There are a number of persistent truths in our world that people refuse to believe in. One of them is that women like sex just as much as men, another is that Dave Mustaine couldn’t sing to save his life in a live concert. But more importantly and relevant to this blog post is that when it comes to business, the bottom line is always money.
When a company (Blizzard) loses a monthly income of $13.5 million ($15 for each of the recently lost 900 000 subscribers) then they will take drastic measures to recoup that loss. They absolutely have to do this, they owe it to their employees, their shareholders and investors to ensure the company remains profitable. If not, many of the some 4000+ employees at Blizzard would have to be laid off to keep the company running.
I’m not trying to say Blizzard is doing a bad thing here by caving in to what their customers want and trying to increase their profitability. I’m saying it’s a necessity and nothing to be frowned at.
But here’s the interesting thing, what does this shift in “game developer to customer”-relationship mean, for us, the customers?
Before this massive loss of customers, Blizzard had been doing everything right. Their success had only increased, everything they said and did was the right thing to do. What we said was just up for consideration, not necessarily implementation – because Blizzard knew best! But now, that is no longer true. Since they have been losing customers, we now have the upper hand – the customers knows best.
In other words, if you want a feature and you make it known loud and clear, with many others, you will probably see it in the game sometime in the near future. Providing of course that this new feature doesn’t ruin the game for the other people who didn’t request the feature.
For example, if all rogues demands they should have a button to kill all players in the same zone as them, all non-rogues probably wouldn’t like it too much… So you’d be wasting your time trying to get that feature implemented.
But on the other hand if a large group of players would love to have a dance studio feature – which doesn’t ruin the game for anyone – that could very likely get added to the game.
Changes and promises so far
Since the decline in subscribers, Blizzard has already implemented and/or promised several changes to try and remedy the situation:
- A free to play model for lvl 1-20. This change didn’t really change anything else than the name of “trial” to “free to play” and removed the time limit on it. But in the long run it means being able to rope in more subscribers.
- Made casual dungeon running less frustrating for casuals. This was achieved by increasing the buff to 15%, removing crowd control aggro and buffing tanks threat into oblivion to the point where threat is no longer a meaningful mechanic other than for the first few seconds of a pull.
- Work in progress on making tanking fun, by changing their whole play style so that their rotation matters when it comes to surviving incoming damage. If they can solve this, then it also solves the problem of long dungeon queues, win-win.
- Void Storage and Transmogrification: Adding the long since requested feature of more storage space for soulbound items and at the same time making the old sets of gear useful to create new looks for yourself and making you feel more unique in the game.
- Raid Finder: This has been requested since the Dungeon Finder was added to the game back in 2009. This was always dismissed by Blizzard themselves as an impossibility due to raid groups requiring more coordination than what a randomly assembled group usually possessed. Such concerns have now been thrown out of the window to give the customers what they want.
- Pandas! The next expansion will in all likelihood be called Mists of Pandaria and feature the elusive Pandaren race which have been one of the races that players have always hoped to see in game.
- Account-wide achievement support has often been asked for and recently suggested by Blizzard that they are working on implementing it.
All of the above are things that Blizzard in the past have dismissed as bad ideas or things they just won’t have time to do. But now, the rules have changed and Blizzard are trying everything they can to please their customers. Is this really a good idea? I think so, yes. As long as they give the Blizzard touch of Quality on every new feature then I’m sure they will be great additions.
Like for example with the Raid Finder. This is a feature that could either be absolutely horrific, ugly and scary to use. Or as one of the guildies recently said “They should call it the Wipe Finder”.
It doesn’t have to be a Wipe Finder, it could just as easily be the Awesome Pug Finder.
There are two ways of going about it, either you make it closed off and have some limitations such as “you need to have cleared this content X amount of times on one of your characters” to ensure that everyone who joins knows what they are doing.
Or you make the Raid Finder limited to previous tier content, which Blizzard have previously stated that they want to be puggable, and nerfing it a bit more by adding some percentage buffs like in the dungeon finder. Ensuring that groups entering these raids have a lot of room for error.
The biggest problem with the Raid Finder that I foresee though is the lack of leadership in a random raid group. If not a single person (who knows what he or she is talking about) is able to assume the leadership role and then having everyone else listen to that person, then the group will just fail.
Overcoming this problem will be the toughest challenge when implementing this feature.
What lies ahead
No matter what Blizzard does, the customer base for the now almost 7 years old game World of Warcraft will diminish to a much smaller number than the current some 11 million subscribers. No matter how many Pandas you add to the game, it will still slowly die, this is inevitable.
However, the death of World of Warcraft will be very slow, most likely the game will last for 10 more years, maybe even more. But during that time the game will change… a lot.
I (doomsday voice) predict that…
- As the subscriber base begins to fall, several realms will merge together until eventually only a small number remains.
- New patches will contain less new content and the developers will come up with ideas to rehash old content and make it scalable to add variety to the game without having to do as much work (thus keeping the work load down).
- We will see dynamic events added to the world, giving players a reason to travel across Azeroth and adding more random content for players to enjoy.
- There will be hundreds of more rare drop collectable mounts/pets/etc to collect, giving thousands of more hours of grindy gaming to the hardcore players.
A day in the life…
Imagine it’s the year 2019. You log on WoW to play your Ogre Warrior because you are hoping to get that random mount drop Ashes of Al’ar (yes, it’s still THAT rare). You sign up using the Raid Finder and get into Tempest Keep which has been scaled to fit your level (100). You and the other 9 people who are also there for the possible mount drop, sexy tier gear and relaxing casual raiding have a fun time beating the raid in a matter of 1 Hr. You are all a bit disappointed that the mount STILL didn’t drop but reasonably pleased to get 1/4th of your Valor point cap done for the week and thank each other for the nice group and say “it’s time to do some dailies”!
While you travel in your personal houseboat to the island which contains all of the current daily quest you run into a maelstrom! A beast from beneath the sea appears, threatening to destroy you. A dynamic event has been started and other people start gathering to take down the beast. After about 5-10 minutes of combat you and the others slay the beast and each get a bag of loot. Once the loot has been earned you each go your separate ways, one maybe heads to the daily island with you, someone else might be fishing for that rare elusive fish for that rare feat of strength while a third might be traveling far beneath the surface of the water, looking for those extremely rare and hard to find crystals that he can then later sell on the Auction House and earn some dollars.
After doing some grindy but necessary dailies while chatting with your guildies for about 30 minutes, you maybe do Arathi Basin for the millionth time or log off to play some Titan.
All in all, you are still enjoying the game, but you are probably enjoying something else a bit more. You still stay though, for the community and because you have invested 15 years of your life into this game and you don’t want to throw that away.
And on that bomb shell…. this post abruptly ends!
P.S. It’s really tough to write and head bang at the same time. Damn you Dave Mustaine, you rock too hard!