Earlier this week, Blizzard announced the Guild Mentoring Program. One guild will be chosen on each of a few servers that will have the opportunity to serve as a mentoring guild. The selected guilds will recruit low-level members with the intent of teaching people about guild membership. Ostensibly this will foster social interaction and ultimately increase end-game raid participation, especially in light of the pending player influx anticipated with the release of Mists of Pandaria.
Although Cataclysm revamped the 1-60 leveling experience, the old-world changes sparked interest among retired players as well as new, and caused the player base to swell to the staggering size of 12 million subscribers before dropping back to (a still staggering) 10 million. At least a million of those accounts participated in the annual pass and committed to a year-long subscription. Those passes will start to expire in October. By that point, Mists of Pandaria should be released, preventing a significant subscription decline due to annual pass attrition.
Leveling to 90 will keep people entertained at first, but the problem of late has been boredom setting in at max level. To that end, Blizzard has been working to revamp end-game content in Mists of Pandaria. They are introducing pet battles and farming, removing the daily quest cap, and further developing the raid finder to ensure that more activities are available at level 90 than have existed at prior level caps.
However, there is one feature that can make a game incredibly sticky that cannot be implemented as a simple matter of gameplay: friendship. Blizzard is trying to ensure that new players who join and begin leveling a character in Mists will find it easy to find a social group that they can bond with. Not only will they learn to play and get aid while leveling, but these bonds will continue to the level cap, and these friendships will survive through dungeons and raids, giving these new people the opportunity to experience as much of the end game content as possible.
Previously, people found guilds using in game chat, forums, or even more recently, the Guild Finder. However, all of those methods are passive. The Mentoring Guild will now have people actively seeking recruitment with Blizzard’s official endorsement. Whereas before a new player had to seek out a guild to join, these guilds will be “identifying new players within selected realms, [and] offering to invite them into the guild.” Blizzard cannot chance anyone forsaking guild membership because of shyness or ignorance; the risk of losing subscribers is too great.
Blizzard has lost two million accounts in the last year. That’s more than most MMO’s have in total. Moves like the Guild Mentoring Program are meant to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Maybe another annual pass tied to the first Diablo expansion is supposed to be what will staunch the bleeding. But while annual passes are just band-aids to cover up the wound, guild mentoring is the development of a tougher skin that will prevent injury altogether. Whether the fan base accepts or reject it, the Guild Mentoring Program shows that Blizzard is extremely concerned about player retention, and doing everything they can think of to improve it.
Blizzard’s gonna be at Comic-Con this weekend! Get in line now to complain that Mists will be too easy!!! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/6693940/Blizzard_Entertainment_Storms_San_Diego_For_Comic-Con_2012-7_11_2012