Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 11, 2009
 
WoW goes Free2Play

... probably around 2020. :) I got mail from two readers, one asking me how I thought the decline of WoW would look like, the other proposing the idea that WoW expansions are a case of diminishing returns. I quickly realized that those were actually the same subject: The decline curve of World of Warcraft is going to be determined by the diminishing return of its expansions, but could be modified by major upsets like the change in business model that DDO just announced.

The third expansion for World of Warcraft will probably be announced at Blizzcon in August. It will probably add 10 more levels to the game, one new "continent" with several new zones and dungeons, and one new hero class. Other than that there will just be some minor added features, like a new tradeskill or something, and nothing that really changes the gameplay of WoW. I mean, why would they? The only major change in gameplay a MMORPG ever did, Star Wars Galaxies' NGE, was a spectacular failure. You don't risk alienating 11 million players, you just provide them with more of the same old.

And of course that policy of expansions has diminishing returns. An expansion with content for level 80 to 90 does nothing to attract new players to the game. And while many of the veterans will probably resubscribe, there is always this feeling of deja vu, added to the realization that the expansion just made all of your previous achievements obsolete. And of course a typical WoW expansion only adds about 6 months worth of content to the game, but then needs to last you for 2 years.

Thus the decline curve of World of Warcraft will have spikes of resubscriptions every 2 years, which after 6 months or so fall back onto the underlying curve of gentle decline. Theoretically the mythical "WoW killer" game could be released and put a dent into that curve. But I consider that unlikely, because the most promising contenders for that are themselves far too similar to WoW, and end up suffering from the same diminishing returns as the WoW expansions. Why would you want to quit WoW for another game, if all that other game offers is the same kind of gameplay in a different environment?

At some point the decline curve gets naturally steeper. This is due to the server architecture of World of Warcraft. The game can still have millions of players, but so dispersed over hundreds of servers that any single server is having less than critical mass. Then you get into the messy business of server mergers, where people find that on that other server there is already some elf hunter named Legolass, and they quit in anger about having to change their name.

About that time Blizzard could think about changing to a Free2Play business model for WoW. Could. It depends on how successful other companies have been until then revigorating flagging games like DDO with the Free2Play business model. It is totally feasible to have a Free2Play World of Warcraft, where leveling to the level cap is free, but the Blizzard store sells everything from epic mounts to teleport tickets to entry tickets for dungeons. I don't think that Blizzard is planning that far ahead yet, but a Free2Play transformation can work wonders to restore critical mass, by attracting those who don't want to pay a $15 monthly fee.
Comments:
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Ultimately, the problem that WOW (and all other MMOs) face is that the developers can't produce content as fast as people can consume it. This isn't a new problem: authors and film-makers have had it for years. Even TV companies that produce large quantities of high quality content (e.g. The Sopranos or The SImpsons) can't turn out 20h/week's worth.

The way these other industries deal with that is simply to accept that people aren't going to be consuming one source of content uniquely, but that people will get their fun from multiple sources.

Although it has become something of a dumping ground for bad games, the basic idea behind SOE's Station Pass is a good one. Treat game studios as TV networks, with the subscription buying content from multiple providers that you can play as you see fit. It seems to me that this is the right future business model for the future, rather than F2P.
 
I don't think WoW will ever be free2play, their more likely going to come up with some sort of variation of SOE station access. You'll be able to subscribe to multiple Blizzard online games with a bit higher sub rate.

Even if you have to play a sub for it, a game that is new and exciting will still be more popular than a game that is outdated and free2play. It may spark some interest but I wouldn't expect big returns.
 
Although ,at first glance, it makes perfect economic sense, I have a feeling that this does not fit to the culture at Blizzard.

I think they will eventually release their next MMO and at the same time announce that WoW is not going to be supported any more (except for keeping servers online, merging servers etc).

Blizzard is always looking forward. Take, for example, the way they treat low level content. Blizzard likes to be in the offensive, to drive the competition.
Noteworthily supporting a declining WoW does not fit into Blizzards culture.
 
Noteworthily supporting a declining WoW does not fit into Blizzards culture.
Well, this is Blizzard we're talking about. They released a patch for Starcraft, a 11-year-old game this January.
 
I also played the expansion for a few months, half a year. And I'll do the same with the next expansion. Unless if some great mmorpg can drag me in.

Don't forget that server mergers are bad for publicity. It means your game is not doing as good as you want. And Blizzard offers migrations from big servers to smaller ones for free as a way around this.

But eventually I see Blizzards next mmorpg be the decline of WoW. And even then I still see new expansions coming in for a while. And patches for decades (starcraft for exampple, as I pointed out in a previous topic).
 
