In my personal opinion WoW is still today the best MMO out there. Not because it’s really good, but because the genre didn’t make any step forward and decent efforts like Guild Wars 2 are only that, decent, and still can’t match the juggernaut. So if WoW loses subs it’s not primarily because of competition.
So why is it losing subscribers? The reason is explained in a number of old blogs I wrote years ago. The main cause in technical terms is: “mudflation”.
The problem, more concretely, is that in the last few years WoW’s development has focused mainly on catering to veteran players, especially the raid crowd, while every other aspect of the game was neglected or pushed back in the priorities. So what is happening is that WoW has become extremely unwelcoming for new players. It closed itself. It nourished its own playerbase, but closing itself to the new blood that is INDISPENSABLE to keep a virtual world alive.
When you cut that source of vitality the consequence is that the game-world starts to wither. And you notice this concretely by looking at the subscribers count and its downward, slow trend. It withers.
I canceled my subscription shortly after Cataclysm and up to that point I never canceled my account since day one.
The main reason why I canceled my subscription is that post-Cataclysm the quest balance was completely destroyed.
They made lots of changes to make leveling faster. The main reason being that most players have already gone through all the content multiple times, the level caps got higher and higher, and so they needed to make everything faster. The problem is that faster leveling means that all the quest progression was completely broken. I couldn’t even advance on SINGLE quest line without outleveling it. And if I dared do a dungeon run I’d have to basically skip entirely the zone I was questing in.
Racing through content may be good on paper, but it completely destroys the experience. Without even a little fun in the quests it meant that for me the game became utterly bland and more boring than ever. They redid all the zones, new quests and everything, but I couldn’t enjoy any of that because there was no way to actually go through the quests normally.
Ideally the leveling should be a natural consequence of the quest progress. It was one of the biggest accomplishment of WoW at release: you’d simply go through the quests available and your character would level up accordingly and being guided through the zones. Questing was the focus, leveling up was the natural consequence. And you didn’t feel any grind because the content led you. This, precisely, was WoW’s secret sauce: removing the grind (or the feel of the grind).
When things break in this system is either when you reach a place where the quests are suddenly way above your level, or when your character outpaces the quests and so everything becomes trivial in both reward and challenge.
My point is: pre-Cataclysm WoW had an excellent balance with quest progression and leveling. Post-Cataclysm this balance was carelessly destroyed in the name of SPEED, NOW, MORE LEVELS. FAST FOODS.
If they knew they were going to cut so much the leveling times then they should have rebalanced the quests accordingly, to preserve the balance. Speeding them up and adjusting the experience points you earn.
Instead it seems the speed up was an afterthought and no one cared if they broke the perfectly crafted balance and one of the major features of the game. To me it feels like they handed a perfectly crafted thing to some new guy, and this new guy didn’t even remotely understand why the thing worked so well in the first place.
At this point the best thing to do would be: restore the finely tuned balance there was before, offer level 90 characters for a smaller fee for those who are bored of leveling, and FLAG those characters with some icon of shame.
That way those who enjoy leveling can actually enjoy it the way it was originally designed, and those who don’t can bypass it entirely. I’d probably be still subscribed if that was the case.
But instead WoW has just become a raiding game, where every other system is secondary to raiding support (and character customization sacrificed for class balance). Now leveling up a character is just the grind one has to suffer in order to start the raiding game. The faster, the better.
You aren’t a raiding player? Then why again are you still subscribed?