Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
World of Warcraft not the end of history

Looking back to what happened in the MMORPG genre in the year 2006 the short summary is: Not much. World of Warcraft is dominating the market to a degree that other games fail to make news or take off. Is that the end of history? Have MMORPG stopped evolving? Fortunately not. Just 5 years ago it was Everquest which dominated the market, and today it's down to a 1.6% market share. World of Warcraft is just another Everquest, taking the center stage for a few years before disappearing into history.

While doomcasting World of Warcraft usually ends you up with egg on your face, I think that 2007 will be the year in which WoW peaks. Inevitably the Burning Crusade expansion will bring back a lot of people into the game who had stopped playing sometime during the last two years. So in the first quarter of 2007 the number of subscribers will hit a new record.

But by the middle of 2007 that growth will at least stop, or there will even be a decline, although you won't read about that anywhere. Blizzard isn't likely to release declining subscription numbers. You'll just notice a lack of new press releases announcing new records. There are two major influences that will stop the growth of World of Warcraft: The appearance of a range of alternatives, and the lack of content in the Burning Crusade.

I don't see any single "WoW killer" MMORPG appearing in 2007. Vanguard will probably be a total flop. And many of the other new games will just reach a moderate success, getting a few hundred thousand players each, enough to keep them alive but nowhere near the World of Warcraft numbers. But as there are many new MMORPG coming out in 2007, the sum of all the players trying out the new games will be a visible drain on WoW. The one game that has the potential to rival WoW in subscribers, at least locally in the US and Europe, is probably Warhammer Age of Reckoning, but that will only come out in 2008.

People will move to other games because they will quickly grow bored with the Burning Crusade. The Outland is a large continent, but in the end it is just 7 new outdoor zones and 8 new dungeons (including Caverns of Time and Karazhan). Sure, that will keep us busy for a while. But even the average player will have seen most of it after a couple of months. No way is the added content enough to keep people occupied for a whole year, until the next WoW expansion comes out. Once we reach level 70 we will again have the "treadmill" option of raiding, giving us the appearance of progress while not actually moving us forward. But by now there is a strong expectation that the next expansion after the Burning Crusade will again invalidate all raid progress. Having a short look at the endgame and then cancelling your account for half a year until the next expansion definitely looks like the more clever option.

Again, this is not a doomcast. World of Warcraft will have many million subscribers for years to come, and many more expansions. But while the number of WoW subscribers will stagnate or even fall a bit, the total number of MMORPG players will steadily increase, thus shrinking the market share of WoW to something less intimidating. World of Warcraft is a very good game, but it isn't perfect, and there is no reason to think that nobody else could make a similarly good or even better game. World of Warcraft is not the end of history.
Like telephones, ICQ or Skype, MMOs gain more and more value as the number of users rises. Imagine one of your friends is using Skype: You can call him, but he won't be online all the time. Now imagine 10 of your friends using Skype: Someone will most likely be online to talk to. So if all your friends have Skype account, then you will create your own one, too.

I decided to play WOW because a couple of my friends already had a WOW account. I stopped playing because my friends raided a lot, for which I did not have the time. The point of MMOs is, that you can play with others, preferably your RL friends. Thus WOW will continue to dominate the market, as long as there is no significant exodus of players. Even if people get bored due to the lack of new content, they will continue to play to keep their established in-game social network.

Even if Warhammer Age of Reckoning will be a superior game, it has to appealing enough to draw entire groups of players from WOW, not just individuals. In my opinion this is the biggest problem for smaller MMOs today. They just don't draw enough attention to overcome a certian critical subscription number.
I think the exodus from WoW will be a little larger than you imagine. My feeling is that there are many WoW players who want to be the character that everyone looks to for guidance and leadership - the "cool" character, the leader, the guy with the latest and greatest. But, as you know, it takes a lot of energy and effort to be there and 98% of the people playing are somewhere in the back of the pack.

The 98% will be thinking - "hey, if I jump in on one of the new MMO's, then I can be the leader, the "cool" guy" " - and many, many will make the leap. I expect active players to decline by half in 2007- though subscriptions will decline at a slower pace at first. I believe there will be a snowball departure effect after everyone sees item price and other impacts from a big reduction in players.

