World of Warcraft haemorrhaging yet another 100,000 subscribers is just deserts for Blizzard—a company that seems intent on alienating their long terms subscribers and fobbing off the current worries and concerns of their player base with the, ever insulting, “MoP will Fix it”. In fact, they deserved to lose even more subscribers. It was only the holiday period and the genius marketing move that is the Annual Pass that saved their skin from yet another, much greater, humiliating loss. Their complete disregard for PvP throughout the expansion has been utterly appealing and their act of distancing themselves from the current mechanics of Cataclysm is doing very little to inspire their player base.
Blizzard deserves to lose and, yet, no other company has managed to do a better job of the MMO genre, certainly with WoW styled rated PvP. The consequence of SWTOR wasn’t really represented in the loss, but, and let’s be frank, that game is hardly any sort of revolution. How does a company that spits in the face of its customers time and time again still reign supreme? They certainly don’t deserve to, but who’s going to step up and do a better job? We’ll soon see whether Guild Wars 2 will have what it takes.
Today we’ll be taking a look at these issues and why, despite still been supreme, Blizzard shouldn’t be smirking. The future might not look devastating for WoW overall, but it still looks bleak for Blizzard. It should be a wakeup call for them to finally pull their finger out.
Let’s take a look at the subscriber figures over the history of World of Warcraft. Firstly this will highlight WoW hasn’t struggled in the past as some seem to think and, secondly, that WoW is currently in decline in spite of claims that subscribers are stabilizing.
By the end of Vanilla, WoW had reached 8 million subscribers. This grew to 10.9 million in TBC and, eventually, surpassed 11 million before the impending release of Wrath of the Lich King. In December 2008, a month after the release of Wrath, WoW had reached 11.5 million subscribers. It eventually peaked in October 2010, attaining 12 million subscribers. This, as shall be discussed further in a moment, was in spite of a yearlong content drought. The game was still growing and the eagerness of the player base to get their hands on the forth coming expansion, Cataclysm, must have certainly played a role in the peak.
Cataclysm certainly opened well, surpassing Wrath of the Lich King in becoming the fastest selling PC game of all time, selling more than 3.3 million in its first 24 hours and selling more than 4.7 million copies in its first month alone. Yet, despite starting with the largest amount of subscribers ever, Cataclysm didn’t continue this trend of growth. As theActivision Blizzard conference calls have continued to show, WoW is in decline. In Q1 it lost 600,000 subscribers, 300,000 in Q2, 800,000 in Q3 and a further 100,000 in Q4. This has brought Blizzards active subscriber numbers from 12 million at the end of Wrath to 10.2 million today. They’ve lost 15% or 1.8 million subscribers, £16,182,000 or $26,982,000 a month as well as sales of their “Value Added Services” from those subscribers. It isn’t pretty however you look at it.
There are claims that Wrath of the Lich King also lost subscribers, but such claims show a massive misunderstanding of what actually occurred in Wrath. Blizzard was in the process of moving WoW to a new operator in China. Due to this move and the game been foreign, it had to be put through a strict approval process (read censorship) by the Chinese government before it could commercially operate. It was nothing to do with losing subscribers because of disappointment with the game. Indeed, while struggling with this matter and taking a hit, WoW continued to grow in the west despite the economic downturn. In fact, just over midway through the yearlong 3.3 ICC content drought and with WoW back online in China, subscribers once again reached 11.5 million in August 2010.
Let me put that bluntly: 3.3 was released in December 2009 and, apart from a one boss raid (3 mini bosses plus Halion) in the form of the Ruby Sanctum, there had been no new content for 9 months. The WoW player base was in the midst of the longest arena season and tier content to date and yet, in spite of this, it was able to maintain 11.5 million subscribers and then peak at 12 million a month before Cataclysm. In its darkest day, WoW was still able to grow. A tired player base ready and eager for new content, Cataclysm certainly couldn’t have hoped for better prospects.
Yet, those looking through rose tinted glasses even seem to believe the loss of a “mere” 100,000 subscribers is somehow a positive note for Blizzard. It’s positive in about the same way pissing yourself in public is a step above shitting yourself. It’s hardly anything to brag about. It’s an improvement from losing 800,000 subscribers in Q3; let’s give them that at least.
Of course the reasons for the fewer losses in Q4 are worth discussing. Indeed, some are even thanking the more casual friendly approach in 4.3. Yet, as the stats show above, this doesn’t appear to be true. If catering to casuals is the formula to success, an advocate of such an argument should really wonder why WoW boomed from the start of TBC (8 million subscribers) to the end of TBC (11 million subscribers). This was surely when the game was at its most elitist and very much casually unfriendly. Wrath was certainly more casual friendly, but by today’s standards, it would, quite frankly, come across as too elitist to some.
