Tobold's Blog
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Spooky mind-reading

I don't know what's up with that Rohan guy. He used to write a blog about paladins and raiding. But these days he writes one post after another which describe completely what I am thinking. Is he channeling me, or mind-reading? Spooky! Anyway, it saves me a lot of blogging, I can just link to the latest Blessing of Kings post about listening to the hardcore. Quote: "And what was the result of the best efforts of these "community assets"? Two million lost subscriptions. Our set is not as important as we think we are."

I totally agree, although that "set" includes me. We aren't as important as we think we are, and game companies are realizing that more and more. I couldn't even get a SWTOR beta invite, and I doubt I'll get one for Guild Wars 2. Listening to the hardcore lost Blizzard 2 million subscribers. I would bet that doing exactly the opposite of what your hardcore players ask you to do would be a better strategy to improve subscription numbers than doing what they want. So maybe the developers could use that forum input after all. ;)
I'd be careful drawing conclusions. There can be a ton of explanation for the loss of subs, just because a minority went to the forums to complain doesn't imply that "hard" is the real cause.
MoP seems to be reversing the thread, so I suggest to wait until that expansion is a few months old and see what happens. If the subscriptions go up 2M again, ok, you were right, but what if the subscriptions take another 2M loss?
Ok, so let me get this straight. Blizzard lost 2 million subs because raiding was too hard? Do that many people even raid? And by raid, I mean at least once a week, not, went in and did a boss this one time. After all the other things you have posted about leveling content being too easy and too linear, you want to blame hardcore raiders for Blizzard losing 2 million subs? That just makes no sense.
Somehow you get it all wrong. They stopped listening to the hard core, they startet listening to the casual. thats why WotLK sucked and core users left.

Interestingly casual leave then too. If all is to easy to reach you don't have dreams anymore in an MMO. So you get bored and leave.

People NEED something to dream about. "Once slaying the boss in Naxramas" was one of them ... at level 60. Even if most never can reach it, its still important that it exists!
thats why WotLK sucked and core users left

What Rohan says is that there is no such thing as a "core user". I have no idea whether the "core users" left during WotLK, but I sure know that 2 million regular users left during Cataclysm. It is a rather thin argument to say that this is a delayed reaction to what was wrong with WotLK. It is a lot more evident to argue that people left during Cataclysm due to what is wrong with Cataclysm, and that this has nothing to do with WotLK.

Blizzard lost 2 million subs because raiding was too hard?

Not just raiding, heroics were too hard in Cataclysm as well. And a lot more people did heroics than raids.

While I'm not claiming to be representative, I certainly left because heroics were too hard. I LOVE 5-man content. But when one of my own guild mates shouted at me for wearing a single blue item from a PvP set while doing an heroic as a healer (which happens to be the best possible blue piece of gear for that slot), I realized that this wasn't a game for regular players any more. If you start demanding perfect gear and performance even in heroics, there isn't a lot of game left for 95+% of the players.

The 2 million subscribers left because they leveled too quickly through a too linear (with too little replayability) leveling content 80-85 in Cataclysm, and then had nothing accessible left to do.

People NEED something to dream about.

People need something to dream about that they see an actual chance to achieve one day. The Cataclysm endgame content didn't provide that. People aren't motivated to go to work in the morning by the knowledge that theoretically they can become President of the United States (if they are American). They are motivated by the possibility of a pay rise and promotion they actually have a chance to achieve.
Look at the raiding numbers from Cataclysm. Less than 15% of all players even finished any normal raid tier.

Less than 100 guilds (at most 250 players) have completed Heroic Madness, after 2 months. This was/is the target demo for Cataclysm after all; "make it harder".

When LFR came out, 35% of players had completed Madness while 5% had completed it on Normal after a month.

It isn't about losing subs, it's about content consumption. When less than 15% of your entire base is consuming the work you provide, why provide it?

Clearly, the average player was never going to see normal mode, let along heroic. Most had a better chance of winning the lottery than completing heroic.
I have to agree with a few of the posters that I don't think we can directly attribute the subs loss to difficulty of end-game either it being too easy or too hard.

There are a huge number of factors that will likely play into it from global economics to the age of the game.

