World of Warcraft: Patch 5.4, the future, and Blizzard’s bid to stop the rot

World of Warcraft

By on September 9, 2013 at 9:52 am

At a time when many MMOs are announced to great fanfare only to suffer disastrous launches and the ignominious slump into the last-chance saloon of enforced free-to-play, 7.7 million paying subscribers sounds like a dream position to be in.

However, as World of Warcraft director Tom Chilton acknowledges, it’s all about trajectory — and if 7.7 million is where you’re at because you’ve shed 7 percent of your subscribers in a single quarter, then suddenly that’s not so idyllic.

“If we were stay at 8 million subscribers from now until forever you’d think that we’d have nothing to concern ourselves with,” says Chilton. “The important thing for us is to ensure that the trajectory changes.”

Numbers are relative, especially when you’re talking about the biggest in the industry, and in this regard World of Warcraft could be considered to be suffering a crisis of confidence. Blizzard is aware of this and is adamant that it has the necessary tools, vision and focus to stop the rot.

Speaking to us at Gamescom, both Chilton and lead content designer Cory Stockton outline the way in which the team is looking to reverse the steadily declining subscriber numbers. Chief among these strategies is to consider the bigger picture and so, rather than suffer a knee-jerk reaction and make major changes, Blizzard prefers to use expansions to implement strategic changes and direct the overall game play model.

To this end, there’s currently a focus on easing the way back for players who once enjoyed WoW but have drifted away from it. “We want getting back into the game to be easier than it is today,” explains Chilton. “It’s about solving that problem for those that get excited about something they see in an expansion but come back and are then faced with days, if not weeks, of play before they can get to the expansion content that they were excited by.”

“At the moment, it’s too easy for them to just give up. We have to solve that problem and be able to welcome players back.”

To hear Chilton and Stockton tell it, they’re busy planning content not just for upcoming patches and the next big expansion, but for the next few expansions over a span of years. This is content that is shaped by both developer vision and player feedback, such as that in the upcoming 5.4 patch that includes the rebalancing of glyphs, talents and professions as well as an overhaul of the daily quests system and the introduction of a new Siege of Orgrimmar raid.

Looking ahead, Chilton has already said that it “makes sense” for WoW to eventually go free-to-play. However, it’s important for Blizzard to manage any such transition with care and time it right to avoid it appearing to be an admission of defeat, as such a change so often appears to be when applied to MMOs that are leaking subscribers.

Clearly, World of Warcraft has been evolving since its inception in 2004 and it’s evident that it will continue to do so as it moves towards its tenth anniversary next year. Whether that evolution will be enough for WoW to retain its MMO crown will be interesting to see.

Patch 5.4 releases tomorrow. For a detailed run down of the new features coming, check out the  detailed patch notes on Blizzard’s blog.

24 comments (Leave your own)

The problem with WoW is, it’s the damn damn thing each patch. New raids come out, so you run raids to get better gear. Gear that looks the damn same but with slightly different shoulders. I just looked at all the new raid gear for 5.4 on mmo-champion, it’s just rehashed nonsense. Mages are still wearing the same robe model they did back in vanilla, which with different colours, it’s boring.

They say they have the tools and focus to bring me back? Alright, I’ll keep my eyes open, $10 bet says they don’t have what it takes though.

 

I recently bought a month of to get back into the game, I never was an end game guy but I loved questing and getting to the level cap. I decided to start a new character and go relive the many memories of getting from 1-85. The problem is they have streamlined the game so much to make it easy to get to max level that you out level zones a quarter of the way through the quests for that zone. For the people that just want to hit level cap it would be good for them, but for me it was a deal breaker

 

I’m just wondering what the point is. Blizzard destroyed the game by making it “Accessible” to all, hence the mass exodus from the game.

 

isotropic:
I’m just wondering what the point is.Blizzard destroyed the game by making it “Accessible” to all, hence the mass exodus from the game.

Yea I’ve said this many times but accessibility is great too much of it kills a game wrath of the lich king was perfect, before 10 and 25 man shared a lock out and they introduced the dungeon finder and saving raid lock outs.

 

spooler: Yea I’ve said this many times but accessibility is great too much of it kills a game wrath of the lich king was perfect, before 10 and 25 man shared a lock out and they introduced the dungeon finder and saving raid lock outs.

The amount of raiding Blizzard asked for in WotLK was more than you’d spend on a part-time job every week.

Nothing ‘killed’ the game, it’s just everyone outgrows raid schedules. No one can raid 20-30 hours a week for that many years. It’s fun while it lasts but eventually you realise ‘hey, I could go make my life better, or alternatively finish an entire game 52 weeks a year instead of dealing with people who can’t avoid fire’.

