The end of the WoW era

Without jumping the gun too much here, I feel that it’s past time we just come out and say it: 2011 is the unofficial end of the WoW era.

Not to say that the game isn’t still rabidly popular, influential or significant, but more and more I’m getting that the general consensus is that it’s ceased to dominate as it once did.  This is not me engaging in some bitter schadenfreude as an ex-player or saying anything as foolhearty as “this game is dying,” but simply putting on virtual paper what I’ve been thinking for some time now.

It’s hard to argue that WoW is riding strong right now, as whatever excitement from Cataclysm has long since worn out, the content updates continue to be developed at a snail’s pace, hundreds of thousands of players have exited the game, and other strong contenders — both current and upcoming — merit more headlines than Blizzard’s golden goose.

If I may indulge in a bit of reading between the lines, one can see Blizzard realizing that it no longer leads the pack but is merely one of the pack — and it’s going to have to adapt and innovate faster to stay relevant instead of expecting everyone to follow in its wake like lackeys.  Other companies are no longer dropping WoW’s name in every second sentence as they once did, but instead are looking elsewhere for ideas to emulate and nurture.

And hey, it had to happen sooner or later.  It’s honestly amazing that World of Warcraft came to define the better part of an entire decade of gaming the way it has, and that’s to its credit.  But there’s also the sense that gamers and developers alike have grown tired of always having WoW hovering over their heads as if this was the be-all, end-all of the industry, which led to a fervent desire to move on and get out of its shadow.  Plus, there’s always the backlash against whatever people see as “too” popular and untouchable, which is human nature that goes well beyond this genre.

Yes, this is a subjective position, but it’s made after a long period of observations in the industry, and I feel comfortable saying it.  And you know what?  This could be the best thing in the world for Blizzard right now.  In my opinion, the company needed to be jolted out of complacency and simply try harder.  It needed to see other MMOs as competition once again instead of pesky bi-planes that it could swat down as it hung off the Empire State Building.  And most of all, it needed to stop taking its customers for granted but instead cherish them, listen to them, and work to provide for their desires.

Just because the WoW era might be over doesn’t mean WoW is, and even after this next year’s worth of releases, it’ll still be alive and strong.  I just hope that as it rejoins the MMO crowd, WoW will forgo an ego about its former position and embrace a new, smarter attitude.  I think we could see great things if it did.

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33 thoughts on “The end of the WoW era

  1. I agree Syp.

    I wrote a piece this morning comparing WoW’s LFD to grouping in Diablo 3. After I wrote it I browsed Massively and one of the headlines is that SWTOR is predicted to get 3m users.

    http://massively.joystiq.com/2011/08/11/new-predictions-for-swtor-sales-3m-units/

    I read elsewhere about David Reid announcing 1m Rift customers. http://www.gamebynight.com/?p=3035

    A lot of fairly major inroads into WoW’s market share are landing just when WoW’s trinity model is looking decidedly creaky.

    http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2011/08/lowering-tank-responsibility.html

  2. I think it’s the end of not only the WoW era but the WoW-likes and mass market MMO era.

    WoW will still remain incredibly more popular than most of the competition. TOR is the only game that may compete with it. But I don’t think we’ll see anything like WoW commercially or culturally for some time.

  3. End of the WoW Era also means that Blizzards next MMO will require a major increase in the level of innovation. If they rely on it simply being the next Blizzard game, they are only going to get hardcore Blizzard fans, rather than the wide influence that WoW has had in past. And just like every other new MMO, it will be compared with today’s WoW in terms of polish and stability at launch. That’s going to be a tall order for any company, as we’ve seen a number of games aim to be the “WoW-Killer” and fall short. On the other hand, this does mean that Blizzard finally has a use for those piles of money other than heating the corporate office.

  4. They still have these trivial games like Diablo III, StarCraft II and their next MMO to hold them over :) I also disagree with xabbott a bit to say that TOR is not the only game that compete with it. Guild Wars 2 looks mighty strong as “next gen” mmo’s are concerned right now.

