When 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.
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.