Monday, April 21, 2014

WoW Analysis: Starter Edition Redux Part Two: The Premium Edition

At the end of March I posted my revised suggestions related to lifting restrictions from the Starter Edition. Compared to similar suggestions made prior to the release of Mists of Pandaria, the revised suggestions pulled back a large amount on trying to make World of Warcraft have an extensive free-to-play option. While I would still like to see such a thing come into existence, I suppose it is fair to say implementing it wouldn't be courteous to players who paid to unlock the content (though Blizzard has done some work in reducing the pay-wall to join World of Warcraft's endgame by adding Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm to a purchase of the "standard edition" of the game). This is where the (probably controversial idea for) Premium Edition comes in.

What Is Premium Edition?

Premium Edition would involve a one-time payment of purchasing WoW's standard edition, which would unlock all content up to level 85 (based on the current standard edition expansion level) and make it available for the account without any subscription required. This may sound a little confusing so allow me to break down the idea:
  • A player can buy a Premium Edition for the current price and be able to level up to 85 (or whatever level cap is considered comfortable for a one-time payment model in terms of content availability) and access the equivalent content of the level cap. They can then play with next to no restrictions.
    • There may have to be some restrictions put into place to prevent the economy from being ruined by gold farmers actively using Premium Edition accounts, mostly in the form of a rather sizable gold cap (though to be fair enormous gold transactions are automatically detected by in-game systems very quickly and efficiently nowadays).
  • If a player wants to become a paid subscriber, they can purchase the additional expansion(s) required, earning the free month normally acquired by purchasing WoW initially and allowing them to pay for subscriptions via credit card and other payment methods that don't involve redeeming a code.
  • If a player's subscription ends, their account is downgraded to Premium Edition, allowing them to access the same content as a Premium Edition and restricting functionality of characters above the level cap (for instance they can pick up mail and send mail) to prevent them from accessing content exclusive to subscribers.
    • Accounts with a specific expansion level will retain the expansion level (removing expansions from an account without due cause is essentially a scam, after all).
  • Recruit-A-Friend benefits still work with Premium Edition, though to acquire additional rewards the recruited player has to subscribe and purchase additional months.
  • Accounts can store play time and use it on a monthly basis (to prevent abuse) from time cards in case a player accidentally redeems time cards on an account with no additional expansions (Mists of Pandaria, as of the writing of this article).
Supporting Reasons

As you can see, Premium Edition is essentially the equivalent of purchasing a full game without a subscription fee, with the closest comparison being Guild Wars 2. While there may be some negative impact from implementing Premium Edition, here are some reasons I think it's a good idea:
  • As mentioned above, the gaming market has a plethora of titles that involve a one-time payment (sometimes, since the game could be free) for content that gets updated regularly by developers (like the aforementioned Guild Wars 2, FTL, League of Legends, etc). A large amount of updated games are on digital distribution platforms like Steam.
    • Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, and Hearthstone (and some older titles) are also games that fall into this category and they are games released and maintained by Blizzard. To be fair WoW may just be unique in the sense that it is a (very) successful subscription-based game that Blizzard wants to keep but the entire premise of Premium Edition is to create another option for players to invest into WoW without ruining the essence of that model.
  • WoW has a growing in-game shop where items can be purchased with real life money. Fortunately most (but not all) of these items are in a sense vanity content. However, it still feels like double dipping when considering subscription payments on top of paying for additional content (even if it isn't mandatory or blatant purchasing of power).
    • Another way to look at this is players may be less likely to buy from the in-game shop if they are also paying a subscription. However, there's a possibility of an increased chance of in-game shop usage from Premium Edition users.
    • It also allows Blizzard to add more items to the in-game shop to entice players using the Premium Edition (with obvious exceptions to doing this sort of content wrong (yes this is relevant here), such as by adding "pay to win" content to the shop. Experience/level boosts are borderline but okay).
  • It "recycles" old content in a clever way since newer players trying out the Premium Edition will likely have an enthralling experience and feeling of wonder without inevitably being pulled into the endgame of the current expansion. Furthermore, it gives players a bit more leisure in terms of taking their time since there is no feeling of making the most out of a paid subscription (and possibly burning out).
  • It allows players to multibox without ruining level cap content (for the latest expansion). It may even result in more players becoming interested in multiboxing and potentially running multiple subscriptions to multibox at a higher level.
  • And possibly more...
To be fair, I am largely aware of negative implications, such as gold sellers abusing Premium Edition accounts, a lack of a potential audience interested in Premium Edition, and so on. If you wish to have a spirited discussion about Premium Edition, I am up for listening to criticism and so on.

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