Just before the announcement of the next World of Warcraft expansion name, the number of active subscribers declined heavily during the second quarter of 2015. This is a decline of 1.5 million active players when you compare it with the first quarter of 2015 where World of Warcraft had 7.1 million subscribers. There was usually always a decline of subscribers before a new expansion as most players went through all the content, but what makes this news so dramatic is that it is almost an all-time low as the game is back to numbers of the time when World of Warcraft was released in 2004, because World of Warcraft had 5.6 million subscribers back then in December 2005 as you can see here.
I would lie if I didn’t see it coming, the direction that Blizzard took after Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King was not a good sign. The game really went downhill since Cataclysm and it got worse with Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor. The early adopted, those that played the game either since Vanilla or Burning Crusade noticed the changes the most. When a game goes mainstream, it does also bring players into the boat that do actually dislike to play games. What I mean by this is, that the game got a massive amount of new players that couldn’t adapt to the fact that it takes time to achieve things in games, and that it can also be difficult but challenging. With the later expansions Blizzard got heavily influenced by the new players that disliked to spend time for the completion of challenging tasks in the game. Believe it or not, this is what is cracking on the bone World of Warcraft.
The condemned live longer, while this is true, a delayed game over is not better either, because this is how it looks for the patient World of Warcraft. While the game is still the number one massively multiplayer online role-playing game, it is still a bad sign to see the declining numbers. To answer the question why World of Warcraft became a big monster in the first place, you need to understand that the game offered people a world, a world to discover, a world full of challenged including difficult ones. Take all these aspects and remove them, what is left? A game without challenges, a game that bores the hell out of you, a game full of people demanding new content in ever-increasing time intervals since the content is easy to beat in no time, it is nothing left than a shadow of what it was once.
It might be me, I am grown up in a time where games were challenging, but that is how games should be, it should take time and it should be difficult to get through the game. If I want to get through a story without much effort, I put on my TV and watch a movie, it’s that simple. I demand that from a game that it will give me a hard time, a long time, and World of Warcraft was just that back in the Vanilla and Burning Crusade days. While Wrath of the Lich King still excited me too, it was an expansion where I noticed first simplifications, later it became apparent that Blizzard’s new strategy was to listen to worst players. Here is something that should make you think, if people demand a change to make something easier for them, if there are enough of them, and if the developer is stupid enough to listen, these changes will come but at the same time they will affect the overall gameplay experience hardly , it is basically destroying game time for everyone.
Of course, this sounds generalized, but if I would list certain problems that appeared with each patch, the article would get pretty long, because the list of failures is that long. In other words, Blizzard needs to realize that the game got traction back then for a reason, people got interested in the game because it was one of the games where you could spend a hell of a time, where thing were not easy to achieve, yes even the complexity was one of the reason. To make it more clear, if your product is doing that fine, you should not listen to players that think they know it better.
I don’t want to say that player feedback isn’t important, but really, players don’t really understand what they want and don’t understand the widespread consequences of single changes. With that said, listening to feedback is great, but if the developer takes the job too serious and does listen to every scream of a person that wants to achieve something easier in no time, it’s going to annoy the people who made the game great per word of mouth advertisement, the people who created websites around the game and what not, but the backbone of the game, and if they are leaving, it’s not good for the game. Now it’s even more dramatic, at least a half of the players noticed that letting the own account dry out without activating another month is actually the better idea, because the game doesn’t offer anything anymore that would keep the player engaged. I don’t even think it’s the amount of content, it’s the easiness and short period of time you need to get through the content. There needs to be a fair amount of content that appears “immersing” to the player, that is not too easy and too fast achievable for the mass of people.
If Blizzard doesn’t see the fast declining player base as a wake up call, we will most likely see news that are worse. When I have conversations with my friends about the time in WoW, we all agree, Vanilla World of Warcraft was super amazing, Burning Crusade flabbergasted us even more, Wrath of the Lich King was pretty amazing but there were some first signs of simplifications, but Blizzard absolutely went the wrong direction with Cataclysm, Mist of Pandaria, and all the oversimplifications that got introduced and that killed the fun in the game. When it comes to Warlords of Draenor, I just played the beta and a free test period after that, as a long time Mage since Vanilla, I was totally put off by the new class design, I didn’t want to dive further into the expansion, it was the final stroke to me and the few friends saw it the same due to other reasons, a whole guild of 20 people, excited World of Warcraft players got shattered over several expansion, I was one of the last four that all left the game with Warlords of Draenor. I still talk to some, and simply said, most of them say “It’s not the same game anymore”.
This Blizzard, this is the problem, and you won’t change the direction of the game with yearly released content expansions, the problems got introduced through at least three or four expansions, to fix the game and to amaze people again, the developers have to go back to the roots. At the moment I am not sure if Blizzard is willing to change the course, or if they are actually capable to do so. I think there are a lot of new developers and leaders working on the game, people with a very different philosophy. The game has past it’s best, at the moment I can only imagine a slow death of World of Warcraft, what do you think?