Yet if catering to casuals brought in subscribers, we’d have seen numbers drop during TBC and, perhaps, Wrath and numbers growing in 4.3. In fact, if content being too difficult was really the reason people left Cataclysm, why are they not returning now this casual era has dawned upon us? It appears they’re still just as dissatisfied or bored of the game as they were when they left. Speaking of been bored, WoW is an old game so we can’t rule out people just simply becoming bored of it after all this time, but it isn’t the sole reason subscription numbers are plummeting.
We can’t really know the true reason for the decline, but holding up a casual friendly approach as the savior of WoW is suspect and had the annual pass not been announced, WoW would undoubtedlybe in even more trouble. The announcement of a casual friendly expansion certainly hasn’t reignited peoples desire to play WoW again either.
In what has to be an act of pure genius, Blizzard announced the Annual Pass. This was, quite aptly I might add, announced before the underwhelming trailer for Mists of Pandaria was played—it must have been a WTF have I gotten myself into moment for many. In fact, the annual pass was an act of sheer marketing brilliance by Blizzard. Promising players MoP beta access, the retarded horse 2.0 and a free copy of Diablo 3 for contractually pledging to subscribe to WoW for a year, Blizzard caught over a million of their players hook, line and sinker. Yet, despite this move, as well as the announcement of MoP, the release of 4.3 (Hour of Twilight) and the holiday season, WoW still lost subscribers.
Yet, these measures certainly must have had some form of effect and, at least, worked as a form of damage control. However, while Wrath peaked at 12 million on the horizon of Cataclysm, MoP has so far failed to garner any such intake whatsoever. To be fair Wrath peaked at such levels a month before Cataclysm launched, so it might be too soon to judge the worth of MoP, but early indications certainly don’t look promising. Indeed, the lukewarm reception and polarizing effect MoP has had thus far can’t be giving Blizzard much hope.
Over the next year, the Annual Pass might keep a million subscribers secured in spite of whether those players are active or not, but it really is a band aid solution. Indeed, once the first round of passes have extinguished, Blizzard could potentially see the largest drop in subscribers to date. It’s a potential ticking time bomb. They’ll need to ensure MoP is a success and keeps those players hooked or, at least, brings in a batch of new players to replace them or they might drop below Vanilla levels. It is true that it’d still be the most subscribed to MMO in such an event, but that’s a huge drop in profits.
You’d think Blizzard would be pandering (Ah, like Panda. Get it? *Sigh*) to their audience and treating them in a respectable manner. Yet nearly every major concern has, in one way or another, been met with “MoP will fix it”. They’ve certainly addressed a few issues in the latest patch, but those fixes were minor and could have easily been added as hot fixes and, in fact, should have been in regard to the PvE trinkets and the Vengeance change. The development of the next expansion should not come at the expense of the current game.
Blizzards current view on Frost Mage Control is an example of this:
Currently, we think that Frost mages have too much control in PvP. This is just something that has grown over time because we always felt that these “chilling” and “freezing” effects should naturally slow you down. Part of the design that we are implementing with the Mists of Pandaria talent changes are to move some of that control Frost mages have to the talent tree. This means it will be possible for a Frost mage to choose these options, but they come at the expense of others, Arcane and Fire mages also have the opportunity to get those control choices as well!
This is pretty much to say that they think Frost has too much control, but aren’t going to bother addressing the issue until MoP because, well as we all surely know, the current state of the game (that their customers must endure) is secondary to the development of an expansion. To put it another way, the player experience is of minor consideration to the development of untested philosophical concepts that might fix nothing and which are irrelevant to the current state of the game since the entire dynamic of the game will have changed by then.
The worst incident of this though has been with Restoration Druids and their abysmal state in rated PvP. While it’s certainly easy to joke that the god status of Restoration Druids throughout Wrath and, especially, in season 8, saw many want to ram a bottle of herbicide down the throats of Restoration Druids everywhere and throw salt on their wounds for good measure, it certainly doesn’t make one unsympathetic to their current state and Blizzards rage inducing response to the matter.
The matter was brought up in the Class Design and Balance Q&A in November:
Q: There hasn’t been any questions answered about Resto Druids yet. Can you talk about our extremely weak state in PvP and the fact that we’re the only healer not only not seeing a buff but seeing a nerf in 4.3?
A: We will definitely be addressing some of the PvP weakness of Resto Druids in 5.0.
Let me state this again: This was answered in November, three months ago!
