The Dreadwake

When you think of World of Warcraft (WoW), you may imagine ransacking dungeons for loot and slaying dragons. At KPS3, we think of those things too, but we also think of how Blizzard Entertainment (aka Blizzard, or affectionately “Blizz”), World of Warcraft’s creators, have maintained a wildly successful subscription-based service for more than 14 years.

I am currently subscribed to WoW. I’m not even playing right now, so why, much to my wife’s chagrin, do I still pay that monthly subscription fee? There’s always new patches, new content, and new items they’re releasing that keeps me just interested enough to keep my sub active. One of the things that always keeps me coming back is the mounts: the digital horse/animal/thing that your character rides and flies around on. There are hundreds of mounts, with varying levels of rarity and uniqueness. I fancy myself a mount collector — proud owner of several of the hardest-to-obtain mounts, dismayed by the fact there are amazing mounts I’ll never be able to get.

Blizzard release new expansion packs every few years to keep things fresh. WoW is subscription-based, and players can cancel at any time, so it’s important to keep players busy in-game to reduce the chances that subscribers will drop off in the months after a new expansion. WoW dropped a new expansion in August, and shortly after announced an intriguing promotion. The promotion was this: If you subscribe for 180 days of game time (roughly 6 months at $15/mo), you get access to the unique, pirate-ship themed mount, The Dreadwake. The level of design in the mount is amazing. It’s not an animal that you ride, but an entire pirate ship crafted specifically to hold your character. Throw in some pirate-themed clothes and you have a real role-playing scenario in the making.

… and yes, I immediately paid for a six-month subscription in order to get the mount. My mind followed a very simple path: I’m going to pay for the game anyway, I never cancel my subscription, I might as well get this amazing mount. Done deal, purchased, take my money.

Afterwards, as I rode around Zandalar dressed as a pirate in the Dreadwake, I started to think about why Blizzard ran this promotion. I’ve never seen them run a mount-only promotion before, especially at the beginning of an expansion. After thinking through it, I’ve come up with two possible solutions, both of which are excellent marketing tactics that others could learn from.

Option 1: Increase Subscription Numbers During Notoriously High Drop-off Time

It’s reported that World of Warcraft’s worldwide subscription numbers, excluding China, jumped to 3.2 million worldwide in August, after the release of the seventh World of Warcraft expansion. However, numbers have since reportedly fallen to 1.7 million.

This isn’t a new trend. The beginning of an expansion is filled with hope and wonder. You play through the game, find all the new zones, and are constantly rewarded with upgrades. But, for the casual player, the novelty fades. Based on my experience, about 1-2 months post-expansion most of your casual-player (and all of your parent-player) guild members have fallen offline. This is right around the time the Dreadwake came out.

My theory is simple: in an effort to retain subscribers, Blizzard spent a small amount of resources to craft an in-game feature that people would subscribe for. By doing this, they lengthen players’ subscription time and get money they likely otherwise wouldn’t have. They boost their profits with a small feature that probably took a limited amount of time for 2-3 members of their team to create. And the best part is how simple the idea is. Develop a feature that your customers want and leverage future subscriptions to get it. If the feature is good, you can boost retention without missing a beat.

Option 2: Boost Your Quarterly Board/Earnings Report

Yes, the timing of the mount coincided with the beginning of the expansion and drop off, but it also coincided with the end of the quarter.

The promotion began running in September, with most orders being placed and pushed within that month. Could this also just be a ploy to artificially increase quarterly board reports (QBRs) for Q3 and moving into Q4?

We’re all very familiar with the QBR — 3 months is up, let’s measure and see success. It’s what we operate on for the majority of our clients, and it’s a great way to stay accountable and continuously evaluate the success of your marketing. And one thing you learn after QBRs, is that there are always going to be some that aren’t great. Some outside factor can derail your quarter and keep your goals stagnant. Is the Dreadwake the answer? Hear me out.

What if someone at Blizzard suggested this feature — it could have been one year ago, or three years ago. The artwork could have been loaded and ready go to for an unprecedented amount of time. The deals of the feature could have been approved and just sitting — waiting. Then, on the eve of a quarter that doesn’t feel great, they trigger the switch to launch the promotion. It gives an artificial boost to the numbers, turning a quarter that wasn’t a success into a success.

So which option is it?

I don’t believe the odds are in favor of this latter scenario being true. My gut tells me it’s the subscription problem — but either path is a creative way to leverage marketing as part of their product. And something that isn’t exclusive to a video game as an idea.

Come up with a list of features you know people want in addition to your core offering. Have these features ready to go and use them when you need it most. Come up with ideas around targeting members of your subscription service right before drop-off with a rich offer — keep them enticed right as the drop off is happening. Use the data you have at your disposal to make creative marketing decisions that extend outside your traditional media buys.

Or reach out to us, and we can help you too.

For the horde!

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