The time is just before noon on a typical Saturday and my stomach is growling. Thankfully, I do not need to choose between eating out and buying groceries, for I can simply go to my local Costco instead. You see, Costco employs a particularly effective advertising strategy: they offer free samples of various foods and drinks and seduce customers into buying these products. I have also fallen victim to this form of advertising after eating an especially delicious sample. Personally, I feel that there can be no better way to advertise than to allow the customer to try out the product!
Why do I bring up my Costco shopping trips? Well, this is exactly the type of advertising that Jagex is now using to promote membership to incoming free players. As described in the March 2013 Behind the Scenes, the "free trial membership" system will end and a new system will replace it. Before we get to that, however, let us briefly delve into the history of how Jagex has advertised membership before.
In the very beginning, membership was not advertised as much as it is now. The infamous Gnomecopters Tours allowed free players to essentially tour the members-only world, but they were limited to sightseeing only. Eventually, Jagex changed their policies regarding such blatant advertising and removed Gnomecopters from the game, pledging not to repeat that sort of incident ever again. Instead, they decided to advertise even more directly, with the type of in-your-face advertising that everyone loves to detest. Honestly, was Gnomecopters really was bad as some of the new advertising policies?
Everyone here knows about the annoying pop-up ad for the Squeal of Fortune, yet it does more than encourage people to buy spins. Built into the Squeal of Fortune is a series of incentives encouraging free players to become members for greater and more tantalizing rewards. Whenever an expensive members-only prize is won, the free player may only choose to buy membership or discard the rare prize. Very common prizes, such as the Medium XP lamps, are won frequently enough to serve as constant reminders of the benefits of membership. Finally, members receive more daily spins and more promotional offers.
Additionally, new advertising schemes such as Sizzling Summer and Mad May, as well as Gold Membership, are so blatant that people simply shake their heads. While events such as Mad May are not so bad by themselves, they appear as no more than mere "money-grubbing" from "corporate Jagex" whose employees have certainly "sold their souls for profit" ever since ownership started changing hands. At a certain point, one has to wonder if the profits generated by such schemes outweigh the damage to the company's reputation.
"Free trial membership" was also a horror in many ways. The concept was simple: new players were introduced early to the concept of membership, and they received a 2-week free trial. However, this left out many long-standing free players and created a vast influx of new member accounts. Many of these accounts were used for botting, all of these accounts artificially inflated membership numbers on the Hiscores Tables. Also flawed was the idea that membership should be introduced early when the free world is perfectly sufficient for early levels. A more sensible advertising campaign might target free players who recently hit level 50 Attack, encouraging them to purchase membership since they have reached the end of free player content.
Now, the latest promotion is to allow free players to reach level 5 in members-only skills. This expands content for existing free players and new free players and allows players to explore the content at their convenience. Restricting skills to level 5 gives free players a tantalizing taste, yet keeps the bulk of the 99 levels in reserve as a powerful incentive. Of course, the effects of this change are still untested—for example, free players have always had Strength potions. What will happen when they attain access to Attack potions as well? Will the servers crash when every free player builds a house? Will we see immense lag as free players run around with Spirit wolves?
Still, I have faith. This time, free players do not need to "sightsee" the Attack potions, they do not need to be told over and over again to buy membership to receive an Attack potion, and they do not have a 2-week window in which they can make Attack potions before they return to their dull free player existence. This time, they can actually make the Attack potion and see if they will enjoy the full benefits of Membership. I believe that now, after many failed iterations, Jagex has finally done advertising right.