Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Mirkwood vs. Cataclysm
Technically I am subscribed to both Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft, only that the LotRO subscription is the "lifetime" deal. So I should be playing both games, and I should be equally interested in both both upcoming expansions, LotRO's Siege of Mirkwood coming out in two weeks, and WoW's Cataclysm coming out next year. But in reality I'm highly excited about Cataclysm, while Mirkwood leaves me cold.
Now you could think that this is because I'm actively playing WoW, but haven't played LotRO at all this year. But there is more to it than that. Imagine my situation was reversed, that I had high-level LotRO characters, but only low-level characters in WoW. In that case the Cataclysm expansion for WoW would still be quite interesting for me: I could start a new Worgen or Goblin, or I could use my existing low-level characters to explore all the massive changes to Azeroth. But for my low-level LotRO characters, the Mirkwood expansion offers nearly nothing, certainly not enough to encourage me to come back to LotRO.
In short, Cataclysm is an expansion which is quite interesting for ex-WoW players, regardless of when they stopped and how far they got into the game. Mirkwood is an expansion which is only interesting to players who already have a LotRO character at the level cap.
I do think that Blizzard is onto something here. We talk a lot about the number of WoW subscribers, are there 11 million, or should you just count the 5 million players who pay a monthly fee, and so on. We talk very little about the number of ex-WoW subscribers. If you look at PC games sales charts over the last 5 years, you'll find that World of Warcraft continues to outsell quite a lot of other PC games. But as the subscriber numbers have stopped growing, that influx of new players must be balanced by an outflow of burned out and bored players. I am pretty certain that by now there are more people with an expired WoW account than people with an active one. And a solid number of those ex-WoW players never made it to level 80, so they wouldn't be all that interested in an expansion which only offered post-80 content.
If you want to be extremely cynical (and hey, I know you want to, this is the internet after all) you could interpret it like this: The active World of Warcraft players are going to buy the expansion anyway, so it is better to design an expansion for ex-players, and even completely new players, than to just concentrate on your existing customers.
And I think that would work on other games than just World of Warcraft. Siege of Mirkwood? No, thanks! If I came back to LotRO for Mirkwood, with my highest level character being under level 30, I'd be stuck all alone, without a guild, without friends, without even a pickup group to be found, with only the announced change of making previous group content somewhat soloable so I could do the epic quest line to comfort me. But if LotRO had a Cataclysm-like expansion which added lots of low-level content, and thus breathed life into the low-level zones, I'd be back.