World of Warcraft , or WoW to most people, has been the epitome of a MMORPG. They had once perfected the formula of an intriguing lore, interactive gameplay and a generally fun MMORPG, to the extent that new entrants of MMORPGs can only hope to follow WoW and hopefully differentiate itself along the way. Games I’ve played after WoW (admittedly not much) such as RO2, Allods Online, etc, all fall into the same trap that makes it noticeably similar to WoW.
So why does it seem like WoW is dying?
According to Forbes (2013), WoW has lost nearly 2 million subscribers in the past 2 quarters, and its revenue dropped almost 54% (VG24/7,2013).
Ask any experienced player, and the reasons they will most probably quote are ‘boring and repetitive gameplay’, ‘player fatigue’ from doing raids over and over again, and the ‘seemingly aimless expansions’.
While certainly not dead, WoW is experiencing a heavy loss in user traction. Let’s examine the reasons.
- The Aging Gameplay
Don’t get me wrong, WoW has some of the best lore I’ve ever read. The depth and the storyline are fascinating till this very day. It is certainly comparable to the depth of Star Wars, Elder Scrolls, Lord of the Rings, etc.
But gameplay is a totally different thing. While some may argue that the experience in WoW is about experiencing the world of Warcraft and its richness, there’s much to be said about the experience in-game.
With over 9 years of gameplay, any experienced player will mostly probably have explored the entire world, and expansions only add on to the list of exploring. I will argue that the high point of WoW was in Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK), where I felt that it was a remarkable end to the experience. In Cataclysm and Mist of Pandaria, it seems that Blizzard is just trying to pull back subscribers. The gameplay was not as fascinating as what I felt in Burning Crusade and WotLK. It was getting boring, repetitive and I found myself constantly asking why I’m grinding to get better items to grind better.
- Pay to Play Model
Probably one of the most controversial topics was WoW’s pricing model. Paying for a month’s worth of subscription only appealed to hardcore players. While the numbers exceeded expectations initially, we have to all agree that the model is not entirely applicable 10 years later. Free-to-play, or maybe the freemium model may seem like a more viable alternative.
I’m not saying WoW’s model is bad, but this could be a reason why people stop playing WoW. The first cause is simple demographics: The players that used to play WoW are moving on. Teenagers who once played WoW in their 17-18s are now adults, and what was deemed casual gaming is too much of a commitment. New teenagers are spoilt for choice, with plenty of gaming platforms (mobile, PC, Console), let alone MMORPGs, to choose from. The attraction towards WoW is much lower as it was compared to the past.
The second is the advent of mobile games. While seemingly unrelated, mobile games brought upon the rise of casual gaming, which is more viable in a busy and industrialized economy. WoW subscribers may see more sense in investing less time to a game (perhaps another MMORPG) on their mobile phone which can be played on the go, instead of devoting time and effort to a hardcore MMORPG.
- The ‘Apple’ of Gaming
Blizzard has been seen as the forefront of great games from irrefutably unbeatable franchises such as Starcraft and Diablo. This brings about the ‘Apple’ effect, where users want something that only a giant can provide. WoW’s expansions are coming so generic that users can only live in their own disappointment, much like a relationship that was once fiery and passionate now seems too stable for comfort.
Such like the iPhone, where the onset was amazing, and each subsequent improvement only draws more ‘meh’ than the initial crowd pleaser.
The Evolution of MMORPGs
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of WoW, and I’m not saying it is dead. WoW, although dying, is still going strong.
Undoubtedly any game that has experienced a high point will reach new lows. It’s the process of nature. Hype dies down after certain time, and WoW is no exception. New entrants appear time to time and there are better alternatives compared to Pay-to-Play MMORPGs. Just like Lord of the Rings online which changed its pricing model, it can be seen that there is a general shift in preference to free games, as compared to games with an investment to play.
What does this mean?
While we may go on debating on whether WoW is truly dead, what I place on the table is this: Now is a good a time as any to bring in a game that re-defines the MMORPG genre. While it certainly pleases me to see more games coming out, what I wish is that there is a big hit that sets itself apart from WoW and drives the world ape-crazy again.
Right now, it seems like virtual reality gaming might be the next big thing. For that, only time will tell.