On November 13th 2008, if you were at a Gamestop, Best Buy, or any other video game retailer at midnight, you were picking up one game- World of Warcraft. Within 24 hours WOW had sold 2.8 million copies, shattering PC sale records. The expansion Wrath of The Lich King became the fastest selling PC game of all time. This out did the first expansion released for the game, called The Burning Crusade, which sold 2.4 million. This expansion helped start the peak of subscriptions for World of Warcraft. WOW peaked twice, after the release of Wrath (hitting an unthinkable 12 million subscribers) and at the launch date for Cataclysm, the 3rd expansion to the game, selling 3.3 million copies on day 1. Since then another expansion, Mists of Pandaria, released- marking the beginning of a steady decline of subscribers from the game.
With the title's 10th anniversary approaching; news broke that Activision Blizzard’s behemoth of a game, has fallen below 7.7 million players. This unfortunately translates to a loss of 600,000 subscriptions across 3 months, when Blizzard announced they had 8.3 million people subscribed. There have been posts all around the forums, other news sources and on several podcasts asking- is World of Warcraft a dying star? In my opinion...No.
With all of the TV spots and advertising WOW had for the newest expansion Mists of Pandaria, the game looked to have become a complete joke to a lot of people. Everywhere you looked there was an outcry from fans, ex-fans and people who were never really interested in the game. People related the expansion to “Kung Fu Panda”, complaining about how childish it was to play as pandas. The negative media attention it received slowly started a loss of interest. The amount of detailed lore in the game came close to the spectacular story of Wrath, but the sale numbers came up extremely short of expectations. Although, now it has sold exceptionally well, the original numbers showed nothing but disappointment.
Many people have complained since MoP’s release, that the game had some very different changes that not many people are fans of. Easier leveling from level 1-80, buying mounts, pets and now cosmetic helmets from the Blizzard online store, and now the soon to be released In-game store. The In-game store is much like the free to play models of being able to enhance your experience by spending more money than is required. It ranges anywhere from being able to buy small upgrades like potions to full on XP boosts. This quite possibly could be WoWs answer to recent MOBAs like League of Legends, and Smite. These games let you play for free, but require you to buy characters you want to play, and skins to make them look more pleasing to the eye.
The latests headlines of “WoW down X amount of subscribers!” is an unfortunate thing to read. Throughout the life of the game, players have always unsubscribed and subscribed back at certain points. Towards the last half of any expansion since Burning Crusade, players leave the game for a few months, waiting for new content to come. To put it in perspective, Gamers all over the world played the new Bioshock game for weeks.The game got boring playing the same levels and mobs over and over, so players looked to other games to keep them entertained. This is the magic of DLC, where when new levels, story arcs, and new enemies come into play, it makes the game fun again. World of Warcraft captures majority of their hardcore gamers in raids. Massive groups of 25-40 people taking down one extremely hard boss. Once they take down a boss 5-10 times, it gets boring and repetitive every other time afterwards. Players will then just wait it out until new content comes, others will unsubscribe and play new games while they wait. Right now while we are in between expansions, its always expected for numbers to be low. If Blizzard can hit the nail on the head with the next expansion, bringing in new content that everyone wants to try out, they have the chance to peek again.
Personally, I have been a nonstop subscriber to the game for the last 8 years. I have taken hiatuses from the game, all for different reasons. I was bored with content, my friends stopped playing, and I’ve even watched my guild fall apart. The connection people have with this game can be very strong. I feel extremely guilty when I don’t play for a few months, knowing I have money going to Blizzard to keep my account active. Unfortunately, unlike me, millions of players will stop paying if they are not playing for a few months.
There have been 5 major releases dubbed “The WoW Killer”,which were MMO’s that looked very promising, and threatening to Blizzards player base: Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Aion, Guild Wars 2, and Age of Conan. All were very fun games that many people tried and loved, but they did not hold water to WoW. The things people did not like about those games were because WoW had done it better. This is not just my opinion, but mostly the opinions of communities from major MMO themed websites. Blizzard has years of service under their belt, and know exactly how to make the game stronger than ever.WoW know’s how to compete with competitors, and always has something new to draw players back. Although many players may have left to join the Free to Play hit League of Legends during this expansion, this doesn’t count as an MMORPG, therefore I do not consider it a “WoW Killer”. Highly popular and successful without a shadow of a doubt, but a different game than World of Warcraft.
So, should Blizzard be worried about the loss of subscriptions? My personal answer is not really. There is no doubt that WoW has been on a steady decline of players since Cataclysm, but with an interesting new expansion, and a steady new stream of interesting content, Blizzard can grab ahold of players new and old. With a strong 5th installment in a game series everyone loves, you will be seeing an increase in subscriptions all over again.
Now, Is it likely for WoW to surpass 12 million players again? Maybe not, but they will score 9 to 11 million again, it just will take time. Now if it pulled the Guild Wars idea, and came out with World of Warcraft 2, or something along the lines of that, Blizzard will definitely see an impressive 12 million plus subscriptions again. But in the meantime, if you are a fan of the game, continue to support it. If you want to try it, it’s free until level 20. Find a guild that will help guide new players and support you on your long journey.
If you want someone to help you get back into the game, @Desquatro will help you out.