There’s nothing that can prevent the decline Blizzard; people are just sick of your game. Eve Online has lasted as long as it has because people will never get sick of being pricks to other people.

 
Village idiot

rapid101:

There’s nothing that can prevent the decline Blizzard; people are just sick of your game. Eve Online has lasted as long as it has because people will never get sick of being pricks to other people.

Best quote ever

 

rapid101,

Spot on. Especially the Eve comment. I love EVE but I know what it is too :P

 

rapid101,

we spent 4-6 hours a week dependent on the week and cleared all content in wrath,everything from Noth to Halion and in the burning crusade we cleared most content (SSC was obnoxious) admittedly we didn’t get any world firsts tho we came close often.

I’ve never understood the perception that to do well with raiding you need to spend 30 hours a week raiding I was only ever in one guild like this it lasted about a month during the burning crusade (I had an alt) my alt progressed less doing more hours a week than we did with our 2-3 short sessions a week, when you raid that much in a week you just burn yourself out and the whole group starts making stupid mistakes it’s a massive waste of everyone’s time.

I began getting sick of WoW when they went back to the burning crusade’s “do a billion dailies to get anywhere” mentality this is especially prevalent in Mists of pandaria where after about a week I had unlocked all the dailies saw the amount there was and just thought “to hell with this”.

rapid101: There’s nothing that can prevent the decline Blizzard; people are just sick of your game. Eve Online has lasted as long as it has because people will never get sick of being pricks to other people.

Lol

 

Diablo III sucks. I hope blizzard release the ratio of players who bought d3 comapred to how many will fork out for the expanision to show what a joke it is. Blizzard are just an unflushable turd now. They are gonna need to do something spectacular to get my money again.

 
James Pinnell

I think WoW has just stagnated due to Blizzard’s reluctance to overhaul or reform the bulk of the game. Eve Online’s success has been due to the gradual upgrades of the game over the past 5 years – graphical overhauls, mechanic overhauls, systems overhauls. The game evolves over time so it’s always relevant and fresh enough to appeal to newer players and take advantage of updated PC technology. Then there was the crossover with Dust and the expanded world features there.

Blizzard have done almost nothing to change the underlying structure of WoW, nor have they bothered to upgrade the engine to reflect even modest graphical upgrades or modified the engine to introduce new features or functions. Every little gimmick they’ve added was just a hack to the original engine as opposed to an evolution of its structure. This is probably because they don’t know whether they are going to make a sequel or just keep “World of Warcraft” going forever as CCP expect to do with Eve Online.

 

chairmandude:
Diablo III sucks.I hope blizzard release the ratio of players who bought d3 comapred to how many will fork out for the expanision to show what a joke it is.Blizzard are just an unflushable turd now.They are gonna need to do something spectacular to get my money again.

Star craft 2: Heart of the swarm was pretty awesome… And diablo 3 is ok now I’ll buy the expansion to check it out.

James Pinnell: Blizzard have done almost nothing to change the underlying structure of WoW, nor have they bothered to upgrade the engine to reflect even modest graphical upgrade

go find a Vanilla private server (of which there are many) boot the game up max out the graphics settings, now go and do the same with mists of pandaria then come back to me please. The improvements in terms of visual quality performance and just about everything else are massive.

 

Yeah, WoW has definitely moved forwards visuals wise. It’s still nothing groundbreaking, but it looks much better than it did originally. And, last I heard, Blizzard are finally biting the bullet and updating the old race models.

 

spooler,

While thats true, there have been numerous graphical updates, all they’ve done is slap more makeup onto an aging hooker (Sorry for the turn of phrase, my brain can’t think of anything better atm).

Pretty new spell effects here, glowing little items there, some use of Direct X 11 gear over there..

Nothing really meaty. They need a graphical overhaul.

 

kinkykel:
spooler,

While thats true, there have been numerous graphical updates, all they’ve done is slap more makeup onto an aging hooker (Sorry for the turn of phrase, my brain can’t think of anything better atm).

Pretty new spell effects here, glowing little items there, some use of Direct X 11 gear over there..

Nothing really meaty. They need a graphical overhaul.

Why ? This is what I get people say this but it is still one of the best looking games around, I think people don’t like the aesthetic and get that confused with graphics.
I have heard this argument since vanilla and when you get right down to it usually it’s “the game looks to cartoony”. Which admittedly has always been my favorite thing about WoW it has a beautiful aesthetic. I can’t really see what they could do that they haven’t or that needs to be done :S

If you don’t like the aesthetic and would prefer something different then ok I get not everyone likes the same things but I don’t think the issue is graphical.

 

kinkykel:
spooler,

While thats true, there have been numerous graphical updates, all they’ve done is slap more makeup onto an aging hooker (Sorry for the turn of phrase, my brain can’t think of anything better atm).

