38 Comments

Summary:

After 32 months of continual growth, the largest MMO in the world may, at long last, be peaking. That’s my conclusion, at least, looking at the latest stats from WarcraftRealms.com, a large fansite which tracks and analyzes population statistics and demographics for Warcraft. The site publishes […]

After 32 months of continual growth, the largest MMO in the world may, at long last, be peaking.

Sad ElfThat’s my conclusion, at least, looking at the latest stats from WarcraftRealms.com, a large fansite which tracks and analyzes population statistics and demographics for Warcraft. The site publishes concurrency data that WoW’s developer, Blizzard, doesn’t actively provide, through a system called Census+.
“[I]t works by utilizing the in-game ‘/who’ functionality to take a snapshot of every character currently logged into the game for your server and faction,” administrator “Rollie” explains to me. “These shapshots can then be uploaded to WarcraftRealms.com, which are then aggregated with other people’s snapshots … During the month of May there were over 180,000 snapshots uploaded and processed.”

With that, they were able to compile pretty solid data on players during WoW’s peak hours, and the numbers for the last few months are very interesting.

Data from www.warcraftrealms.com
Chart courtesy of www.warcraftrealms.com— forgive me if the formatting looks out of whack. As you might guess, the first month of 2007 is when Blizzard released The Burning Crusade expansion pack/sequel, which spiked prime time players from the US and EU to near 900,000 in February. Since then, however, activity has been dropping at a steeper rate than it increased through 2006. (While Warcraft boasts 4 million monthly subscribers in the West, by the way, it’s more meaningful to look at concurrency levels. Subscription-based MMOs are like gym memberships: even if you have one, that doesn’t mean you use it—and the less you do, the more likely you’ll finally say “Who am I kidding?” and cancel it.)

Rollie notes that WoW’s active player counts are still higher than they were before TBC’s release. “As for why numbers are dropping now,” he speculates, “it is only natural. There is a very noticeable spike when The Burning Crusade came out… As more and more people have gotten over the euphoria of the new content, they are settling back into their normal play routines, and thus the nightly averages are really correcting back to the norm.”

That might be. But with so much fresh content to explore, why would the spike last only two months, then begin dropping sharply? It’s too early to conclude WoW is actually losing players. (Though Amanda Rivera of the WoW Insider, the blog where I first spotted Rollie’s chart, thinks that’s the case.) I’m checking with Blizzard for their take, but assuming the chart is a reliable extrapolation, it’s pretty safe to say two things:

- The Burning Crusade added few if any new subscribers to WoW.
– The Burning Crusade’s appeal to existing subscribers was short-lived at best.

“This is how Open Big MMOs all go,” veteran MMO developer Raph Koster observes on his blog. “A big rush, peaking a little bit after the launch. Then a plateau for a while, then a tailing off.”

Blizzard’s much-anticipated expansion pack arrived more than two years after their game’s November 2004 debut. The studio is notorious for its slow development schedules, but to keep their hardcore fans happy, they’ll need to get their next expansion out a lot faster than two more years from now. This is one fundamental problem with traditional MMOs: their most passionate players quickly churn through any new content the company creates, then share its secrets with less regular players. (Who either decline to follow in the power players’ footsteps, or now that they have the inside scoop, do so at a much faster pace than they otherwise would.) It’s one fundamental reason why MMOs which foster user-created content are generating so much interest: without a regular stream of new material, a popular MMO just breeds its own downfall.


Image credit: World of Warcraft.

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  1. Michael Krotchie Sunday, June 17, 2007

    I’m interested to see the trend over the next few months. If what Raph says above is true does that mean we are already tailing off or haven’t yet hit the plateau? I was an avid player for about a year from release but then I remembered I had a real life to get back to. ;P

  2. Robert Scoble Sunday, June 17, 2007

    James, it could be because WoW’s latest patch really sucks on Macs. My son showed me the latest WoW and it’s only getting 10 to 15 frames a second on OSX. It’s also not reliable on Vista. But gets 60 frames a second on XP.

    http://scobleizer.com/2007/06/17/the-coolest-dad/ has more on this issue.

