Once again, the sky isn’t falling for World of Warcraft

The earnings call by Blizzard indicates that the subscriber numbers are apparently up slightly from 7.6 to 7.8 million players (reported by wowinsider). Honestly I am surprised it wasn’t a decrease, but also very pleased. In a rough economic climate for game developers and entertainment companies WoW as a game is still doing well.

Consider too that a game charging around USD$15 per month with 7 million players is doing exceedingly well. If another game had that revenue rate for a year the owning company would have very powerful options for what they did next, and what direction they chose to move.

Blizzard have had almost 10 years of good subscriber numbers. Think about that seriously for a minute, how much revenue? And then join me in the hope that they are reinvesting heavily in their next set of games. It was not chance that the Hearthstone Beta was as good as a polished game when the beta started (yes the card balance wasn’t there, but the quality was darn high).

How are the subscriber numbers generated?

No idea, but I’d bet that whatever sneaky formulas the paranoid types tell us they use to limit the perceived drop were already in use when the last few earnings calls were announced with the decreases, so that means this is a legit increase. Or at worst it a stable period in subscribers.

Either way, the sky is not falling on World of Warcraft. I know that some folks like to think that WoW will die any season now, but I really think that it can decrease for a while before it is really dying, and this recent rise means that it might be a little further away than we thought.

Good. I’ve still got heaps to do. Happy Killing.

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Aside about Subscribers


So Diablo 3 has 6.3 million subscribers, where two weeks ago there were just Beta testers. WoW continues to add new subscribers, but I cannot believe that the overall numbers are not dropping significantly as time passes. Wow might get a boost when Mists of Cuddle Bear is released, but overall I’d expect WoW’s stable population to reduce slowly in the next few years down to around 6 million. Certainly most of the WoW’ers I know are now playing D3, and look at other games very seriously. As well they should as WoW is great, but many other games need a look too.

We also know that KoA from 38 Studios is not doing brilliantly, but still has some dedicated fans; frankly I hope they survive and prosper as Curt Shilling seems a reasonable chap and he is following a dream. Star Wars ToR is dropping subscribers, and has an even more passionate user base within the subscribers than many other games.They might find a solid base is plenty to retain as viable as well.

Its a poor time to gamble on MMO subscribers, unless you’re the bookie. What is the future? Well imho the future of subscriber games is a very wide range of games which players switch between. The Warcraft golden days where everyone played wow are over, and I doubt they will ever return.

Who can’t love many games with many options? I certainly can.

What is the value of personalisation?

I’ve been thinking about the reasons that mmo can sometimes feel stale. WoW is a game that has been running a very long time, and is probably one of the best examples we have to learn from about player burn out, returning to games, and what makes an experience valuable.

Players seem to leaving at a slow but steady rate, and part of that is probably boredom with the content. Part of it too will be a loss of connection to their playing experience. That makes sense after a few years of playing a game, and it is normal to expect the player base to ebb and flow, especially during summer periods (for those centric to the USA), school holidays, and all sorts of other real life distractions. I think we are also seeing a steady but slightly slower stream of new players joining the game, or trying to get more from the game experience.

For me Warcraft is still very interesting, and the act of playing during the changes in players, content updates (or lack of), and the politics of relationships is as binding an experience as the game content itself. This too will have a shelf life, and will be either refreshed or replaced by something else.

Maybe what the player base needs is an avalanche of options? Give the player choices and watch them craft a personalised experience through the setting.

For example – the choice of hearthstone. There are a few items that emulate the function of the hearthstone (Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz encounter in Karazhan, and the Inkeeper’s Daughter from Archaeology, or the Ethereal Portal from the WoW TCG ), but most players will probably always stick to the default white rock with a blue swirl. That small touch might be something that connects a player to their character. In affect it could be part of the overall appeal which is the stickiness of the game in their mind.

Mounts and pets are another example – those who wish to collect, and to enjoy playing with the in-game pets.

I’d argue that the graphical presentation of a character is very important to players. Maybe not all players, but most have an opinion of what their character looks like. We have options to hide cloaks and helms, we have an in-game gear switcher, and we have a very wide range of “vanity” or non-combat items that tweak the character’s appearance. It has to be a draw card, or a stack of programming time has been wasted (and I doubt it).

Perhaps a small part of the formula for game appeal is this ephemeral like of the appearance and customisation – and therefore the player base should seek to challenge the developers to add more options. This does not need to be top-hats, or new shirts, but could be different ways to achieve the same affects we already have.

How about these as examples:

[Gnomish Ultra-Processor]
Bind on Equip, requires Engineering 500.
Applies a new animation which is a blue swirly beam (like the gas extractor) that “processes” the node, gas, dead creature, or some such. Acts as a skinning knife, miner’s pick, etc; basically an alternative to the utility knife. Same function, just a different appearance in the game world. Created by Engineering.

[Beam-Me-Up Transporter]
Bind on Equip, unique.
Acts as a replacement Hearthstone, for those who wish a more techy method of getting home. Animation could be a very Star Trek inspired affect. Created by Engineering. Usable as per Hearthstone.

[Classically Classy Couture Creator]
Bind on Equip, unique.
The CCCC remembers which items of previous Armor set gear the player has owned, and allows them to select at random (left click), or a specific set (right click) an illusion of that armour set which is displayed in place of the character’s actual gear. Once found a piece of armor is saved into the creator, removing it from the character’s backpack.
This affect is dispelled by combat. Created by Enchanting. Usable once per 4 hours.

[Card: You can’t pick your family – Race (Human, Worgen, etc)]
Bind on Equip, unique, stackable.
This card changes your character’s appearance to that of another race, but retains the appearance of all your current gear and affects. Meaning a T11 Night Elf Hunter could look like a Worgen. Could be made so that some races are crafted more often than others, which adds some randomness that Blizzard loves so much in card items.
Use: Combine all racial cards for your faction to create the Deck.
This affect is dispelled by combat. Created by Inscription. Usable once per 4 hours.

[Deck: You can’t pick your family – Faction]
As per the Card above, but allows selection of a particular race from any in your faction. Might be important to restrict this to the same faction, otherwise the old Orb of Deception price might drop by a huge amount.
This affect is dispelled by combat. Created by Inscription. Usable once per 4 hours.

…and so on.

Will somewhat silly distractions keep a player in the game a week longer, and therefore be worth getting a developer to create the item? I don’t know. I do know that the breadth of the experience is what really appeals in Warcraft and it is something that other MMOs have a hard time competing with. This would further expand the breadth of the choices.

Adding these items as craftables by professions also adds flavour into the professions themselves which hits two player drivers: the completionist aspect of getting every pattern, and the breadth of application a profession could have.

Happy gaming.