The only thing that could throw this off is if WarHammer is delayed into 2008 - I thought it was due in 2007?
I think a good question to ask is what exactly the Burning Crusade will add. I think Blizzard kind of shot themselves in the foot with the 2.0.1 release; all the mechanical changes have been made, and for the most part people seem upset. I think they might get distracted leveling to 70, but once they get there I think they'll be experiencing the same disappointments that they have now.
Now, that said, I'm not doomcasting :) I'm just wondering if perhaps they've already peaked, as opposed to peaking after the BC release.
Well...let me doomcast a bit then. If BC, at level 70 turns into the same grind as level 60 is now, then WoW will start to fade and loose numbers. If, however, they start to add: world pvp, housing, guild progression, graphics updates etc etc...then they'll keep and maybe even increase subscriptions.

Blizzard has consistently shown that they are good at making quality games...time will tell if they are good at evolving one on the fly.
Whenever the next big game comes along I hope it will be a revolution rather than a evolution. I think that Markash makes a very good point about the social aspect of the game being so important and this being the reason why one game becomes so dominant over all others. I suspect that the next big game will overtake WOW because it offers better social networking and not because it offers better quests. Contrary to what some might say I don't think this will come from "enforced grouping". In fact I think voluntary grouping and much more casual social interaction and chat is likely to expand the audience for MMORPGs.
Agree with mbp. I want desperately to play something completely different, but that's a hard thing to sell. Frankly, the sooner WoW is dethroned, the better IMO, because right now everyone seems to just be content with getting a piece of Blizzard's market share as opposed to appealing to a new market.

Tougher than it sounds, I know... because no one really knows yet just what the market cap is on this type of model.
I'm not buying the 'cool' guy argument will doom wow... you have paid character transfers now that will essentially put you into that top 1% of a new server's population that you are craving after if you really want it.

I think that if blizzard has another poor implementation of BC like the honor system, people will leave. Imagine if they release it and then a week later they say people are leveling to fast.. were cutting xp by 30%... people would be hot...

I like BC and think arena will add A LOT. Because it gives you something to do with your gear you have been collecting. How many times have you been out in the world and say if x didn't jump in to help dude I would of taken him... or why cant world pvp ever be fair (1 on 1, 2 on 2, ect), I know I ways get ganked when I run into a mob of players. Also arena battles will always be different since all your trying to do is kill, not slow down or outlast. And if you die your out, you dont get to rez in 30 sec... so it will make your death have importance also. The class match us will be interesting and make every fight unique.
I happened to start a new toon after patch 2.0.1 to run with my wife's new character. As a result, I'm seeing that there are Blood Elves every Undead town, and some vendors have Jewelcrafting recipes now. Some of the Blood Elves have quests already, and I'd expect that the ones that don't currently have quests will likely be 'hooked into' Silvermoon quest-lines.

Here is the BC task like for an obsessive-compulsive gamer like me:
- Level to 70
- Start a Blood Elf / explore their starting content
- Pursue extensions to current professions
- Check out changes to 'old' content
- Go places with my 70 that I couldn't with my 60
- Check out new content:
-- Instances
-- Quests
-- Zones
-- Jewelcrafting
-- New PvP areas

And I've certainly not exhausted the current content on the Horde side, and barely scratched the surface of Alliance content in about 8 months of play.
So I could see the BC filling up a year, easily, if it continues to entertain (especially if I level multiple toons to 70, and/or take a Blood Elf from 1 to 70).

And as others have mentioned, the social net is there on WoW for me right now, so that just adds to the fun.
But even the average player will have seen most of it after a couple of months.

The sad thing is, if players didn't rush through content (myself included) this game could hold us much longer. Imagine if there was a time cap on this game. Where you could only play for say 1-2 hours a day. Perhaps only 6 hours total a week. Imagine how long it would take for anyone to play through the myriad of quests!

I'm kicking myself for joining a friend of mine one day and uncovering most of the maps in beta. Why couldn't I just waited until tBC was released and followed the normal progression of quests that lead me from area to area as I complete them?

