Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

How WOW Became The Most Popular MMORPG In The World


Created by Blizzard Entertainment, WOW made its debut more than a decade ago back in 2004.

Since then, it had seven expansions, an ever-changing game world and at its peak, 12 million subscribers.

WOW is definitely a brand you’ve got to respect for its longevity in this world as it hops in between both the gaming and non-gaming realms. Let’s see how they do it!

1. Free Starter-Edition To Entice Gamers and Non-Gamers

world of warcraft

WOW today introduces a free starter-edition for new players. They can play the game up to Level 20 without any time restrictions and all you need is a free Battle.net account. Plus, you can download the game digitally.

While it only allows newcomers to skim the surface of the game, it allows players to truly get a taste of what’s to come in the world itself.

In other words, new players have a ton of content to enjoy for free, but it is still a mere fraction of the entire world as compared to when you pay for it.

And we’re not talking a freemium or pay-to-win model, which so many other games make use of today. New players will not feel disadvantaged or cheated. They know that they must make the step themselves if they want to progress.

Free is good, but make sure you do it in a while that creates a sense of satisfaction and make your potential customers want more.

What can you give your customers for free that gives them a lot of content to be happy with? What can you give for free for potential customers to feel satisfied, but still want more?

2. A More Forgiving Nature For An MMORPG

WOW entered the gaming arena with a world that was more friendly to players. It was more “forgiving” and basically easier.

The game had comparatively lower penalties. For example, if you die in the game, you merely had to restart from the nearest graveyard as a ghost and then find your way back to your body to be resurrected.  

You’d also be able to heal after combat automatically.

Unlike other games at that time, this was a welcome change. Everquest, a then-popular MMORPG was more punishing. When you died in the game, you’d lose gear and experience points.

While it can be argued that making a game easier would make it less ‘hardcore’ and appealing to only casual gamers, it ultimately ups the fun factor of a game and hence its mainstream appeal, which brings me to my next point.

3. Less Barriers To Entry For Non-Gamers With a Sense of Satisfaction

wow marketing

Personally, the first time I played WOW was in 2005. It was my first ever MMORPG. I made a lot of mistakes then and felt it was unforgiving, but that was just because I was a noob.

I revisited the game again in 2010. I was astounded at how much more welcoming the game was. Any new player could complete a few quests easily in one select area and you’d be rewarded with epic gear instantly, something where you used to have to grind it out for hours just for it.

One could argue that it was just way too easy, but regardless, WOW definitely increased its mainstream appeal this way to non-gamers, giving them a sense of satisfaction and achievement as they get rewarded in-game with little effort.

Like it or not, it makes people happy and allows them to have fun.

So are you making it easy for your customers and clients? Or are you making them do all the work?

Creating a sense of ease and satisfaction is definitely key in drawing in customers for your brand. People are busy and feel all kinds of stress. If you create something that makes them feel like they’ve accomplished something, you’re effectively making them feel good.

Is your brand making people feel good? Are you creating innovations that stray away from the norms of how a product is handled?

4. Beautiful Cinematic Trailers Leveraging On a Modern Platform

Every time WOW releases a new expansion, they create an awesome trailer for it. You can see all of them here on YouTube.

Like Hollywood, their production values are top-notch.

Perhaps your brand may not be able to afford such high production values, but the point is, you can explore another medium altogether to promote your brand. And with YouTube, that is your platform to push it forward.

And there’re no excuses for it. Even if you can’t spend on CGI animation or professional actors, you can still create something in social media. Just be creative. e.g. Mobile Legends got influencers to play and talk about their game in their ads.

5. Tying In With Coca Cola In Another Geographic

WOW created an advertisement with Coca Cola in China.

This was a perfect balance in collaborating with a mainstream brand that is pretty much a staple in everyone’s life today and also appealing to another set of audience in another part of the world.

It’s easy to think that your intended audience is only those around you, but if things pick up with people from somewhere else, it’s best to quickly leverage that.

What other brands can you tie in with? What can you do to speak their language?

6. Collaborating with South Park To Create Something New and Innovative

world of warcraft marketing

Back in 2006, Matt Stone and Trey Parker worked together with Blizzard to create a whole episode based on the game itself.

Titled, Make Love, Not Warcraft the episode became an Emmy-winning one. Needless to say, it reached out to South Park fans and mainstream television viewers.

7. Getting Celebrities to Advertise the Game Early

In one commercial back in the early days, WOW got some celebrities to be featured in a commercial, including Mr. T, Jean Claude Van Damme and Verne Troyer. This was done when Vanilla WOW, the original WOW without any expansions was released.

Getting celebrities is a little trick to appeal to most people since they’re already recognizable influencers.

Today, you don’t even need a celebrity from Hollywood. Just get an influencer from a new media platform. Appeal to their audience and leverage on them.

Are you getting famous celebrities or influencers? Are you getting them to try your product live? Do it.

8. Allowing the World to Evolve for Both New and Veteran Players

With over ten years under its belt, WOW is constantly evolving to make newcomers and veteran players welcomed. In other words, Blizzard tries its best to take care of everyone:

  • New expansions added timely, from The Burning Crusade to Legion, each of which adds new worlds, features and increasing the level cap.
  • Patches that consistently fix the game and its bugs.
  • Changing the free trial method (it used to be a 10-day fixed trial.)
  • Adding new raids for hardcore gamers.
  • Ability to buy game time with in-game currency i.e. the WOW Token

  • Making it clear and simple for both new and returning players

Learn about WoW’s referral program!


