Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Re: WoW is dying

Is there any existing game that has received as many death sentences as WoW? I doubt it. WoW has been "dying" almost since it was launched, if you would listen to the community.

For some reason players who leave WoW don't just silently cancel their subscriptions when they've decided to move on. Oh no. They feel compelled to make a Grand Exit, delivering the Breaking News that WoW, the most successful MMO ever released is on the verge of a Catastrophe and as a matter of fact is DYING. It is! It's just everyone else is blind to it. But now there will be a change to this, since finally someone dares to speak up, saying that the emperor that people are blind to it. Now there will be a change though, that someone FINALLY points out that the emperor isn't wearing anything at all.

If you look at the official forums there is always at least one of those "I'm leaving WoW so now it's dying" threads that is up for discussion. And the funny thing is that this has been the case for over three years now, if not more.

Dying back in 2007
Recently someone managed to dig up a post like this by bumping it in our realm forum. This thread dates back to April 2007 and is actually quite fun to read to a newbie like me. Some complaints about attunements are a bit outdated, while others, concerning lack of new content, easily could have been written 2010.

At the time this forum post was published, I had barely started to play WoW at all. I would believe I was somewhere around level 50, I had only seen a handful of five man instances and not even a fragment of what the game had to offer. It seemed like a magical, endless world to me, full of mysteries and unknown territories to explore. And I can assure you that the idea that this in fact was a dying game never crossed my mind.

But the poster apparently had thought a lot about it during the 280 played days he had at his main character. Which I must say was quite an achievement considering it's written back in April 2007. No wonder the poor guy got bored! I would like to see that game that wouldn't bore you with that excessive amount of playing over such a short time! He must have played almost every hour he was awake, apart from when he was sleeping and eating then. Was there even time to work?

So WoW has been dying since back in the beginning of 2007 and if you looked further I wouldn't be surprised if you could find even earlier rants like this. It honestly makes it a little bit difficult to take the similar labeled posts as by today with any huge amount of seriousness.

The sad thing is that some of those "WoW is dying" posts actually contain some pretty good and interesting analyses, which could provide food-for-thought in the future development. Therefore it's such a pity that those valid points disappears. If I was a Blizzard employee I'm pretty certain that a "WoW is dying" topic name would be enough for me to dismiss a post and put it in the trash bin.

Could it be true?
But let's change perspective for a second. Could there actually be something in this? After all, as I've mentioned before every brand, every product has a certain lifecycle and according to the theories they'll die eventually, unless you reinvest and revitalize them.

The world hasn't yet seen any computer game that could match Chess in longevity. WoW will have to die at some point, so why not now? And after all I've seen and mentioned the current lull in the game myself. It doesn't take a generous to see that many players are on a break now. How can you be so sure they'll come back for Cataclysm?

Well, the truth is of course a well kept secret at the Blizzard HQ. I don't know how much value you should put into what they told their shareholders at the meet-up they hold for the investors at E3 (which is available for anyone to listen to after registration). Of course they have every reason in the world to say that everything is just fine. If you go to the end of the recording, about 1.34, the Blizzard representative gets exactly this question. His answer is that they're optimistic since new content is coming this year and this is the biggest growth driver. He also talks at length about the China market, where they still haven't launched Wrath, but have good hopes to do so "soon".

It's possible - even likely that WoW is stagnating in Europe and North America. Probably even declining as we're waiting for Cataclysm. But this can hardly equal to that the game is dying, especially considering that it's still giving the company a revenue that seems to be decent to say the least.

If you're interested in the financial state of Blizzard-Activision, Gronthe at Deuwowlity did an in-depth analysis of this in a recent blogpost. Go read it unless you haven't already! What he describes is a company that certainly is in a risky business, but you can't really see that their flagship would be in the danger of an immediate death.

The reasons behind
So why do players insist on claiming that WoW is dying? I can't help thinking it's a case of magical thinking. They overrate their own importance and influence on the success of WoW.

Maybe it's also a step in their own process of detaching themselves from the game. Many players have witnessed about what a firm hold WoW can have on you. Even if you want to quit you might find it hard, due to habit or addiction, whatever you prefer to call it, and the social networks you've built through it.

