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Summary:

Can Call Of Duty’s realist shooting make up for World Of Warcraft’s diminishing fantasy fan base? Vivendi’s Activision-Blizzard is battling to hold on to its sought-after subscription success.

Blood Elf from World Of Warcraft at BlizzCon
photo: CalvinB

The world’s most popular online multi-player role-playing game has been transported back five years, as falling player numbers return it to 2007 subscriber levels.

I compiled subscription disclosures from the last 22 quarters, including the latest from World Of Warcraft developer Activision-Blizzard’s majority owner Vivendi on Thursday, in to this chart…

Activision-Blizzard recently explained “the majority of declines … (are) coming from the East”. It began offering World Of Warcraft in China via the Netease online gaming giant in 2009, and this summer renewed the deal for a further three years; but China’s online gaming market is rich with several popular titles.

Subscribers to EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic game have also fallen by 40 percent since the start of the year (via BBC News).

Vivendi, which owns 62 percent of Activision-Blizzard, on Thursday said its half-year EBITDA profit from the publisher is down by 31 percent – something it explained was “partly due to timing of game releases”.

Like peers, it is trying to wring more direct subscription revenue out of game players in an industry exposed to console and software release cyclicality. Last year, it introduced Call Of Duty Elite, a subscription tier for the leading war game.

Elite should be boosting this segment for the company, making up for World Of Warcraft‘s declines. But Vivendi on Thursday said half-year revenue from subscriptions fell by 29 percent to $448 million.

  1. WOW is on the decline because the appeal to new players is getting worse. It looks very daunting if you are starting a new toon and have to get them to level 90, through a bunch of strange lands where not very many other players are playing (i.e. BC and WotLK). As long time players start to drop off, like me, and new players aren’t filling the void, the amount of subscribers will continue to dwindle. I feel that a fee based solution to allow new players to purchase levels for their characters might appeal to those who are facing the daunting task of leveling a new toon. IMHO

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  2. With each expansion the experience required to level has scaled down so a new player can reach level cap in two months of casual play time. The lack of players in older lands is actually a boost to new players on PVP realms, as don’t have to worry about being ganked by a higher level player. Sure allowing players to buy characters at level cap will bring in alot, but not having the experience of leveling and learning your character will be a disadvantage. As it is now veteran players are often rude and impatient with new players, Imagine being in an end game dungeon with a newly bought level 90 Healer who dosen’t know how to conserve and restore mana.
    I think there are just many more options for online gaming than there was almost several years ago.

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  3. Wow (no pun intended), look at that drop off from March to June! Do you know what happened in March? The beginning of the Open Beta for the next Expansion pack.

    Although I didn’t yet drop my subscription (it goes through October because I took Blizzard up on the “renew for a year and get Diablo 3 for free offer last year), count me in as one of those who tried the Expansion Open Beta for a day or two and said, “That’s it. I’m finished. There are other things worth playing that are more enjoyable than this.” And that’s after having been a player for almost 10 years.

    I’ll remember WoW fondly.

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  4. In all honesty…the title is just too old now and Blizzard doesn’t care as long as they have over 1 million subscribers. It’s a cash cow for them until it falls below that point, because of the subscription service and the paid services.

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  5. I haven’t played the game in almost a year. but bottom line I was in a guild from the day the game launched and as of last year before I left most of us agreed Wow was getting to simple. it had a edge somewhat back in it’s prime. but as time goes on they seem to be trying harder to streamline the mechanics and simplify the the way it plays.it’s not like the game was hard before, it just, all the options were taken away. its being re-made for generation who seem to be much more lazy and wanting what once took some work to earn. hence we get this watered down version with no appeal.it’s very bland and easy. kind of always was, but much more now with Greg street at the helm.

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  6. You know, if the y-axis of that chart went from 0 million to 13 million (instead of 8 million to 13 million), it would look a heck of a lot less damning.

    Blizzard just needs to push out content at twice the speed they are now. The game is doing fine and there are tons of people playing.

