Final Fantasy XIV has a Veteran’s Reward program. On it, you get a new glamour set for each subscribed time milestone. It does not have requirements that the time be served in sequence, or prepaid, or anything of that sort, and offers great looks that series fans outside of the MMO genre really latch onto – Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart armor being the bookend rewards of the program.
It is flexible to a point of incredulity almost, as the program is so gentle that anyone who even enjoys the game to a base level will, eventually, reach the final tier and gain the rewards.
I bring this up first as the contrast to what Blizzard does for “loyalty.”
Today, Blizzard announced the Sprite Darter wings, a first for a 6-month subscription package in that it offers a cosmetic transmog option for characters instead of a mount. Battle for Azeroth has, in many ways, been the “loyalty” expansion, with the expansion from the troubled start to the undetermined end now having a 6-month subscription incentive on offer. Cynically, this makes sense – the first such mount ever, the Dreadwake, was put on offer just weeks into BfA, at the point at which the expansion was gaining negative critique for the implementation and design of Azerite armor and when it was clear that 8.1 was not quite ready for a release date assignment yet. Ever since then, BfA has been a constant cycle of 6-month loyalty rewards, offering those with prepaid and uncancellable 6-month subscriptions an incentive to keep subscribed to the game.
My opinion on these is a bit weird, in that I suppose I don’t mind them that much, On the surface, loyalty rewards are a good thing and I like them, especially when they are cosmetic. Being able to get a little something extra with an exclusivity window prior to the item being listed in the future for real money isn’t inherently bad or wrong.
However, I do think that WoW’s version of a loyalty system is a sort of perversion of the idea, in that it is both frighteningly transparent as to how it works and why they do it. Take this newest example – available near the start of the current fiscal quarter for Activision-Blizzard, only available as a bonus through the end of the quarter, and put on offer after the news of the expansion delay prompted refunds and credits. The game is currently coasting perilously with no announced launch dates for new content and in a pre-patch state for an expansion with no launch date and a neutered rewards loop for current content play. From a business perspective, right now is the most logical time for such a ploy – there is, almost literally, no reason to subscribe actively right now that hasn’t existed for the last 9 months, short of the new leveling experience (which is how I’ve spent my time in the game since 9.01).
However, what I find bothersome is that Blizzard’s definition of loyalty is sort of…askew from what I would really define it as. I brought up the FFXIV example because that is what I would think of as loyalty – you’ve stuck with us for a given amount of time and we’d like to reward that. Granted, Blizzard did offer the 10 year subscription Orc rider statues several years ago, and those were awesome rewards (even if I found it a little too restrictive as I didn’t start playing early enough to receive the statue), but I think in-game rewards for regular play and subscription are things Blizzard should consider offering. The FFXIV example is all simple cosmetic rewards, and only for a year of subscription time in total for all rewards, but at the same time, it offers a great little bonus and gives FF series veterans some further incentive with some of the most iconic looks in the franchise.
WoW’s version of this instead attempts to capitalize on periods of minimal or no content for the game, keeping players chained to the game and making money for little actual effort. I’m not naïve enough to look at the dates and note that it tracks with fiscal periods and matches to a slump in the game and think that it was anything other than a reactive deployment to save business results. And to some extent, I can’t fault Blizzard for that – as long as we function under the oppressive yoke of capitalism, for things we like to survive, they have to be profitable. However, it is also not as though WoW is a struggling indie title from an underfunded studio, and the uncertainty around patch event and expansion release events would, for some, fuel a need to subscribe and be ready for these. If Blizzard didn’t offer these, the game would still make millions of dollars per month, and in fact, in a post-WoW Classic world with Naxxramas on the verge of release, I would argue that there is an incentive for some players to remain subscribed just for the content and community.
But it is undeniable that such promotions are appealing. Blizzard’s foray into special transmog wardrobes started with last year’s Blizzcon Yeti pajamas, and continued with the Eternal Traveler’s gear from the Shadowlands Epic Edition mount. And, to be fair, I have both of those ensembles and like them both. I also found their acquisition methodology fair in a way – they were an extra bonus layered onto the normal Collector’s Edition in-game content for the Eternal Travelers armor, and took the place of the standard in-game item for WoW with Blizzcon attendance/virtual tickets. So what is it that I don’t like about the Sprite Darter’s Wings?
Mainly, just that it is nakedly opportunistic and the inverse of what I would consider loyalty. When Blizzard has done these 6-month promos, it has screamed of a lack of confidence in content, either delivery schedule or longevity. It says to me that Blizzard doesn’t have faith in the content they’re going to deliver and would like to secure a subscription before that becomes readily apparent in the game. Right now, though, it is already apparent – we have nothing on the calendar waiting to be completed, no new content, and no release date for the expansion. In the wait for Shadowlands content news, release dates, anything – instead, we have this. Spend more money and we’ll make it worth it, we swear!
I don’t mind subscribing to the game for long periods of time – I got the Dreadwake for a 6 month sub I paid for prior to the promotion! But something about being bribed for it with a reward and not on the strength of the content feels…bad. I guess that is where I land. I don’t have any real objection to it other than that I wish the game was winning subscribers on content and not on fancy, exclusive transmog ensembles.