If you call a death sentence over the game you're leaving, I can imagine it will become easier to stick to your decision. You can tell yourself that the game is dead anyway, so why bother to play it?

The truth is that the WoW as you got to know it when you started to play might die. The game might feel dead to you if you don't approve of the changes. But this doesn't mean that there aren't others who think the opposite. New generations of WoW players will come with their own expectations and wishes, which might look quite different to the ones of the players who have been around since beta.

The game changes. We may or may not like those changes. If you don't like them - feel free to criticise them! My favorite angry podcaster Totalbiscuit has recently excelled in colorful rip-into-pieces rants about the terrible state WoW is in and how disappointed he is about the way that Cataclysm is turning out. He has hence cancelled his preorder of it. But you don't hear him saying "WoW is dying". Bacause such claims are just stupid.

WoW still attracts huge amounts of paying customers. It sells very well, according to Dwism - even at this point with Cataclysm yet-to-be-launched. I'd be damned if it would die anytime soon.

My interest for the game might die. But in the end I'm just a very small, barely noticable fish in the pond.

27 comments:

Video Game Philosopher said...

WoW won't die for quite some time, and only then to be replaced by WoW 2....or whatever blizzard names its next mmorpg.

In reality Blizz would have to do something major to destroy the game. I'm worried about Cataclysm because it changes so much...it is like having a new game, but it might alienate older players who enjoy the game as it was....

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Larisa wrote:
Is there any existing game that has received as many death sentences as WoW?

Yes, pretty much every game that has been around for more than a year. :P This is not new to WoW, most people will bemoan how a game is "dying".

Same as it ever was. :)

Tesh said...

I'd rather save my pathos and lamenting for genres. The RPG has been dying for what, decades now? Adventure games are dead, Tactical games are dead...

...just in time for me to make my magnum opus Adventure Tactical RPG! Mwahaha! I shall take over the game industry with my sheer pugnacity and chutzpah! And then, once my grand project crests, as all things are wont to do, I'll parlay my influence at the last possible moment into a seat in Parlaiment of the united world government and spend the next few years building my Uberlaser with which to take over the world!

*ahem*

Got carried away there for a moment. Sorry. Don't mind the Uberlaser. It requires genetically advanced hamsters, so it's a few years down the road.

In the meantime, yes, products have life cycles, and life goes on as new products challenge the status quo and make life better. When WoW dies, it's because something better is taking its place. Hardly something to fuss about.

Klepsacovic said...

It's a rather strange thing, that the same people who regard themselves as so special as to be worth a quitting post, also seem to regard their experience as universal.

Gronthe said...

I may be oversimplifying it here, but for me it comes down to information. Blizz does a lot of research and has information that no individual player out there has access to.

None of us can see the big picture like they can, so if they have reasons to be optimistic that their game isn't dying, it's surely a more informed opinion than one or a few people who rant that it is. Does it make Blizz all knowing? No, just more informed.

And oh, thanks for the link love there, Larisa. /blush

Zekta Chan said...

FYI, regarding the china market

There aren't any words on Chinese Goverment release their grip on Online gaming yet. As of existing player, most of them are playing on US/Europe and Taiwan server, with some "hopping" service provided by small company. (To bypass the China Great Firewall). Those service are consider illegal as far as I know.

As of before 2009, China have had a Wow serving company The9, and now transfered to another, webeasy? I forgot the name. But then the change of policy of the goverment had banned "foreign culture"'s MMO from that point.

They had a strong censorship on any media onboard, so IMO /trade and forum in Wow is forsure what they wish to control. While Blizzard may not compile to their standard...

And with the lagging of progress on the releases(1-2years lag), I doubt any serious player will stay on the yet-waiting-reopen china servers.

Another point..
The China Version(TBC) was requested to change the following item. (And blizzard did)
1. Undead cannot show borken body parts. Including the player race, and the stomache of Patchwerk
2. No corpse on the ground, those are replaced by tombstone. (If you had watched mechinermy the "I am MT" you'll see what I am talking about)

With the scope of content of Wotlk and the speed of creating new ones. I really doubt they can get it fix soon.

