After Blizzards much celebrated convention, BlizzCon, there has been a flurry of announcements coming from the game developer. Though the company is much beloved, a dark cloud has begun to form around its flagship title World of Warcaft, and Blizzard is trying everything to weather the storm.
WoW has been losing subscribers since it launched its third expansion Cataclysm and is now down to about 11.1 million subscribers. The game peaked at 12 million players back in October of 2010. No one can blame WoW for losing some of its luster after seven years in the marketplace. But the game is still one of the most popular online MMOs on the market.
The developers have admitted the slip in numbers and points to a single culprit.
As our players have become more experienced playing World of Warcraft over many years, they have become much better and much faster at consuming content, Blizzard president Michael Morhaime said in a conference called, reported Gamasutra.
But that is only part of the reason why gamers are starting to leave WoW's digital shores. Veteran WoW players have complained of the repetitive grind that is the end-game content. Players raid for the best armor and weapons until a new patch comes out, then their hard-earned gear seems like junk compared to shiny new trinkets, so they collect new pieces of gear until the next patch comes out.
Also the latest expansion Cataclysm didn't offer as much new content as other expansions. Blizzard mostly reworked old game zones to make them more streamline and better to play through. Though it was great for players leveling up their characters, it didn't offer high-level WoW characters much to do. The new content that was added for those pro players was played through in a matter of weeks.
During BlizzCon, Blizzard made many announcements seemingly aimed at getting lapsed players back into the game. The new expansions Mists of Pandaria has gotten the attention of recovering and current WoW addicts alike. The game features a new high-level continent, a new race, a new class and a new level 90 cap among other additions.
Another announcement was the new annual pass. It's a full-year subscription that can be paid month by month and comes with a few limited-time-offer goodies. The most notable perks of the annual pass is guaranteed entry into the Mist of Pandaria beta (but not the actual game) and a free copy of Diablo III, Blizzards popular action-RPG, dungeon-crawling game. Also if gamers buy the Diablo III collector's edition, they get 4 months of WoW for free.
The annual pass seems to be a preemptive strike designed to lock players into a year of WoW servitude before Star Wars: The Old Republic is released Dec. 20. Gamers don't seem to have the time or the money to support two $15-a-month digital lives.
The annual pass locks out players who didn't have a WoW license before Oct. 18, so it isn't designed to attract new players. But for players who didn't like WoW post-Cataclysm the deal only offers them a year of something they already walked away from.
The offer could be designed for players who haven't played in a long time, but there is a problem with that strategy. Players who haven't played for a few years will have to buy the expansions they have missed out on. The basic WoW package includes the starter game and The Burning Crusade for $20 on Blizzard's digital store. Then the next two expansions Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm cost about $40. And Mist of Pandaria will probably cost another $40. That just seems like a huge barrier for gamers who want to get back into WoW, or want to start playing.
If Blizzard is serious about getting its numbers back up, it has to remove the huge start-up cost to get into the game. Players who walked away after Cataclysm aren't going to play because they are offered a game that hasn't even been released yet. Blizzard's only chance is attracting new players and players who haven't played for a very long time.
Mist of Pandaria has made lapsed WoW subscribers pretty excited, but they aren't going to rejoin the game if it costs $140 (the starter kit plus three expansions) plus a monthly fee to start playing again. Hopefully Blizzard will announce a better bundle for around $60 to get fully updated before Mists. But they better do it soon since the new Star Wars MMO has a lot of buzz around it and is sure to attract the curiosity of some veteran WoW players who are tired of the 7-year-old game.