The Failure of the Free Weekend

If you have ever played an MMO, you know what I’m talking about when I say “Free Weekend”.  If not, here’s the run down.  You subscribe to an MMO, you play a while, then you cancel.  Every now and then (about once a quarter) the company will blast an email out to all the inactive accounts and tell them about a “Free Weekend” – a Friday afternoon to Monday morning period – where their account will be reactivated for free!  You can just log in and play like you used to!  This email will also probably include a list of the latest features/changes of the game, and often will coincide with some sort of event for the non-canceled players, like double experience or the beginning of a week/month long holiday event.

One of the things I said in a post last week was about Free Weekends being on your schedule not mine.  This is true, and is the biggest flaw, in my opinion, to the Free Weekend promotion.

There are, in my experience, three kinds of people who cancel a game subscription for an MMO:

  1. Switched to another game. This player may have been playing your game and enjoying it, but something new came along and off they went.
  2. Bored with your game. Not the same as the person above, this individual isn’t going anywhere in particular, they just ran out of things to do in your game and are taking a break.  They usually only cancel after not logging in a couple of months, but eventually they do.
  3. Not enough time to play. This is me.  I’ve got other activities and things like console games and I just don’t have enough time to make paying for the game worth it, or my time is so erratic and there are enough gaps where I’m “wasting money” that I give up the occasional romp in order to keep the money.

The first two types are often best lured back in by patches and expansions that either add more content or fix issues that lead them to quit.  In fact, the guys at WoW can probably give you hard numbers on how many reactivations they get before/after patches and expansions.  Even so, the Free Weekend can work on them as well.  These players still have the time to play, so the weekend offer is there to convince them to give the game they left behind another try, and maybe sign back up for that subscription.

For me, however, I left because my playtime is erratic and scattered.  Nine times out of ten, I get a Free Weekend offer for a game I used to play and then find I don’t have time to take advantage of it.  Monday comes and I say, “Oh man, I missed another Free Weekend!”  For the third player type, rather than just unlocking their account for a set weekend, companies should consider giving out a Free Weekend Key that the player can redeem any time.  Of course, the key needs to be locked in to the specific account to prevent creating a secondary market for selling keys, but this way I could unlock my account for the free couple of days when it works best for me.  No more smacking my head about another missed Free Weekend.  Instead, when I find myself with nothing to do on a random Saturday, I can open the email and select a Free Weekend Key and go play because I have the time to play.

This doesn’t entirely solve the problem, since I would still be unlikely to resubscribe unless my schedule changes, but it would allow me to occasionally dip my toe back in the game and keep it fresh in my mind for when my schedule does change or my budget frees up some extra cash.  But as it stands now, once I cancel and because I miss every Free Weekend, I’m more likely to buy a new game when the time comes than return to an old one I haven’t touched in ages.

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