For me I just got bored of the world and doing the same-old each and every week.

I love levelling and alts but when you get to the position of having 10 chars @85 with maxxed profs and, for the DPS chars, limited gearing options, there's not much left to do. My 'main' raided, 25s, and we killed stuff.

It still wasn't enough to keep me subbing.

ToR is working for no and man of the WoW guild play together and we're enjoying the content (FP & Ops) but I doubt my interest will last beyond 6 months unless there are no more interesting options around.
You can easily go back to the quarterly financials of Activision Blizzard and see the income derived from WOW. While this does not show subscribers the dollar amounts are what really matter anyway.

WOTLK showed higher earning for sustained WOW revenue and a sharp drop for Cata. Please note that I referred to sustained revenues as the selling of the expansion pack has to be seperated. Sustained revenues include subscription fees, transfers, selling of pets and so forth.

Bottom line is the revenue dollars showed a dramatic reduction AFTER Cata was released. The Cata reduction also happened at a much faster rate then previous expansions (WOTLK or TBS). WOTLK did not show this type of reduction.
Its true that early cata heroics were too hard for the average player. But I always felt that the reason this was the case was because the average player had been conditioned to expect easy heroics from their past year of wotlk.

In BC when heroics first showed up they were hard. Remember the first time you ran Shattered Halls? How about the Shadow Labs? You had to use that CC and it was definitely not 20 minutes of faceroll content. If we transitioned directly from those original BC heroics to Cata heroics I feel things would have been accepted as they were.

But thanks to the trend towards accessibility and easy heroic grinding throughout wotlk, combined with a gear reset from a new expansion, the average player was destroyed by the sudden re-appearance of difficult content.

They are called "Heroic" modes after all. The average people was supposed to farm "Normal" mode. But their learned sense of entitlement is what caused their rage. They were suddenly slapped with the fact that no, they are not nearly as good as they thought they were at this game. And of course instead of learning and improving as a community they opt'd to just whine and unsub until blizzard caved in once again in the name of accessibility.

So no, the hardcore did not cause Blizzard to lose 2 million subs. Blizzard lost those subs because they dumbed down wotlk content over two years and then tried to jump all the way back up to the correct difficulty level over night. Not a good plan.
I've always found this a very dangerous road, It's a lot like talking about unemployment numbers.

Did 2 Million leave, or did 9 Million stay? Are the 9 Million happy? If you were to try to make that 2 million happy instead of the 9 million happy, would 9 million have left instead of 2?

Also, the perspective of the number itself is a bit off as well. I prefer to look at it as 19%. This is equivalent to SWTOR losing 152k. You also have to put that 19% into perspective against the overall as well. Growing by 200% in two years, and then shrinking by 19% in another 2 years, you still grew by 162% over 4 years.

I think this is the reason for pushing off a blizzcon for next year. If they were to lose another 20%, then that would begin to show a trend across multiple expansions. They are actually somewhat saved by the fact this all happened during cataclysm, because if they release MOP and get the same draw as Wrath did, they'll be able to write it off as a failed expansion and come out ahead.

Don't get me wrong, 19% is massive, but sadly to put it into a real, true perspective we need an answer from blizzard we would never get. What was their 4 year grown projections 4 years ago? If they expected 30% growth, and got 200%, perhaps they fell in the trap of having too much money to put into development?

Sometimes, too much money available is a bad thing, and doesn't make you make the hard choices that need to be made. Overall, this is my feeling towards Cataclysm. Quite a large paper tiger.
tried to jump all the way back up to the correct difficulty level over night

But your definition of "correct difficulty level" is "the one I liked". While from a financial point of view it appears that the WotLK difficulty level was the "correct" one, because it kept more players subscribing for longer.

The average people was supposed to farm "Normal" mode.

That would only work if "normal" dungeons would result in an equipment which allowed you to tackle "normal" raids. If you need "heroic" dungeons for "normal" raids, and you want average people to do raids, then they need to do "heroics". If you don't want average people to do raids, then you mustn't be surprised if they run out of things to do, get bored, and unsubscribe.