I remember when I first got my beta invite, I started working on leveling - but stopped myself. Why level to 70 in beta when I'm going to pay to level in January?

We really can't blame Blizzard for soaking up all the content as fast as possible can we?
There are way more than 8 dungeons in TBC. You cant count Hellfire Ramparts as 1 dungeon. Its 3 and a short raid ( like onyxia).

Coilfang reservoir has 2 dungeons and a raid.

Caverns of time has at least 3 instances.

Auchindoun has 3 I think.

And then there is Gruuls lair, and the black temple. I dont know how many they have.

Tempest keep has 4 I believe ( 2 5 mans, a 10 man, and a 25 man).

Then there is the heroic mode of those 5 man instances. Some of the heroic mode instances dont require alot of gear, but some do. It may not double the playability of an instance, but it definately adds significant life.

Also, there are other instances to be added in content patches. Like Zul Aman ( 10 man). And if its anything like the retail version, plenty of raids will be added.

World PvP is MUCH better in the outlands, but still not amazing. The new honor system helps it alot though.

Cancelling your sub after a short glimpse at the end game is retarded not clever. Unless your goal is to just enjoy the textures in raid dungeons or something. Blizzard has been pretty good about putting out new end game content.

I think we will see a peak in 2007. And again with the next expansion. Maybe WAR will be good enough to pull a large portion of people away. After trying some of the "big name" games that have been hyped recently, I wont hold my breath though. Vanguard HAD alot of hype. Then the beta started. I gotta say, its nothing special. I was excited about DDO. It sucked. Im excited about WAR. I hope it doesnt suck.
Delete my account mid-year and come back for the next expansion? Whoa.

It depends on what you want to do in the game, I guess, but if you're and end-game raider, I'm actually WORRIED that, like the current "legacy" game, there's no way my guild and fellow players will be able to see all the content within one year. We're only half-way through AQ40, and have briefly stepped into Naxxramas. As soon as TBC hits, those instances will become ghost towns.

The level 70 dungeons will require attunement, reputation, and keys to be able to enter. Additionally, T4/5/6 gear will be available, and those dungeons will require the gear grind as well to be able to complete. So, you essentially need T4 gear to get to T5, etc., etc., not to mention the new resistance gear grind (fire resist, nature, etc.)

A lot of players think the majority will be level 70 by the end of January, and the 25-man instances will be overrun by the end of February, with T6 gear dropping like rain for everyone...oh, happy day! This will *not* be the case.

I'll be happy if my guild makes it into the final 25-man dungeons - Black Temple and Mount Hyjal (both will be patched in later) BEFORE the end of the year. That's only 52 weeks of raiding, mind you, before they say the next expansion pack will come out. With raids on the 1-week save timer, that's very few raids to get geared up, if you think about it.

Additionally, the level 60-70 grind is going to be *about* as slow as the 1-60 grind. For those of us that don't play 12 hours a day, that's at LEAST 2, if not 3 months before we hit level 70 (and that's still playing 3-4 hours a night, and 10-14 hours/weekend).

A LOT of players, I've noticed, believe TBC will be this easy, la-dee-da thing that comes along with all the content wasted out in a month or two. I believe 98% of the WoW population is in for quite a shock.
YANE brought up a good point. Why do people rush through this game? Even before I reached 60 I took the time to start a couple of alts and keep myself interested. My highest alt is now a 31 warlock, which is an excellent change of pace from my warrior. Why would you ever want to cram in a years worth of game into a couple of months?

I think that most people are going to enjoy the expansion for a year or so, sure Blizzard is going to lose some subscribers, but I would guess that most of them are going to be "undesirables" anyways.

I would estimate that Blizzard is going to hit some high number, 10 million or so, then slowly taper off for the next 5-7 years through several expansions. At that time, Blizzard will either shut it down or introduce a sequel of some sort, plummeting the numbers to near zero. But they will have made sure to funnel those customers elsewhere to another game.
If Blizzard has shown us nothing else it's that they're more than willing to patch in new content to adapt to players' changing needs and interests. After all, the raid instances that are considered the current "endgame" weren't even there when the game came out. When players outgrew Molten Core they were given BWL. When they outgrew that they got AQ40. And then Naxx. PvP fans got Battlegrounds. More casual raiders got ZG and AQ20.

