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World of Warcraft Finally Loses Subscribers 413

bonch writes "After seven years and a highpoint of 12 million subscribers, World of Warcraft has seen a loss of nearly one million subscribers in the last six months for the first time in its history, according to Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime during an Activision earnings call. However, the game remains the most popular MMO, and Morhaime said Blizzard plans to reverse the trend with fresh content. Some believe that the loss in subscriber interest is a sign of the game's inevitable twilight years. Blizzard also recently received a trademark for 'Mists of Pandaria,' fueling speculation about the next expansion pack."
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World of Warcraft Finally Loses Subscribers

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  • by CaptainInnocent ( 2439004 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @03:54AM (#37116446)
    Personally, and for many others, the constant feeling of grinding did it. RIFT is a much more fun game, it has a lot of variety and you get to the fun stuff right from the beginning. EVE Online has a huge interesting world where everything goes, and is tailored much more towards PVP. World of Warcraft is just too much about PVE and grinding that environment, which really isn't that fun, especially considering it's an MMO. Even withholding the MMO games, there are so many absolutely fantastic games coming out now and in the recent years that I'm not surprised people feel bored with WoW. It's only going to be worse for WoW, with Battlefield 3 [], The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [] and many more fantastic coming out really soon.
  • by neokushan ( 932374 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @04:20AM (#37116572)

    I tried WoW when it first came out in the EU. I gave up after a month for numerous reasons (basically, it just wasn't my kind of game), however a couple of years ago I met my (now) wife who was an avid WoW player. She played at a professional level, in a guild with sponsorships and that kind of thing. By all definitions, she was a "hardcore" WoW player. Yes - was.

    I watched from the sidelines as her interest in the game dwindled and it's easy, from an outside perspective, to see why - Blizzard were trying to appeal to too many "types" of MMO player and more or less alienated everyone. To break it down in its simplest terms, there's 2 kinds of player - casual and hardcore. When the burning crusade came out, it was hard. Tough as nails, in fact. I remember watching her and her 25 man guild wipe numerous times on regular bosses, let alone the heroics. And it was fun! They enjoyed the challenege, but the problem is the "casual" players didn't. The casual argument was that they're paying the same subscription as everyone else yet only getting to see half of the content because they couldn't progress.
    That's when Blizzard decided to tone down the difficulty, just in time for Wrath of the Litch King. This kept a lot of the casual players happy, but it meant the hardcore guilds were completing the content a day or two after it came out. If Blizzard didn't stagger patch releases, Arthas would have been dead before Christmas.

    In each instance, Blizzard ultimately lost players. Sure, they'd gain an increase in subscribers when the expansions were released, but shortly after people would stop paying the subscription. On the one hand, the casuals feel cheated when content is too hard and the hardcore guilds get bored because there is no content left for them. I've even seen Casual players argue that the heroic modes are too hard and that it isn't fair, despite the fact that the content is the same and the purpose of heroics is to keep the hardcore guilds happy.

    The end result is that Blizzard constantly changes their mind on who they focus on - casual or hardcore and ultimately appeases neither.

  • by obarthelemy ( 160321 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @04:23AM (#37116586)

    - the rampant immaturity and callousness. MMOs need a karma system, even several, where you rate your random-grouped partners on their skill, social behaviour, and efficiency.
    - the endless grind, which is harder to solve: either things come too easy to anyone, or one must grind them for hours...
    - the lack of new stuff. Blizzard has tweaked WoW, but not really added new game mechanisms over the years. My last fights a few months ago were very similar to whatever I was doing in Molten Core way back when.
    - the gross imbalance in Tank/Healer/DPS numbers, leading to 30+ minutes waits to run an instance with a DPS.
    - my guild insisted on doing 25-players raids, which I find top heavy and boring.
    - permanent balance issues. I think there were too many classes filling the same roles, but not equally. They never delivered on "take the player, not the class"

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @04:50AM (#37116688)

    A very good analysis.

    I started with WoW when it came out, returned from time to time, but it just can't captivate me any more. One of the reasons is what you describe.

    I'm an old school PvE player. Still I played EvE for a long time, for the PvP. But that's more a matter of logistics, not so much one of actual shooting skill. EvE battles are, IMO, over before the first shot is fired. But I digress. WoW was designed around PvE. PvP, outside of world-PvP on dedicated PvP servers, was an afterthought. IIRC it took like a year before battlegrounds came into existence.

