World of Warcraft is losing subscribers, why?

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?

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Elder Scrolls Online: subscriptions

Gathering up some comments, since it’s typical that discussions focus on the part of the argument that is irrelevant.

It’s like those interviews where you omit the questions and have to guess them.

You keep talking about the business model being obsolete, but this is stupid. What is obsolete is the standard MMORPG gameplay. That’s why people now want it FREE, or nothing. Because IT SUCKS.

If ESO offered a kind of value that feels new and stimulating, then being on a subscription fee would be absolutely viable.

The point here is that this GAMEPLAY IS STALE. And people aren’t willingly to pay for stale gameplay. Especially not premium prices considering that these days ALL PRICES are down in every gaming genre.

“People unwilling to pay” applies EQUALLY whether you have subs, or free to play. The difference is that on free to play people can actually decide you are worth exactly $0.

This is the best example that demonstrates the opposite of what you say.

FFXVI launched once, failed, went again into development, relaunched, was marginally successful.

Result: failure/success depends on development and not on having a subscription, since this is a game that failed once, succeeded once, and in both cases has a subscription just the same. Hence, it’s not the subscription itself the deciding factor.

“Market research”: what you spend money on so they tell you what you already know.

Making games, like art, means envisioning what is not already there. Even if it’s an original recombination of old elements. Good games create their market, a market that didn’t exist before, and that market research for sure couldn’t foresee.

Like MOBA today. Suddenly it’s MOBA everywhere. Yet MOBA didn’t truly exist before and no one needed them. (or Dark Souls, or roguelikes etc…)

So, if you work in the industry you only need to decide if you are the idiot that blindly FOLLOWS the trends and is lead by the nose, or if you have some ambition and walk ahead and lead them.

Oh, and I really do believe this discussion is stubbornly stupid: keep talking about sub fees all you want. It’s IRRELEVANT.

It’s the game that is relevant, and what you pay for it is secondary to what kind of experience the game delivers. A game could even be worth $100, just as long it delivers that kind of experience.

Market trends come after. The economy of a business is a domino. The pieces fall following the pattern they are set on. You change the pattern, they fall differently.

But it looks like you want to talk just about secondary consequences as if they are primary motivations…

WoW isn’t shedding subs because it’s subs based, but because development halted completely a few years ago and development staff moved onto new projects.

MMORPGs last exactly as their dev teams.

F2P is the 2nd stage: when dev teams are moving on different projects, and the game is kept on life support as long it lasts.

Only the actual quality and type of game can carry $15 subs. The question is whether or not ESO delivers that kind of quality and novelty.

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The oracle says: The Elder Scrolls Online

– Yes, I’ve seen the beta.
– I will only speak generally, to respect the NDA.
– What I found was actually better than what I expected after reading leaks and other forums discussions before I got into beta. This game’s reputation is rather awful out there.

The problem isn’t that everyone is now bored of playing MMORPGs, it’s instead that in the last few years MMORPGs have been gutted of all their potential and appeal.

We’ve got more and more single-player games that are offering interesting sandboxes, instead we get MMORPGs that are more linear than single-player games. That’s what is wrong.

So what’s the reason why someone should play a MMORPG? Only one: the appeal of “lots of content”, because that’s the idea that comes with every MMORPG. You play for hundreds of hours. But these days all that translates into: “I’m going to play for 200 hours this extremely dull combat, yay?” …Why? It all really comes down to this. It sounds more like torture than something you’d want to do. We get so many good games that the idea of spending hundreds of hours into DULL linear gameplay isn’t appealing for anyone. It’s just a single-player game, but WORSE. It’s just the same awful combat of Skyrim, but WORSE, because it’s online and with the online “features”: like lag, absence of collision and so on. Skyrim combat is already awful, so now it’s much worse! Good job! Everyone will love this absolutely!

That’s ultimately ESO’s challenge: demonstrate it’s not just an Elder Scroll game, but, oh, so much worse BECAUSE it has all the INCONVENIENCES of being online.

Or: ESO is worse than Skyrim proportionally to its MMORPG features & design forced into it. You get EVERYTHING you learned to hate after years of bad MMORPGs, concentrated into an Elder Scroll game, to ruin it.

Either the developers know how to answer this, or they don’t. And they don’t have a lot of time left.

Instead, why would YOU buy another Skyrim that has become several times worse because of its port to a classic MMORPG, and that not only costs you full price, but also $15 a month?