Rodolfo said...

Nice opinion. but if you look at the data, WoW is in fact undergoing a massive transition and is bleeding subscriptions while the top raiding guilds disband due to lack of content.

Just check the latest numbers from MMOdata, look at the bg queue times.

Moreover not all accounts are subscribers, many are on game cards and less played time = less revenues.

70% of Activision's profits for the last quarter came from WoW - I would not be surprised if all the features cut down from Cataclysm are because Blizzard is in fact bringing forward the release date of the expansion (or at least avoid any delay by removing anything that might go wrong).

So yeah ATVI will have a stellar next 12 months due to SC2 and Cata but also would be a nice stock to short when they issue guidance for next year.

Utakata said...

WoW is likely waning now...but not out of the picture yet. It depnds on how well Cataclysm will do in the long run. And how it will fair against it's direct competion SWTOR and GW2 if those games happen to deliver on their goods.

But for now, I agree with the author to an extent. That is, it's on hiatus until Cat releases, because players are getting flat out bored with it...

...makes me wonder though, if Blizz should of paced the Wrath content patches better knowing their next expansion is taking a lifetime and a dog's age to release. :(

Perdissa said...

Actually, I see it as a cycle. I don't think it's realistic to play a game in high gear for an extended period of time. To many people, WoW is more than a game. It is an emotional investment, not only in your character, but also in the friends you make. So, yeah, people come back after they wind down to lower gear or take a break.

I don't see it as dying, more like taking a nap. Yes, less people are logging on, people who log on are spending less time online. But I genuinely don't see signs that it's dying, or that developers are worried.

hound said...

This is one of those arguments that just makes me angry every time it comes up.

Not because I don't believe that WoW could die someday, but because it just is not going to happen any time soon. And by "soon", I mean it is going to take several more years for it to "die".

Like you, I have been watching those "I quit and WoW is dieing" posts for years now. Even if WoW has reached its subscription cap and can only lose numbers, it will still take years before it is at a significant state of despair to say that it is "dieing".

Even at 300-500k subs, the game will be very much alive. If other, lesser games can flourish with only 100k subs, so can WoW.

If anything, someday we might see evidence that WoW is moving into some sort of normalization. WoW's numbers are not normal. But maybe someday they will be. But it won't be a dead WoW.

Seeing numbers dropping off in the middle of summer and at the end of the end game does not mean WoW is dieing.

jeffo said...

I wonder how many of these 'WoW is dying, I'm quitting!' or the equally popular 'This nerf to is a Slap in the Face(TM) I'm quitting' folks actually get out and stay out.

Dwism said...

Well the reason I thought (and still do think) that the game is dying, is because *my* game IS dying. My friendlist used to sport 20 people in different raiding guilds, they now sport 1-5 all from my guild.
There used to be drama on eralm forums, there is no drama anymore.
There used to be raiding. There are still the same amount of raiding guilds, only now they do not have 40 manned raids, but 10 or 25.

My guild alone used to have 2 40 manned groups and one 20 manned. Now we sometimes struggle to get 1 25 manned raid and two 10 manned going. (and this is with most of the 25 manned raiders doing the 10 manned also, that was not the case before).

The way I used to play the game, and the way I still play the game, is all but gone. I'm sure the player numbers are *almost* the same. But it is not players that I see anywhere online. They are in small guilds pugging raids or doing casual pvp.
And I cannot speak for the US servers, but the european servers have gotten very very quiet after we got Russian localizations. There where a ton of servers that lost a lot of the actively playing and progression oriented players to those servers (look at how many RU servers are in the top on wow-porgress.)

So in a sense, the game is dying, and in another sense it is not.

Larísa said...

@Video Game Philosopher: I really doubt that Cataclysm will be radical enough to alienate older players. I’d rather say the opposite: it’s not radical enough to motivate them to go for yet another expansion. “Been there, done that.” So it might not become the megatastic success we hope for. This said: I don’t think Cataclysm will kill WoW. The next MMO might. Eventually. But that’s really way to early to even think about.