Think about the original game without any of that added content and try to imagine how it would hold players' interest at 60. It wouldn't.

Looking at the expansion now and trying to predict how its endgame will look is just silly. The endgame will change, and as long as Blizzard keeps doing what it does well it will change fast enough to keep up with the players.
I seriously doubt the total number of MMORPG players will be stagnant throughout the next couple of years. As better, less expensive computers and high speed connection becomes more available throughout the world, more and more people will get online and into a game - whether it's WoW or something else. Personally, I believe WoW will hit the 10 million mark shortly after TBC release, slide a bit by mid spring, then rebound throughout the summer. Come 2008 when the next expansion is released and we'll see double digit subscription numbers for several more years for WoW. I just don't see people giving up on this game any time soon, really.

So...I tend to disagree with Tobold's assessment.
I'm all about taking my time with BC because I flew through WOW as fast as possible and I missed allot of areas due to impatience. I can blame the guild I was a part of because of their get to 60 as fast as possible attitudes, but that wouldn't be fair to them.

BC I will play casually and at my own pace no matter what guild I am part of. Video games are about having fun, and feeling like I am on a deadline takes the fun away IMO.
I dont get housing and its appeal?

it its status you can look at a toon's gear and be impressed.

someone explain...
I think people like in-game Housing because it's a space they can call their very own, or perhaps it's just a visible mark on the landscape saying "I was here, I made a difference."

It would be difficult to implement in-game housing properly, now, because the landscape is already so well developed. Are we going to see skyscrapers in Stormwind? Their subterranean equivalent in Ironforge? Now that could be one way to implement it, and a good use for Old Ironforge (which is a bloody creepy place, in case you've never been down there).

The "skyscraper" could work like an Instance where only you and people in a group/raid with you (as the leader) could enter "your" room. Of course anyone who has a room (or is in a party) would use the same portal, just the destination would differ for each person/party.

Now in your room, imagine if you could add trophies or weapons, suits of armor, etc, with limited space of course so you couldn't go nuts. Now imagine that as you upgrade your Tier 1 Armor to Tier 2 or 3, instead of Vendoring your Tier 0 pieces, or DEing them, you can place them on a wooden dummy in "your room". Your Ice Barbed Spear or some other Epic weapon could be mounted on the wall. Imagine if, after killing a Mob, you could choose to collect its head (or entire body if size allows) to be kept as a trophy, which could be displayed in "your room".

There are many reasons people would like their own space, house, room, etc. just as their are many reasons people play MMOs :)
I'm already looking forward to the next MMORPG. It just needs to promise the things that WoW doesn't offer. It needs to be bigger, faster, stronger.

I left SWG because they had 10 minute wait times for shuttles and cities so large (with nothing to do) it could take 10 minutes to cross. You could carry 2 quests and they were stupid random spawns that didn't generate until you got close. WoW promised me less time sinks. They promised quests with content. The game delivered, big time. Sony loses a subscriber and Blizzard got one. It could happen again.

Now that I've played WoW for 2 years, Blizzard's time sinks are getting on my nerves. The flight paths are intentionally drawn out to be slow. Some places are begging for a flight path and don't get one (Rebel Camp anyone?) The Graveyard locations are too far in many zones. Why isn't there a boat going to Feathermoon and Steamwheedle Port?

If you want to steal me from Warcraft just promise me a game with less time sinks and some fresh ideas, just like Blizzard did. The only thing holding back Warhammer is the recycled Dwarfs/Humans/Elves/Orcs formula.

In short, I'm almost done. New quests and dungeons are still being conquered by the same druid I've been playing. I get a couple new spells, but nothing is really different. I'm looking forward to BC, but I'm also looking forward to the next game. Someone just has to make it.
Just as an aside, the flight paths are not intentionally drawn out to be slow. Some may take a slightly longer route, but Blizzard has already stated that many flight paths have to meander because of the lack of textures in many "flyover-able" areas. The world of Azeroth is not actually 3D in all places, i.e. Stormwind, top of Undercity, etc.

