On Quarterly Population Shifts

So every quarter or so, Blizzard has to report their population numbers on WoW to their shareholders. Over the last couple years, this has led a lot of folks to go crazy because those population numbers have been steadily declining.

wow subscriber reports(<– click to expand, it’s pretty telling)

Everyone wants to use their personal hobby horse to explain why the numbers are declining.

  • “Blizzard is catering to the casuals and driving away hardcore players.”
  • “Blizzard has made the game too grindy.”
  • “Blizzard needs to go F2P/adapt more ideas from F2P games to capture that market.”
  • “Blizzard needs to generate more content faster.”
  • “Blizzard is putting content out too fast, and players are burning out because they can’t keep up.”
  • “Blizzard’s incapable of coming up with a good villain since they killed Arthas and or Illidan.”
  • “The game is too easy/too hard/too time-consuming/too oriented around [content type], they just need to balance it out.”
  • “The game looks too cartoony/like it was designed in 2003/has too much visual lag.”
  • “Players are jerks.”
  • “Ghostcrawler promised too many ponies.”

A lot of debate gets thrown around, because clearly not everyone agrees on what exactly Blizzard is doing wrong, or what Blizzard should do to fix it.

I’ll be clear: I’ve got a lot of respect for Blizzard. This is a landmark game in a volatile industry during a catastrophic world economic crisis, and when it’s all said and done no one is going to think that Blizzard failed after they put WoW out there for as long as it was a dominant force in the MMO market. I don’t know if people are expecting that Blizzard is going to do something magical that brings all of the players who left because they lost their livelihood/had kids/changed jobs/grew out of videogames/died from leukemia/moved onto LoL or D3 or SWTOR or GW2.

More importantly, I don’t know if there IS a way for Blizzard to regain 5 million players. For as many people that argue that Blizzard needs to go back to the concepts in Burning Crusade or the classic game that experienced exponential growth, there are as many people who are suggesting that Blizzard do really radical things to try and regain lost players. And I’d argue that a) going back to pre-expansion designs would alienate more players than it would recover, and b) doing radical changes, as they did in Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria are gambles that don’t appear to have paid off.

There’s no win condition here, and anyone who says they’ve got the solution is very likely echoing something that a dev at Blizzard has already thought of.

“So what’s the takeaway here?” you might ask. “Is WoW doomed?”

If you’re asking if there will come a time when no one is playing World of Warcraft, that answer was always yes. Even back in 2004 there was a distinct possibility that the game would fail to gain traction in the market, or that it WOULD gain traction and then eventually drop down to a die-hard cult following or just dissipate completely. That’s all still true now. But few people seem willing to acknowledge that WoW will one day come to an end, just as any person that’s born eventually dies.

That being said, I’ll probably keep playing the game until they shut the servers off.


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