@Brian Psychochild Green: hehe. I’m not as experienced as a gamer as you know. So all games are dying! Nice to know!

@Tesh: I can’t wait to see your challenger being brought into the world. Uberlasers! That would be something. For a little while… until it’s time to die again. I think some products live longer and some shorter and WoW definitely is one of the more lasting games. In spite of the doom-and-gloom people.

@Klepsacovic: I have a vague memory from school where we learned about child psychology and development. Isn’t there supposed to be a stage in life where the child believes he’s omnipotent and godlike? Could it be that the wow-is-dying-posters are sort of stuck there?

@Gronthe: Oh and thank you for link love and further commenting on this post! May I ask you to write an analysis of the next Q report from Blizzard Activision?

@Zekta Chan: Thank you very much for the updates on China. I can’t help getting upset at the censorship. But then the China politics issue is something that I could talk about at length and it probably doesn’t belong here. It’s just that… as soon as there’s money to be earned our formal ideals about democracy seems to fly out through the window and we’re prepared to make business with nations that we in the past would have regarded as dictators oppressing their people, committing crimes to humanity… Oh well… No. I’ll shut up because I get freaked out by this. Even changing a body to a tomb stone makes me angry because what it symbolizes to me.

@Rodolfo: I don’t deny that there’s a decline and that they’re probably having some pressure on them to bring out Cataclysm soonish. I’ve written about that before. But I don’t’ think this is equivalent to the immediate death of WoW that so many players love to preach about since years back.

@Utakata. We’ve been hoping for the expansions to come out at a quicker pace for years, and I believe they hinted that they wanted this to happen, but apparently it won’t. It doesn’t seem to bother them that much that they’ll lose subscribers for a while when the current expansion just gets too old.

@Perdissa: Yeah, I think WoW is more like a relationship – or like a club/society that you have a membership in than a temporary activity. That’s what makes it pretty hard to quit and that’s what makes it so resilient to those death sentences.

@Hound: Provided that you shrink down the number of servers I suppose that you could feel that the game and world was very much alive even with a way smaller player base.


@Jeffo: I checked up on the poster in this case. I did find one lvl 80 char with the same name, a human female, just like the poster, on the EU servers. It also had astonishing rep with vanilla factions, exalted with most, which indicates that it’s a veteran player. It could definitely be the same one that wrote this post…

@Dwism: It’s quite a difference to say ”MY game is dying” or rather ”my love for the game is dying, the game I learned to love isn’t there anymore” and to make universal statements that ”WoW is dying”.

Rodolfo said...

Yep. And to throw some more numbers a game like WoW is sustainable at 250k subscribers, beyond that you have a marginal profit of 70-90% depending how much customer support and infrastructure you put into.

So right now you have just over 3 million subscribers-ish (if you ever believed that they have 12 million people who pay $15 you live in PR-la-la-land). So even if they lose 90% of their players they still make a fortune compared to every other MMO in the market.

If, on the other hand, they'd lose 95% of their players then would need to restructure the company.

As a comparison if WoW were to lose 90% of their players it would have the same # of subscribers as EVE, which is not dying anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

My rather simplistic approach to the WoW is dying argument. Let's assume for argument's sake 7.5million subscription paying accounts exist, okay? This number is derived as an average of Blizzard's estimated 12M accounts and the more realistic figure of approximatley 3M - right in the middle as we have too many extremists to begin with. Right, so let's then say that one day, 50,000 accountholders decide that the game sucks and they no longer want to play. So, with equal parts bitterness and sadness, they terminate their account. With me so far? Good, because this same process would have to repeat itself EVERY DAY FOR THE NEXT FIVE MONTHS to reduce the accountholder base to zero. Now, obviously, this is very simplistic in that there is clearly a point of non-profitablity upon which Blizz will pull the plug and our toons will go to the great server in the sky. But, on the other hand, my simplistic approach does not even contemplate the addition of one new account! Aye, needless to say, there are reasons why this game is, has been and will continue to be the champion of the MMORPG for a while yet.

SpiritusRex

Klepsacovic said...

