6 Mar 2012

My Annual Pass Regret

Warcraft Annual Pass Banner

Back in October last year I made a bold move and signed up to the Warcraft Annual Pass. I figured to myself that it’d be a great deal – I’d still be playing Warcraft, I’d get a free copy of Diablo III and I’d get access to the Mists of Pandaria Beta without having to strike it lucky or jump through hoops. All I had to do was keep paying what I was paying and keep my subscription alive for a year.

After a single quarter-year, I’m really regretting making that decision.

It’s partly a time thing – I don’t have the time to log into Warcraft nearly as often as I’d like. But there’s another aspect to why I feel I’m done with the current expansion pack. My opportunity to pick up the Mage Legendary Staff was cut short with the release of the Dragon Soul raid, with the resultant consequence that my desire to raid was deflated like a misfiring zeppelin. The next tier was little better for me, with Deathwing And Friends lasting all of two weeks until I’d managed to pug my way to LFR victory.

My natural response at this point would be to unsubscribe and wait until the next expansion comes out. But a deal’s a deal – I promised to sign up for a year and I’ll stick to it. But I can’t help but feel that I’m not getting as much out of the deal as I’d hoped. Diablo III still hasn’t made it to release – the European beta didn’t launch until earlier this month. And although Mists of Pandaria looked more complete than any other expansion first-reveal so far, there’s no assurance that beta will arrive here any time soon.

Since I made that year-long subscription commitment, I’ve seen SWTOR launch, TERA move into open beta and Guild Wars 2 provide a press closed beta. The Secret World is also bubbling away in the background. By the time my commitment is up we’ll have probably seen three new launches. As Sypster points out, even RIFT is rolling out the welcome wagon to entice players back.

Warcraft has always suffered from the long drought of content between the final content patch of one expansion and the launch of the next one. But if my Annual Pass loyalty assures me of a spot in the MoP beta, why would I rush out to buy the expansion when it finally launches? By getting the opportunity to play the content before I pay for it, Blizzard’s next expansion might switch from a day one purchase to a patch 5.1 purchase, assuming that none of the other MMO releases swallow me whole.

Even Blizzard’s new Scroll of Resurrection doesn’t help those players currently teetering on the edge of unsubscribing. As spotted over on MMO-Champion, this service now gives the recipient a free boost to Level 80, free realm and faction transfers and a free copy of Cataclysm. While this is great news for old-timers from Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King, there’s nothing to help with the void of content between now and Pandaria.

If Blizzard ever hopes to put an end to the rise and fall of subscription numbers it needs to work on the consistent, reliable delivery of new content to keep players engaged. Without it they risk becoming irrelevant in a market climate where every other game is fighting hard to attract players. It also means that Annual Pass subscribers like myself won’t be looking to escape as soon as our commitment is finished.

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22 Responses to My Annual Pass Regret

  1. Tesh says:

    One more reason why buying time instead of content stinks. ;)
    Tesh recently posted..Barely Interactive MoviesMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think that when a game is fresh and new, buying time makes more sense because of the all-you-can-eat setup. But once you’ve earned your MMO stripes I think you have a valid point.

  2. Jaedia says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you said. I said this on Twitter and I’ll say it again, it’s nice to be able to cancel your sub when you’re low on money, which at the moment having just moved to a new place, we often are. But no. We made a commitment. I haven’t had so much time to play, either, recently because I’m so often busy with my book blog, or hell, my social life. And very soon I’ll be starting work. But I can’t quite until November. Notice how the annual pass was released at the same time as LFR and the new 5 mans? New content to get people interested, “Hell yes, free pony! I love this game!” Couple of months later, the pony loses its’ sparkle as does the game. Fool me once, Blizzard…
    Jaedia recently posted..Then and Now: Seithir EditionMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      Indeed. I can’t see myself taking up an annual subscription ever again. The most I’ll go for is a 3-month pack, and only if I’m really taken in at the end of the free month.

  3. Telwyn says:

    I can fully sympathise with this. I signed up because my partner did and because I managed years ago to get my Mum and Aunt playing (don’t ask…). Regardless WoW offers nothing to me or the friends I used to play with unless you’re happy to raid yet another tier of the same-old. That we’re facing a content drought of this length at a time when SWTOR has launched and Trion continue to pump out Rift content is just a sign of shame for Blizzard. They have the deepest pockets by far in this MMO industry and regardless of what’s planned for MoP they should have planned for more updates while we wait. Annual pass or not I won’t be buying MoP, they just don’t deserve my money.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I have a feeling that a lot of Annual Pass members feel the same. They’ll do the MoP beta then call it quits till 5.1, if they return at all.

