EpicToon SmackTalk: Can World of Warcraft Rebound?

A year ago, World of Warcraft reached 12 million current subscribers, cementing its place as the undisputed number one MMO in the world. But with the game losing close to a million players over the past two quarters, its continued dominance is now being questioned.

Of course, publisher Blizzard isn’t taking this sitting down. Bold new features like its “forever” trial and plans for faster content development are said to reinvigorate the game – but will they be enough? Russ and Mick discuss.

Mick’s Schtick

I’m calling it now: This is the beginning of the end for the WoW Empire – at least as we know it in the Western world.

The latest conference call shows that Blizzard (or more conspiratorially, Kotick and the Activision overlords) are looking to expand to emerging markets like Brazil, Russia and China to offset the overall decline, presumably in the US and EU regions.

Because you know, cash in any other currency is still cash.

As I see it, Western players are barely hanging onto Azeroth for lack of alternatives. I personally un-sub from WoW after finishing the current content, then jump to flavor-of-the-month MMOs like RIFT in between patches.

The danger is when we “straddlers” decide to stop re-visiting WoW for good. I see more of this happening as more of the heavy hitter alternatives become available like Star Wars: the Old Republic and Guild Wars 2. But of course, Blizzard won’t be too sad to see us go. They have fresh meat lined up anyway.

So to answer the question. Yes, Blizzard is planning to reinvigorate the game – but for new emerging market players first, and to us veteran Western players a far second.

Russ’ Rant

Much as I want to predict doomsday for the aging dinosaur in the room, I really think the decline of WoW this quarter part of a seasonal lull.

It’s summer and even other MMOs seem to be feeling the pinch. My main indicator: The growing desperation of promos in my e-mail inbox *cough RIFT and EVE Online*.

Now, I’m not a WoW cheerleader or anything. I just think that the game has more gas to it than people are giving it credit for. Its last expansion broke record numbers, selling 3.3 million copies in 24 hours.

Mick is right on the money that the demographics are shifting more to non-US and non-EU markets. And I think Blizzard has accepted this inevitable trend. But they will try to prevent a total exodus.

When the Western player base becomes too small, the community dynamics will make the game unplayable. Imagine fewer servers, longer random dungeon queues, less variety of Arena and Battlegrounds opponents, and fewer friends to play with. Yup, all the things we complain about “lesser” MMOs.

So WoW won’t be dying anytime soon, not if Blizzard can help it. All the stops will be pushed out to keep the cash cow running until Project Titan releases, and only then will the game go the dogs (aka go free-to-play).