Long post about a short comment

Every few days, I try to hit up the Game Informer feed in my reader. I’m not a huge player of other video games, but I generally like the writing there, and sometimes I see something over there that turns me on to something new. At times, I get blog ideas, such as my recent posts on microtransactions and the Activision Blizzard / Vivendi buyout.

As I said, I generally like the writing at GI. However, this article on Friday by Ben Reeves, concerning WoW’s subscription drop to 7.7 million subs, had me shaking my head at the writer’s perceived speed of the demise of the game.

WoW is a game that is on the decline, as regards its popularity. Nobody really disputes this. Sub numbers have been dropping for the better part of a year now – basically ever since MoP was released and the “I’m back to see the new expansion” players had had their fill and begun to once again direct their gaming dollars elsewhere – and they’ve been generally dropping since their all-time high during early Wrath of the Lich King. This is a fact. I’m fine with it; it doesn’t affect my game experience.

Despite subscription numbers reaching lows not seen in half a decade, the fact is that Blizzard reported that it still has 7.7 million paying customers. This reporting happened at an interesting time of year: late-patch, mid-expansion, mid-summer (the height of vacation season). All things considered, that seems pretty healthy for any game, let alone MMOs, where World of Warcraft still dwarfs every other competitor – and the term “dwarf” is an understatement if there ever was one in this situation. Assuming that half of the subscribers pay the equivalent of the full $14.99 per month (probably a conservative estimate) and that the other half pay the equivalent of the 6-months-at-$11.99-per-month subscription (almost definitely a high estimate), the conservative math at 7.7 million customers shows, at the very least, that WoW brings in more than $103 million per month in gross subscription revenue alone.

In spite of these numbers – which are easily computable on your phone or computer’s calculator – “The Sky Is Falling” is a quarterly holiday now, along with the people who are kind enough to take the time to log into the comments sections of various sites and proclaim that they wish WoW would die. It’s like the changing of the seasons, except, to my mind, it’s become less exciting than watching paint dry.

Which is why I was fairly annoyed to see a Game Informer writer come out and basically say the same thing. Here’s Reeves’ take on the news of the latest sub drop:

I don’t really find this surprising. WoW has had a good, long run. World of Warcraft debuted back in 2004, meaning it’s been a staple of the gaming landscape for nearly a decade. The game has been a massive cash cow for Blizzard for a long time, and even if it dies now, it will have been well worth its development. Personally, I’m eager for Blizzard to finally put the game to rest so we can see what the company has lined up next. And I don’t just mean the company’s next MMOs. I’m sure that Blizzard held off releasing another WarCraft RTS while WoW was active in order to avoid splintering the brand, but that may not be the case much longer!

(Bold emphasis mine.)

As you can see, the first part of the quote is fairly pedestrian commentary. However, the section I put in bold, beginning with “even if it dies now,” prompted my eyebrows to raise sharply, several times.

Let’s look at parts of this.

1) “even if it dies now.”

So, WoW is going to die now? A 9% summer time subscription drop means something, like maybe there won’t be another expansion? This goes contrary to comments as recent as the ones Greg Street and Marco Koegler made in an interview last week in Korea.

Greg Street, on which baddies we may face once the Seige of Orgrimmar is over (starts at 1:04 of the interview):

“…any future bosses that the Alliance or Horde will take out will have to be in future expansions, which we’re not quite ready to talk about yet, although there is a Blizzcon coming soon, so maybe then. As far as powerful enemies, yes! Azshara and Sargeras are still on the list. We have a lot of bad guys out there still to fight, so a lot of adventures still coming in the future.”

Or not. Right? Because WoW might “die now” …

Marco Koegler on the perception that the MMO-RPG is a dead genre and what that means for WoW (starts at 6:26):

“I think millions of players in the world are disagreeing with that statement. We’re still the number one subscription MMO in the world, and yeah, I think if we turned off servers right now, it would be very very bad news for a lot of people out there.”

Be warned, players! The end is nigh!

There are other comments that indicate long-term health of the game and aspirations on the parts of the developers, and absolutely no indications that they are about ready to close up shop.

Additionally, given how active Blizzard developers and CMs have become in their interactions with fans (see Twitter, etc.), I see no signs that the team is anywhere near the point of packing it in. New levels of interaction and engagement are not indicators of “yeah, we’re probably going to can the game soon.”

The bottom line is that “even if it dies now” is ridiculous.

