Free Diablo 3, Free Tyrael’s Charger, all for a year’s subscription – why? Blizzcon 2011 Commentary

So, the Blizzard opening ceremony’s been and gone.

Immediate conclusions – there was a surprising lack of surprising announcements. The single biggest one was, to my mind, the WoW annual subscription promising both Mists of Pandaria beta access and a free copy of Diablo III. Next to that – well, we already knew about Mists of Pandaria, and that was basically the only other major announcement. Diablo III’s coming – we knew that already. DOTA we already knew about.

Is it me, or are things seeming a bit thin on the ground so far?

I tend to think that the lack of other news may also be driving what news there is – but more on that below…

WoW annual accounts offering Diablo 3 free, Tyrael’s Charger mount, and beta access

It’s pretty clear that Blizzard are worried about the competition coming out in the next 12 months. The amount of swag they’re offering WoW players to sign up to a yearly contract – and guarantee Blizzard’s revenue stream for a year – is absolutely unprecedented.

Looking at the math here, the bundle totals at $50 value for free Diablo III (the average value of a new PC game), plus Tyrael’s Charger (click for full info), which as the new sparklepony would normally sell for $25, plus the Mists of Pandaria beta access. That’s $75 worth of goodies to generate a guaranteed $156 revenue for Blizzard – much of which will be from hardcore WoW players, and hence they’d have been expecting it anyway. Are they desperate?

Well, the question is why they’re offering this. A lot of people are assuming that the main reason is Blizzard’s lack of confidence in WoW’s long-term future – however, I’m not certain that’s the only reason.

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The inclusion of Diablo III is an interesting one. This offer will have a second side-effect – it’ll mean that on day 1 of Diablo III’s launch, there are a huge number of guaranteed players. Subsequently, it’s going to significantly boost D3’s base market – no matter how big the game will be, this offer’s going to significantly swell the first-day purchases.

That’s interesting particularly if Blizz’s main intended revenue stream from Diablo isn’t actually box sales, but the real-money AH. In order to get the AH working, they need as many people in the game on day 1, and subsequently, as possible. It’s the Free-to-play model – but Blizzard can’t release Diablo III free to play.

There are also press angles. This is going to be top of every gaming news site for the next 24 hours. As the SWTOR beta news comes out, they needed something to eclipse that – and with no game announcement coming, and their expansion already leaked, what could they do? Answer – offer an amazing deal that’ll get everyone talking. Talking, that is, about WoW.

No single one of these reasons will have swayed the Blizzard executives’ decision to go ahead with this deal – but combined, they make sense. It’s a darn canny move. Ensure a significant revenue stream from your aging MMO, give your new real-money-trade based game a huge boost, and steal the news cycle, all in a single announcement?

I’m impressed.

Update – It also occurs to me there’s another reason to push for a bunch of annual subs – if the next expansion is considerably further away than expected. In that case, pushing hard to get people locked in and unable to leave until the new expansion pack would be sensible, if mean. We’ll see.

Next up, we’ve got overlapping Blizzard announcements – the new WoW talent system, and the new dungeons and raids. I’ll cover the announcements as soon as they happen – stay tuned.

(I’m also on Twitter all through Blizzcon’s panels.)


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