World of Warcraft is unique in the MMO space because it has survived the test of time. However, old age is starting to creep up on the classic MMO as well. Activision Blizzard reported that World of Warcraft has shed three million subscribers in a mere three months.
While players might get bored with an MMO that has lasted almost 11 years, the number also represents the biggest subscriber loss in a single quarter. The game has steadily gained subscribers until a plateau in Q4 2010, when the expansion pack Cataclysm was released. Subscriber levels haven’t grown significantly since despite small spikes in Q3 2012 and Q4 2014, when the expansion packs Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor were released.
Many of the complaints about the game center around the lack of content. Most players are split into two camps – player vs. environment content (more popularly known in the community as “raids”) and player vs. player (PvP) content, where players battle each other in an arena (2v2, 3v3 or 5v5) or battleground (up to 40v40) environment. An ELO-like rating system governs arenas and rated battlegrounds (10v10).
Warlords did not add any new battlegrounds or arenas, and only released two raids – Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry, which can only be done once a week on four different difficulties (Looking For Raid, Normal, Heroic and Mythic). Raids can take at least three hours to complete, depending on the skill of your raid. While battlegrounds and arenas can provide more replay value, the difficulty of reaching the highest ranks can be frustrating to all but the most dedicated of players.
In Warlords, Activision Blizzard introduced player garrisons, which was an attempt to respond to players wanting guild housing for many years. Some players have criticized the maintenance of said garrisons on the game’s official forums and compared them more to “chores” than to having fun. This is exacerbated by many players having a “main” character, the one they use to raid or PvP on, and “alt” characters, which players use for various reasons, such as professions, storing game items, or even raiding or PvPing. Each character has their own garrison, and maintaining multiple garrisons might make Warlords seem more like work than play.
Another possible reason for the shed in subscribers could be attributed to the release of the “WoW Token”, where players can exchange their in-game gold for a month of game time. The current subscription price is $15 a month, with discounts for buying multiple months at once. This was introduced primarily to fight off real money trading that has plagued the game for many years. Real money trading is against the game’s Terms of Service. Those who have hoarded gold over the years, or know how to use the in-game Auction House to turn a profit, might have bought WoW Tokens in lieu of a subscription. However, this impact won’t be seen until the next earnings call.
Activision Blizzard also maintains several other games such as StarCraft II, Hearthstone, Diablo III, Heroes of the Storm and the upcoming Overwatch, which are possible destinations for those who have abandoned World of Warcraft. “Our talented teams around the world continue to create experiences that inspire our audiences. In the last 12 months, we had over 150 million active users around the world who played our games for more than 12 billion hours and spectators who watched over a billion hours of linear programming based on our games. In the past year, Activision Blizzard’s communities grew by more than 25 percent,” said CEO Bobby Kotick in the company’s quarterly earnings call, alluding that while the World of Warcraft community has shrunk, its other communities have grown.