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Why is WoW (World of Warcraft) losing subscribers so fast?

Updated on June 26, 2013
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Are Guild Wars 2 and The Old Republic to blame?

One of WoW's competitors is Guild Wars 2. The problem with comparing them is that Guild Wars 2 has no subscription, so it isn't quite the money making machine that WoW is, but it also makes it difficult to compare apples to apples. We can look at sales, however. As of January 2013, it sold a rough total of 3 million. It's now June, of course, so that number should be a bit higher. The actual amount of active players is probably quite a bit lower than the sales number, since a good chunk of people usually drop off after launch, but usually come back for expansions.

The other main competitor is Star Wars: The Old Republic. It was once a subscription MMO, but because of a lack of interest, they recently went to the FTP (Free To Play) model that has become quite popular with major MMOs as of late. So, once again, it's hard to directly compare them. But, we can look at sales, and the starting numbers it had shortly after it's launch. It started off with a bang and had 1.5 million subscribers. Sadly, the subscribers started to fall once people finished all the content in about a month on average. They kept falling until the game went Free-to-Play in November 2012 and since then, the game has added over 2 million new accounts. The actual amount of active players is lower, of course.

For reference, WoW currently has about 8.2 million paying subscribers. This is down from an all-time high of 12.1 million in 2010. So, perhaps increased competition in the MMO marketplace and the increased use of the FTP model has caused WoW's numbers to drop a bit, but I think it's more complicated than that.

Is the Mists of Pandaria expansion to blame?

Once again, we'll have to look at the numbers. In WoW's history, there are traditionally drop offs in the subscriber base between expansions. This is normal, as people tend to get bored once they've finished most of the content, or they just get burnt out. The Mists of Pandaria expansion (the fourth one) was released in September of 2012. Usually, we would expect subscriber numbers to go up, but they have continued to go down. Let's go back a little bit further to what could be the real culprit here.

The third expansion for World of Warcraft was released in December of 2010. As of 2010, the subscriber numbers were at their peak of 12.1 million. Fast forward to 2011 and it dropped to 10.2 million, and 9.1 million the year after that. So, from a statistical standpoint, the drop off started after Cataclysm was released.

Could it just be the age of the game?

For me, this is a major contributing factor. The game was originally released in 2004. That's nine years ago. That's a pretty crazy amount of time for a game to be out and continuously updated. Not to mention, many of the people who started playing the game since launch or simply outgrowing it. They have jobs now and responsibilities and maybe find the game to require more time than they have. So, it's all down to constantly attracting new subscribers to the game. This is tough because the game looks down right old. From the textures to the models, it just looks outdated compared to all other games. The cartoon-ish art style has allowed Blizzard to keep the game looking this way for a while and gamers wouldn't gripe too much. But, that time has passed.

That's not to say they haven't updated the graphics at all. They added betters shadows, water, effects, among other things. But, what hasn't really changed is the number of polygons and textures in some respects. It just doesn't scale up to the latest hardware, as most other MMOs do. They're never going to look as good as the latest greatest, but MMOs still have to have the ability to scale based upon the user's hardware. WoW has fallen quite a bit behind in that respect, and probably doesn't help the perception that it is ancient in the gaming world.

How do they add new subscribers?

Blizzard is currently in the process of figuring this one out. They have already made the game way easier than it was at launch. Many of the annoyances have been ironed out, but some of the achievement has, as well. Now you can find a raid or dungeon easier than ever. This is probably a good change. It's all about balancing between wanting new subscribers and keeping the current lot happy. But, as the subscriber numbers keep dropping, I see Blizzard catering more and more to the new group. I completely agree with that business decision because, after all, it's a *business* decision.

Or, is this just being paranoid?

It does seem a bit absurd to freak out about the most successful MMO in gaming history losing subscribers because it still has the most subscribers by far. It's not even close. You'd have to add up all the others just to get close. It's the undefeated champ and will be for years to come. I think Blizzard will simply have to redefine what "success" means.

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      jonas bieberlake 4 years ago

      Game is just garbage now. So much class imbalance, lack of fresh content, indifference towards the players' opinions...garbage. They reap what they sow, so we continue to unsub...

    • TripleFitness profile image

      Henry 4 years ago from Canada

      Personally I think the whole genre is getting a bit tired. I'd love to see some innovation in the MMO realm to take it beyond the 'grind'.

    • CWanamaker profile image

      CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona

      I definitely has to be the age of the game. After a while I think people just get tired of playing it and want to move onto something else.