    I'm actually surprised that Blizzard, after carefully avoiding pretty much all cardinal sins of MMO design and development (seriously, when I look back at the history of MMOs, I've seen my share of blunders and failures due to wrong decisions, be it balancing, content introduction or technical issues, and Blizzard so far avoided them all), fell into the old pit that spelled doom on so many MMOs: Do not alienate your core players by trying to cater to a fringe group that leaves you for another game. Most people I know that play(ed) WoW do and did so for the PvE content. The dungeon crawl, the item hunt, the raiding. Very few cared for battleground PvP (or PvP altogether).

    Now, they will certainly lose players to games that are more PvP centric. But trying to win them back could easily lose them the PvE players that came to WoW because it is currently one of the few good MMOs that center around PvE, items hunting and raiding.

  • I doubt it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @04:54AM (#37116714)

    It is probably a combination of things:

    1) WoW is just getting old. Some people get bored of the same thing after a time. Yes they introduce some new content but the fundamental game hasn't changed much. That was why I canceled my account. I'd just had my fill. Perhaps I'll play again later, after all if yo leave something alone it can become new again, who knows?

    2) A solid alternative came out in the form of Rift. Most MMOs are complete and total disasters when they launch, they are all kinds of broke and you have to put up with a lot of shit. Not Rift, it was solid out of the gate, so you really could leave WoW and go enjoy it. Also Rift is solidly targeted at the same kind of gamer. It is a fantasy MMO, with quests, dungeons, etc. It's UI is extremely WoW like, and so on. I played it for awhile until I got too busy and I tell everyone "Rift is for you if you enjoyed WoW, but want new things in the same vein."

    3) Blizzard seems to be getting real schizophrenic on what players they want to target with WoW. So in the previous expansion, they seemed to continue more casual gamer targeting, at least for PvE content. They made dungeons a hell of a lot easier, toned down raids in normal mode and so on. Very casual friendly. However in the current one they turned the difficulty way up, dungeons were a real challenge and raid were more old school. Also in PvP they have continually targeted more and more hardcore people, putting emphasis on the "digital sport" type of thing. This leads to a problem because gamers can't get what they want and it makes everyone unhappy. Hardcore types get mad when it gets easier, causal types get mad when it gets harder. Everyone seems to get mad when things just suddenly change (even the people I knew who liked more challenging dungeons were pissed off at Cata heroics because it was a massive change, with no middle ground).

    This probably marks the end of WoW's glory years. It made MMOs in to something that all sorts of people play and really established the mass market. However it seems people are moving on. I doubt Blizzard will reverse the trend. Now I don't think WoW will die, I think it will be here for many more years, probably decades, but I think the player base will dwindle and settle at a much lower level.

    It's had its run, but many people are moving on.

  • by lexsird ( 1208192 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @05:12AM (#37116804)

    I played WoW since the first two open betas, and recently, the last 6 months left the game. Once you level cap, then it's about gear. It's about a grind for gear no mater what you do. Gear is the high level content. PvP was an afterthought for WoW. Blizzard stumbled with it for years, doing massive nerfs, causing players to adapt to "Flavor of the Month" type game play, where you would just work on whatever class suited the system the best.

    Having two types of gear, PvP and PvE just made the game annoying at the end. I got sick of Blizzard messing the things, fumbling through patches with nerfs and buffs seemingly in all the worse places. One just dreaded new patch notes. Who was going to get fucked, and who was their flavor of the month? They never got the chinese gold farmers under control either, that was one annoying factor.

    As a player, I hated Chinese gold farmers and what they did to the game economy. I thought that it was culturally insulting as well. It showed massive disrespect for us and our gaming culture. I felt that only by carpet bombing them with nukes would our solution be solved.

  • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @05:59AM (#37116970) Journal

    I got out of WoW at the end of April 2010. I'd been a fairly hardcore player for a couple of years up to that point (having been fairly hardcore in Final Fantasy XI beforehand). However, by the start of 2010, it was clear (and probably had been for some time if I'd been looking for the signs) that the game was past its prime.

    I think the trap Blizzard have fallen into is being too prescriptive towards their player base. In the Blizzard model of the world, everybody is basically working down a set progression path, with very little else to do. This is a theme that runs through every facet of the game.

