The WoW Paywall: What Newspapers Can Learn From Orcs And Dwarves

Newspapers haven’t yet found the secret sauce of getting consumers to pay online, but games publishers certainly have. While Rupert Murdoch delays his grand paywall scheme and local papers start to tentatively get in on the act, Activision-Blizzard’s World of Warcraft celebrates its fifth birthday this week: its 12 million players pay £8.99/$15 per month (equivalent to £1.29 billion/$2.16 billion a year).

What makes pretending to be an elf more profitable than publishing news and information online? Maybe newspapers could learn a few things from the world of games as they try to monetise digital behaviour…

People will pay for interaction: There are some good massively multiplayer and single-player online games out there available to play for free, plus the average gamer has already paid for a bunch of PC and console games. So what makes them cough up for WoW as well? Interaction: Acti-Blizz is selling content, yes, but more importantly it’s offering access to a community of gamers who meet, talk and play together in WoW’s virtual setting of Azeroth (yes, I am a recovered former player).

News as gaming: Could newspapers similarly harness the human need for interaction and stimulation and sell not just boring text news but access to a shared experience? Sure, there’s MySun, MyTelegraph and “tell us what you think in the comments below”, but that’s a marketing ploy to drive page impressions and encourage more content consumption. The lesson from gaming is that people won’t pay for content they can’t help shape themselves — or project their own personal narrative onto.

Reader rewards: The addictive quality of WoW comes from “leveling”, the process whereby players earn points and progress a series of ranks to gain new skills. News sites should consider whether they can drive usage, loyalty and payments by similarly encouraging readers to unlock different “levels” of membership, each with its own unique rewards.

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