• October 27, 2021

Preface: This is a column and therefore reflects the opinion of the author, which is mine. I form my opinion based on rumors, but also on facts. Because as someone who has been paying his WoW subscription monthly for almost 16 years now, who has dug countless shop offers and shopped every expansion, as someone who has been working in this industry for just as long, I have of course gathered experience. And does anyone want to disagree with me when I opine that there is no need for a WoW killer, because WoW kind of "kills" itself?

The super cleaners

I've reported on an alleged Blizzard employee writing a post in Rage that paints a rather grim mood at developer HQ. Whether or not the post really came from a Blizzardian, the fact is that the mood at the cult developer isn't the best. Right now, the branch in France's Versailles is in liquidation, at least that's what I infer from this tweet from ex-WoW community manager Tosch dated July 13, 2021.

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The fact that this unwinding is taking place and that other branches in the European region are also being closed or consolidated in the so-called London Hub is no secret, but a reality.

That's why it's easier for the inclined industry insider to believe the words of the alleged Blizzard employee. If you look at the way WoW has gone in the meantime, if you look at the way Overwatch 2 development is going, if you look at all the employee departures ... then it's hardly surprising that you get the feeling that the people in charge at Activision Blizzard are putting the soul of Blizzard at risk. Let me emphasize again:

Activision Blizzard is not the same as Blizzard.

The soul thing, I'm not making that up. No, that's what the many incidents of the last few years show, that from Blizzard's point of view went very wrong and were handled against the company's principles; à la "Every voice matters". I'll just remind you of the Blitzchung incident. The WoW managers also did not cover themselves with much glory by hastily reacting to still unconfirmed accusations against celebrities from the WoW environment.

Such was the case with Swifty, whose NPCs and Achievements were removed from WoW after accusations were made by his ex Takarita that he had caused her sexual distress. Swifty has declared these to be false. How it all resolved is unknown. Quinton Flynn, spokesman for the English Kael'thas in WoW, was also briefly "removed" from the game when allegations of sexual harassment against him arose. Flynn also vehemently disagrees. And this case, too, appears to be unsolved. However, Blizzard's clean police have struck in all cases before the innocence or culpability of those involved had been determined.

The Rumor

The sentence from the anonymous Blizzard employee who is developing WoW in his own words, which is what I'm actually referring to, is the following statement, which I'll let stand on its own merits for now:

"The two moods on the team right now are either "we really need a win" or "there's a dedicated cabal of internet trolls who want to kill WoW"."

Is this an assumption out of touch with reality? Out of the dark shadows of the internet rises a group of trolls who want nothing less than to provoke the death of WoW? And which group would that be? The popular streamers? That World of Warcraft (buy now € 14.99 )

needs a "win", on the other hand, that is clear.

Especially the "danger" from another online role-playing game, which also plays in the theme park genre and is full of interesting story developments, seems to have reached the WoW developers by now. In the past, whenever a new MMO came out, the WoW killer cries were always big and never could these games live up to that typecasting. More often than not, they were ridiculed. At Blizzard, they just kept plodding along to the beat. Always moving forward, staying true to the tried and true concept so far.

But now, over eight years after the A Realm Reborn release, Final Fantasy 14 comes hurtling around the corner. Game director Naoki Yoshida has never made a secret of the fact that he loves playing WoW, naturally looking at what he can learn from World of Warcraft.

Is WoW killing other MMOs?

At Blizzard, on the other hand, the prevailing mood seemed to be that WoW can be the only big subscription MMO on the market; there's nothing else. And that's partly true, because how many subscription MMOs have gone the Free2Play route in the meantime, if they haven't been discontinued completely (ahmagahd Wildstar, my heart bleeds)? Apparently though, competitors don't need a low-cost pay model, they just need enough staying power to become WoW killers. No one at Blizzard seems to have counted on that.
Guild Wars 2: Different pay model, maybe not huge, but played by passionate fans. Source: Arenanet

TESO, Guild Wars 2, SWTOR, LotRO, and many other online role-playing games may not have a bombastically large, but active and passionate community. The rise of Final Fantasy 14 as a serious contender may have come as a surprise to Blizzard, but it has been years in the making. But for the most part, Blizzard's eye was more on The Elder Scrolls Online or other MMOs. What other reason could there be for WoW Burning Crusade Classic to have launched, just this year, the day before TESO's Blackwood release?