  4. mynsc says:

    I agree with most of the ideas in the article, with two mentions:

    Content drought is a problem that affects pretty much any serious MMO these days, it’s not a Blizzard specific issue. It’s the biggest problem of the theme-park model and no company has really got close to solving it. Blizzard has launched an expansion and 3 huge content patches in the last 14 months… this is definitely not a slow (or even average) development process, considering the high standards Blizzard needs to achieve each time.

    You’re probably going to give me the Rift example, but in that game’s case most of the content from the patches was done even before the game launched, as said by some of the lead developers. Their well has run dry too and in the last months their patches have started to have more months between them too.

    Secondly, even with no new content, WoW still has the richest world in the MMO category. I actually find the content gaps somewhat refreshing because they give me time to catch up on other activities, like achiev hunting, loremastering, PvP or alting.

    I also think it’s a reasonable price to pay if it means MoP will arrive faster than the other expansions (my guess would be July). Can’t say that I’m not a bit disappointed that they didn’t try to do both, but I’m not sure how realistic this goal would have been. You can’t just hire completely new people to handle content patches, while the old ones work on the expansion.
    mynsc recently posted..mynsc’s Hideout – My favorite GW2 videos from this weekend’s closed betaMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I don’t think Blizzard needs to keep up with a single other game in terms of content delivery.

      I think Blizzard needs to keep up with all the other game releases. If I can hop from game to game or even beta to beta and dine on fresh content every weekend, what motivation do I have to remain subscribed to WoW? Besides, if all the people I want to keep in contact with are on Twitter or IM, why worry about in-game friends?

      That’s the problem Blizzard are facing. Not that there’s one game kicking them in the content business, but because combined there’s so much to do right now.

      • mynsc says:

        And so the Annual Pass was born. :D It’s not exactly a fix, but it’s definitely a good temp patch, until MoP atleast.

        The problem you’re describing has more to do with the revenue model and not with the game itself.

        I definitely understand it, even though I’ve not really been confronted with it. When it comes to MMOs, the offer, from my point of view, is still very limited and even if I’m kinda bored of WoW, in 2011 I was never really tempted to stick to any of the freshly launched MMOs. The high-budget ones are all the same, more or less, and the indie ones have good ideas, but are usually barely playable.

        Should they change the subscription model? I don’t know really… I think this is a very complex subject. It does indeed fell kinda out-dated, but I still love it more than the various freemium models. Atleast when it comes to P2P I know what I’m getting into and everyone is equal. And usually, even if feels that I’m committing by spending 15 bucks on a game, the “free” ones usually end up being even more expensive, if I want to play them for real.
        mynsc recently posted..mynsc’s Hideout – My favorite GW2 videos from this weekend’s closed betaMy Profile

  5. Kadomi says:

    Finally someone who mentions their regrets about the annual pass. When the deal was offered, I knew it would be Blizzard’s lifeline for the 2012 releases and their subscriber losses. I never felt that the actual benefits offered were strong. Seriously, MoP beta access? Testing bugs for them, and doing content early, which will drastically reduce the freshness of the expansion, reducing the content life even further?

    I quit when LFR was introduced. I was shocked, flabbergasted, when Blizzard announced that that was it, no more content until MoP. There’s not even a beta nor any release date announcement for MoP. This will be 6+ months minimum. But no one is complaining. Is transmogging, running alts through LFR and hunting achievements really the compelling gameplay people are looking for, or is it all a delusion?

    The new Scroll of Resurrection is not the solution to regaining subscribers, and the Annual Pass was nothing but a money grab for them.
    Kadomi recently posted..Day 4 – My best MMO memoryMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I have to be honest, when I mentally ran the numbers I was anticipating a release date for Diablo III of roughly March/April, with the MoP beta starting in May/June. Now it looks like we’ll have neither in those timescales.

      • Lara says:

        That’s something that continues to baffle me a little: They seem to have pushed Dragon Soul out the door a lot sooner than they needed to. We know, and they must understand their track record for slow releases…so given the parlous state of the MoP preview we saw a few months ago, why didn’t they just hold it for a couple months?

