Unfamiliar with the world of MMORPGs, I found it surprising Blizzard lost almost a million subscriptions after Cataclysm launched. Supposedly, the expansion was going back to the game's roots, and possibly where the term "grinding" was first applied to the genre. And this was a welcome change. But many complaints, and the reason for a percentage of hardcore players quitting, involve how "easy" the game has become compared to previous years. Yet, with so many long-term players hanging up their boots, Cataclysm is the highest-selling expansion and the fastest-selling PC game in history. With such a paradox, how long can Blizzard keep the cash-cow from collapsing?
Launched in 2004, no game has received the same level of success as World of Warcraft. In seven years, the game has survived one console generation -- coming up on two -- and almost as long as the Warcraft franchise itself (WoW was first sold on the tenth anniversary of Warcraft). Blizzard is now three expansions in with a fourth incoming, and the fanbase is still ten million plus. Through seven years, though, Blizzard has dramatically changed the audience focus: from the hardcore to the casual. The transformation has alienated hardcore players and the countless seeking the classic MMO experience are turning to new avenues.
Blizzard needs to find a delicate balance between both audiences. The company wants the casual players to see all the content, thus making raid encounters significantly easier with overall health and damage nerfs to each boss. But these changes are allowing hardcore guilds to burn through content rather quickly. Blizzard has vowed to put out more content faster with each new patch, which may be a short-term solution, but allowing players to acquire great gear purely through heroic instances makes that player a liability for the endgame. World of Warcraft was built as a hardcore MMO, and for raiding groups to progress, several wipes were necessary; "raid progression" is the term often thrown around. Blizzard wants the casual audience to see the latest content, but that can't happen given the way the company has engineered the game. Making encounters easier certainly helps, but habits carry over to other instances (standing in fire, not watching other mechanics, etc.) which forces hardcore guilds to recruit idiotic players.
|An elated Blizzard executive.|
Slowly, Blizzard will lose a portion of subscribers to other games with ingenious mechanics. WoW is aging, and as the genre reinvents itself repeatedly, numbers will dwindle. Though Blizzard is in a favourable position. The company can dictate the game's future, and realistically the future of the genre, with its forthcoming next generation project codenamed Titan. No details have been realized as of yet, but since many gaming pundits consider it the spiritual successor to World of Warcraft, Blizzard's newest will be huge.
Just an update: I had this jotted down as an idea for a while, but writing about this topic saddens me since I only recently started playing. And with patch 4.2 delayed a week, this post is even more evident, as mass response to the new Firelands raid may cause me to revisit this post. Regardless, enjoy my shiny new layout and a longer post than usual. Thanks for reading!