard “free” as being subpar, even though it’s not. To me, it’s a philosophical difference.

      Also, I wish more MMOs would launch with a lifetime subscription within the first few months. I’d easily pay 150-200 for a lifetime sub for WoW or TOR (much like Syp did for LOTRO back in the day) regardless of how often I think I may log on.

  2. Their marketing department was better years ago. They are even hurting their reputation this way, I absolutely agree.

    Almost every gamer knows what is coming and nobody – really almost nobody – would have had any problems with paying for Diablo 3.

    Your comparison to Ultima Online’s Age of Shadows is spot on. SSI did the same to the Panzer General series when it became “Panzer General 3D Assault”… ugh. They lost tons of their veteran players and expanding the playerbase by making the game attractive to people who didn’t play the games yet definitely didn’t bring any net gain, but a loss.

    There are young adult novels that claim they can be read by people aged 12-20-40 or something like that. Basically, everyone. Sometimes it works, but often people also find that it isn’t really that suited for kids or adults and leaning heavily towards one group.

    WoW works for everyone and alway tried to work for as many players as possible:

    Lot’s of colours and things that make kids happy
    not so much kiddie stuff that people who are not into it get driven away immediately. Even if I still don’t like Metzen’s shoulder fetish.

    Making a full expansion and class with the Pandaren who worked because they were a WTF LOL joke race in Warcraft III. But for WoW?

    Pandaria is so much aimed at kids that it hurts, I really want to believe those who say this is the most elaborate April’s fools joke ever.

    1. I showed my wife the trailer for MoP Saturday morning, and she laughed and thought it was a joke. Her response was something like, “So it’s Kung-Fu Panda now?”

      I don’t mind games aimed at kids–I prefer that to a property taking itself way too seriously (Wrath of the Lich King did that, IMO)–but the Pandaren just seem like an inclusion to grab those fanbois who are running away for different games. The Monk class sounds great, honestly. I want to play it. And if there’s a free trial, I probably will. But it’s not enough (maybe not different enough) to warrant me sticking around in Azeroth.

  3. “They are telling their customers in no uncertain terms that neither game is actually worth the asking price.”

    And yet…the herd will continue to feed at the trough of Blizzard.

    The sad state of addiction knows no bounds.

    1. It’s true. I had to think about it, parse the numbers, and decide that it wasn’t worth it for me. I just don’t want to play WoW anymore, nor do I really care about D3. 7 years is long enough, and while it was once an addiction, at this point it’s habit. Breaking a habit is just as hard, and knows equal bounds.

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