Basically the notion that WoW should have "exclusive" content reserved for a small minority clashes with the reality that the rest of the player base needs to be entertained somehow.
I think the problem was the game got way to linear. Everything else is just a distraction from that. They tried to remove all the sandbox stuff and put everything on the rails.
The 2 million subscribers left because they leveled too quickly through a too linear (with too little replayability) leveling content 80-85 in Cataclysm, and then had nothing accessible left to do.

This is my opinon as well.

I think the goal of the end game is to provide engaging and meaningful progression through challenging and fun content beyond the leveling minigame. Cata failed at that for a certain group of people.

Those are people who do not consider collecting "cool pets and mounts", learning 150 cooking recipes and grinding dailies a major worthwile endgame activity, and heroics/raids were too hard, repetitive or just unfun for them. (Rolling an alt in not endgame.) Yes, those people exists, and I believe they represent a significant part of 1.7m lost subs. I know many people who cancelled their subs for this very reason.

That's why Blizz developers plan changes for MoP: players will get additional game subsystems (PvE scenarions, pet minigames), easier heroics and alternative paths of character progression. As Spinks wrote recently on her blog(1): "... the game’s future depends on whether they can provide a fun and engaging endgame replacement for raiding ..." Maybe not replacement, but certainly a viable alternative.

Rohan also writes: "If anything, the evidence is proving that our concerns should be given less weight." I don't agree with that. All WoW players need to be given the same amount of attention. Not "casuals" over "hardcore" or vice versa. That's the key to success. Give your players more variety and choice, not less. Give them easy raids, normal raids ans super hard raids. Give them something else but raids. Give them something to achieve and something to dream about. (With the amount of money Blizzard have, I doubt this goal is out or reach.)

That's the lesson I hope the developers will learn from Cataclysm.

(By the way, Rohan has many excellent posts, not only about paladins and raiding. *g*)


And here's the next shocker. A number of financial anaylsts have predicted that subscription losses might be anywhere from 2 million to 4 million MORE!. That means by end of summer WOW could be down to as little as 6 million subscribers.

Activision Blizzard is going to release their quarterly financials in early February. We should get another glimpse into what is going on then.
Here's some more anecdotal evidence for you. There were several of us in my guild that weren't thrilled with Cataclysm at all because the game world was very "meh" compared to Lich King. Northrend had character and dungeons/raids were achievable by the unwashed masses. As a good player in a guild with a lot of great people who were terrible raiders, that along with the great character of Northrend was enough to keep me involved in the game.

Cataclysm has been the exact opposite. Boring zones, lore and story coupled with the same great people who still suck at endgame PvE made me lose interest. If it wasn't for me getting into PvP on an alt, I would have cancelled a lot sooner.
Blizzard have said that there were more people that played wow and currently not playing the game than the people actual playing the game.

So technically Blizzard have already lost above 11-12 million people and in the same time earn 10-11 million..why no one try to find why those many players don't play anymore and everyone try to find why they lost 2 million from the NEW GENERATION wow players??

Blizzard with Cataclysm tried to attract back those that first played the game I suppose but in a wrong way..the problem for them isn't just the difficulty that it was low after TBC but there was 2 huge things that changed.

1.The lost of progression through content by reseting gear every patch (first happened with the ICC patch if I can recall correct)

2.The end of the virtual world and the beginning of the era of city afk/LFD/portals everywhere/zero world boss/useless professions (no bop powerful crafts that need farming materials in the world) , e.t.c.

They just increased the difficulty in Cataclysm hoping that this alone would be enough to bring back the vanilla/tbc players but as I explained this wasn't not only succeed to bring back those players but they lost the new generation wow players too..

So it is faulse to count subs only because of dungeon/raid difficulty..there is a whole game behind the difficulty that makes it worth the effort or not
I couldn't disagree with you more. I don't think any of the expansions (or patches) after Sunwell was catering to the "old guard" at all. Thus, the loss of 2M players had nothing to do whatsoever with catering to veterans.

Rather the opposite, the veteran players are what made me *want* to be a veteran player and get into a good guild so I could see Hyjal and BT. That kind of motivation is what drove new players to WoW in mass numbers.

