Blog Post

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.

10 Responses to “The WoW Paywall: What Newspapers Can Learn From Orcs And Dwarves”

  1. Robert,

    I have to concur significant benefits are yield from such a scenario. It is my prediction that eReaders have to go to near-zero or given away for free. The New York Times already created a software standalone eReader recently, correct?

    That this is what Apple has done with the iPhone/iPod and Amazon has done with their Kindle device. Even further, this is what the American telcos done with SMS.

    These tech firms were able to lock digital content to a device in the same manner newspaper content was locked to ink and pulp.

    Let's not forget that World of Warcraft has locked their content into a gaming experience which gives them the ability to charge for content.

  2. Robert Andrews

    "Once the digital devices for reading news are broadly and cheaply available and the experience matches up to paper then ‘paywalls’ for digital media wont be a problem."

    I don't concur with the belief that locking content down to tangible form – like wot it used to be on good 'ol dead trees – will yield any significant benefits.

    It smacks of paper people wanting, once again, to have content that only exists if it's wedded to physicality, mobility.

    That bird has flown. By divorcing their content from their media 15 years ago in search of reach, newspapers have condemned themselves to ubiquity.

  3. i think the parallel drawn and conclusions are false. Many newsites went down the route of web 2.0 because they thought interaction was the key to drive engagement. It's not – consumers outweigh contributors about 10-1.

    The more interesting question is why will a consumer pay 50p for a daily paper and not 50p for a daily website. Well, for a start, won't they? Most newsites don't know because they've never tried. However it is still unlikely.

    The reason why 'paywalls' (silly term, let's just call it 'charging') works for physical news is that it's not just selling content but the experience that comes when that content is consumed. Generally media experiences are an escape from reality – e.g. a cafe you are alone in, a long train journey home, your lonely, empty flat. Media experience is the antidote to boredom.

    Physical media experiences are generally consumed somewhere where no digital substitute exists: dad used to come home and read the paper sitting in his chair, but it's not that way anymore. Once the digital devices for reading news are broadly and cheaply available and the experience matches up to paper (a really good media technology) then 'paywalls' for digital media wont be a problem.

    And Warcraft can charge as it offers a gaming experience better than its competitors, plus the community. but the gameworld comes first.

  4. Simon Carless

    Your numbers are off on the revenue from World Of Warcraft, Patrick – although people do indeed pay $15 per month in the West, a lot of the game's consumers in Asia pay significantly less – in some cases using hourly plans. So you can't just multiple number of players by $15. (Nonetheless, I think the game does around $1 billion per year – nothing to be sneezed at!)