Can Blizzard turn the subscriber slump around?
By Stace Harman 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.