The failure to deliver meaningful linear progression (e.g., releasing patches while making certain ilevels obsolete, like in WotLK on), IMHO, is what drove many players like me (who had become veteran by WotLK) away from the game. For example, how many people ventured into Ulduar after ICC hit? Cataclysm was the last straw. I didn't even care to get better gear, or see the latest twitchy lol-dungeon.

So it is two-fold: The failure to deliver meaningful linear progression and the loss of veteran players.
Blizzard spent a lot of resources on redoing the old world, and while I agree it was needed, it likely caused less content to be released for the 80+ people out there who really had no interest in doing old zones over again, even if they had been redone.

Regarding normal 5 mans, I think it was problematic that there were so few of them at level 85. Sure you had the leveling ones, but once you were 85, if you felt the heroics were too hard, you had few options. Would it not make more sense to have all the Cata dungeons tuned for 85 normal and skip over the ones tuned for leveling?

As for the future, with the success of the LFR, would it possibly make sense to have 2 set difficulty levels for all future 5 mans? LFD difficulty and form-your-own-group difficulty? Use one to gear up for the LFR and use the other to gear up for normal. That spread would seem to hit a large market.
but I sure know that 2 million regular users left during Cataclysm. It is a rather thin argument to say that this is a delayed reaction to what was wrong with WotLK. It is a lot more evident to argue that people left during Cataclysm due to what is wrong with Cataclysm, and that this has nothing to do with WotLK.

Couldn't disagree more. WotLK started down a slippery slope that eventually coalesced into Cataclysm. At the same time, they "made it hard" by making it twitchy and increasing gameplay speed. The slippery slope (as I describe below) and the twitchy gameplay are two different things.

Some veterans were willing to stick around through the decline of WotLK, through TotC and ICC, but most veteran players I knew quit soon after Cataclysm launched. They were already fed up with the direction WotLK was heading, based on a number of factors, including making gear obsolete based on iLevel (first started from Naxx to Ulduar) and failure to provide meaningful linear progression, which allows players to look at epic-ed out veteran players with awe and dream about one day getting Vashji or Archimonde. Which I didn't, by the way, even though our guild was 9/9 in BT.

I'm seriously surprised you wrote this and agree with Rohan on this point. Who better than a person who plays a game for 40+ hours a week to figure out how best to orchestrate and improve the game. Isn't that what your blog is about?
I wonder - I just published a slightly different yet related post today; would you call the issues described there also as a result of what the hardcores asked for? because personally, I am not so sure (I do remember Nils' article on the hardcores ruining the leveling game a while back, but I am still not sure I agree on the basic premise). something to ponder further.
would you call the issues described there also as a result of what the hardcores asked for?

You mean going from guilds with a healthy mix of different player types to guilds which allow only top players? There are two factors to this: Smaller raid sizes, and harder encounters. I don't think the hardcore universally asked for smaller raid sizes, but they sure asked for harder raids. From a casual player perspective you would want either 40-man mixed raids, or easy 10-man raids, which are easier to organize on a casual schedule.
This is all conjecture. No one here has stated any information as to why 2 million people really left. I suggest that blizzard has some of that information in the form of marketing research done on those that unsubscribed. Here's the top ten list of reasons not even touched on in your discussion: 1) Graduated from HS and too busy in college to play video games, 2) Got a girlfriend, 3) Parents lost jobs and not enough funds to pay subscription, 4) Graduated from college and not enough time to play video games, 5) Some of my friends migrated to X game and I left WOW to go play with them, 6) Started having children and do not have the free time to play WOW, 7) I just spend all my time on Facebook now, 8) Cata was just another repeat of WOTLK and BC and grinding months to get a whole new set of gear seemed boring, 9) so many of my guildmates left the game due to 1-8 that I did not know anyone in game anymore. Lacking that social cohesion I took up Words for Friends, 10) I did not want to spend $220 and wait 12 months to shoot lightning bolts and the end of a Tentacle.
It's a shame we don't have data on new accounts and closed accounts. Could it be less of a change in amount of people quitting and more of a change in amount of people joining?

