Blizzard made an announcement on their Battle.net forums earlier this week, that they’re now offering the full Remote Auction House, Guild Chat, and Armory functions to their World of Warcraft customers free of charge. When it first came out, I was happy to spend my three dollars a month to keep in touch with my guild (Let’s face it, being a Guild Master is a huge time investment, and any time to make that more efficient will save your work and personal life). The game, however, is not what it used to be – Activision quarterly financial reports continue to show a steady decline to the once 12 million subscriber strong MMO, and the company is looking for the most effective way possible to retain their customers and keep them coming for more. Mists of Pandaria on its own isn’t inspiring some customers, and so Blizzard has taken a cut on its application to try to change the story. How effective will it be? I’m not confident it will have much effect.
The social community of World of Warcraft is what first drew me to the MMO years back. Guilds were a resource of knowledge, of people willing to run instances with you, who drove you to do your best and stay out of the fire. These people became our friends, and we developed strong relationships, many of which have lived through the waxing and waning of the game. By having people you cared about in the game, Blizzard (perhaps not as consciously as I previously anticipated) increased the need to stay in WoW and keep in touch with your buddies.
With the development of LFG (Looking for Group) and LFR (Looking for Raid), guilds have evolved. Save for the most hardcore, guilds are far less about finding a raiding group and more about spending time with people who are already your friends. The Mobile Guild Chat application was absolutely key when I was running my own guild – I wanted to catch up with people, see what was going on, and try to ensure that the proper raid preparations were made before things began. Now that I have transitioned from WoW, those people are not in the guild anymore. The only people I have interest in talking to in WoW are those who have stuck with me, and I already communicate with them through a variety of other means. I can’t help but feel like giving free access to the Mobile Armory is just a case of too little, too late – especially given that many guilds have decided to complete their run at the end of Cataclysm.
The question is, is this an added value enough to bring the dying social community of World of Warcraft back and regain customers, or is this simply a matter of offering a free service that too few people were paying for in the first place?