In the past, Blizzard has always shown an almost somnambulistic certainty when it comes to spitting in the release soup of other competitors. Guild Wars 2 was released on, say, August 28, 2012 - the same day WoW patch 5.0.4 was applied, the Mists of Pandaria pre-patch. When the new Hellfire Citadel raid opened in Warlords of Draenor on June 23, 2015, Final Fantasy 14: Heavensward also came out on that very day. The apparent perfect timing doesn't always apply, of course. But often enough. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me at all if on November 23, 2021, release of FFXIV: Endwalker, WoW Patch 9.2 came out in the US.

Is WoW killing itself?

For years now, the WoW makers have not published official subscription figures. In the past, these were part of the quarterly financial report. Today, with regard to WoW, they only say that expansions have pre-sold well. Sometimes they even say "10 million players at release!!1". Yes, that's all well and good, but between patch releases, when even the most casual casual player has gotten through their stuff, the hardcore players have been noticing it getting lonely and empty on the WoW servers for years. And it's not without reason that the successful and popular world-first guilds are running out of players.

Things happen here on buffed.de that I would never have expected back when I started here: When Shadowlands was postponed by a month, for example, there were a lot of comments saying that you had taken out a subscription month for nothing. I also know a lot of original WoW fans who only come back for an expansion, but are no longer captivated by it and put the game aside after a month.

The WoW fans from the early days who endured every server down and lag hell and still kept their subscription going are no longer a given, and the developers need to understand that. The player base has changed over all these years. Gone from constant gamers with permanent subscriptions, to a majority of once-a-year revenuers. If that. But what the folks at Blizzard need is regular revenue to maintain development efforts and server operations. Or faster expansion releases. Or else ...

The fragmentation of the community

The cohesion on servers and within the WoW community has always been persistently invoked, and it really does exist! But this community has a lot to put up with. And the situation with the constant ups and downs of the player numbers won't get better by the fact that now apparently Classic version is lined up with Classic version, because that, if we're honest, only frays the player community further. Now there's already Team Retail, Team Classic and Team BCC. At some point I'm sure there will be Team WotLKC.
Is the enemy really the MMO from Asia? Source: Buffed

The focus of the WoW makers is shredded as well - and it makes the impression that they don't quite know where the journey should go, especially gameplay-wise. For five years now, for instance, we haven't had a new class. The last time we had a real new player race, a real, full-fledged one that didn't use animations secondarily, was in Mists of Pandaria in 2012, almost ten years ago. Both have been fixtures in WoW development until the introduction of Allied Races, appealing mostly to casuals.

Meanwhile, the post from the alleged Blizzard insider quoted above says that there is too much focus on raids. Raids are nice, but long gone from being everything about WoW, I have to agree. Are the developers alienating their own fans? By putting too much focus on one part of the game?

The importance of story

I can't remember who I saw tweeting this, but there's some truth to it: "It's not the mechanics that captivate players, it's the story". Not all players care about the story being told, not by a long shot, no. But many do. And to me, it's not even about the content of the story being told in WoW right now. But about the time frame. WoW players have been waiting eight months now for WoW Patch 9.1.

And if I really want to believe this "leak" from Blizzard HQ, then patch 9.2, which continues the story, will not be released until December 2021 or even January 2022 at the earliest. Because then the six-month period of the current 6-month subscription offer will have expired, which, by the way, appeared in the shop three days after the release of 9.1. Because, according to the leaker, that's the tactic being used now. Bind players to WoW for six months and then lure them back into the next 6-month subscription with a nice carrot.

Abandoned

Back to the secret cabal bent on killing WoW. If these alleged Blizzardians who supposedly believe such a thing imagine it to mean that the major WoW streamers are banding together and invoking the demise of the game, that's way too short-sighted in my eyes. That's just a phenomenon in my opinion, and not the cause of the dwindling WoW player base.

These streamers have a huge following. Let me use Asmongold as an example. He has now streamed Final Fantasy 14 and was surprised himself by how many members of his base tuned in. Of course the fans want to play the game he's trying out. And then if only a few get stuck in Eorzea, then of course that's a win for this shadow community.

But isn't that the natural course of things? A community looks at something together, and whoever wants to, stays there? Especially if that community feels neglected or perhaps even misunderstood by others? Then why not venture a new adventure on the much-vaunted "greener pastures"?
Community is a key to winning in the MMO space, and Blizzardians are messing with theirs. Source: Square Enix

And yes, that's where I have to point the finger (once again) at the folks at Blizzard or Activision Blizzard for putting cash over community. Over the past few years, community work has been successively eliminated. I'll say it again: The office in Versailles is being closed down for good, the place where the only community manager who still cared a bit about the German WoW fan community after the community manager cutback was still working. That says it all, doesn't it?

In that sense, if there was such a conspiracy, I think the WoW makers should look for it within their own ranks. And not put the crumbling community under general suspicion.

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