    In terms of overall progression, Blizzard have made it very clear that they want all of their players to be working on the same raid content at the same time. An expansion hits, raises the level cap and renders all previous raids obsolete. The new expansion has a tier of raid content, which everybody jumps into. A few months later, the next tier of content is added. At the same time, the previous tier is adjusted so as to be ludicrously easy - and the rewards from it quickly become obsolete. Then a new patch comes a few months later, and the previous content is all nerfed down again. After this repeats a few times, you get a new expansion and the cycle begins again.

    What this means is that the game ends up not actually feeling like a persistent world. There's a treadmill that everybody has to stay on - with very little real potential to either pull ahead of the pack or - provided you are at least minimally competent - get left behind. This really diminishes any sense of achievement associated with the thing. Worse still, it's an entirely linear path that you have to tread; there are no credible alternative routes to gearing up and making progress, not least because the stats required for PvE and PvP are so completely different.

    Now, I understand that there isn't a quick and easy fix to this and that some games have gone too far the other way; one frustration in FFXI was that a lot of the best gear in the game actually dropped from the "ground kings", who were some of the oldest (and most irritating to find) bosses in the game. Given the game's... what... 8 years old now, that starts to look a bit pathetic. But WoW's habit of doing a "soft reset" with every patch and a "hard reset" with every expansion is even more infuriating.

    The lack of choice also runs through the character classes and the balancing. I always felt that Blizzard made a huge mistake in tying PvE and PvP balance together - they should have switched the game to different rules entirely whenever PvP was invoked. As it is, because of the constant tweaks required to maintain PvP balance, Blizzard got into the habit of constantly tinkering with every class in the game - and then fundamentally redesigning classes largely just because they felt like it.

    There's no freedom in WoW to develop your class in ways that Blizzard hadn't anticipated. They know how they want you to play a class and if you don't go along with their scheme, they'll just patch it so that you have no choice. By contrast, when players found that FFXI's Ninja class, which had been designed as a damage-dealer and debuffer, actually worked best as a tank, Square-Enix followed their players, and while they did end up tweaking the class a bit, it was aimed at fitting it in alongside the other tank classes, rather than trying to reinforce their original intentions. Blizzard, by contrast, would likely just have banned the people playing the class as a tank for "exploiting" and then patched the class so that it could only be used as a damage dealer.

    I think what I'm trying to say is that Blizzard's big mistake with WoW has been to let themselves become too interventionist, so that the game feels less like an exciting online world and more like a sequence of arbitrary hoops to jump through.

  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Wednesday August 17, 2011 @06:28AM (#37117120) Homepage Journal

    The biggest change in Cataclysm was the healing model. Once a character passes level 80, the highest of the previous expansion, their costs to use healing spells increases to where by the time they are level 85; the new top level; their mana to healing cost has gone up four times. It is never a good idea in any game to make a player feel less effective as they progress. This one change alone had a very detrimental effect on players with many guilds report losses of people playing healers if playing at all; for some this was the only role they wanted and they when they stopped feeling effective they could not play.

    The problem Blizzard had with PvP and especially Arenas which they put so much effort into is that it was all a burst affair. Those who could unload the fastest and most coordinated won. So what did Blizzard do? They jacked up the hit points of characters. When an average mage had 20k health at level 80 in the previous release they now have 100k health. This caused a new problem, healers would just make PvP (specifically Arenas) play drag on and on. So they eliminate the effects of burst attacks with immense health pools and in turn keep the games from going on forever by nerfing the healers so strongly they cannot afford to heal effectively for any period of time.

    Blizzard causes all these problems through gear inflation. Its a common joke that your gear is better than your character, hell a mage's staff can double if not triple or more their ability. People used to make jokes in the previous release about how it was bound to happen when caster weapons would offer +999 spell power - well they do and actually do triple that.

    So Blizzard balances a game around X, then they monty hall it to death and wonder why the model no longer works. To fix the problem they create the nerf players all under the guise of providing a challenge. When one side of their development team does not operate within limits how do they expect to balance a game. Worse, they lied to their players. They claimed for months leading up to Cata they wanted to give healers a more challenging and rewarding play style. They didn't bother to ask and when people complained they merely deleted threads.

    What Blizzard forgot is that the majority of their players play to have fun. Having fun means being able to be a hero, saving the day, pulling it out under incredible odds. When they turned the healing model upside down they stripped that feeling from a large amount of their player base. Now I here they want to do the same to tanking as its "not engaging enough". Random groups already make DPS players wait nearly 30 minutes to get in (standard five man mechanics and needless to say more people play dps) so I can only imagine the pain coming forth.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan