Thanks for Playing: MMO Loyalty Programs

Does your MMO go above and beyond to keep your business?  These days, most of us would settle for a game that has enough content or provides a reason to log in after a few weeks.  When things are going great, though, should MMO companies provide incentives to keep people playing beyond just ‘the game?’

deluxe sarlacc trash can

Continuing SWG subscribers were given this Sarlacc trash can. Feed it for four consecutive weeks and it spits out a collection item.

I’m a fan of loyalty programs.  They give players something extra, and decrease buyer power (make it harder to switch to another game).  Years ago, I remember Star Wars Galaxies handing out rare collectibles to reward players for subscribing.  I think the rewards were every 3-6 months (someone correct me) and were pretty neat little doodads to place in your house.

The gifts have to be substantial or else they’re useless tchotchkes.  A barely visible bauble isn’t as cool as a massive painting or rug.  A clickable item that shoots a firework every 30 minutes isn’t as neat as an aura that makes you glow colored flames permanently.  I’ve received some fairly awful rewards for being a player that only made me feel bad when I deleted them to make room for more important things in my inventory.  People like cool stuff.

How about discounts?  If someone has been a subscriber for a year and shown they are loyal, why not give them a discount on the upcoming expansion or toss them a free month?  The point here is to show the players that they are individually appreciated.  One argument against giving things to current players is that you’re basically giving up money to people who might be perfectly content and planning to stay anyway.  That is very true,  but isn’t giving up a few bucks worth the chance of creating a loyal player?  Discounts or financial rewards are much less prescribed than giving out digital items, but I believe in companies showing their players they care about more than the money they bring in once a month.

Another idea I’ve been toying with is a club program.  If someone has subscribed for six consecutive months they gain access to a special location in-game, special forum access, and recognition as members of this club with in-game cosmetics like a tabard or effect.  This club might provide guaranteed beta access to future games/expansions, VIP test server access, or something else exclusive.   This idea needs refinement, but these are the most loyal players and should be able to show it.

Reward players for attending real life fan events, conventions, or even having an active account during a particular patch. Reactivation awards, awards for having a subscription before a certain date, and rewards for simply participating in events in-game are all ways to increase the loyalty of players.

Lastly, time is a huge factor with reward programs.  Most MMO companies wait years before instituting one.  I think they should start much sooner — at most, a matter of months after launch.  It’s never too early to begin implementing simple acts to retain customers and increase profitability.

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Howdy Doody - February 20, 2013

I’m not going to lie. When WoW gave folks I recruited a new level 80 and I got a mount I was a little bummed. I would have appreciated the choice.

Those little things may have made a difference when I forgot to change my CC after it expired. Instead I just decided to take some time off. Maybe I wouldn’t have if I was “earning” something. Not sure.

The SWG example is a GREAT idea.

Rinvan - February 20, 2013

I took another look at Rift after 2 years & my character had an inventory full of special veteran rewards. (most were from my long expired 6 month sub)

Blargh - February 20, 2013

All is good in moderation though :p

Yours truly is currently storing in Vanguard:

12 characters * 10 vet reward sets * 3 pieces of furniture = one godawful pile of chairs tables beds etc, and those are just the anniversary ones. I shudder to think how much stuff people that maintained a long sub have had to store and/or destroy :p

Keen - February 20, 2013

Sounds like they might benefit from using a different type of loyalty program. Like I said, filling an inventory with useless things doesn’t make me feel appreciated.

Blargh - February 20, 2013

There’s more than furniture in the specific case of VG. And the furniture IS very nice, but there comes a saturation point, if you see what I mean.

Nothing wrong with consumable stuff either – a handful of fireworks once a year works just fine, esp when supplemented by an XP gain potion and an uber-oversized bag. I think Anarchy Online has a clubhouse that is vets-only or subs-only or something-only.

Founder titles are not uncommon, but that concept could be expanded and polished as well. Its all good adding “The Legendary” as part of the 24 month vet reward, but imho it needs to be a bit more .. obvioius?