Has Blizzard come right out and said that expansion "whatever" will be the last one?

I dont remember seeing any kind of roadmap to that effect, so it doesnt seem likely that they would switch to a F2P scenario considering the amount of polish and testing that they put into their content. The costs of Blizzards QA process alone is staggering, let alone the actual content creation phase and the money involved with that.

That's one thing about Blizzard that you will not find any indication of; that they skimp or cut corners on any content for ANY games that they have ever made. Diminishing returns or not.

As Hirvox pointed out regarding Starcraft, Blizzard is -right now- taking player feedback and working on patch 1.13 for Diablo II, a nine year old game, even in the face of their pending release of Diablo III.

Blizzard. Gaming Gods, I say.
 
Blizzard. Gaming Gods, I say.

And you believe they do all that for the good of mankind with no regards towards profits? How naive!

Fact is that they are still SELLING lots of copies of Starcraft and Diablo II, so the cost of the patches is minor compared to the income. And the cost to develop new content for WoW, which you call staggering, is peanuts compared to the profits they make. WoW has a profit margin of 50%, which is pretty outrageous. Protesters are blasting energy and telecoms companies for overcharging them for much, much lower profit margins.

Gaming gods, only if fleecing your customers and still being worshipped is the criteria.
 
>>And you believe they do all that for the good of mankind with no regards towards profits? How naive!

I said that? Really? Yes, I would be very naive if I had actually said that. But I didnt. So your "lol, got you!" moment was wasted on that one.

It's becoming obvious now that you have an issue with successful gaming companies who operate on the "pay to play" bussiness model and are able to make a profit from it.

The fact that Blizzard is still making QUALITY content for games that other developers would have long ago abandoned says quite a lot about their gaming credentials for gamers who still play their games after so many years. Blizzard has brand loyalty spread out across multiple IP's, many of which the -same- players own as part of their Blizzard collection.

As for your fleecing comment, well, I'll pass on addressing that one, because you obviously have an axe to grind with certain bussiness models if you think that is what Blizzard is doing to gamers who buy and play their games....after well over a decade of top notch support.
 
Where in that comment of mine did you see me criticizing the monthly fee business model? All I'm saying is that Blizzard makes over $1 billion revenue from World of Warcraft, half of which is pure profit, not reinvested into the game.

If Blizzard were the "gaming gods" you claim them to be, they would put back a greater part of their profits into the game, and produce expansion sets faster than once every two years. What you call top notch support, I call milking your customers. They are putting a minimum effort into World of Warcraft, which only looks a lot to you because a small percentage of $1 billion is still more money than the competition can afford.
 
>>All I'm saying is that Blizzard makes over $1 billion revenue from World of Warcraft, half of which is pure profit, not reinvested into the game.

And yet your post talks definitivly about diminishing returns and the likelyhood of what would happen to their bussiness model as a result of a slow decline in revenue?

Followed by:

>>If Blizzard were the "gaming gods" you claim them to be, they would put back a greater part of their profits into the game, and produce expansion sets faster than once every two years.

You're developing a really twisted sense of entitlement here, my friend. Hint: Game developers owe you nothing.
 
Game developers owe you nothing.

And we owe nothing to the game developers. Worshipping them as "gaming gods" as you do is certainly not justified. They are just normal companies trying to make a maximum profit out of their customers.
 
"If Blizzard were the "gaming gods" you claim them to be, they would put back a greater part of their profits into the game, and produce expansion sets faster than once every two years. What you call top notch support, I call milking your customers. They are putting a minimum effort into World of Warcraft, which only looks a lot to you because a small percentage of $1 billion is still more money than the competition can afford."

Qua? I thought I was irrationally hating on Blizz for making this very point!

IMO, by the time F2P is more profitable than the sub model, nobody will give a shit. Is UO or EQ f2p? Does it matter? Could you stand to play with those graphics even if they were?
 
@Toxic

I still play UO on a free server, so to answer your question, yes, some will.
 
You can already play WoW for free on quite a large number of privately run servers. Some have vastly different rulesets to the point that it feels like a different game.

There is even a WoW server out there based on the rules of Ultima Online.
 
"Why would you want to quit WoW for another game, if all that other game offers is the same kind of gameplay in a different environment?"

Perhaps that enviroment holds more appeal to a player than Azeroth. There are certain enviroments and IPs that I would play even if the mechanics were similiar to WoW because I like those IPs.
 
"Gaming gods, only if fleecing your customers and still being worshipped is the criteria."

No, gaming gods because they have the wisdom in proving that quality product + decades long support = profit. Valve join them in the Pantheon for the exact same reason.

If this is fleecing, I really wish to be "fleeced" so by every game developer.
 