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  7. Dungeons & Dragons enjoyed a run of 30+ years, and it was played with graph paper and funky dice. Why? Imagination. But WOW has traded exploration, adventure, character-building, and earned rewards for easy prizes and Pokemon battles between kittens and bunnys. Result: boredom. Longtime players leave. Go figure.

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  8. I played the game when it was new, and briefly every few years since. When it was new it was amazing. It was about the world, adventure, and pvp servers had lots of battling. Factions actually hated eachother.
    At the same time when Molten Core was the top place even a group of 30s had a chance against a 60 in world pvp. By the time of burning crusade a top level character could one shot most lower levels players, and the game was focused on instances/battlegrounds.

    In the original game you even saw assaults on enemy towns, one of my favorite things was sneaking around in the enemy main town as few were bold enough to do so (and low levels were safe if they didnt flag themselves). Graveyards were far between, dying actually meant you might have to walk 5 minutes back to your body and so it really had an impact to get killed.
    And originally the number of guards was what you saw in towns, they didn’t spawn from thin air. Then in a patch guards started spawning from thin air, and they added stealth seeing patrols that saw from further than normal guards. More graveyards were added, and well the punishment for dying in the world was reduced so much that dying no to another player no longer really mattered.
    Real pvp was virtually destroyed.
    By the first expansion towns were guarded by NPCs that could one shot most players, stunlocking shooting goblins came along to ruin it further.
    Any world PVP not specifically intended anyplace interesting was essentially destroyed.
    Why have PVP servers in the first place, you can already que for battlegrounds in a PVE server.

    Fast forward to Catacylsm.
    They destroyed what little hope remained for adventure. They added graveyards and flight paths almost everywhere (nevermind the flying mounts). Dying means absolutely nothing now.
    Take places that previously were far off the beaten path like the middle of the old single stranglthorn vale, a place where if you died you had to spawn at a graveyard in the furthest north or south. Being in the center of that zone was really deep in a dangerous jungle. With just two graveyards on opposite sides of a massive zone that took a good 5 minutes to walk to the middle as a ghost. Flight paths were only at the top and the bottom.
    It was a place that was scary and dangerous to be in and travelling by the main road was near suicide.
    Suddenly its two zones, both covered in flight paths every 100 feet, and so many graveyards dying wouldn’t matter anyways. You are never actually deep anywhere, nor dangerous. Its lost everything that made it halfway decent.

    The game is now a boring grind where tedious progress via rep or tokens is guaranteed, but there is no sense of adventure.
    There is no real living breathing world. The world is just how you get to instances now (and hardly even that with the instant que for dungeons that warp you in and out) where all the real gear is, turning it into little more than a 5 man game most of the time, with raids not much better.

    If you want a sense of accomplishment through guaranteed advancement requiring no skill, while not really being much fun, that is what I believe they have been catering to for quite some time.

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  9. Oh and you cannot even go near enemy towns now. They have flying patrols that can kill you while mounted (you cannot fight while mounted) in the air, and sneaking around is out of the question. So much for epic adventures as alliance sneaking through a crowded Orgrimmar, or Horde in Stormwind.
    PVP servers cater to PVE players, why have them?

    I would have liked to have seen entire continents with buildable guild bases that enemy guilds could destroy. Resources and mats needed to maintain defenses. It being the only place to access the guild bank, and other important incentives to maintain or want such a base.

    Instead you get carebear land, protected by NPCs, and surrounded by respawn points and flight paths to respawn and fly away in a few seconds Or of course you could just mount up on your flying mount and avoid confrontation altogether.
    They killed the world, and if you are just going to do instanced battlegrounds pitting small numbers of players against eachother, you might as well play a game that costs no subscription fee and offers better battles. Fighting in the actual uninstanced world with few spawn points or flight paths, with people trying to do things besides just fight eachother, was what made WOW world PVP have a felt impact. It was exciting, sometimes frustrating, but it had an emotional response, you were not a zombie playing with zombies.

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  10. They are making the game dumber and dumber, all the good motives to play are gone.

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