Word of mouth is nice, but bribing your customers to bring their friends is a stronger way to improve your network effects. Your customers like it too — free stuff for them and it can make it easier to get more of their friends into the new game. Of course, nothing is truly free, and it must be paid for somewhere, but the customer sees no incremental cost, and on the developer side, you can get people recruiting by offering surprisingly little. Just look at all those games on Facebook that offer you 50 imaginary bananas for inviting your friends to help you farm! Friends recruited me to two games over the holidays, so I am pondering their referral benefits. Both are free to play with paid components. When do you offer people stuff and what do you offer them?
Blatant shilling, my referral link: League of Legends. League of Legends counts referrals at level 5, no money paid. Level 5 is basically free in your first night or two of play; the XP curve is reduced so that it costs more to get from 5 to 6 than from 1 to 5, so if you are not level 5, you have not really tried the game. (Of course, if you have played DotA, you have already played League of Legends (I think LoL is too cleaned-up to ever go back to DotA, which is another post), so you may have tried it that way.) It is a minimal hurdle to keep people from mass-referring themselves for benefits. What do they offer referrers? You get a boost to earning in-game currency, the value of which I estimate around $1 (lots of fuzziness there), and then tiered benefits for inviting more friends. My friends seemed rather impressed by them, but personally I found them most decorative except for the 10-referral free champion ($5-$10 value?). At 100, you get the box that costs $20 in stores; at 200, you get $76 of their real money currency; and everything else is decorative titles and skins until you get to 4 digits. You can look, the rewards in 4+ digits are very fancy, and I promise to ask for “Zubon’s Trousers” if I somehow get to 1,000, but I imagine few people will claim those unless popular website operators link their many readers … which would be really great advertising for the game, if someone with a million-reader site got 1% of his/her readers to try it. So my friends have become motivated to recruit based on a free champion and a $1 (in-game currency) referral fee. Pretty efficient on the developer side, and the players seem happy with it.
Global Agenda (think Borderlands with better match-making, less silly, and less run-down; again, another post) counts referrals once your friend spends money (Guild Wars model, no subscription fee). They have the wisdom to make referrals in-game achievements, so if you want to check off those boxes, recruit your friends. They are less aspirational, offering benefits up to 50 recruits, with special hats for the first 5 then pets at 20 and 50. Again, my friends tell me the pets are nice, but what do I know as a newb? If there is a referral link, I do not know how to find it, but Global Agenda instead gives coupon codes for friends (half -off the box cost). (Shilling: if you want one of my 10, GACOU438265797100 through …104 and GACOU438265776370 through …374.) Do you get new ones, with only 10 codes to create a false sense of scarcity? Global Agenda offers more to people being referred (real cash discount versus nothing) but less to people making referrals (fewer and smaller benefits), and the referral system is less intuitive (“sign up and enter this code while buying” versus “click this link”). I do not think it is working as well for them; with two friends encouraging me to join them for occasional play, neither bothered to send a code.
At the moment, I do not have many thoughts beyond which seems more productive (give to referrers, not to the referred). You already know many other plans, from WoW’s zebras and triple-XP to the CoX free half-month per referral (for both, a large benefit I see less chatter about). Consider these data points for future ponderings. Impressions of the games forthcoming, and if you want to find me in either, I am Zubon as usual.