Damn, you people need to relax.

Blizzard is a good gaming company, but they are still profit-driven. I wouldn't exactly worship them, but I wouldn't say they are ripping off their customers either.

Blizzard could re-invest the money from WoW back into WoW to create more content patches and possibly faster expansions. But personally, I think that Blizzard would be far wiser to invest WoW profits (what doesn't go to shareholders and employees of Blizzard) into their next MMO.

Does anyone seriously load up WoW anymore thinking that they are about to have the time of their life? Hell, do you load it up not expecting to do the same daily quests, same raiding content, or same PvP BGs?

This game is approaching 5 years old. It's just about done, in terms of offering anything even remotely new or exciting.

I hope Blizzard is spending half or more of their investing profits from WoW into their next MMO, because just crapping out a new class, 10 more levels, a few raid instances and 1 BG isn't going to do anything more than keep 11 million WoW gamers on life support.

Again I'd ask (as I did sometime back) whether you think Blizzard should use all/most/half/less than half of their WoW profits for WoW or their next MMO. I think that question pretty much determines whether or not you think WoW is better than life, or an aging game on its way out.
 
@ Honors Code

Environment is important, I believe. I am playing Warhammer right now for that reason. It's a fun game in its own right, but I really just wanted to run around in the Warhammer world for a while. I am more interrested in The Old World than I am in Azeroth. I like the warhammer world, and used to muddle about with the models for the table top game. I don't love it though, and that is important too.

I love Middle Earth, and hated all those little niggling things that piled up in Lord of the Rings Online that made me want to have nothing to do with the game. Details become more important the closer you are to something, and that goes for your love of something as much as it does for viewing a painting.

Of course, this then takes us to the post Tobold made about IP and how that helpd and hinders a game.
 
>>Again I'd ask (as I did sometime back) whether you think Blizzard should use all/most/half/less than half of their WoW profits for WoW or their next MMO. I think that question pretty much determines whether or not you think WoW is better than life, or an aging game on its way out.

The point, is that Blizzard still has MANY successful titles out there that are still selling VERY well decades after being intially released, and are still being supported as a result of Blizzards dedication to those gamers who buy their products.

If Blizzard is not realizing diminishing returns on -already- supporting decades old games, then I think it's safe to say that Blizzard will never have the same bussiness sense that Tobold wishes they would have.

So while WoW is providing a large part of their revenue stream, it is NOT providing for it -all-. So the -question- of whether or not they should be using an ROI of XX% of WoW profits on their next big MMO, faster content patches ect., is a moot point to make.
 
"The point, is that Blizzard still has MANY successful titles out there that are still selling VERY well decades after being intially released, and are still being supported as a result of Blizzards dedication to those gamers who buy their products. "

They have 4 I wouldn't call that many.

I have a really new idea how about they stop making expansions and focus on adding content to there game. Or heres a novel idea how about give out x-pacs for free. I feel kinda violated after paying over 50% of the price of wow for wrath when it has maybe at most has 1/10 the content and 1/3 of its raids recycled.
 
Saying that the profit from WoW is only a part of Blizzard's overall profits is absolutely ridiculous.

Starcraft doesn't cost a monthly fee to play. You buy the game, likely for $5 or so, and play to your heart's content. Maybe Diablo II is still selling, but if you think any of their games even come remotely close to WoW in terms of ROI would make you incorrect.

So no, it isn't a moot point whether WoW profits are redirected into a new MMO or into WoW. In fact, I think it's the most pertinent question to be asked at this point.

Would you rather have a few more expansions that don't do anything above or beyond what expansions do now...just more often?

Or would you rather have Blizzard's new MMO be funded by WoW profits instead, so that maybe their "next gen" MMO is actually next gen, and not just WOW 2 with updated graphics?
 
I think one aspect of WoW which will help it resist the decline you are talking about Tobold, is the aspect of character persistence.

Put more simply, people who have invested over 4 years in a character (or set of characters) are less likely to abandon them.

Still when the time comes when WoW *is* obviously declining I think Blizzard could go to a reduced monthly fee before going all-out free.
 
I agree. It will be quite a while before WoW goes F2P, but I do expect over the next couple of years for the game to include far more RMT than it does now. Name changes? Cool. Sex changes? Great. Transfers? Sure thing.

I expect to see partially leveled characters for 25 dollars within two years, at least, and vanity mounts, items, and pets or even packets of utility items (xp potions, extra bag slots, etc.) close after that.
 
The WOW killers? Diablo 3 and SC2. I'm sure both of them are going to eat up a huge chunk of current WOW players, particularly the former. Blizzard is literally its own worst enemy.
 
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