The more hardcore raids, but also the trivialized leveling game and anonymous LFD (which undermines social control / the heroics training phase).

what strikes me as bizarre is how badly they go together. but if we assume a hardcore raider, I guess you could say they want a fast leveling game - and they don't really care about 5mans.
wouldn't they care about better pre-selection though, less accessibility, less ways to gain gear?
Chad hits the nail on the head!
It could be that the replacement rate is now less than the drop out rate. Not surprising when the game was wildly successful and perhaps there were fewer "well done" competitive products available previously.

I would suggest that Blizzard has thought a lot about this and that MOP is designed specifically to improve the adoption rate by those they wish to attract to the game. How would you do that?

1) Simplify aspects of the game so it is more accessable to people that will never have an interest in "raiding".
2) Create new features like Pet battles and Transmog to give people more alternatives to running Heroics. I personally spend about an hour or two of my daily time A) In the AH making gold, B) Collecting mounts and soloing instances, C) leveling up new toons and D) Scanning all AH's for Transmog gear and collecting it into cool sets.
3) Promote a new Race (Pandas) that will be attractive to 1 to 2 billion more people in China, Asia and even India. If the rollout is even remotely successful in China you could double the size of the existing subscriber base through sales in that country alone.

Finally, its not about raiding, LFR, Heroics. 85% of the people playing could care less about raiding. I think the LFR was fantastic along with the easy HOT's that improved people's gear. People are participating in that content, enjoying themselves, doing it with friends and guildies and perhaps even dreaming about doing it on regular or hard mode. What more can you ask for?
I love the sense of entitlement about 'core' players.

'Core' players, the self-entitled douchebags who only want to run with other pro gamers who have iLevel whatever and achievement X in order to participate in raid X, exclude casuals and drive them away.
There were major problems in execution though, and not just listening to the hardcore:

Heroic badges giving epic loot caused a daily mixing of player groups (hardcore/casual) that should have never mixed (similar to Rohan's previous post on a bad merger between two guilds of different player types).

Normal modes were too easy, causing casuals being forced to do heroic modes to do any real content. They were unprepared for the content since they didn't experience the mechanics in normal mode and again mixed with the hardcore players in LFG.

Heroic mode should've been dedicated towards the hardcore and normal mode difficulty left to the casuals. I stopped shortly after Firelands was released, but it seemed Blizzard addressed this issue since my guild breezed through normal mode in a week (and similarly, the latest normal mode tier has a 50% completion rate on wowprogress). An easier normal mode raiding for casuals would've been better in the tier 1 raids, and it's a mistake Blizzard probably won't recover from.

This initial mistake, I think, reflects the overall deadly failure in Blizzard's execution. Given that Blizzard has a perfect game mechanic to split between casuals and hardcores with normal & hard modes, there's absolutely no reason why Blizzard couldn't have listened to the hardcore AND still created a great game for the casuals and everyone overall.
Tobold, you are not a hardcore gamer. And certainly I am not hardcore gamer, not for many years now - and not in the forseeable future.

What I am you, and what you are even more, is a hardcore MMO blogger. This is really a very different thing to a hardcore player.

If I remember this correctly, Blizzard said repeatedly that the average player plays about 4 hours a day! I am very, very casual considering compared to this. Actually, I am even casual if you add my daily MMO blogging time to my playing time!
Uh - one more thing.

WoW is super hardcore and super-trivial at the same time. And I know that you agree, and most every blogger agrees, that this is a big problem.

If I had to guess, then I'd say that the super-trivial leveling game is many times as bad as the too difficult heroics/raids was when Cata launched.

Most players never really raided in WoW - millions didn't do heroics even in WotLK. For some reason Blizzard thought that those who liked leveling would like leveling even easier. This was a terrible misjudgement on their part. It shows that those working at Blizzard are hardcore elitists who don't understand the casual player!
Those who liked leveling weren't dumb! They just liked the open world more than the instances!

The correct strategy had focused on making leveling more interesting (the gameplay - not the narratives!). But instead Blizzard continued the WotLK strategy to push everybody into raiding and marginalizing the world. And adding a forth pillar that we all said wasn't really going to be that great - long term!

