May 9th, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

Activision held their annual earnings conference call today, and one of the more significant tidbits of news was that the World Of Warcraft subscription base was down about 600k, from 12 million just before the Cataclysm expansion was released down to about 11.4 million this past March.

Now, the subscription base tends to fluctuate in general, and this is a drop of about only about 2%, so it’s not really a huge problem for Blizzard/Activision. On the other hand, it’s also not to be ignored.

Blizzard’s president, Michael Morhaime, had this to say: “As our players have become more experienced playing World of Warcraft over many years, they have become much better and much faster at consuming content. And so I think with Cataclysm they were able to consume the content faster than with previous expansions, but that is why we are working on developing more content. We need to be faster at delivering content to players. And so that’s one of the reasons that we’re looking to decrease the amount of time in-between expansions.

Why Have Some People Left the Game?

Blizzard didn’t really address the idea that competing games might be a factor in the loss of subscribers.  While new MMO games like Aion or The Rift may not have caught on like wildfire, they still have a respectible following and it’s not unreasonable to think that a certain small percentage of WoW players may have decided to give something new a try.

It’s also possible that some people have gotten rid of secondary or tertiary accounts. I don’t use my own secondary account any more.

If new content is really the problem, then the return of Zul’Gurub & Zul’Amun in the 4.1 patch will probably bump up the numbers a bit. However, while it’s undoubtedly a factor, I’m not completely convinced that new content is really the only issue.

First of all, if new content were the primary factor, we should have seen an increase in the subscription base once Cataclysm was released, followed by a decline back to where things were before.   Blizzard hasn’t released numbers for January or February, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Aside from people finishing the available content, there are a variety of other factors in the 4.0 version of the game that could have also affected the subscription base.

WTB: Portal To Stormwind City

In some ways, with the Cataclysm expansion, the game took a step backwards towards being tedious. I refer specifically to the removal of the transportation portals in Shattrath and Dalaran. The motivation seems to have been to nudge players back towards using Stormwind City or Orgrimmar as their central hubs.  It’s true that those cities have portals to the various zones in the Cataclysm expansion, but anybody playing in other zones has gotten screwed by the change.  It’s added long travel times back into the equation for anybody playing in Outland or Northrend.

Since a big feature of the Cataclysm expansion was the introduction of the Worgen and Goblin races, many players were leveling up toons from scratch.  Blizzard added a variety of things to speed up that process, including lowering the cost and level requirements for mounts.  This really does help the 1-60 leveling, but once you hit level 60 it was essentially not that different than it used to be, except now there was no longer any quick way to get from Shattrath or Dalaran back to Stormwind or Orgrimmar.

It’s been great for mages, who are once again making money selling portals, but not so great for everybody else.

Long travel times contribute to player burnout, which in turn contributes to a drop in the subscription base.

Guilds Aren’t What They Used To Be

The new guild advancement features have been something of a mixed bag. It’s harder to get a new guild off the ground now than it used to be, since a new level 1 guild will have a much harder time recruiting than a level 25 guild which has all the various guild rewards. It’s also more painful for players to leave a guild now, since they will lose their guild reputation in the process. It seems to me that this has to have SOME impact on player burnout, although it’s hard to quantify.

WTB: Tank or Healer

It’s historically always been the case that it can be hard getting a tank or healer for a run, but in Cataclysm it’s just gotten worse.  Solo-queuing up for a dungeon as a DPS toon typically means a wait time of at least a half hour, even during hours when there’s a lot of people online.  Tanks and healers, on the other hand, rarely have to wait more than a few minutes even during late night hours.

I really do think the random dungeon finder is a good thing overall, but it really also emphasizes the problem here.  Blizzard is certainly aware of the problem, and the new reward system in the 4.1 patch shows that they’re trying to address it, but I think they’re treating the symptoms instead of the underlying cause.

In my opinion, the core of the problem is that for most people, playing a tank or a healer just isn’t as fun as playing a DPS toon. You just don’t get the same sense of accomplishment from healing the tank as you do from scoring a 60k Arcane Blast hit on a raid boss.  I don’t know what sort of changes would make healing or tanking more fun, but I think that’s where Blizzard should really be concentrating its creative effort.

Out With The Old?  Oh, Hell No!

One of the biggest problems in the game has always been that many players are effectively left out of experiencing the high-end raid content.  I’ve done a fair amount of raiding, but there’s a lot of content that I never saw.  I think it’s a huge mistake on Blizzard’s part not to make a bigger attempt to integrate the game’s historic content into the present.  However, there’s evidence to suggest that they’re working on improving this.

The Cataclysm expansion featured a new heroic, high-level version of the Deadmines instance, and a new heroic version of the Shadowfang Keep instance, which are steps in the right direction.  And patch 4.1 features new level 85 heroic 5-man versions of the old Zul’Amun and Zul’Gurub raid instances.

I say, this is a big step in the right direction… keep going!

Seriously, we should be seeing new 5-man heroic Blackwing Lair, Black Temple, Serpentshrine Caverns, etc., or maybe new 10-man raid versions, scaled for level 85.  And while the other retro dungeons were re-tuned for their new debut, I’m not convinced that’s absolutely necessary for all of the old content.  Certainly, there are particular fights in some of those old raids that would need to be updated to work with a smaller party, but I think much of the old content would be fine if you simply scaled up everything to the appropriate level.

This would be good for players who’ve never seen that old content… my first run on the new Zul’Gurub included a player who’d never done the original version.  And it would be good for Blizzard, because it would allow them to get a lot of new content out the door with much less effort than creating a new raid/instance from scratch.

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