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The data for World of Warcraft's Patch 6.1 mentions a mysterious feature called "Veteran Edition." This weekend Blizzard finally clarified what exactly that's supposed to be.
I had been hoping the Veteran Edition was an expanded free trial for former subscribers. However, that's not the case. It's merely a way for players who no longer subscribe to have access to the normal free trial.
"We’ve always had this kind of weird limitation where if you’ve never played WoW we let you play as much as you want, albeit in a very restricted Starter Edition account," Blizzard said on the Battle.net forums. "However, if you have ever had a subscription--but don’t currently have one--we don’t even let you log in. In 6.1 we’ll effectively revert lapsed accounts into a Starter Edition “mode”, with all of the same restrictions."
There is one crucial difference between the Starter Edition and this "Veteran Edition," though. Veterans will be able to join a guild that their other characters currently belong to. This makes it easy for returning players to catch up with their old guildmates. Considering how social of a game it is, that's a smart move. More than a few WoW players have been coaxed back into the game by their old friends.
I'm disappointing that this Veteran trial doesn't include, for example, a higher level cap. The max level in WoW is now 100 so even letting players advance up to 60 isn't really that big of a deal. Players have been able to level to 60 in WoW for a decade. I imagine most former players have gotten at least one character to that point already. The base WoW package includes every expansion except Warlords of Draenor so players can advance up to level 90. Blizzard's not giving up all that much by allowing level 60 free trials.
Still, even a trial limited to level 20 could be effective in drawing back players. If a former player downloads the game, sees all their old characters in their startup menu, and catches up with some old guildmates, there's a good chance they'll consider resubscribing. At that point, they're just a few button clicks away from buying another month of game time.
Because the "Veteran Edition" isn't all that different from the actual "Starter Edition," they're probably not going to actually use that new name for it. "Veteran Edition" is just a term Blizzard uses internally.
"It’s unlikely to be a term we use to any great degree externally. It will simply be the default state for accounts that don’t currently have an active subscription."
This free trial for ex-WoW players fits Blizzard's larger strategy for growing the game's player base. Their plan is to make the game more accessible to new and former players instead of removing the subscription requirement.
“I think that changing it into a free-to-play game is not necessarily very trivial considering the types of things we’d have to change," Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime said last year. "I think the focus should be on accessibility, providing a free onramp to the game. But if you really want to play WoW for any length of time, I think we’ll stick with subscriptions.”
One other example of this strategy is the level 90 character boost. Players who buy the Warlords of Draenor expansion can instantly raise one character to level 90 for no additional charge. Blizzard also sells these boosts individually for $60.