Some (brief) thoughts on nostalgia, WoW, and marketing

Hellooooooooooooooooo bloggy universe! It has been a while since I last posted something. Rather than give you a break down of how my autumn has been, I’d rather just jump straight into what’s on my mind.

This week I am lecturing on game economies and spending a little bit of time talking about the prevalent business models found within the gaming industry. As I was preparing my lecture slides, I got the following email:

wowThis email gave me pause, and not just because I am a recovering WoW addict.

It has been fairly well established (see Castronova 2005) that subscription-based games rely on a community base to keep their games profitable. These games often have open ‘beta tests’ aka free-trial periods designed to establish an active player base before the game launches. Once the game launches, this player base will convince lukewarm folks to play the game not only because the virtual world is already bustling with activity, but also because of peer pressure, friendship groups, etc.

The creation aspect of the subscription model seems to be well understood and well mapped out. What is less understood, at least from my perspective, is how a 10 year old game like World of Warcraft is still profitable. This email gave me my answer: kick-ass marketing.

The language of the email mentions both past and future in a coherent narrative. “The time has come to forge your future from the iron of the past”. It calls to mind the echoing clang of metal-on-metal in past dungeon runs, raid parties, and PvP skirmishes; it invites reflection on all those happy memories you made all those years ago.

Don’t you remember how much fun you had bullshiting in guildchat as you farmed Twilight Jasmine and Stormvine?

Remember that time you and your friends spent hours killing and re-killing Lord Aurius Rivendare in the hopes he’d drop Deathcharger’s Reins?

Remember Kara? (Yeah, everyone loved Karazhan.)

Well, the advert seems to say, you can relive those past memories and you can even make some new ones! All you gotta do is re-subscribe!

And I did… I was 2 years sober. 😦 😦

I signed in with trepidation- I was afraid too much had changed in Azeroth since I left. I mean, what if the pandas ruined the place?

But they hadn’t. When I logged in, I saw the trusty ol’ dark portal was back from vanilla and The Burning Crusade to greet me. Ogrimmar looked the same, and.. hey! Piligrim’s Bounty holiday event is happening! I wonder what new pets and mounts have been added? I wonder how much grinding and errand-running I will need to do to get all the achievements? Oh, none. It is the same world event with the same achievements and awards since before I left. I guess I don’t need to play catchup like I thought I did. Even the holiday outfits are the same. This feels… comforting.

2011
My tauren way back in 2011.
2014
My tauren now in 2014.

Part of me wanted to think I was above advertising and marketing (third person effect, anyone?), but I’m not. I bought into Warlords of Draenor hook, line and sinker. (And yes, I am enjoying fishing in the game, too).

I guess I have to give credit where credit is due… Blizzard’s marketing team has done well for themselves, and not just because they got me to play again, but because they have managed to induce feelings of nostalgia for a brand in less than 10 years. For some companies, that takes a lifetime. For some, it never happens at all. For me, it happened all too easily.

Until next time,

Ashley

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