Remember World of Warcraft? Remember how it used to be a thing? Well, of course it's still a 'thing' with 8 million subscribers, but it's rare we ever hear about it anymore. At its peak, World of Warcraft had attained 13 million subscribers but has since steadily declined since the release the Cataclysm expansion. So why has the World of Warcraft fervor passed quietly into obscurity? Like any other MMO, the hype around a game dies down once it stops growing. When a game stops growing, people naturally stop talking about it and, unfortunately for World of Warcraft, barely anyone has talked about it in recent years.
But WoW can be saved, it can return to growth only if Blizzard retraces the steps they took to reach stardom in the first place.
Changing philosophy I remember in an old interview, Blizzard had said WoW became a sensation somewhat overnight and that, at the start, they would have considered it lucky if they even got 500,000 subscriber. Fast forward 6 years and this colossus has 13 million. If you can't tell why by now, I'll put it in simpler terms; no game company ever made a massively popular game by trying to make a massively popular game, and those who have (SWTOR, Warhammer, ETC) have failed spectacularly to meet expectation.
There was once a time when Blizzard made games because they thought they would be fun, games like Diablo 2 and even as late as Starcraft 2, all of which were good games. Only after reaching a massive following did Blizzard become more concerned about statistics and data points than they were about making a solid, fun game. Now whenever someone mentions the declining subscriber number they talk about how they're going to start releasing content at a quicker rate, but it that really the problem? Blizzard should be releasing content they feel people will enjoy playing for a long time, not making content that will be fun for a week and then releasing more mediocre content to fill in the gap between expansions.
And this is the change in philosophy that Blizzard has adopted. Nothing is about making a challenging, worthwhile experience anymore, it now about making content for subscription retention. Blizzard must remember that they never became popular because they wanted to be popular and instead realize that they became so by simply making good games
Remembering where you came from.
The population of WoW reached its highest in the early stages of Wrath of The Lich King, but the largest amount of growth was seen during the Burning Crusade era. Burning Crusade was the perfect balance of hardcore and being able to easily enjoy something. Karazhan was the first 25 man dungeon, allowing casual players to more easily assemble a group of friends and join in but was also challenging enough to make it worthwhile for hardcore players. And if you weren't interested in Karazhan, you still have 40-man dungeons for hardcore raiding guilds, Tempest Keep, Vashj and Black Temple all required attentiveness and coordination.
Burning Crusade was the perfect example of what WoW should be at it's height:
-40 man raids
-10 and 25 man raids
-World PvP objectives
-Dungeons gear sets
-High tier gear was rare and meant something
But something began to change near the end of Burning Crusade, we started seeing the introduction of the token system, gear was easier to get and people started looking oddly similar. But that was OK, there was still the high tier gear that the rare few had. These players had to work hard to get in the position they were in and the newer players could look up to them and admire that, one day, maybe they would be in their position. But more and more, it began to look like the situation that WoW is in today.
So what does Blizzard have to do to stop the leaking? I'm under no impression that these issues will be fixed before the next expansion, Mists of Pandara has already made its mark and this is how it will be until the next iteration. As a long time vanilla WoW player and an avid MMO player, I've seen MMOs come and go, rise and fall, die with a whimper and explode in popularity. I've seen the marks of great MMOs and Blizzard has a chance to save the last bastion of MMOs.
Bring back 40 mans. WoW desperately needs to write a love letter to it's hardcore audience. For the last 5 years, Blizzard has tried harder and harder to make their game easier to access. Whether it's getting rid a attunements or making gear ridiculously easy to get, Blizzard has systematically driven away their hardcore audience. What better way to say 'we still care' than giving them back what made them join in the first place? 40 mans in Vanilla and BC were something special, it wasn't something you could just throw together, it was an actual event, it was challenging and as such made it all the more satisfying to conquer. Satisfaction is something modern WoW raids severely lack.
Make me work for it. Anyone will tell you that WoW has gotten easier and easier and that is bad news in the long run for any MMO. What was once a long term goal became a grind for tokens. Everyone was wearing the best gear, everyone had the best weapons, everyone could join in the latest raid, everyone is a winner! And that's why everyone loses. Look at EvE Online. EvE Online has been steadily growing since 2003, it has seen nothing but slow and steady growth. Why? Because it's hard, you have to work for your loot. Just recently someone lost a ship worth over $9000 minutes after he bought it. That is what keeps people playing, the idea that not only can you lose everything in an instant but you can also make someone lose everything. I'm not saying when you die in WoW you should lose all your gear, but not everyone is entitled to the best of the best. Logically, making everyone win also means everyone loses.
Ditch Looking-for-raid. Looking for raid may sound good on paper, but really all it does is burn people out on a raid before they ever see it in proper context. What motive is there for a casual player to join a long-term guild if he's just going to be doing the same thing he's been doing for the past year?
Stop trying to appeal to casuals. There has been a shift in gaming recently and Blizzard has not adapted well. While trying to mold their game to the casual audience, Blizzard has forgotten that MMOs have never appealed to casual players. Hardcore players dedicate themselves to a single MMO for years on ends, they stay in the same genre, the same setting and the same game because it's fun for them. Blizzard hasn't gotten the memo that the casual audience has moved on from MMOs. They started with handhelds, went to MMOs then to Facebook and now they have transitioned to Smartphone and iPad games. Blizzard, there are no more casuals in the MMO market, there are only the hardcore MMO players left, you need to get this through your head.
That should be what Blizzard remembers most about the current MMO market, there are no more casual players left, they have gone onto other platforms. Blizzards biggest problem is that they're chasing a non-existent ethereal audience while driving away the only people left playing their game. Show us that there is something to come back to that will keep us playing for years, not just something to dive in for a few weeks and leave after we beat all the current content. More importantly, there is a reason Blizzard must save WoW. WoW is the last truly large MMO in the west, if WoW dies, there will be very little in the MMO market left for western gamers. Companies will implode, games will collapse and an entire genre will die.
Unfortunately, the only company that can stop this from happening is under the clutches of Activision. God help us.