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Welcome to the Plateau: World of Warcraft, Subscribers and Cataclysm

Updated Mon, May 16, 2011 by Saia

Activision Blizzard’s latest earning call revealed a substantial drop in World of Warcraft’s subscriber numbers, from the officially announced figure of 12 million (though the actual figure is likely much higher than that) down to 11.4 million. That’s quite a drop, but is this simply indicative of a mid-season slump, or are we witnessing the birth of a more pronounced downward trend?

To many players Cataclysm felt somewhat rushed, despite the longer development cycle, and seemed to be incomplete at launch. Aspects of the endgame were too easy while the level of the five man content is just too hard. Yes, to some extent, this is down to being mollycoddled during Wrath with dailies that could be sleepwalked in ten minutes with even the most basic of gear, yet we all knew going into Cataclysm that Blizzard intended to up the ante in terms of general endgame difficulty.

However, after the initial honeymoon period wore off, sometime between January and the release of Rift, many subscribers became unhappy. The lure of the new is always strong, especially if you’re already burned out on your game of choice. Blizzard may have garnered more sympathy from those disenchanted subscribers had they conceded that yes, certain aspects of Cataclysm's launch were rushed. Instead, they may have dug an even deeper hole when they announced that 4.1 would not be the Firelands but a mish-mash of revamped older content peppered with a few sorely needed tweaks to game mechanics.

Depending on which end of the hardcore to casual spectrum you fall under, 4.1 has not been well received and all eyes have turned to Rage of the Firelands. As a result, 4.1 wasn’t even a blip on many a radar and even the promise of Ragnaros is secondary to the loot and gear he’ll drop. We’ve beaten him back twice now and these confrontations are getting old. In Molten Core, Ragnaros was awesome. In Hyjal, it was a fitting end to an epic quest line. But in Rage of the Firelands, many have already begun to wonder if it’s really going to be that epic or just another pit stop on the road to Deathwing.

Hotfixes

Deathwing has destroyed Azeroth but has Cataclysm destroyed World of Warcraft?

There’s epic, you see, and then there’s legendary. Deathwing definitely falls into the latter but is it possible to hype this final encounter so much that all else becomes just another cobblestone on the road? In Wrath we knew we were going to face the Lich King and it was an epic journey, one Cataclysm is struggling to match … Deathwing might be bigger and badder but even he can’t match Arthas’ infamy amongst the mortal races of Azeroth.

Blizzard has a lot of work to do in the coming months if it hopes to continue the longstanding upward trend of seeing new players in its flagship title. Subscriber numbers have fallen and it’s likely to be a shock, hopefully enough of one to make the developers realize they can’t just coast along, assuming their subscribers will continue to give them money whatever happens. Consumers are picky creatures, we want worth for our loyaity and if we don’t get it, that small vocal minority will quickly become a very loud majority.

With a little effort and the right people on board, it's certainly not too late for Blizzard to make Soon™ mean something again. That's one of the key components of how the developer built up such a massive, loyal fanbase over the years. Unfortunately, many players have decided that mantra has warped into TooSoon™ since the launch of Cataclysm, so it will be interesting to see if Rage of the Firelands can help pull WoW's slowly sinking subscriber numbers back out of the proverbial fire.

My feeling is that Blizzard made a a spectacular MMO but never really planned on anything post Azeroth. Each expansion seems to worse then the previous one :(

I bought Cata a couple of months ago after more than a year away and have just cancelled my subs. The game just seems humdrum and even my guild is listless with the GM spending more time in Rift and often forgetting the activities he had posted.

The initial Worgen experience was good but the later stages were forgettable. I leveled to 82 then got bored with the new areas and went back to crafting and playing alts to entertain myself. Being and older guy this might not be typical for all but its my 2c worth anyway.

My feeling is that Blizzard made a a spectacular MMO but never really planned on anything post Azeroth. Each expansion seems to worse then the previous one :(

I bought Cata a couple of months ago after more than a year away and have just cancelled my subs. The game just seems humdrum and even my guild is listless with the GM spending more time in Rift and often forgetting the activities he had posted.

The initial Worgen experience was good but the later stages were forgettable. I leveled to 82 then got bored with the new areas and went back to crafting and playing alts to entertain myself. Being an older guy this might not be typical for all but its my 2c worth anyway.

So far I think cata is great. I look forward to when I can log in, dungeons are fun with my guild and the2 nights a week we raid are a blast even though we only have one hard mode boss down so far. I think this expac is the best thing that has happened to wow since BC came out. The farther we can get away from wrath the better.

Saia is there a reason why all your articles about wow are so doom and gloom?

I came back to WoW a few months before Cat. released. I was excited at first, because I was exploring some upper lvl areas I'd never been to before. Then Cat. came out and to be honest, the new classes were just "meh" to me. Played the Worgen to about lvl 20 and it just never caught on, had no desire to play the Goblin.

But the main problem for me and my progressive decrease in interest in playing has to be the over-all cheese factor that the game has seemed to step up increasingly over the years. Some may like and enjoy the lite-heartedness of the RL Holiday parodies, the motorcycles and flying machines and such...and even I didn't really react to it that much in the beginning. But over time it became apparent to me that this just wasn't the game "environment" that I wanted to play in anymore.

So I'm pretty sure my time in Azeroth is done. And part of me is kind of sad about that, as I do have some fond memories there and a lot of time invested.

But I'm currently very happy with LOTRO and Rift. Both games that offer me varying aspects of gaming that I enjoy...ie. a more serious setting and tone in general (imo)

Wonder how many other long term players feel similar?

But no offence to those that continue to enjoy their time in WoW. Regardless the game, if "you" enjoy your time there, that's were you should be, that's the whole point right ;)

Regards2All

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