World of Warcraft in ambiguous figures shock!June 18, 2007
There have been several posts proclaiming the beginning of the end for World of Warcraft; most notably The Guardian Gamesblog, GigaOm and Raph Koster’s blog. To be totally fair, only The Guardian post carries any apocalyptic overtones, the other two posts examine World of Warcraft in the context of the life cycle of an MMORPG. The point of debate is this chart from WorldofWarcraftRealms:
Has WoW plateaued and is about to start a steady descent as Raph suggests or are we seeing something different here?
Technically speaking, the graph is actually ambiguous on this point, it shows concurrency, that is numbers of players in-game at the same time, not actually numbers of players overall. Yeah, concurrency peaked with the release of The Burning Crusade expansion, but concurrency is still higher than it was before the release of The Burning Crusade. The progress of the graph does suggest that numbers are in decline although it doesn’t hint at how they will pan out. Concurrency could drop to a level that remains higher than pre-The Burning Crusade, it could plateau to numbers that are roughly the same as pre-The Burning Crusade or they could drop below it!
Raph assumes that the figures represents the typical curve of the life of an MMORPG, but will WoW buck the trend and break the rules as it did with number of subscriptions/players. I guess we’ll see in another 12 months, although of course there should be another six month old expansion pack around by then. Wagner James Au on GigaOm, thinks that these figures could indicate that WoW is actually losing players.
If people are leaving WoW in big enough numbers to make this sort of impact, naturally the big question is why?
Raph seems to think that The Burning Crusade simply sold to existing players rather than bringing many new players to the game and that following its immediate release players habits changed – basically they played more, consuming the new content like the plague – then reverted back to their normal playing habits.
Coincidentally, Tobold posted this blog entry on Sunday – Sending a Message to Blizzard: World of Warcraft Account Cancelled. Tobold’s reason for leaving WoW, and it’s been some time coming, is the lack of content for the more casual player, top-end requiring massive investments in time to gain attunement to various high-level raiding instances. Interestingly he expects he’ll be back with the next expansion, which fits with Raph’s view that MMORPGs can go on forever, unless someone decides to pull the plug.
If people are genuinely leaving WoW in greater numbers than those joining then the problem of asking why is that because it has such a broad range of players there probably isn’t one simple reason why. For example Tobold’s decision to leave was influenced by the fact that the core of his guild seems to contain more hardcore players while he is a more casual player and he just doesn’t want to have to catch up with them. This is an aspect of the game that Blizzard has very little control of, unless it decided to incorporate a ‘Looking For Guild’ channel, with settings such as ‘casual’ (15 hours a week tops), ‘very casual’ (10 hours a week tops), ‘semi-casual’ (20 hours a week tops) etc.
Finally, the competition seems to have swayed Tobold away from WoW, in particualr Lord of the Rings Online, a game that offered a less time-heavy alternative to WoW and, from the way he talked about it, a breath of fresh air.
As a qualitative researcher, Tobold is a great case study, he shows that there is never one answer to a problem and that some problems are within a companies control – more casual content for The Burning Crusade – and there are those outside it – guild clashes, for example.