        Did they really think they’d get MoP out before June?
        Lara recently posted..After the FallMy Profile

    • mynsc says:

      Well D3 for free was the main highlight, not the MoP beta…

      And I really doubt it’s a money grab… it’s more of an investment in WoW’s stability during this content drought.

      One year of WoW sub = 156 euro. D3, standard edition = around 60 euro I believe. It might seem like a profitable deal at first look, but you have to consider that pretty much 90% of the people that bought the annual pass were going to pay for a WoW sub anyway, at least for a couple of months after 4.3 and when MoP launched.

      MoP’s beta is probably going to start at the end of this month, or at the beginning of April, so in the end the gap is not THAT big… 4.3 went live at the end of November, so it’s just 3 months and a bit old right now. It really isn’t that crazy. 4.2 launched at the end of June I believe… so there’s a 5 months period between it and 4.3

  6. Razorstorm says:

    I feel the same way. I haven’t even logged in SWTOR launched, and I’d love to cancel. Oh well, my bad.

  7. Tesh says:

    Incidentally, I find it somewhat… offputting… that a game asks for a “commitment”. That’s flatly not what I want out of gaming. I play games to be free of commitments and the daily grind.
    Tesh recently posted..Barely Interactive MoviesMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      If I’m honest, I feel the same way these days. Games aren’t 2nd jobs, they’re pure escapism. If a game can’t pull us through just through the strength of the content then I’m doubtful that it’s worth the investment.

  8. Coeur-de-fer says:

    “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place”.

    All of those dollars and man hours spent, across the original game and three “expansions”, and there’s still the same dearth of relevant content. The entire DIKU/theme-park model is appallingly wasteful.

  9. Lara says:

    Ever since it was announced, I’ve felt sure that the annual pass was much more beneficial to Blizzard than to its potential subscribers. True, it gives you a bit of a price break if you were going to be playing all that time anyway — and for potential Diablo 3 players, it might still be worthwhile even if they quit WoW partway through — but this comes at the cost of market pressure, which is the only real leverage we have as MMO players.

    I suspect this may be the last time Blizzard will be able to afford to apply its current long-cycle, monolithic model of content patch development. The movement of players toward games with quicker iterations, better social integration, and a less committed play-style seems to have had a pretty strong effect on all the extant MMO titles. It seems fairly clear that Blizzard has recognized this — RealID, cross-realm LFD, then LFR, then cross-realm RealID raiding, and the upcoming BattleTag system all suggest that they really do get that breaking down silos is essential. What they do not seem to have figured out yet, however, is that their ponderous pace of content release is probably not going to remain viable for much longer. If, indeed, it’s viable now.

    The fact that they offered the Annual Pass suggests that at least somebody at Blizzard is alive to this issue — but of course, you can’t just change gears overnight. I suspect if WoW is to survive, they will have to figure out how to move toward a model in which content patches are smaller and more frequent. That might necessitate less ambition — which in itself might be a little sad for those of us accustomed to their grand epics — but I think in the end it will be better for the community as a whole if they can pull it off.
    Lara recently posted..After the FallMy Profile

    • The length between content patches would be fine if the content patches had a commensurate amount of, you know, content coming with them. In a tier with a dozen or more bosses to kill, six months is fine. But Tom Chilton has this idea that he can put out tiers with single digit bosses, and expect people to subsist off it for 6-8 months. T12 and T13 were each 4 month tiers, at best, and firelands got stretched out nearly 6 months, and DS might go as long as 10. That’s unacceptable.
      The Renaissance Man recently posted..Blackwing Descent: Missed OpportunitiesMy Profile

  10. Cym (@Cymre) says:

    I made this commitment also. But it’s always like this at this stage of the x-pac. I’m going to be so glad when Mists comes out as I won’t have to worry about raiding, recruitment, finding 10 people just to fill our raids each week. Trying to get more Guild involvement can be so tiresome that my desire to log into the game has really diminished lately.
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  11. Dvotee says:

    I’m with you on this. At the time it seemed really good but I’ve hardly played wow of late (although I have just started again – for how long who knows) but I do regret being tied in for so long.

    The appeal was of course Diablo III for me and I’m still waiting. The money I’m spending could have potentially been saved and put towards buying it and I am, if honest only playing it because I am paying for it.
    Dvotee recently posted..Time to farm some gold!My Profile