We had a great time on Gamebreaker last week gently teasing people who proclaim that WoW is dead with every subscription fluctuation. The latest investor call showed a WoW subscriptions drop from “over 10 million” to 9.6 million, so a minimum of a 400,000 subscriber loss.
Of course, this could be explained by the usual subscription fluctuations, after every patch they will inevitably go up and down. But it’s kind of easy to dismiss it as this usual fluctuation, when it could actually be something more, indicating the continuation of the gradual decline in WoW subscriptions. Let’s be clear here — I’m not saying WoW is dead, or dying, just wondering for a moment if it’s something more than just usual subscription fluctuation.
Hypothesizing a few ideas, one that occurs immediately is the shift in styles between Cataclysm and Mists. It should be noted that Cataclysm is roundly derided as the worst WoW expansion ever, and substantial changes between Cataclysm and whatever followed it would generally be a good idea. However, maybe Blizzard went too far. Gearing, for example, underwent a huge change from Cata, and indeed Wrath, to Mists. In both earlier expansions, Valor gear was used to fill the gaps in drop gear, and it only had one grind associated with it — the Valor points grind. Separately from the Valor grind was the reputation grind. This also provided gear, often pre-raid gear, so items that allowed a player to get up to the point where they could begin raiding, rather than being superior to it. And it was bought with gold. Now, in Mists, the developers have effectively combined the two systems, meaning that there’s a doubled grind to get gear. This removes options rather than adding them, and that, in my opinion, is probably a bad thing.
Apart from that, there’s the unfriendliness of the latest expansion to alts, the introduction of cross-realm zones, and the huge issues with the current PvP season. Any or all of these could be causing WoW subscriptions to decline, particularly with the Annual Pass expiring for many players.
Or, are people just leaving WoW for other games? There are plenty around to jump ship to, Guild Wars 2, WoW’s apparent nemesis, the upcoming TESO release, League of Legends, and more. WoW is, after all, an eight-year old game. It has an old core graphics engine, although many graphical improvements have been made over its eight-year lifespan. And it’s not really offering anything that new to players. While the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy works well, after eight years maybe it’s time for some more exciting new features than the current variations on a theme.
And, of course, WoW is one of the few major titles left that has a subscription at all.
What do you think? What’s causing WoW subscriptions to drop off? And can Blizzard do anything about it?(Header Image by Chen)