  3. Brandon Paddock Sunday, June 17, 2007

    Seems likely that competition from the successful LOTRO release has contributed to this as well.

    My guild alone has 50+ people who left WOW for LOTRO.

  4. David Russell Sunday, June 17, 2007

    All that data shows is that there was a spike in player numbers around the release of the addon (before it, through people who had been playing less often getting back into the game in preparation, and afterwards due to the hype surrounding the launch). I don’t think WoW is dying yet (I’m a GW player btw, I don’t particularly care either way).

  5. It took most players less than a month to level to 70 in the Burning Crusade expansion, thereby completing the exploration of new areas. All that’s left is long chains of attunement for raid type dungeons, all of which is very time consuming, more than it was before the expansion. My guess is that the drop in activity corresponds to the exodus of the more casual players (incl. me).

  6. Gold farmers are the application developers of World of Warcraft « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog Sunday, June 17, 2007

    [...] this weekend GigaOm reports that World of Warcraft has stopped growing (see chart below, originally sourced from Warcraft Realms, showing player activity at peak hours [...]

  7. As someone who used to play wow (but stopped a few months ago) what Adriaan has said rings very true with my experience.

    Before the most recent expansion pack you could play the “endgame” (raiding) without needing to invest massive amounts of time.

    In TBC you need to put in huge amounts of time to get attuned (i.e. completing the prerequisite tasks to enable your character access to the endgame content). I found this tedious and extremely time consuming so I stopped playing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed wow pre-tbc.. my guild were right up there on our server progression-wise from MC/Ony all the way to Naxx. Before TBC I didn’t think of myself as a casual player (my guy was decked out in raid epics).. after TBC I realised I wasn’t hardcore enough for the endgame so I stopped playing.

  8. Second that, I counted myself among the hardcore, but reorganized my priorities, life is more than a videogame, and found the whole “reset” of TBC to be a pain in the ass. After grinding a few more factions to exalted, and getting keyed, and doing the new content, just got tired of it all and bailed.

  9. The coolest dad (er, the WoW is on XP) » Ecommerce Blog Monday, June 18, 2007

    [...] James Au is reporting that World of Warcraft player numbers are going down. Maybe partly because of this [...]

  10. World of Warcraft in ambiguous figures shock! « Dark London Monday, June 18, 2007

    [...] proclaiming the beginning of the end for World of Warcraft; most notably The Guardian Gamesblog, GigaOm and Raph Koster’s blog. To be totally fair, only The Guardian post carries any apocalyptic [...]

  11. I would be very careful with statements like WoW is losing players – TBC brought many new players /like me/ and some of these just didnt like it or whatever..
    Lets wait for longterm numbers, what if is the number of players just dropping to the pre-TBC level which is WoW’s peak?

  12. Cool story. I found another article which talks about the same issues that World of Warcraft is facing.

    http://www.gamexviral.com/2007/06/15/why-are-people-leaving-wow/

    I think the source is WoWinsider.

  13. To be honest, I found Wow very boring and time consuming.

  14. Aniq Rahman Monday, June 18, 2007

    Don’t forget — it’s also the summer. Tons of users are going to be playing all day/night since they’re not in school. Less growth/loss of members isn’t analogous to less people on at the same time/longer time.

  15. Technology Funda | Has World of Warcraft’s player base peaked? Monday, June 18, 2007

    [...] 32 months, it appears that the player base has finally peaked, and the number of active players has started to decrease, or at least according to the statistics made by WarcraftRealms.com based on the /who command which [...]

  16. Just wait 4 next expansion pack maybe?

  17. I think NERFs have something do with WoW’s problems. You play a character, a new update either buffs you or nerfs you. It doesn’t take too many of these and you begin to question the balance of the game experience vs. the time spent playing it. The game begins to lose its appeal.

