World of Warcraft Dead Again?

The latest post on WoW over at Gamebreaker asks the question:

The WoW subscription numbers have taken yet another hit, with a 1.3 million subscriber drop between February and May, Kotaku reports. They add that the subscriber loss has mostly come from eastern markets, but even so, this is over a 25% total loss from the dizzying heights of the Wrath of the Lich King subscriber numbers. 

We’ve joked about WoW being dead here before on Gamebreaker, and we’re hoping it’s pretty clear that we’re not being wholly serious this time either. The game has not gone the way of the dodo, it is not pushing up the daisies, it is not an ex-MMORPG just yet. Even with this drop, the WoW subscriber numbers are very healthy compared to just about any other MMORPG on the market right now. And for a title of its age to be able to maintain such a large base, even in the face of some stiff competition is impressive indeed. 8.3 million people is not a small number. 

Nonetheless, this is the lowest WoW subscription number point since early in 2007. It is a natural low point in the expansion cycle, with the latest patch on its way, and an uptick could well appear. Mists of Pandaria has been a divisive expansion, heralded jointly as being the best the game has been, and one of the worst grinds of recent years. But is this drop in numbers due to the changes in WoW, or the changes in the gaming world around it? WoW has a very diverse appeal: with a subscriber base of this size it’s nigh on impossible to please everyone, and are the players who joined later on just too different to those who came in at the start.

While WoW is hardly dead in the water, one has to wonder: what’s causing the subscription losses? And will it ever regain them?

The last time I was tempted to critique the game I was banned from Blizzard’s forums; so this time, I’ll simply put it somewhere they can’t touch.

Having played all versions of the game except for pre-BC, I have to say I’ve never had to grind more for valor points and gear, or work harder to have food for raiding. If you are playing for raiding, the effort/reward is completely unbalanced, with weeks of work often resulting in little or no reward at all. This gripe should sound familiar if you’ve played WoW for any amount of time, or read my previous posts on the subject.

Casual players, on the other hand, have probably never had it better. With the addition of pet battles and the brawl-pub, not to mention a “Looking For Raid” system that provides access to a simplified version of end-game content makes casual play far more rewarding than it’s ever been before. The changes that Blizzard introduced at the end of Cataclysm, along with some additional thought towards players who don’t have days to waste in game, but simply want something quick to do in that 45 minutes before supper, has paid off well in my opinion.

As someone who plays to raid, I try to remind myself that I signed up to grind, even though I despise grinding. If the normal raid boss fights were simply as difficult as they are, but didn’t require days of work prepping for them, it would be far less frustrating. Conversely, if you had to spend prep time, but could be given a better than average chance of success, the reward factor would be higher. Wasting time endlessly with almost no reward leads to an elevated level of rage-quitting. The problem for Blizzard is that they’ve painted themselves into a corner once again. If they change anything they will be accused of ‘nerfing’ the game, and that will also lead to players rage-quitting as they did when the Dragon Soul raid turned out to be too easy in the estimation of hardcore players. 

I have an idea of what an easy fight would be, but I’ve never seen it in game. The boss draws his weapon, then trips and falls on it. That would be easy. Might also be a good humor moment.

I wish I could say I was sympathetic to Blizzard’s plight, but the levels of frustration that I’m experiencing, as well as my history with them when it comes to trying to highlight problems in the game, appear to be clouding my judgement.