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Get Diablo III for free…by renewing your WarCraft vows

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Diablo III (Blizzard)

Haven't visited Azeroth in a while? It might be time for an online vacation.

At the company's annual Blizzcon event in Anaheim, CA, ace game developer Blizzard announced that anyone who signs up for an annual subscription to World of WarCraft will score one heckuva treasure: the full digital version of their next game, eagerly anticipated action-role-playing sequel Diablo III.

Like, for free.

The catch? The deal is only open to those who already have a registered WarCraft account created on or before October 18, 2011. It's not valid for new subscribers. You snooze, you lose!

But if you're one of the 11 million or so with an account and you sign up for that year of WoW, you'll also automatically gain access to the beta test of the game's next expansion, the newly announced World of WarCraft: Mists of Panderia.

Though no release date has been set yet, Panderia will introduce a new continent filled with a warring race called the Pandarens, who look like the casting call for Kung-Fu Panda (the creatures were first introduced as an April Fool's joke in the 2002 real-time-strategy game WarCraft III, in fact.)

It's a pretty shrewd move by Blizzard, who have watched WarCraft subscription numbers steadily decline over the past year or so, a result of competing free-to-play alternatives and waning interest in the seven year-old role-playing giant. It gets a big boost with each new expansion, however; last year's Cataclysm expansion sold over 3 million copies in its first 24 hours of availability, a PC game record.

Giving away a game of Diablo III's stature is pretty amazing stuff, though Blizzard has yet to announce pricing for the year-long commitment. Currently, one month of WoW runs $15. Stretch that to a year and you're looking at $180.  Not exactly a great deal for two video games -- unless you're one of the millions of WoW faithful who have been happily raiding dungeons at that price all along.

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