@Larisa: There is a rather long stage in which children cannot process different perspectives, not just in other people, but if you asked them "what would you see if you stood over there?" they could only tell you what they see at the moment. Or they point at stuff while on the phone because they think everyone can see what they see.

Everyone grows out of this rut, but that doesn't mean they must exercise their new cognitive powers. :)

Bri said...

As Psychochild said, every game that has forums and has been around long enough for people to leave the game is "dying".

The notable excepting being the NGE, which of course almost did.

Bronte said...

I have to admit, I am guilty of the same school of thought. The second time I quit WoW, I thought I was done for good. I didn't see the point in endlessly running on a hamster's wheel, in a never-ending race to acquire better and better gear, advance my character and thus, essentially go nowhere at all.

I have come to realize that this line of reasoning stems from, primarily, from endgame hardcore raiders, which I was one of at the time. I raided like a fiend, conquering content as soon as collectively possible. There was a certain rush in being the best, but it also had its drawbacks.

I think by the time I quit, I had lost a sense of the larger picture. I just imagined the game to be an endless quest for better raiding gear so you could not lolfail in the next iteration of the endgame instance. What I forgot was how the game was much more than just raiding. I could PvP, raid casually, run 5-mans, explore the world in places I hadn't seen yet (I, for instance, know not a single thing about the horde side of things in terms of content through questing and leveling). There is so much more to WoW than just endgame raiding, and once you come to that realization, you understand not only why WoW is so successful, but also why it is here to stay for a long, long time.

/end rant

Fish said...

I believe Wow will not die until it faces substantial competition. Age of Conan, LOTRO & Warhammer showed they could not produce a product that could even be brief competition. There are too many MMO players who want something to do, and Wow is the most polished product in the arena right now.

If you were currently driving a few year old luxury automobile and decided you might want a new car, would you be as eager to part with it if the only other choices were subcompacts?

EdMigPer said...

WoW isn't dying--at least, if it is, it's going to take a very long time until it can be labeled as dead. WoW has is a long death cycle due to the size of its subscriber list compared to the rest of the MMOs out there; and there's little indication it's entered that slow death spiral. The problem is, however, there are really no resources, other than Blizzard itself, to figure out whether this is the case or not.

I think this argument needs to be confined to Europe and the USA. There are plenty of MMOs that are popular in China, S. Korea, Japan, etc. that put WoW to shame in the gamer per capita per country category but are still considered dead in the US (or never have been born).

The best indicator of whether WoW has entered this slow rot is growth. If WoW doesn't grow, it's stagnated or has entered this rotting stage. WotLK sales figures don't really say that much because, I will dare posit the suggestion, a lot of these are probably purchases of already established gamers who finally got around to getting the latest expansion--call them the most casual of casuals.

The most solid way to see whether Blizzard is seeing WoW grow (instead of stagnate or slowly rot away) is how the realms are doing. There haven't been any new realms added for almost a year and a half (03/09 was the last date a new realm was opened (Nesingwary). Blizzard has stated that they open new realms based on growth in WoW subscriptions to make room for new players.

If Blizzard starts adding new realms, WoW is growing. If Blizzard has taken over a year to add any new realms, either they have increased their realm capacities (which they have, but enough to curtail any growth a year after an expansion? Doubtful), or the subscriber base is rotting.

New sales say there are new sales but much like US unemployment figures can be cryptic because one number doesn't tell the entire story (look up U3 and U6 unemployment figures). If we're not looking at attrition, sales figures are only a tiny portion of the bigger picture. Considering Blizzard has realm after realm of empty space and can't seem to fill them, it's pretty obvious there's at least stagnation, if not a slow rot festering behind the Blizzard veil.

Carson 63000 said...

EdMigPer.. is it significant, though, if WoW is stagnating, a year and a half into a two-year expansion cycle?

I'm pretty sure it was stagnating in June 2008, too. Didn't stop WotLK from breaking the record for most release day sales ever for a computer game.

Larísa said...

@SpiritusRex: Simple or not, it makes sense what you say. WoW is not closing down anytime soon.

@Klepsacovic: oh, I remember that too. You see a LOT of it in the game, which is funny since I believe the average age of WoW players is fairly high. Not the mental age though.