However, assuming that the game actually is about to die, let’s move on…

2) Personally, I’m eager for Blizzard to finally put the game to rest so we can see what the company has lined up next. And I don’t just mean the company’s next MMOs. I’m sure that Blizzard held off releasing another WarCraft RTS while WoW was active in order to avoid splintering the brand, but that may not be the case much longer!

Are you serious?

First of all, Blizzard is not “Greg Street and Friends” working 24/7 to bring you all of your Blizz favorites. There are many teams. There are even different teams working on different WoW expansions; there has been a separate team working on the next expansion since before this expansion was launched. Lacking hierarchical company breakdowns and team rosters, oral history indicates that if Blizzard wants to develop something, it pulls together a team to do it, and some of that involves hiring people to complete that team. There are certainly people with their hands in multiple pots, but I don’t think that they are being held back from developing new different content simply because WoW stands in the way.

As for the Warcraft RTS that Blizzard has purportedly had to shelve: everything I’ve read over the past several years – and while I’m not omniscient, I’ve been pretty plugged in to the game and its community for more than five years – seems to indicate that Blizzard has not seriously considered making a Warcraft 4 to this point. They’ve dismissed almost all questions about a Warcraft RTS with some version of “we have no plans to make a Warcraft RTS at this time” for years. World of Warcraft has been a massive success on many levels, and those are not simply financial. I don’t think I need to elaborate. Until there is anything other than whimsical speculation regarding a Warcraft RTS, this is not really a talking point that has much weight. As far as I can tell, the developers feel they can tell the Warcraft story in a very compelling way with WoW, and that they’re happy with that. And they’ve certainly done plenty outside of WoW to further the story, with online short stories, print novels, manga, the WoW quarterly magazine, and so on; with that in mind, I’m not even sure that the “tell the story better” argument has any value. They’ve just decided to tell it as an MMO for the last 9 years.

And “…that might not be the case much longer!” Once again, I’m wondering what foundation there is for this type of journalistic speculation. As I mentioned above, there are strong indications that there will be at least one more WoW expansion, and possibly three or four more.

Finally…

“Personally, I am eager for Blizzard to finally put the game to rest so we can see what the company has lined up next.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a game journalist at Game Informer state that he hoped that a game, for which the expansions have all received 9/10s and 10/10s from his magazine, would be shut down. It seems anathema to me. It also seems moot, since as I said above, if Blizzard really wanted to kill WoW in order to make a Warcraft RTS, they would do so.

Obviously, I am going overboard in my dissection of the analysis of a Game Informer writer; it’s commentary from a website that does not provide extensive coverage of WoW, and I usually don’t go to them for coverage of the game. The writer is certainly entitled to his opinion: if he wants WoW to be put to rest, that’s his prerogative.

However, the rest of the second half of his comment reads like something out of the forums or comments section, not something written by a long-time journalist for a respected game magazine. My main problem is that the comment misleads the reader: it seems flippant, is highly speculative, glosses over – or outright ignores – facts, and gives credence to ideas (“welp, WoW is dying lol”) that are just not up to the standard that I would expect from that site/magazine.

Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!

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4 Comments on “Long post about a short comment”

  1. dobablo says:

    Nicely put.
    My favourite aspect of the coverage is how total sub’s history is sort of curve shaped and therefore WoW has just over a year left. Let’s just ignore standard product legible analysis. The only thing that would products to suddenly die is a loss of ability to provide a functioning product or the release of a better product. The original article writer obviously knows about some WoW-Killers due for release next year that is non-press mortals have not yet seen.

    Of course, to shut up these haters we really need some sort of precedent. Shame that there is no history of mmos every having peaked in popularity then stabilised at a lower level that was viable enough to maintain.

  2. valentinekbs says:

    I agree with you completely on this. Negative comments about wow dying, or finding new wow killers only make you look a bit idiotic, especially if you look at subs and numbers compared to any other MMO out there. While WoW has dropped quite a bit since WotLK, it still more than triples any current subs for any other MMO out there last i checked. Blizzard has also proven, that when they want something out, they’ll do it regardless of wow exp development or patches, D3 and hearthstone just to name a few released, not to mention the various other projects being worked on. Very nice post, it’s nice to see someone else in the community with the same views based on facts.

  3. Quelys says:

    Awesome read mate!
    All negativity aside, I would love to speculate how many subscribers would be considered low enough to think about wrapping up WoW. If you think about it, even 1 mil players would be plenty (you would think). I will play till the end!

    • Mushan says:

      Exactly. The sub numbers have been so high for so long that I think that some people view any decline as abject failure and certain death. In reality, the fact that the game has more than seven times one million players, 9 years after launch, is amazing


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