    But I do think that so many other non-mmo games have adopted elements of that style of play. Everything from Call of Duty to League of Legends has levels, talent/skill point customization, gear/character tweaking via runes/gems/etc and online persistence for character advancement.

  5. I’m with xabbott, and i’ve felt this way for a while now. WoW winding down is more representational of a winding down of AAA MMOs. Many of my friends who have left haven’t really moved to other MMOs, or they have but have burned out on them quickly.

    It’s the reason i’m wondering if SW:ToR will have much of a long term impact, people are getting tired of the same ol’ stuff and from what i’ve seen of SW:ToR it doesn’t look innovative enough to have a lasting impact.

    Still for myself i’ll be keeping my eye out, other than that there’s so much other great gaming action to be had out there and it’s a great time to take a break :)

  6. To play devil’s advocate for a period, let’s looks at WoW’s main demographic for 6 years, raiders. Sure it has a casual aspect to it, but past the LFD tool and auction flipping, there really isn’t anything to keep a casual player (non-raider) busy for more than a month or two. And really, do a majority of people have 4 hours a day to raid?

    Raiders make up a tiny percentage of players on the whole – varying from 5-10% who actually see all the content in a given patch. That leaves a good 8 million who never saw the Lich King and will never see Deathwing. The previous expansion was a lot more casual friendly as the requirements to raid were lowered. This expansion, they were increased to the point of burnout for tanks and healers – with no such requirements on damage dealers.

    WoW simply cannot cater to both models any longer. There are simply too many options out there for players. Casuals have literally dozens of choices, many quality F2P game. Raiders have WoW, Rift and EQ2. Hardcore players are looking at perhaps Eve and a few other options.

    So Blizz is stuck at a crossroad. Keep the path and cater to the elite crown who will stick with the game and only cover 10% of current profits or finally implement the stuff that all their competition is doing and try to stem the flow of people leaving. This will certainly further alienate the raiders, certainly but it will keep a larger amount of casuals aboard and that’s where the money is.

    An interesting side topic to me from this fact is that it would appear that raiding as we’ve known it, as an older gamer that is, is the one suffering the true death. Just look at DCUO’s PC vs Console dynamic of rewards vs. effort as a prime example of gaming direction. http://ps3.ign.com/articles/118/1187667p1.html

  7. Personally, I’m kind of shocked that 4.3 will be Deathwing and the end of the expansion. Seems like the whole thing was over fast. Maybe they’re looking to kick Mists of Panderia out the door as soon as possible.

    That being said, I’d like to agree with xabbott, but the WoW clone era won’t be done until SWTOR is out the door and stabilized. I would also bet money on Blizzcon this year being the year they announce what Titan is, and it will be the next thing people copy. I won’t bet money that investors will learn from WAR and other big name mistakes that copying an game works in almost every genre except MMORPG’s.

  8. While I’ve been ‘done’ with WoW since mid-BC, it didn’t actually hit until I heard some of the Wrath soundtrack on youtube. Hearing that kid hit those high notes and the way the music swelled, I couldn’t help but feeling almost sad that the game has gone the way it has. Arthas alone should have been handled far better lore-wise in-game, and while I know the MMO setting affects how the ‘story’ is told, they really dropped the ball. Cata didn’t really do anything to get my attention back, I mean goblin starting zone is great but once the city is trashed, that’s that.

    However, I think the falling subs has gotten the attention of whoever is pulling the official strings. Mind you, this is opinion and I have no articles to back this up, but since the merger with Activision, the game has fallen a great deal as Acti doesn’t care about quality as much as it does care about currency. They let the game rot, creatively speaking, as they instructed Blizz to go about adding insulting ways to charge for microtransactions. This change in focus persisted throughout Wrath but was largely felt in Cata, and as a result the subs dropped. Reasonably so.

    But now the subscriptions have dropped enough to warrant a change. In this case, the Real ID friends grouping option is going to go live and be completely free. Why stop charging for it so suddenly? That’s going against what they have been doing, business-wise, for at least a year now. Perhaps Acti realized they were being ignorant and finally let Blizz control the reigns again?