You cannot fly directly from one place to another because the world would look incomplete from those vantage points. For a game that is heavily based on its "look" that would be suicide.
"Just as an aside, the flight paths are not intentionally drawn out to be slow. Some may take a slightly longer route, but Blizzard has already stated that many flight paths have to meander because of the lack of textures in many "flyover-able" areas."

I have some ocean-side property in Arizona you might be interested in.
I am a bit annoyed at time sinks at 60, myself. As a warrior I only have one hearth point, a mount, and "public transportation". The only thing I can currently upgrade is the mount, to epic.

It is especially annoying because my mage buddy has the capability to port.

Give a high-level access to portals between major cities, and "epic-speed" flight paths, multiple hearth points, etc.
These portals are coming with BC - One of the major new cities in the outland will have portals to all major cities in the game. All you will have to do is set your heart to this city.

Quit your bitching. Blizz loves and listens to us.
"If Blizzard has shown us nothing else it's that they're more than willing to patch in new content to adapt to players' changing needs and interests"


I guess all us players have had no need for or interest in new 5 man content for the last two years.
I would actually quite like more intelligent time sinks. Perhaps I am odd.

I like travelling in Azeroth, but it does seem a somewhat contrived slowdown. Would be very happy to see areas that actually take a bit of planning and effort to get to EVERY time. So that you don't just think "Need to go to LHC for a quest" - Flightpoint - Bing - Make a cup of tea - I'm there. "Oh i needed a foozle, oh well, heathstone back".

Make it so you can do stuff whilst travelling. Take advantage of a 10 minute boat ride to pick barnacles or something.
OK, what's the deal?!

Some background:
A couple of months back I got tired of holding stuff in the mail, so I established a "bank" character in a major city to hold "stuff" and to be the AH runner. It has been great. In addition, the miner / blacksmith holds the gem / ore drops, the leatherworker holds the leather drops and mats, greens that won't sell on the AH go to the enchanter for d/e, etc.
You get the picture.

Last night there was a restart on a 5:00 warning.

Later that evening, I did my usual mail-from-points-afar to my bank character, and after a few mailings I got errors, something like:
Target is unfriendly
You have reached the maximum number of in-game mail recipients

By morning the character could mail again, but another character got the same error.

Anyone else seeing these errors?

Now in-game mail and a bank character / AH runner plus characters specified to handle certain professions is a way around time sinks (with a nominal in-game mailing cost). I don't have to go to a main town after every quest, I just visit the mailbox next to the inn.
But if I'll be restricted in mailing, then it may become "Return of the Timesinks" to return to The Big City after every adventure. Or I'll just have to vendor stuff that I'd rather keep or sell on the AH.


And yes, please let me do mundane stuff on the flight like profession activities and even in-game mail.
IMO, u shouldnt need alts to take care of your economic situation.

One fix that many players might appreciate would be a fix to the auction house system altogether.

As it stands right now, people will overprice an item no matter how much competition is against it, mainly because the 8 hour and 24 hour timers and the fact it cost you $ to run an auction and not sell. Now if they were to add a Post it until it sells option, there would be a more competitive feel for selling on AH, and overall offer ALOT more gear selection to newer players (1-59 for example). Alt loot holding chars = bad idea for blizzard.
Well I am a Guild Master on Khaz'goroth and like many guilds we have been hit by a bad case of Burning Crusade apathy.

What is interesting is that it is not a case of the guys leaving the guild, they simply just started not turning up. They also still log on sporadically - but when it suits them - and certainly not to raid. PVP held their interest for a bit, but that has dropped off now.

For the last 3 weeks out of over 60 players - and keep in mind this is a raiding guild there have been less than 20 on, tonight 10. Doing a quick "who RandomGuildName" shows its not just us, across the server - and from reading this blog and others - and across WoW in general the same is happening.

While everyone is saying it's just BC they will all be back, I am wondering - how many times in life do you stop doing something and then come back and do it again with the same level of interest?

