My Mom shared an image on Facebook the other day. It said, “I’m over Summer and ready for hoodie weather, football season, sweatshirts, haunted houses, scary movies, sweatpants, cold nights, Halloween.” I get that Summer can be hot and unpleasant, but this post irritated me. Summer is the time of barbeques and pools and trips to the shore and baseball. Come March, people will be posting how they are anxious for Summer and all its delights to come around. People are so focused on what is coming next, that they lose the ability to enjoy and appreciate what is before them.
And that is what Blizzard is counting on to counter the drop to 5.6 million World of Warcraft subscribers.
The drop itself is not surprising – discontent with what can be argued the content-lightest expansion has been high. Since 2013, it can be argued that the only two patches to provide any real content were 6.0 (the launch of Warlords of Draenor) and 6.2. Even Ion admitted in his Q&A that 6.1 would almost have been better labeled 6.0.5. That fact becomes even more staggering considering that those are the only content patches released since September of 2013! We are a month away from having two patches over the course of two years. For a game with a monthly subscription fee, it is no wonder that more and more people feel like that $15 isn’t worth what they are getting.
One might wonder if the decision to announce the expansion at Gamescom had anything to do with the quarterly reports being prepared; After all, Blizzard would have seen these numbers well before the announcement of the announcement last week. That could have prompted them to adjust their timetable and announce the expansion at Gamescom, just two short days after the world will resume declaring, “WoW is dead!” because of the numbers. But I doubt Blizzard cares. They have said as much themselves.
Many might look at the numbers and say that Warlords of Draenor is an uncategorical failure. The expansion started with over 10 million subscribers at launch and dropped to 5.6 million within six months. No WoW expansion has seen such a rapid and significant decline. Apparently, an unintended side effect of Blizzard speeding up production with shorter expansions is that the subscriber decline is also accelerated. Yet while Blizzard may be aware of some of the issues with Warlords (to again cite Ion’s interview, he was fairly open about many of the community’s complaints), Blizzard and Activision are going to look at the expansion and learn the wrong lesson.
Patch 5.4, the conclusion to Mists of Pandaria, was released in September of 2013. Throughout that year, subscriber numbers hovered at around 7.6 million. Then, in November, Warlords of Draenor was announced, and the subscription numbers received a slight bump. That bump was temporary, as numbers fell again until Q2 of 2014, when subscriptions started to rise in anticipation of Warlords’ launch. Finally, World of Warcraft climbed back to 10 million subscribers in November of 2014. For all that has happened to erase that success since, Blizzard can look at that climb and believe that when they need to get people back into the game, they know how to do it.
They have actually been able to do it all along. Mists’ launch brought back almost a million players. Cataclysm’s launch saw the game acquire 2 million more players to reach the 12 million subscriber peak. Blizzard knows that expansions releases bring subscribers back. Ion has outright said:
…[P]layers aren’t necessarily viewing World of Warcraft as a year-round lifestyle so much as a game that they love, where they’re going to check in, see what we’ve got, play the content in a patch, go off, play some other great game that just came out, and then come back when we have something new to offer them. And to some extent, that’s OK.
Blizzard is unperturbed that they lost over 4.4 million subscribers since November. Blizzard knows they can get them back. All they need is the hype.
Blizzard knows that the games industry now is all about the hype. No one cares what is going on in the world in front of them. People only care about what is coming next. E3 is the Super Bowl of the gaming world because it hypes what games are going to be released over the next two years. People spend time obsessed with trailers and leaks because they want to know about what they will be playing, instead of working through their massive backlog of awesome games they were once excited about and purchased and are now forgotten. It is not just the games industry that works this way – movies have thrived on this for years. Look at how Comic-Con is all about NEXT year’s blockbusters, or what’s happening on TV NEXT season. Look at the furor over the Warcraft trailer. What is current is old and what is coming cannot get here soon enough.
So this afternoon, master hypeman Chris Metzen will take the stage and bellow that the Alliance is grand and can withstand any disaster, and the Horde is tough and can endure any difficulty. He will proclaim that whatever is to befall Azeroth next is its darkest days, but these opposing factions will weather the storm and rise above the chaos to shine. He will show an amazing cinematic trailer because Blizzard’s cinematics department is top notch, and then there will be a panel with some developers to proclaim the next expansion will be great because it is not Warlords of Draenor. Garrisons will be decried. PvP will be fixed. All that is wrong with World of Warcraft will (by fire) be purged and the game will ascend to its glorious heights of days past.
That is the real secret to the faster development cycle. It is not about reducing the end of expansion content lulls. It is not about getting content out quicker. It is about getting us to the hype part of World of Warcraft’s launch cycle faster. As mentioned, there have been only two patches in the last 23 months. The hype for Warlords of Draenor lasted for a full year – November 2013 to November 2014. The expansion itself is only nine months old. WoW’s natural state is to be waiting for what is next. Starting at noon, the waiting begins anew.
After today’s announcement expect the subscriber numbers to rebound, if only slightly. The true test of Blizzard’s prowess will come when the next expansion launches. Blizzard is expecting most, if not all, of those 4.4 million lapsed players to return. The final act of a fever of hype is for those players to capitulate and buy the game. Blizzard will throw axes in Times Square and have orcs snort inside your TV until we buy that expansion. And we will know that the greatest force in the World of Warcraft is not the Light or the Void or the Horde or the Alliance. It is hype.
Who cares about this old news I WANNA KNOW WHAT THE NEW EXPAC IS GONNA BE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!