The Myth of the World of Warcraft Killer
With the recent launch of Trion games new MMO Archeage, the familiar question of “Is this the next WoW killer?” has once again come up. The most recent loss of subscribers for Blizzard’s powerhouse MMO has caused the community to question once again how long until the next big thing takes it down. Time and time again World of Warcraft has beaten off the competition, but can this last forever?
Many MMOs have tried to step into the ring against Blizzard’s heavyweight, only to get knocked out in the first round. However, some have lasted longer than expected. To really get a full understanding of how dominating WoW is amongst the genre you have to take a look at the numbers. Back in August, during Activision’s Blizzard earnings call, World of Warcraft was reported to be down to 7.4 million subscribers. That seems like it may be a massive drop from the glory days, but historically speaking Blizzard has lost subscribers to the game before every expansion release. This proves to be especially true when the game suffers from a lack of new content for more than a year. These numbers may seem drastic especially considering when during the game's peak, back in October of 2010, the game had over 12 million players subscribed. What caused the game to lose about half of its subscribers in only four years and two expansions?
One can only speculate to the true answer, but it’s probably a combination of many different things. For one, the age of the people playing the game was probably a major contributing factor. If someone started playing the game when released that was 16 years old, that person would now be 26 today. I don’t have to preach to you about becoming an adult but most of you should know life is a lot different at 26 than 16. Considering that most players who started playing at launch were probably older than 16, a lot of these people have full time jobs and families now. You can’t commit that much time to an MMO the older you get. I think some people would also agree that the game’s weakest point was during the Cataclysm expansion. A lot of players weren’t happy with the content that expansion had to offer. I personally know many people who quit the game during that time, swearing they would never come back. Even with all these subscription issues giving off the false assumption that WoW is dying, the game still continues to dominate the competition.
Back in July, Forbes reported that Blizzard was still the king of MMOs, with a whopping 36 percent of the market in their favor. The next closest competitor is an Asian MMO, Lineage, bringing in about nine percent of the market. How is this possible with a game that has seen a steady decline in its player base though? For starters, the game continues to excel in the area that most MMOs will fail: end game content. Nobody does it like Blizzard in that regard. Whether it is epic raid boss battles, addictive PvP action, the constant addition of small group content for players, or the ever unfolding storyline that game continues to remain fresh even after you hit the level cap. The production value of the game is also second to none. Blizzard games across the board have continued to produce some the best cinematic moments, not just amongst MMOs, but throughout gaming in general. I think most critics would agree that the company is unrivaled in both of these aspects. However, the game continues to lose subscribers. But that isn’t necessarily an issue, as even lead game designer Tom Chilton to state Blizzard doesn’t expect the subscription numbers to drastically rise again. Let’s take a look at the competition and the gaming industry as a whole, how it’s changed, and how it directly affects World of Warcraft.
One of the other MMOs I have played “hardcore” was Rift. To this day that game holds my favorite class I have ever played in any MMO or RPG, the Chloromancer Mage. It’s one of the only MMOs that I actually enjoyed raiding in besides WoW. The constant world events and emphasis on very large groups were something that had been lacking in other games, but if it’s so great why does it only pull in one percent of the market, especially as a free-to-play title? It runs into the same problem many MMOs do. You can’t copy WoW to be successful because Blizzard will always do it a little better. Take another game that appears fourth on the list, bringing in six percent of the market also with a free-to-play model, Star Wars the Old Republic. While having an MMO based off one of the best RPGs of all time, Star War Knights of the Old Republic, is a great idea, you can’t just throw the Star Wars title on a WoW clone and expect it to make money. The game lacks what many Star Wars fans want, an MMO that plays and feels like a Star Wars game.
With a lack of great support from BioWare (don’t call their hotline for account support), the game just feels like it was ignored after being made. We have also seen the MMORPG model bleed into many popular franchises, especially on the console. Think of the level of detail applied into creating your character in games like Call of Duty or Halo now. You can literally spend more time customizing a character in the options menu then actually playing the game. Not to mention the fact that things like selecting killstreaks, gun loadouts, and perks to plays with are essentially the same thing as putting points into a talent tree. Games which were once pick up and play have now turned into experiences that are way more in-depth and require a much more substantial time investment. With the launch of games like Destiny, which requires players to farm for drops, has raids, and even has major city hubs, the lines between an MMO and what was once considered a common game experience have become blurred. Not to mention the dominant force that is League of Legends, currently the most played game in the world. You can play just like the pros if you want for no money spent at all. Sure you might not have access to everything the game has to offer, but the core of the game still remains open without any monetary investment. All of these examples and many more can help directly explain the drop in WoW subscriptions, but the game still continues to dominate the genre.
You see, when it’s all said and done, the only WoW killer can be the game itself. Blizzard has an established universe with countless amount stories to be told. With the recent cancellation of the long rumored Titan Blizzard has all the time to invest into WoW again. When Blizzard decides it’s done with WoW and it’s time to move onto the next thing, that’s when Warcraft will be over. That’s really the only inevitable path for the game to take. As long as we keep paying for it, which we will, we will keep getting the content. The game should see a small jump in subscriptions once Warlords of Draenor is released and even if it doesn’t, we have no reason to believe we still won’t get the best game Blizzard has to offer. No other MMO will ever kill this game because no other game has such an established franchise and strong name and legacy. Until Blizzard decides the stop supporting the game, let’s appreciate the game for what it has given us. May the king of MMOs live forever.