Bandwagons Are Fun

Blizzard loses nearly 2 million subscribers:

Blizzard recently held its quarterly investor conference call, and something of a bombshell was dropped with the news that World of Warcraft has lost 800,000 subscribers in the last quarter. Coupled with previous losses, this makes 1.7 million players lost in the last year.

Holy crap.

Previously, I’d scoffed at the subscriber losses, but nearly two million in just one year is nothing to sneeze at.

Now, let’s try to keep all this in perspective. I’m not one of those doomsayers claiming WoW is dying. WoW is dying in the same sense I am — my body is undergoing an aging process that will result in my death in about fifty to sixty years. WoW still has about two to three times more subscribers than the next biggest MMOs on the market, and Blizzard is still raking in profits that make us regular folks weep bitter tears of jealousy.

But I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue that such a big subscriber loss in such a short amount of time isn’t a cause for some concern.

Myself, I suspect Mists of Pandaria will serve to halt the bleeding and perhaps even reclaim some subscribers, but who can say for certain?

The real question I have about this is, why did so many people leave? The economy is often given as a reason, and this sounds logical, but most of the subscriptions lost were in China. I’m no expert on world economics, but I don’t believe they’ve been hit with the recession the way we have.

Of course, this has added further fuel to the fires of division in the fan base, with the hardcores claiming Blizzard killed the game by making it too easy, and the casuals claiming Blizzard killed the game by making it too hard.

At the risk of making a stereotype of myself, I’m inclined to believe the latter. Wrath of the Lich King is universally believed to have been the easiest period in WoW’s history, and it’s also when subscriptions peaked. I don’t think this is a coincidence. It’s also worth noting that the developers have pretty much come right out and said they made Cataclysm too hard and intend to go back to the Wrath model with Mists of Pandaria.

But that said, I find it hard to believe (no pun intended) the difficulty alone could make for such a mass exodus. While Cataclysm heroics were brutal at release, they’re now not much harder than they were in Wrath — or at least to me they aren’t. I could definitely see the difficulty causing the earlier losses, but the recent ones? Maybe I just wear the blinders of a fanboy.

I do think making an expansion where the end game largely boiled down to “raid or suck it” that also put very little effort into ensuring the masses could raid was a bad idea and may have contributed to the exodus.

In the end, it’s probably a combination of things. I very much doubt all of those 1.7 million quit for the same reason.

I’d be curious to hear what others think about this. Is the loss of two million players a minor hiccup, or the beginning of the end? What do you think turned them off?

On the bright side:

That phrase simultaneously makes me think of the Life of Brian and a Metric song.

Ahem, anyway, the good news for WoW fans is that it seems that 4.3’s launch is imminent. All evidence points to it being released either this Tuesday or the Tuesday after. Of course, it’s Blizzard, so you never know for sure until you’re playing it, but all the factors seem to be lining up: the end of the last PvP season approaching, the PTR build being marked “release,” preliminary patch data already being released for background downloading. There’s even a PC Gamer article categorically stating it will be next Tuesday, though since that’s not a direct quote from Blizzard, I’d take that with a grain of salt.

I, for one, certainly hope it’s soon. Much as I enjoyed the Zandalari dungeons and the Molten Front (no sarcasm — I really did like them), I’ve gotten pretty sick of them, and I’m eager for new content. Also, I wants mah sparkul poneh from the annual pass. My warlock just hit 60, and I can’t bear the thought of riding those hideous wyverns anymore.

Edit: Blizzard has now stated the patch will not release any sooner than November 29th. /cry

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4 thoughts on “Bandwagons Are Fun

  1. I believe in China their subscriptions work a little differently. I’ve heard that they are limited to a certain number of hours or bandwidth usage per day and possibly have to pay per time played, not monthly like we do. Of course, I don’t recall exactly where I saw this so it might be a load of tripe. But if it’s true, I remember the early days of AOL’s pay-per-minute and the initial excitement of being on the INTERNET!!!11!! wore off when the bills started showing.

  2. Call me a cynic, but I’d bet more than a few lost subs other than from China were because of the social state (or lack thereof) of the players themselves – not because game mechanics were too hard or too easy – but because the players rallying both ends of the argument fail at the “social” part of an MMO. Some people will just never learn how to play 🙂

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