Alden Tan

Alden Tan is a writer and blogger from Singapore. He writes about self-improvement in an honest and real way as he doesn't have time for cliches and bullshit.

The Psychology Of Freemium Games: Lessons And Insights

How Psychology of Freemium Games Can Improve Your Business


If you’ve played freemium games before, you’d know how addictive they are.

Freemium (free + premium) games are games that are free to download and play, but feature in-app purchases (IAP) that users can buy with real cash. Such games have become really popular recently, and surprisingly, generate more revenue than paid apps. Some users have reported spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on freemium games!

How exactly do freemium games get users to part with so much hard earned money?

In the super popular game, Candy Crush Saga, players use up one of five lives for each attempt to clear a level. Each life refills in 30 minutes. They can either wait, send a request to their friends to donate lives, or key in their credit card details.


Another wildly popular game, Clash of Clans, has building upgrades that take the same amount of time to grow out my moustache.

And...we'll see you in 2 days, bye!
And…we’ll see you in 2 days, bye!

Players have blamed freemium games for making them late for appointments, skipping meals, or spending a big part of their paycheck on IAPs. They complain that the games have affected their social lives, reduced the quality of interaction between their loved ones, and made them really miserable.

But despite all that, they still end up paying money for that exclusive Dragonfrost Blade that will give them the boost needed to slay the Demon Lord Karroush.

So what can marketers learn from freemium games?

1. Give relevant rewards to your customers.

In freemium games, essential items like lives, energy / stamina, or gems are what most players spend the most money on. These items are instrumental in advancing to the next level, or defeating the next boss.

Different types of freemium games feature different types of IAPs.

  • For Role-playing games (RPG) or other quest-driven games, the items slowly become essential once the player has invested a considerable amount of time and effort in the game. At this point, players see that the only way to not waste the time they’ve already invested is to pay a small amount for a little boost. This is commonly known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy.
  • In decorative games, players can use real money to purchase exclusive items that can be used to decorate their virtual homes or restaurants. This provides tremendous social utility, especially when they’re the only ones who own that particular item!!

Whichever game it is, what matters is that the IAPs are something that players perceive as relevant and essential to their personal agenda.

As a marketer or business owner, it is important to know what your customers would really want, and then provide it. Whatever incentive you provide has to be really relevant to them. For instance, if you are selling shoes online, would you choose to provide free shipping, or a price discount of the same monetary value?

According to research done by Compete, 93% of customers have mentioned that they would be more likely to buy a product online if it came with free shipping. Another study by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that 74% of participants would prefer free shipping to discounts.

The amount of discount might be the same, but it’s the context that separates them.

Remember, perceived value matters much more than actual value!

2. Keep your users engaged

“People will stay engaged until acted upon by an outside force.”

This was used to explain the term ‘Newtonian Engagement‘, coined by Nils Pihl, the founder of Mention LLC, a consulting agency that specializes in engagement design and game mechanics. It explains that users will stay engaged in something engaging (duh) until an external force affects it. This external force can come in any form, such as your nagging mom.

In a talk where Nils talks about Newtonian Engagement, he also refers to the term ‘reevaluation point’: a point where you receive information that changes your perception and future actions. Some information can cause us to reevaluate something well, and keep us engaged. The notification of a new item dropped by a monster we just defeated is one such example. Other types of information, however, might cause us to stop whatever we’re doing.

Imagine you have been playing Starcraft II for several hours, and suddenly a pop-up notifies you that you have just played for 10 hours! Do you think that piece of information would influence your next action the same way another notification like “you’ve received a new item” would?

Now, consider Amazon’s ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’ section:

'Customers also bought this' - Amazon suggestions
One of the most devious inventions yet.

When a user is looking at an item they’re interested in, and they see this at the bottom of the page, it is very likely that they will click on any of the suggested items, due to their relevance to that user’s interests. I have, on occasions when searching for a particular style of clothing, spent an hour or so just clicking on similar-looking items!

It is important to maintain your customers’ attention and engagement, and here are a couple of suggestion you can apply:

  • Keep everything within a single tab, and minimize waiting time. When users are redirected to a separate tab or window, those few seconds of loading time could allow them to check their watch, or their phones. Your website’s hold on their attention might be affected. Minimize loading time so that users will remain attentive to your site.
  • If you have an online catalogue, try to list all of your product thumbnails in a single page. All your customer has to do is keep scrolling and scrolling. That can be very engaging. I know, because I’ve been there too. Separating your items into different pages gives them a mental break while loading the next page, and you don’t want to do that.

As you can see, a lot of insight into human psychology goes into creating free games that are designed to make you go “shut up and take my money”, and so should your business!

So remember to:

  • Provide rewards that are relevant to your customers’ wants, and they will perceive that as more valuable, and like you more.
  • Keep your users engaged through effective reevaluation points, such as suggestions for similar items, keeping everything in one window, or listing all your productions in one page.

Now go out there and engage your customers!

On a side note, Nils Pihl gave an incredible talk at the Game Developers Conference China 2013, where he shared a lot of insights into the psychology of freemium games and understanding human behavior. Be sure to check it out!

Also, check out Mention LLC for more good stuff on behavioral engagement and game mechanics!

Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

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