Pretty new spell effects here, glowing little items there, some use of Direct X 11 gear over there..

Nothing really meaty. They need a graphical overhaul.

I remember reading a something they said, can’t remember when, it was a while ago.
But basically they said they were going to do an entire rework of the old models, inc, charaters, mounts and basically anything pre cata, but it would take a very long time, and it would be a gradual thing, they have to redo all the skin’s, textures and meshing of every item in the game, so I wouldn’t be surprised if after they do all that, the engine *evolves* into something more in line with today’s tech.

 

spooler: Why ? This is what I get people say this but it is still one of the best looking games around, I think people don’t like the aesthetic and get that confused with graphics.

You cannot honestly be serious in saying it’s one of the best looking games around…

 

yeapal: You cannot honestly be serious in saying it’s one of the best looking games around…

I can it is aesthetically pleasing, it’s not one of the most graphically impressive but again I’m talking aesthetics here it LOOKS good.

Graphically Battlefield 3 is more impressive in terms of personal opinion on prettiness Wow is far better looking.

 

People decide whether they are going to invest a significant amount of time, or stop playing something they have invested a significant amount of time into, based on graphics? Man I’d sure hate to be the guy behind Minecraft; that game looks horrible and will never sell!

World of Warcraft has been giving you the same (arguably worsening with time) experience for what, 7 years now? And they are surprised people are getting bored and/or are moving onto something new?

I do like this quote though “We want getting back into the game to be easier than it is today,” explains Chilton. “It’s about solving that problem for those that get excited about something they see in an expansion but come back and are then faced with days, if not weeks, of play before they can get to the expansion content that they were excited by.”

So new content will be even easier/more brain numbing for people already playing? Yeah, that is definitely what your current player base wants. Here’s a hot tip: I came back to Mist of Pandaria after a six to nine month break, and I wasn’t worried or turned off by the expansion content being too hard to access (it wasn’t, even leveling 80-85 and going in without any raid/dungeon gear), I was turned off because it was boring as bat shit and everything I’d done in the last expansion pack. How about you offer your customers a new experience instead of hoping they’ll eat up your regurgitated content without noticing because the aesthetic is different?

Edit: For the record, I’m not saying any of this is ‘easy’ to do, but they’re clearly blaming the customers for their short comings. “It is too easy for the player to give up”. So it isn’t that their content is bad/boring/whatever, it is that the player is bad/weak and is making uninformed choices by stopping because they can’t handle it. I guess it would be a bad business move to admit your design is losing it’s appeal, and would definitely be harder to actually change things than it would to blame your customers for having some kind of defecit and ‘not getting it’.

 

jjager:
World of Warcraft has been giving you the same (arguably worsening with time) experience for what, 7 years now?

WoW will have been out for a decade come late next year. Yes, I know, where did our lives go?

I stopped playing WoW back in early/mid 2009, at the time when they’d just launched the Argent Tournament. I never got to do any of vanilla’s end game stuff, but I did do some raiding in BC and loved it and had a great time in WotLK too – up until the Argent Tournament. About that time two things happened: first they made an entire raid they had just introduced more or less redundant (Ulduar or however it is spelt, they changed heroics to give you gear that was on par, or close to it, with what you’d get from here); second, there was a whole heap of content about not playing my character. I didn’t want to ride around on a horse being a knight, I wanted to heal. That’s why I was playing a holy priest.

WotLK also saw a revving up of the “get to 60/70 quick” system. This development, as has already been posted, meant that players powered through all the content before the last 10 levels, meaning you wouldn’t get to see all the potential content that you might have done the first time round – or not at all if you were joining the game later. Come Cataclysm changes were made to the stats system that (from what I’m told) sent players back to the future, removing stats that had been added during BC. Talents also under went a change that “streamlined” (ie: simplified) the system. To top it all off, the new races in Cata were confined to their own starting areas until level 20 and players not of those races couldn’t get in those starting areas. You and a friend want to level together and they’ve made a worgen and you a human and you want to level together? Bad luck, you’ll have to wait till you’re level 20 to do that! (Again, going on what I’ve been told by my brother, who currently does have game time).

Ultimately what’s been said covers it: WoW isn’t offering anything new, the old content passes by in a flash, and to that I’d add changes have only streamlined things to reduce choice and variety, compounding the issue that the content is stale.

 
James Pinnell

spooler:
If you don’t like the aesthetic and would prefer something different then ok I get not everyone likes the same things but I don’t think the issue is graphical.

It’s not nothing to do with the graphical *style*, but the graphical prowess. Better looking, more detailed models. Better lighting for wider, more impressive, spell casting. Better, more detailed animations. But like I said, it depends on whether Blizzard wants WoW to continue under a single banner, rather than a sequel.

 
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