@Bri: oh, I don’t know what NGE stands for… I suppose it was dead before I ventured the world of games.

@Bronte: That’s a nice rant. A curious question: have you ever come back to explore all those other possibilities or was it too late – the game was already dead to you?

@Fish: Mind you it’s not just about driving a few year old cars. There are loads and loads of enthusiasts that never will turn their backs to way older cars than that. Some friends of mine are for instance dedicated Mini fans, going for long journeys all over Europe in a car that hardly could be classed as comfortable or convenient in any possible way.

@EdMigPer: Oh I’m convinced there’s stagnation too! But stagnation doesn’t equal to imminent death. And that’s what makes those WoW is dying-posts so silly. Especially in the perspective that we’ve heard them for over three years now.

@Carson 63000: it definitely goes in cycles. It remains to see how well they’ll succeed with Cataclysm though. I have a vague gut feeling that it might not be a success as long-lasting as previous expansions, since the core of the playerbase has put SO many hours into this game. They’ve bee there and done that and there’s an end to everything. Sure they want to see the brushed-up game and they’ll resub, but for how long? BUT, which is my point – this doesn’t mean that the game is on the verge of dying.

Bronte said...

@Larisa - I am now. When I came back this time, I raid maybe twice a month, for two reasons. 1) I am trying to help a friend/groups of friends, or 2) I actually meet the nonsensical GS requirements for a raid ("5.2KGS for Naxx, plz nonfail group pst!")

So I have started indulging in the other finer things in WoW. I am really beginning to enjoy PvP, I didn't think I would, but with a semi-decent team it can be an incredible rush.

I am also leveling a human mage to 80 before Cataclysm hits, but I am taking my time with each quest, raiding the text, understanding the lore, trying to ascertain why those 10 wolves absolutely need slaughtering.

With Gevlon as my inspiration, I have also started manipulating the AH economy, and the very-uncommon common sense, I have already accumulated over 57K gold by just buying low and selling high.

I even take time with seasons... Yesterday I put up a post on my blog about why lore matters, and asked how many people actually knew why you had to kill a FROSTlord (Ahune) during the MidSUMMER FIRE festival. 79% of respondents so far have no idea why, only 21% claim they know the back-story for why you have to take on Ahune.

There was a time when I would amass a 40-strong army of followers inside of a few minutes to go and hunt down world bosses in vanilla WoW, and beat the most hardcore raiding teams to Azureus and Kazzak and the Green Dragons.

These days I am proud of myself if I can finish both the cooking and fishing dailies in under 5 minutes. hahaha! How things change!

/end rant_2

@Video Game Philosopher - The next Blizzard MMO won't be WoW or any other Blizzard-IP. They have explicitly stated time and again that this new MMO will be a brand new universe and IP.

Copra said...

For some reason or another I got this feeling from the first comment to this post that Blizzard is actually doing a pretty clever marketing trick with Cataclysm...

You see, they change the mechanics of the WoW we know to much more simple and easily understandable form, causing the main game to get even easier to the newcomer. At the same time they upgrade the visuals of the Old Azeroth up to date.

This will cause the long time players to feel that the game got a) a lot easier, b)bored of sorts and c)ready for something similar but a bit harder.

Enter Tigole and WoW2.

The newcomers and social players will have a new experience in the old game, while the more achievement oriented players and raiders have something to drool upon. The original WoW would be the entry stage to the more hardcore WoW2, and thus serving the both populations perfectly.

Crap.

Back to the topic: Tobold wrote a nice post about this, in response I think. I agree with that completely: WoW isn't dying unless its going to suffocate under a pile of money.

Not anytime soon, anyhow.

C out

Scarybooster said...

Lol! I love "WoW is dying" threads. I would figure WoW is dying when:
1. Server mergers
2. A huge PR push
3. Blizzard focuses on new MMO
4. Patches get further apart
5. A f2p model takes effect

Bronte said...

@Scarybooster - Nice checklist, I am going to use that from now on!

Carra said...

Is WoW dying? Maybe. But not in a single day. It'll take months and years before the population drops beneath a million. And even at a million playes it would still be one of the largest mmorpgs.