We now see a WoW that consists almost entirely of queues, and while those can be fun, they are hardly worth a monthly sub.
- And they sure as hell aren't social. It is ironic, that WoW went from being the most profitable social game ever to just another multiplayer game with matchmaking.

... while the social revolution continues without them!
I have to disagree with your post Tobold. WoW is a shell of its former self because the hardcore players left. The hardcore just aren't raiders but all the guild leaders, recruiting officers, class officers, and other previously engaged people that kept guild wheels oiled and kept other players enthused about the game.

When hardcore players leave a game it leaves a big vacuum. Hence we have mindless LFG's and LFR's full of people who don't want to think or try or be engaged with other players. Bit by bit guilds collapse because the most engaged players have left a game that has abandoned them.

This is the real danger of casualizing a game. I really don't follow your line of reasoning Tobold. On one had you state the game is too hard and then in another post you say it is too easy. I think it is time you moved on from MMO's. I personally think you outgrew them a long time ago.

I also wonder at your constant negative comments about SWTOR. Did not getting a beta invite really make you that angry?
On one had you state the game is too hard and then in another post you say it is too easy.

Oh, you haven't noticed yet that there is more than one part to World of Warcraft? The problem is the gap between the difficulty of the endgame vs. that of the leveling game. The leveling game is too easy, and the endgame is too hard. Blizzard needs to make leveling less trivial, and raiding more accessible, so the two parts meet in the middle.
1) I don't think that Blizzard really listened to the hardcore with Cataclysm. Questing for example was made so easy and undemanding, that it is a shame. Yes, the heroics were a bit harder than in WotLK, but they were nerfed fast after the "casuals" complained. With Cataclysm there were also no timesinks at all, which kept players busy for a while in the other expansions. Attunement quests? None. Reputation farming? Not necessary, because of tabards. Listening to the hardcore, really?

Raiding was harder too, but they also nerfed this. They nerfed Firelands only some weeks after release. With Dragon Soul they introduced the ultra-easy Raid Finder mode (which hardcore player needs that?). They now nerf Dragon Soul both in normal and heroic mode only a few weeks after release.
So, where do they listen to the hardcore? In reality they always cater to the so-called "casuals".

2) I strongly doubt that those 2 million subscribers all were non-hardcore who left because raiding and heroics were too hard. I know several players who were more the hardcore type who left in the last year cause they didn't like the raids (too easy, too boring), and because they had nothing to do outside raid times (like reputation farming or similar).
I think Blizzard has both parts meeting in the middle. As an example, I had an 85 Feral Druid that had done content up to and including Firelands. I decided I wanted to try healing as a druid and spec'd Balance to allow me to start accumulating gear. Within about 2 hours I was able to use reputation, crafted, purchases and PVP gear to begin running HOT's for 378 gear. Within 48 hours I was at 371 equipped I-level and eligible to begin running LFR for Tier 13 gear. After 72 hours I had downed deathwing.

I did have a bit of a headstart based on some already accumulated Valor and Justice points, a large stash of gold and access to a full gamut of crafters to fully equip, gem and enchant that fast.

I had never played a balance druid, so can we still say that WOW endgame is too hard when a player can go from I-level 300 to 372 and down Deathwing in 72 hours? Believe me when I say that I am not a skilled player by any means and pulled the specs, glyphs and rotation from Noxxic.

There are 300 people in my guild. 15 raided Firelands but over 60 have downed Deathwing. As to social aspects, you do not neccessarily get that from being part of a hardcore raid group where you get chewed out for missing enchants or forgetting part of the complex dance to down a boss.
In our guild the social aspects are: 1)throwing together six 6 man groups in a row to get a chance at a black drake, 2) Going on a Transmog run, 3) Introducing new players to Ruby Sanctum and ICC and downing bosses there, 4)Crafting gear for guildies, 5)Doing Areanas with a plethora of arena partners to cap every week, 6) Grouping up for any Battleground, 7) Doing a rated battleground, 8)Grouping up for an LFR. I've even just hung out on Ventrillo with my guild friends while I do RL work just to chat and keep up with what is going on in guild.

In sum, there is plenty for the hardcore raiders to do. If they all left the other 90% of WOW users would get along just fine.
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