Keen - February 20, 2013

I think consumables aren’t worth it at all. They’re not durable, they’re fleeting, and in every example I can think of they offer no benefit. “Thanks for being a player. Here’s a firework you can shoot off once.” Yeah, that doesn’t do it for me.

Furniture is nice — really nice — but like you said if it’s saturated it becomes a “godawful pile of chairs and tables”. That makes it less special. Perhaps let them be claimed on one character. Instead of being a collection of chairs and tables, maybe they’ll be that awesome table you got, or that rare chair you now proudly display. I think what we’ve learned here is that rarity is a factor worth considering in a loyalty program where things are handed out.

Titles are neat, but I like when a character can ‘physically’ wear something to distinguish their clout.

Zyler - February 20, 2013

I agree.. discount, something spectacular ingame or extra service.
How about all 3?

xenovore - February 20, 2013

Anything substantial is okay.

A month free? Definitely, even if I was already enjoying the game and planned on sticking with it. $15 is substantial since it has actual real value.

I’m not sure about the club idea, at least with regard to content access. The content should be balanced to essentially unlock itself as you play the game; i.e. if you want some zone to be available after 6 months, then provide 6 months worth of content for the players that points toward that zone. That or it’s a free expansion that’s released at 6 months. So…

…Free content is quite substantial. New areas to explore, new creatures to fight, new items, etc. for free? That would make me happy and keep me loyal.

I think special events would be cool; after a player has been playing for a while he could get a special invitation to a GM-run event. (Actually, just having GM-run events would be huge; nobody does that anymore.)

Veteran rewards: No way, at least not the way they are handed out *poof* into your inventory. In my book, that’s just immersion-breaking, “we couldn’t think of anything better” weak-sauce. Instead, why not do something like have a NPC approach the PC, profess his undying gratitude to the PC (“Thanks for saving our village, you’re the best blah blah blah”), and hand him a reward? Or the NPC could give out a special quest that would otherwise be unavailable.

Consumables: Naw, same as above. Maybe if it were a permanent recipe to make a special potion or whatever, but I’d still rather have it be something I earn in the world rather than automagically gifted.

To summarize: Account rewards, e.g. free play time, are always welcome. Otherwise, keep the rewards in the world setting, use the world setting to grant access to the rewards, and keep them useful (no superficial fluff, e.g. 99% of holiday items).

Jim - February 20, 2013

You hit on something here Keen and I think any dev with a good business model will look to create or expand its loyalty program as a way to differentiate itself in a crowded market.

“We value your loyalty” These are powerful words when expressed with corresponding actions.

Graev - February 20, 2013

Apparently today Sony gave out $10 (Wooo!) to loyal PS fans. I’m not sure what constitutes loyalty, though. I camped out for a PS2 and got it day 1 and I have 2 PS3s, yet I got squat.

Evalissa - February 20, 2013

SWG was quarterly, every 3 months. and I must admit, it kept me subbed even during the periods of time I was not playing the game. My houses were decorated with all kinds of rare rewards and it was a big part of the game for me.

I Love ingame special rewards, housing items are my favourite (or were in SWG) with clothing and mount/pet cosmetics a close second/third, I don’t like consumables as they just feel wasted.
Any permanent item is good in my book as long as other people have the same chance of getting them (no first to x gets reward, no ‘one time only’ event rewards)

I also heavily dislike ingame rewards for attending real-life events, if someoen attends a fanmeet or whatever, give them a statuette, a badge, a hat, whatever. but don’t give them an in-game item that people who are not able to attend these things cant get

Zyler - February 21, 2013

It seems the sony 10$ giveaway was or is completely random from what I have read online.
Like 1 guy got a key but his friend that had a playstation 3 longer and spend more did not get the 10$

Pretty lame if you ask me.

Blargh - February 21, 2013

Sony? Lame? Never happene… ohwait….

(Sorry I just HAD to)

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