They effectively said, “Yep, we agree you suck and you’re going to suck for the rest of expansion. Don’t worry though, we’re on it and we’ll charge you another £29.99 for the privilege! Oh and don’t forgot to pay your £8.99 a month. Thanks, do recommend Blizzard to all your friends.”
Don’t worry though if Restoration Druids do happen to suck throughout the MoP beta, Blizzard will declare they’ll “be in good shape if not great” by the time the expansion launches and then, in actuality, fail to address any of the issues with them until the following February.
If there’s an issue now, fix it now.
It’s perfectly acceptable to leave massive changes such as the talent system or dispel mechanic until the next expansion. However, leaving issues that impact on the current player experience or those that Blizzard currently deems to be an issue is not acceptable. If they think Frost control is too strong, they should address it now, not in MoP where sweeping changes will have taken place, making any statements about balance at this current time totally irrelevant.
They need to work in the current constructs of the game. Its fine telling us how much better things will work under the new talent system and what a wondrous improvement it will be, but we aren’t operating under that construct and so changes need to be made within the current confines where necessary. It seems Blizzard has thrown in the towel on all the Cataclysm mechanics and that’s fine, but they have to fix issues with them until the new mechanics are in place. The coming “messiah” known as MoP isn’t an excuse to do nothing.
In fact, forget about “MoP will Fix It”, the entire expansion has done very little to inspire the PvP community. Indeed, Cataclysm is no more than a slide show of blunder after blunder.
Here take a look at this, now amended, list:
From the abysmal state of “good shape if not great” Discipline Priests, MMR abuse, win trading, allowing PvE gear (Legendary…) in PvP, the honour gear fiasco, the poor balance, flavour of the month classes, **takes a breath **, bugs left for patches on end, the return of Ring of Valor, forcing arena players to do RBGs, overpowered as fuck guards in the world PvP zone, the removal of skirmishes for no adequate reason, **takes another breath**, the shambles that was the WoW Regional Tournaments, the enormous cost of PvP weapons for PvE reasons, the removal of arena armoury features (match history…), **takes yet another breath**, changing the rating system two weeks in to season 10 without resetting MMR, “shut up PvP guy”, epic gems available to PvE players only, “let’s leave in show enemy debuffs bug in spite of our minor patch because we’re idiots” and that’s just some of the blunders.
The worst blunder though is the failure to reset MMR after fixing the bug two weeks into Season 10. In fact, Blizzard should have delayed the start of season 10 until the issues were fixed. Furthermore, they should have prematurely ended season 9 instead of extending it another week when MMR abuse was becoming more rampant. Yet to make matters worse, Blizzard responded to the PvP community with this patronising piece of crap:
We’d like to remind everyone about the importance of fair play. To be clear, cheating is not tolerated in World of Warcraft, and exploitation of ranked PvP play is no exception.
Despite the fact cheating was tolerated and they didn’t give a damn about fair play.
Of course this matter became more amusing when Blizzard once again committed another blunder by failing to mention an MMR reset in the end of season 10 notice. Fortunately, there was a huge outcry from the PvP community and MMR was reset before season 11 went live. Frankly it wouldn’t have been a shock if they said “MoP will fix it” instead…
From just a PvP perspective they deserve to lose subscribers. They’ve treated the community appealingly over the course of the expansion and continue to do so.
The loss of another 100,000 subscribers might be a step above the 800,000 lost in Q3, but the ticking time bomb that is the annual pass and MoP polarizing the community, highlights the ill fated situation WoW currently finds its self in. Subscriber numbers booming in a time when, albeit still fresh, WoW was at its most elitist and yet still falling in its most casual era, makes Blizzards latest casual friendly strategy somewhat questionable. The failure to address and to reply to any current concerns with, the ever insulting, “MoP will fix it” and the outright disregard shown to just the PvP community over the course of Cataclysm, is likely to have turned off a large number of people. Blizzard needs to pull their finger out and communicate and address current issues.
The worst part of all this though is the fact WoW is still the best MMO on the market at this current time. Really there’s been no innovation and games have simply copied WoW. A game run by a company that fobs off any issue as something that will be fixed in the next expansion are still running the best MMO? Even Guild Wars 2 for all its focus on PvP is questionable. Will it hit WoW where it hurts due to the one off payment model or will people play both? Hopefully it’ll be so spectacular it’ll leave WoW in the dust. We’ll see. You certainly can’t hold the player base at fault though; WoW really is the best at what it does despite the shoddy management of late. It’s just a shame it could be so much more. Hopefully the subscriber losses will prove a wakeup call to Blizzard rather than an inspiration to rely more on overpriced “Value Added Services”.