Yesterday, Blizzard announced their newly revamped Scroll of Resurrection service, a system designed to encourage existing players to invite their friends who had previously left World of Warcraft to come back to the game. Some of the incentives offered in this new SoR Program include a free copy of the Cataclysm expansion for the newly returning player, as well as being able to instantly have one of their characters leveled up to lvl 80, and a free Server and/or Faction switch for that character as well.
At first glance, this seems to be an amazing offer, but as you scrutinize it further a handful of flaws appear that may or may not outweigh the boons. With this week's edition of Game Theory, I wanted to take a moment to examine both the Pros and the Cons of the Scroll of Resurrection service from the perspective of both a Game Designer and as a dedicated WoW player. Will this service be the answer to WoW's slowly-but-steadily declining subscription numbers, or a double edged sword that drives more players away than it gets to return?
As an admitted (and proud) Alt-aholic, I have a lot of characters. Far too many, but some people's opinion. Most of them are low level because I quite simply don't have the time to play them all, in addition to work, school, playing other games and building the engine that runs this site. So I can definitely understand the allure of being able to have a character insta-leveled directly to 80 - do not pass go, do not collect 200 gold. Assuming that I was a player that had decided to take a break from playing WoW, it would be a huge draw to be able to return with a Get Out of Low Levels Free Card up my sleeve. Being able to jump a character to 80 would put them right in line with the introductory zones of the Cataclysm content, Vashj'ir and Mount Hyjal, which is a good entry point for someone who had been away from the game since before the expansion had come out. In addition, the leveled character gets a set of level appropriate armor and weapons, and all their talents get assigned automatically based on spec (which they can respec if desired). This essentially means that your fresh 80 is "adventure ready" the moment you sign into the game.
At this point, it is fairly safe to assume that the sales of the latest expansion, Cataclysm, has trickled out. The majority of current subscribers have most likely already purchased their copy, whether it be to gain access to the new high level zones, or the two new character classes, Goblin and Worgen. The rumor mill for the next expansion, Mists of Pandaria, is already gaining momentum, both from the preview we got at last years BlizzCon and from the steady supply of straight-from-the-developer info we are being treated to near weekly. In fact, within the next two weeks there is a scheduled press event that will undoubtedly open the information faucet up from a trickle to a full blast.
So it stands to reason that for the people potentially returning to the game, Cataclysm would either be already purchased or represent an obstacle in coming back. And in order to eliminate that obstacle, it is a smart business decision on Blizzard's part to give away the latest expansion for free to those that may have been willing to come back but are letting their lack of owning Cataclysm stop them. Especially when you factor in the fact that the previous expansions, The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King are both considered part of the "core" game at this point, and that all three expansions will be required in order to install the impending Mists of Pandaria.
Many people have taken advantage of the ability to transfer servers or factions in the past - either through the paid services, or the free ones offered to balance out server populations. It is quite possible that a person returning to WoW after months or years of absence could find that all the people they knew and played with have migrated to another server or faction. Or in another possible scenario, the person inviting you back to the game may be a real life friend who always played on a different server. In either case, the offer a free one time transfer would be almost required in order to consider returning to the game, so waiving the $25 fee for one character is pretty much a no-brainer.
As an incentive to be the person doing the inviting, after the returning player has paid for 30 days of game time, the invitee will receive a faction specific Spectral Mount - Gryphon for the alliance, and Wind Rider for the Horde. This gives existing players a reason to start searching through their guild rosters and RealID friend lists for absentees that they can invite back, and adds another mount to the list for those who collect them.
The largest negative about this system is that the returning player is skipping a large chunk of content. The majority of the quests and zones for the level 1-60 experience were revamped as part of the Cataclysm expansion, and jumping straight to lvl 80 would mean that the returning player would only be able to experience all the changes on an alt character. While game experience and lore are not essential for some, it is one of the things that makes WoW distinct from other MMOs, and a shame to be completely bypassed.
In addition to that, the way that the WoW leveling system is currently designed, a player is given one or two abilities every other level, which gives them time to learn what each one does and when to use them. Assuming that the returning player does not have previous experience with a lvl 80+ character of that class, that means there may be a sizable learning curve in order to learn the use of all those abilities at once. For some players, this will result in having a difficult time playing their class, especially in situations that require filling a specific role, such as Dungeons, Heroics, and Raids.
A final concern about this system is that it is, in effect, rewarding those that gave up on World of Warcraft. In essence, its putting across the message "Its ok if you quit the game in a few months, we will come up with an even better offer a year down the line to entice you back before the next expansion hits." While this may sound like a petty or trivial concern, it does leave the die-hard player, the ones who didn't cancel their accounts, feeling as if they are penalized for being faithful to the game. This could easily be countered by implementing a "Veteran Rewards" system like in other MMOs such as City of Heroes, where players receive additional in-game trinkets and items for keeping an active account. Unfortunately, WoW does not currently have such a system.
While my listing of Pros and Cons currently sits obviously weighted towards the Pros side, that doesn't mean I'm necessarily giving this service a glowing review. It seems to me that taking advantage of the Scroll of Resurrection service would work very well for people who are already familiar with the changes that have occurred in the game during their time away from it, or people re-activating a secondary account just to reap the benefits offered. It may actually be detrimental for completely casual players who are less familiar with core class mechanics, as the Cataclysm expansion brought with it a vast amount of changes that are best learned a little at a time. As with most things in life , use your better judgment and weigh all the facts before signing on the proverbial dotted line. But if you do decide to use this service, to accept an invite from a good friend and return to post-Cataclysm Azeroth, let me be the first to say "Welcome back!" and extend to you a hearty /cheer.