If they are not playing WoW they have found something else to do, something else is holding their attention. Now the question is will they drop the new interest to come back to BC or have they "moved on"?
WOW is soon a dead game. With soon i mean in some years. Exactly like Everquest.

Biggest problem with wow is that the marketing department took over the game design department.

After the BWL instance was made many developers left WOW.

So one day one of these marketing peeps said: "75% of our players are under 18 so lets design our game for them". Then they also wanted to steal Star Wars Galaxies players and game up with the utterly rediculus idea to let the Deathstar crash on the moon of Endor (Exodar). Like happened in Star Wars Episode 4. They even have a quest called the Kessel Run. There Drenei race looks like a Star Wars race. And so on.

TBC has shallow textures. It has shallow quests. And the shaman bored me to hello after 13 levels.

Structurel problem was has is that all the game design is actually only for 5% of the players. People prepared to put up with 39 teenage jerks and people who are simply the best players with the most time. I am one of those. Yet i always refused to accept the rubbish and jerkish mentality of these big groups so i kept far from 40 men raids as often as possible.

Casual gamers have no chance in WOW. They lack the time, the skills, the experience. And so on. 95% of the wow players are casual gamers but the game design is not for them. 100% of the game design is for those kids that call themselves Elitist Jerks.

So yes, the moment there is something better, like LOTRO (Lord of the Rings Online) that does not appeal to children, WOW will lose all its most active mature players and will become even more a kids game then it already is.

You can ride Dombo the elephant in WOW.

ROflmao !

See also:

1. Investing a lot of time in something is worth more than actual skill. If you invest more time than someone else, you "deserve" rewards. People who invest less time "do not deserve" rewards.

3. Group > Solo. You can forget self-reliance, because you won't get far in World of Warcraft without a big guild. By design, playing alone (even if you are the best player in the world) will get you worse loot than if you always play in 5-man dungeons. If you always play in 5-man dungeons, you'll always get worse loot than if you play in 40-man raids.
Post by Kakguma

being a 6+ year MMO vet, I can attest to the fact that this was one of the smoothest expansion releases I've ever seen. Kudos to the dev and test teams at Blizzard for getting us a polished product. The folks over at SOE should do a case study and learn a few things.

With that said, I have to admit that I'm in a near panic state now. From a game point design standpoint this expansion is a complete disaster so far. ALL the pre-expansion raid and single group instance content is now nearly worthless. The gear coming out of just the very first zone of Outland (Hellfire Peninsula) is light years above most all gear in the 'old world'. So...all those many hours of raiding and PvP'ing your butt off to get gear upgrades is all thrown out the window now as you can, quite literally, replace almost every single slot of gear within a few days time in H.P. The design team at Blizzard has obviously never heard of "mudflation". Perhaps Blizzard should do a case study of Eq and examine what happens over time as gear and levels and capabilities increase. It's a natural evolution of ANY MMO game; however, you have to limit the level of upgrades else you instantly obselete all the content that came before it...and that's exactly what's happened here.

Next...risk vs. reward. It's an exceptionally common metric for determining loot quality. The tougher a quest, raid or an individual fight is, the better the reward(s) is/are. This has been complete thrown to the wind. Yes, those bombing run quests are fun...but there's absolutely ZERO risk of ANY kind. And yet, the quest item rewards will upgrade just about anyone in the game not farming end-game content.

Now with all this said...we've only begun to really scratch the surface of the expansion. What will the quest rewards be like at 68? at 70? If the retun on time and effort remains a relatively linear relationship, i'd say we just rename the game to "World of Candyland".

/rant off

I keep hearing people say Warhammer Online is gonna rival WoW. It might do just that for about 3 months. After a couple of weeks when you do check it out you will say to yourself,... is this wow? daoc? or a combo of the two? If you watch the gameplay videos Warhammer Online is clearly NOT bringing anything new to the mmo table. If I were a betting man I would venture to say that AoC aka Age of Conan or even PotBS aka Pirates of the Burning Sea will enjoy more long term sucess. They DO bring something new to the MMO table. Long story short is if your bored with WoW, Warhammer Online will be about a 15 minute cure for that boredome.
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