    More examples of this might be eek’d out of the 4.3 patch notes. They are adding in a Raid Finder and a host of other nifty changes like the transmogrification process. I actually just wrote a quick summary of what MMO Champ just posted on my blog about this, and thought it a bit serendipitous that you made a post about the fall of WoW when they released this juicy info.

    I still think WoW needs some help; I’m beyond jaded with their shenanigans at this point. But I can relent and admit the recent ideas mentioned are beneficial, potentially enough for another month of gametime when they go live. This could be good for all, if Acti really did let Blizz be themselves instead of crushing them with an agenda of profits over players we could be going right back to where WoW should have been for months. Still something to keep a watch on, though. If they allow the greed to take hold again, I would easily fall back on my previous assumption of Wrath, namely the death of Arthas, being the official time of demise of the WoW timeline.

  9. It’s not that WoW is ending as much as it’s very old and can’t do much more to evolve to meet the demands of the modern MMO player. Cataclysm was a overhaul to try to do that, but it just couldn’t do enough. They need to start over from scratch to keep up with the evolution and innovation needed to stay relevant in the future. WoW won’t disappear overnight, but give it a few years of other strong releases and it will no longer be on top.

    This is how things go. Things come along, get popular, grow, and then either evolve or die off. New things build off of that which worked, add some new innovations, and things grow even bigger off of that. The cycle keeps repeating itself. That’s life.

  10. It’s an interesting shift in perspective. Instead of looking at our feet or immediately around us, we’re looking to the far horizon. For once, that horizon isn’t being dominated by a Warcraft expansion.

  11. I too have felt like it’s the end of the WoW era… not at all to be confused with the end of WoW. Like it’s predecessors, WoW will be online for years to come, but we’re finally starting to see games that can actually give it a run for it’s money. And even though I still play WoW, I see these competing games as a GOOD thing. Blizzard needs to get a fire under their collective tails if they intend to hold their own against some of the new up-and-comers.

    I actually was having a conversation with a couple of guildmates this week, as they’re considering leaving WoW at the end of Cataclysm. They have no plans to move to another MMO, because, as they put it, they’re not “real” gamers, they play WoW and WoW only, and when it’s done, they’ll find other non-gamey things to do.

    It makes me wonder just how many others there are that feel the same way.

  12. I think it might be too early to pronounce the wow era over. Highly unlikely but GW2 and SWTOR could be disappointing to some who would rather stay in a comfortable zone.

  13. I think the prospect of a raid in which you fight the epic boss dragon Deathwing while standing on his back as he flies through the air is something only Blizz would attempt (at least, right now). That is what will keep WoW around for a long, long time even with all the new games on the horizon. Still, competition is always good for shaking things up!

  14. @Gazimoff: Blizzcon is in a couple of months, though. Announcements there could put a WoW expansion back into the position of filling a fairly large segment of the horizon.

    But really, it’s the releases of SW:TOR and GW2 that are “make or break” for this whole theorem. We could just be going through another annual phase of “hype up the next big thing, and then watch it turn into a horrible disappointment.”

  15. I think the point is people are not talking about going back to WOW anymore. I know I don’t plan on it, I’ve been gone 6 months now and I don’t miss it at all. Just thinking about doing dailies makes my skin crawl. It used to be people would take breaks from WOW and then go back. I just don’t think people are going back anymore, with all the changes you can’t go back for nostalgia, its not the same place, and with all the changes to classes and gameplay, to me its not even the same game anymore. It looks similar and has some of the things I used to enjoy but what made WOW fun for me isn’t there anymore and from everyone I’ve talked to they feel pretty much the same. also I can’t even tell you how many people told me they are just waiting for Diablo 3 before quitting WOW. Although from the sounds of things, it might not be the game they think it will be….