  18. I have to agree with the trend here — I played a bit when TBC came out but once I had a good picture of the amount of simple grinding would be required to get to the advanced content, I decidd that I had enough. To get me to go through all that they would literally have to pay me by the hour because it’s too much like a job.

  19. I personaly loved playing WoW. But the grind started to get to me. I found it hard to get good groups to do end game dungens on hard mode. The most fun I had was PvP and killing Nefarian for the first time. After that it seems like more of the samething.
    I like the skill system in GW with heros better then the gear grind in WoW. They could improve on that.

  20. EMAC » Blog Archive » Gaming Peaks and News Friday, June 22, 2007

    [...] James Au at GigaOm ponders if the World of Warcraft has finally hit a plateau. “After 32 months of continual growth, the largest MMO in the world may, at long last, be [...]

  21. I know why WoW is on a decline- The Burning Crusade sucks, any way you blog it/cut it/ rationalize it/ review it, its just a shitty expansion everyone thought was going to be good

  22. the grinding really killed the whole game.
    before TBC came out, everyone was dreaming for the new content and that what it keep most player playing it, after TBC is out, we realized the whole game is just grinding over and over again, and that why when we lost our interest.

  23. It might also have something to do with the added pricetag along with monthly payments, and that is still feels like you are just repeating long, and tedious tasks that seem to never end. I still play occasionally but i got burnt out along with all my friends that played the game.

  24. I hope wow stays i think its a great game to play. And i enjoy playing it every time i can play it

  25. WoW, has alot to offer BUT currently you need two accounts to fully appreciate it. I have an Alliance account and a Horde account. I switch back and forth and it is truely amazing.

  26. WoW will eventually pass away. As we speak the Devs at Blizzard are basically ruining the game with alot of decisions or “nerfing” to continuously try and balance the game. Unfortunatly these changes are making each class less fun to play and alot of people are planning to leave when Warhammer Online comes out.I’ve read from quite a few posts in the community forum that they would not play another Blizzard game.Was a great game, too bad they made alot of wrong decisions.

  27. Music in « Dark London Friday, July 27, 2007

    [...] of news; World of Warcraft crossed the 9 million player threshold, putting to silence all the ‘is WoW going down?’ posts from last month. The other, less positive (for Linden Labs), news is that gambling has been banned [...]

  28. Has World of Warcraft (Finally) Hit a Plateau? — World of Warcraft and Wii Portal Friday, August 17, 2007

    [...] logged into the game for your server and faction, administrator Rollie explains source: Has World of Warcraft (Finally) Hit a Plateau?, [...]

  29. reddogg blogg » Blog Archive » ROFLMAO and Mahna Mahna Sunday, August 26, 2007

    [...] The World of Warcraft has over 9 million subscribers worldwide and about 1 million online at any given time. This huge fan base allows YouTube videos like this one to top 1.5 million [...]

  30. overlordramstien Friday, September 14, 2007

    The blizzard developers are designing there game in reverse it seems. all good player input is ignored and only the whinyest of the player base get what they want.

    Due to the above statement wow is in an eternal state of flux to try and fix what they broke that didnt need to be fixed.

    Coupled with all the reskinning of tier 3 graphics and buffing the “Daze Mechanic” to increase your “Fun Factor” of getting dazed and knocked off your mount at any level,we will see pretty much TBC reskinned dumbed down and called wrath of the lich king.on sale for 49.95 and 200 bucks on ebay for the collectors edition.

    It’s game over for many looking for a game that truly allows “Immersion” in your toon’s advancement through the grind.

    If current developers keep there jobs we will never see anything but the same for many xpacs to come.

  31. WoW is loosing people, I know cause most of the people in our guild have either left for another game, or just stopped playing altogether.

    One thing Blizz can do is start considering combining servers to make it more fun.

