If you were a subscriber to Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online in the past as I was you’ve gotten the email about free play this weekend and perhaps as a few of my friends have you’ve taken advantage of it. As we play so many games and move from world to world it’s become more common for companies to have promotions like this, but does it work to bring back players? I suppose the question is one of attachment.
It seems to me that any promotion like this targets you in a few ways. The first is to see the changes made in the game since you left such as the new Skirmish system in LOTRO that their email mentions. This was the case with Vanguard when they had free play after a patch last year, and is pretty common. I imagine (from my own reaction of course) that the changes aren’t what make someone resubscribe if that is all they have to consider. Much more important is the part there at the bottom of the image, that line that says “Play Your Old Characters” with no other fanfare. Of course, that’s because when a gamer reads something like that none is needed.
I think that fantasy gamers are dreamers at heart. You create a character and see parts of yourself in them, and the avatar becomes a real representation of part of yourself. I know I feel connected to my avatars, in EQ and EQ2 and Vanguard and all the games I frequent. That initial attachment to the avatar leads to attachment to the game world in a well written game, and then you have strong incentive to care about what happens in the game. It’s something that happens in single player games as well, but we pay month after month for something else too, and that’s community.
I’ve written about it before on my blog, and I know many others have too… we play MMOs on a basic level for the interactions we have with other players. That social structure and the friends we make are what keep me logging on, and in a game that I’ve left half the time it has been not because of the game but because that sense of community isn’t there. It’s different for everybody and it depends on the way you come to the game too I think. When I started in EQ it was because my local gaming store had a guild built, and I wanted to play too. That beginning developed into much more of course, but I haven’t forgotten the Justice League of Antonica or my friends there. That kind of attachment brought me back to resubscribe after leaving the game for three years.
So do free play weekends work? I probably won’t be resubscribing to LOTRO because of this weekend, but someone who came back and reconnected with the rich lore of Lord of the Rings and their old friends certainly might. It’s one more tool game developers can use to entice us, but the effectiveness of it depends much more on how they did with the design of the game in the beginning than anything they may have added later.