  16. Asmiroth: I see Cataclysm as the swan song for hardcore focus in WoW. Making the game more challenging didn’t have the positive effect they expected; quite the opposite.

    I also expect this lesson is going to inform other games Blizzard, and other game companies, make going forward. Ramped up difficulty kills franchises, or prevents them from ever really getting off the ground. Easy is fun and popular and profitable.

    The next expansion may be tuned even easier than Wrath.

  17. A good read that I can hardly add anything too. We are entering some interesting times now, that’s for sure. A lot will depend on how open-minded we and developers can be.

  18. It’s foolhardy, not hearty.

    The game has been dying for years. It’s been a slow, immensely profitable death, but death nonetheless. Personally I tend to agree with the other posters that suggest that the WoW style MMO will level off to something that might be called large-niche status. Most people have no interest in the genre. Most people who do care have a definite MMO career of a couple of years before burnout sets in. There was a pent up supply of these people who previously hadn’t had access to computers or the internet. I think WoW has burned through most of this pent up demand and the genre will shrink to whatever the population of people with infinite MMO patience and the new careerist nerds growing up now.

  19. It’s about time. The industry needs to stay on its toes. MMOs have been in a rut for a while now. A decent, comfortable play space, perhaps, but still a stagnant rut.

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  23. I think that the whole philosophy of Cataclysm was a major miscalculation. They spend so much time and resources re-making the vanilla zones (which in my opinion was a huge waste of time, the original zones were fine) and as a result, they had to scuttle Path of the Titans, and who knows else. I’m not saying Path of the Titans by itself would save the day, but, in the end Cataclysm just offered nothing new over WoTLK. Of course there was new _content_, and it was mostly well done, but the gameplay was just so utterly familiar. It was the exact same game that we just spent two years playing. That has to get old eventually, no matter how good the new content is. The most you can say has changed since WoTLK is what, that your spell rotation might be slightly different? You have a lot more HP? Conversely, TBC and WoTLK brought really significant changes over their predecessors that made it feel like you were almost playing a new game.

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  25. Good article and lots of great comments!

    WoW has been dead for a while now and even Blizzard has seen fit to send it’s “A” team to their new MMO and leave the “B” team working on WoW.

    Blizzard will do their best to continue to milk WoW subscribers for all they can by expending the least amount of resources for the most amount of gain.

    I’m looking forward to this year’s Blizzcon to see if Blizzard has learned anything about humility. I want to see those shit eating grins wiped of the arrogant faces of the devs on the various Blizzard panels.

    The sooner WoW fades into obscurity the better it will be for the entire MMO industry as we’ll start to see some new ideas and real innovation.

  26. Worse than that, it’s the end of the MMO era. No other MMO will ever see WoW levels of penetration again. Any new MMO is going to have to compete with games that offer themselves for free, or have established 5+ year bases, in an industry which misuses its talent and has insane burnout.

    WoW was the peak time of the MMO market, and when it goes, you are going to see a lot more people just slip away. Was fun while it lasted.

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  30. I agree with the comments below. It’s the end of the MMO (not WOW) era. People played WOW for 7 years now. For 7 years it’s been the best MMO and still is. It’s just that after 7 years people start to look around and see what else is out there. They think they are tired of WOW and they will try other games just to realize it’s the whole genre they are tired of and quit them all together.

    One last thing, WOW doesnt need to rejoin the MMO crowd; it IS the MMO crowd.

  31. It is changing things for the sake of changing things without much thought in to how this will effect the dynamics of gameplay. This is bad design from any engineer’s perspective. You don’t take a whack at something measure it and take a whack at it again; that is how you get a crappy product. This is essentially what Blizz is doing. They are streamlining game mechanics, classes, spells, spell effects and play styles. This over simplified archetype of programming results in something much easier to maintain (balance-wise as well as financially). They are oversimplifying the game to the point where they minimize costs and maximize profit by appealing to a large base of customers. It is obvious that the dev team originally responsible for this game is no longer present, or at the least no longer responsible, for the development of this game; the amount of subs is suffering accordingly…

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