  32. I wish I could say I was able to quit WoW because I had awesome willpower. I wish I could say I was able to put this game down after a 3 year addiction because I realized I wanted to better myself and not waste away my life on a video game. I can’t. I quit WoW because of one simple thing – it now sucks! Like others, I enjoyed “Classic” WoW a lot but by the time TBC expansion was coming out, I was ready for some new content. I had raided all the instances, killed all the bosses, PvPed, and done pretty much all WoW had to offer. I didn’t even care that my hard-earned gear would be made obsolete. I leveled my character from 60-70 with my guild, enjoying casual instances and fun social interactions, just like Classic WoW. By the time we got to 70, my guild was chomping at the bit to get into the new endgame content!

    Wooh – Not so fast, Buddy!!! First you have to get your toon ready for raids, which requires obscene amounts of faction, attunments, time, great gear, and you need to spend 100’s of gold on consumables and repairs, etc etc. I grumbled but jumped through all the hoops like a good WoW fanboy. I was eager to hit the ground running with my guild in Kara. Imagine my disappointment when I found it was even MORE of a time commitment, REQUIRING 5+ nights a week to get anything cool or have any fun. It was not that I did not enjoy a challenge or was a “noob” at my class. Hell, I had raided some of the hardest content Blizzard had thrown at me – Naxx, BWL, ect. It was the fact that all of it now REQUIRED far more hours a week to get anywhere – that is the key word: REQUIRED. The instances are designed to now waste the maximum amount of time for the most minimal amount of reward. For all the new gamers to WoW, let me tell you Classic WoW never required people to sell their entire life away to get a couple epics. As a matter of fact, the lifeblood of the 9 million subscribers to WoW are semi-casual players. Oh, you COULD devote the time if you WANTED to, but you always felt like you had a CHOICE. If you had extra time one week you could play hardcore, but if you could only log on for 1-2 raids for a couple of weeks because of work or whatever (ya know, Real Life!) you could do that too!

    Now it feels like a job requirement to be online every night, otherwise your 25-man or 10-man raid will suffer. The same thing is true with Arena PvP teams – if you don’t show up, your team is screwed. Everything endgame now has taken away the power of the the player being able to log on casually a couple nights a week and still do something fun. If you don’t play hardcore, the door to fun is shut in your face. You could level alts, but what is the point – To reach the end and be faced with the same problems as before? You could grind for mats to craft epic gear alone, but where is the fun in that!? What attracts most people to an MMO over other games is the social aspect!! There is no reward anymore for getting to max level – only more work. I am just not willing to give that much commitment to a game – at least not against my own free will. It has sucked the fun right out of this game. I already work 9-5, I don’t need a second job that I have to pay $15 a month for! You fail Blizz…you fail hard. You saw the time sinks in your game and exploited them to make players stay online more for max profit, while offering little fun or reward. Eventally we get tired of chasing the carrot on

    1. @Becky: Hello? Are we talking about the same game here? Classic WoW was much more of a grind than any of the new content out there. On classic you needed a really good guild and week after week of wipes to even smell an epic while on TBC with heroics and such everyone was running around in purples in a blink of an eye. That’s what’s actually ruining the game, it’s becoming completely easy mode, everyone is running around in flashing mounts with eye candy armor strapped around their backs. You can’t possibly compare these puny 10-men or 25-men instances with the hardcore 40-men instances of classic. Seriously…

  33. Well I’d be interested to see the numbers now, almost two years later after the release of Wrath of the Lich King. Pretty sure WoW isn’t dying anymore.

  34. Dont have one Sunday, March 15, 2009

    Wow is at the end but when there is no bether mmorpg the will servive. I give it 3 year till its time to close wow. Or the making somthing damn hot. Will see the gam is still running so lets wait

  35. I found WOW extremely boring also and just not worth the time . The disc makes a Nice coaster for my teaglass though .

  36. This is gaming is amazing, and its not going anywhere. Newcomers are all the way into it. There is the lore, there is the myth, the PVP, the battlegrounds, the raids, the Tournaments, the dailies, the EVERYTHING. And still got the best playing ever. And guess what? WoW it’s not a game anymore. Its culture.

  37. I guess 2 years later – this article was proven to be full of crap.
    WoW didn’t hit a Plateau.

    It’s at 11 million players now versus 9.8 at the height of TBC

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