Updated Sun, Aug 14, 2011 by Saia
The last couple of months has not been easy for neither the World of Warcraft or its players. Blizzard has announced massive subscription drops for two quarters now and the naysayers seem convinced the bell has tolled and WoW is coming to the end of its life, that the tide has turned in the favour of some other title like Star Wars: The Old Republic. It hasn’t and it won’t but this is not the reason for this editorial.
You see, there will always be those people who stare in horror at the latest big content patch, then throw down their mouse and keyboard in disgust and move the WoW folder to the Recycle Bin or Trash Can of their computer. But for every one of those, there are usually a dozen people who leave WoW for other reasons and not all of them are Blizzard’s fault.
I’ve met some of my best friends via WoW. These are the people you meet online, guildies mostly, and then you graduate to talking on the phone a couple of nights a month and meeting up when schedules allow. We’re all in the same age bracket (anything from 18 to 35, if you must know) and are scattered around the UK and Europe. We all jumped from being virtual friends to real friends, yes, we even know each other’s real names.
A year ago, we were all playing several nights a week but this year half of these folk have unofficially quit the game. Some have started dating, others have families or new jobs and some have moved to a different game, just for a break or because they have real life friends there. They still have subscriptions and active accounts but seldom log on, not even to do dailies. Everyone still loves WoW, still keeps up on the news but life has just taken over. The key thing to remember here is people aren’t deleting their characters, or canceling their accounts. Most are just fading away, letting things lapse, there’s nothing to stop anyone even those who did quit in a blaze of thunder from returning later, characters intact. And everyone does, eventually.
It's okay to take a break, it is summer after all.
The other day, I asked a friend why she’d ‘quit’ WoW and she gave me several answers, citing the recession, her job and the long work hours and the fact she no longer understood how to play her class because of the drastic changes that have been introduced to the game. This alienation was the source of her leaving the game but real life was the icing on the cake. She still plays but prefers the lore and free-to-play status of Lord of the Rings Online while waiting on the launch of Star Wars.
Of course, it’s August, possibly the worse time in the year for MMOs. Yes it’s the summer lull. There’s little news and Blizzard seems to be saving itself for the feast of content coming in October. It’s like Onyxia is doing Deep Breath and we’re waiting for her to fire a sheet of flame in our faces. The days are long and hot, the sun is shining and family come to visit. Real life pokes you until you turn off the PC and actually get some fresh air for once. I’ve walked the dog, gone to the gym and played more Xbox that I normally do in a year. Around me, school is out and kids don’t want to play games when there’s grass and a football, everything seems to stop until the nights begin to draw in again. And you know what? It's fine.
The toll is not entirely down to the heat though. There's always our old friend burn out. It can strike any time but usually after a massive content patch when you've been grinding for that rare mount or epic gear. It can also sneak up suddenly and seems to grow stronger when the sun is shining and the ice cream van jingle is drifting on the breeze. The thing about burn out is that it's easy to fix, just take a break. Something as simple as logging off for a few weeks while you go on holiday or just spending time away from Azeroth will help you remember why you like it in the first place and tempt you back. The trick is you need to give it time and a couple of days just will not do. So switch games, check out your consoles, go out with friends, do anything but visit Azeroth and pretty soon you're enthusiasm will be back in spades.
Personally, I’m waiting for the Diablo III beta to reignite my fire. I’m one of those people who Blizzard will see focus on their new IP over an old one, even if it means an eventual return to Azeroth when the new expansion is announced. The important thing to remember is that yes, the numbers have dropped but everything, even Azeroth has its ebb and flow. The rainy days and cold nights of the next few months will draw people back, which is why I think Blizzard are keen to see 4.3 drop before the end of the year.