Age of Conan recently made headlines with a change that offers players free levels simply for having an active subscription. Not to be outdone, Blizzard handed me four major gear upgrades, just for signing back into the game.
Technically, the upgrades in question were more of a correct bet on the pace of gear inflation than a literal handout. Due to my Wintergrasp habit, I wrapped up the patch 3.2 era with 90 marks and 67K honor. Rather than spend them on items that offered minor upgrades, I opted to save them for the following arena season. Now I have cashed in these currencies for the ilvl 264 PVP bracers, ilvl 251 shoulders, and ilvl 245 neck and cloak - I had ilvl 200 or 213 items in these slots previously, so even the PVE->PVP swaps were major upgrades. The hardest part of this transaction was waiting for the apparently dispirited Hyjal Alliance to capture Wintergrasp for access to the vendor.
The irony is that I was actually willing to run a few dungeons for some gear. Prior to my shopping spree, there were a relatively large number of items in the ICC 5-mans that represented substantial upgrades. Also, the gear threshold on Heroic Halls of Reflection appears to have been increased since I beat it twice in random pugs on the week it came out - my gear was suddenly no longer good enough to guarantee an easy clear of the place until I cashed in those upgrades, and I otherwise might have had to grind out some upgrades to regain access to the game's toughest 5-man.
Strangely, the previews for Cataclysm say that Blizzard is keeping this old system, in which players will be allowed to bank currencies that will be usable to purchase better items in subsequent "seasons". Moreover, the system is expanding from PVP (where it makes some sense - your opponents may be wearing the good stuff) to PVE content. The Wrath era has seen several rounds of emblem quality inflation for the same 5-man dungeons (which have gotten comparatively easier as players become more and more overgeared), but those changes have never been retroactive to currency earned in the PREVIOUS season in the way that PVP honor points are.
At the end of the day, I suppose the moral of the story is that players should do whatever they enjoy most and rest increasingly assured that Blizzard will somehow manage to award them with raid quality loot for doing it. Perhaps banking currency for the future is even necessary as a way to encourage players not to call it quits as the end of a season approaches if they don't have anything left to purchase. Even so, it just seems odd that, in this timesink heavy genre, the trend would move towards allowing players to skip a timesink by banking currencies for future tiers.