Friday, May 08, 2015

WoW's Subscription Drop

After spiking up to 10 million subscribers last quarter, WoW has fallen back down to 7.1 million subscribers. As usual, everyone in the community takes this as evidence that whatever new element in Warlords of Draenor that they dislike is ruining the game. (I blame Active Mitigation personally, clearly inconsistent tanking is driving people away.)

I think the most likely explanation is that the Warlords of Draenor nostalgia trip plus the 10th Anniversary got a lot of old players to give the expansion a shot. They played through the expansion, then realized that WoW is more or less the same game as when they left. So they quit again, for pretty much the same reasons as before.

Of course, there could be other reasons. The big element that everyone is mentioning is Garrisons. I'm not a major fan of garrisons, but at the same time I don't think they're that bad. They're fairly low maintenance, and easily ignorable, in my view.

If I had to choose to an element which "caused" the drop, I would say that many new elements are combining to weaken guilds, and make the game excessively transient. Things like the Party Finder, cross-server groups, Personal Loot, and maybe even Flexible raiding. In my mind, guilds are a major element in making the game "sticky". Not being in a guild, not being in a community where you see the same people on a regular basis, makes it much easier to drop away.

Of course, we don't have access to data on who exactly is leaving. Blizzard does though, and the best way to find out what caused the drop is to see how Blizzard reacts. The classic example here is Cataclysm. Blizzard made dungeons very difficult, Ghostcrawler put out a post defending that difficulty, sub numbers came out, and two weeks later all the dungeons got severely nerfed.

So we will see what happens with Patch 6.2. Thus far, it looks like Blizzard's main focus is trying to get people to participate in multiple types of content. To me, that implies that players are "silo-ing", focusing on only one part of the game like raids, PvP, or pet battles. Players are not venturing out to try other aspects, even as they are becoming bored with their chosen activity.


  1. I think the latest patch is too new for adjustments due to the sub drop. You'd need to wait for 6.3 to really find out.

    To be honest, however, the real question will be what will happen once Blizzard really goes hard for the MOBA market; do they have enough personnel to handle that as well as keep WoW going? Remember, they want more frequent major updates on WoW (again), but the MOBAs have the sexy appeal (and player numbers) right now.

  2. Well, the thing is that it's unlikely that all the subs just dropped right at the end of the quarter. So subs have probably been sliding for at least 3 months. Plus, we go back to Cataclysm, and there changes came very fast.

    But you may be right. Perhaps Timeless Isle was the response to sub losses from dailies in Mists of Pandaria, but it took 2 patches to create that content.

  3. My take is that they needed to get some sort of content patch out within three months of the release of the expansion. Even the most casual player could have played through Draenor and then they'd be ready for something new. It could have been as simple as adding garrison quests or expanding Archaeology with quests and treasures and achievements.
    I think people enjoyed working together to get Guild Perks and adding more would have been better than taking them away.
    You go in a dungeon and get what feels like zero loot, not even some junk you could sell for repairs.
    I find everything about crafting to be awful and unimaginative in Draenor.
    I like what 6.2 may offer in the Tanaan Jungle and getting my own ships.
    Still trying to conquer the Darkmoon Faire races. *shakes fist at mini-zepps*

  4. I was speaking to a friend who still plays WoW and he said that guilds have become largely irrelevant. In his guild, which is large apparently, there is no guild chat, nothing is organised, no drama, no ... nothing. People are there because they have always been in guilds but if you took it away tomorrow nobody would notice.

  5. I'd say it's not due to anything in special, but rather to the simple passage of time. People have moved on over time, and coming back to old, empty guilds, with few names you can even remember, doesn't make for great retention. People came, played a bit, and left again when they had no social structure to support them. Perhaps the people they knew are still around, in other guilds or even servers, perhaps not, but without those connections and no evident way to forge new ones, people get bored and leave.

  6. My take is that WoD is their experiment to see if raids can be made the end game for everyone. I imagine they felt they had finally "gotten it" with their raid design (LFR, Flex, four difficulty modes), and it was time to push everyone into it.

    This was a big mistake, of course. If they learn the lesson they are being taught, future expansions will not have nearly as much raid content.