Tobold's Blog
Thursday, May 07, 2015
 
Back to base

In 2007 Raph Koster published a post on how open big virtual worlds grow. The post describes an universal curve of growth and decline of MMORPGs. While for each game the time scale and the peak number is different, the overall shape of all curves is the same. Expansions are basically peaks added on top of a universal curve, which do not change the underlying fundamentals. So once you got past the headlines of "Oh my god, WoW is dying (again)!" and "WoW loses 3 million players overnight", you will discover that World of Warcraft is perfectly aligned with Raph's theory and just got back to exactly the same base curve it was on before the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

The expansion peak might have been a bit bigger than usual because the further along the decline curve you go, the bigger the number of ex-WoW players becomes. People tend to use any available number to support their pre-existing opinion, but I think there isn't really anything interesting going on here. Until end of Q1 2015 World of Warcraft simply followed a predictable trajectory, because the fundamentals didn't change.

So the interesting data point is going to be the next one. Because obviously a move like going free to play is changing the fundamentals and will change the basic shape of the player number curve. So if you consider the WoW token a form of free to play, it could be expected that there is a visible impact on player numbers rising again in Q2. But if you think that only very few people buy and sell WoW tokens, you'd expect a slight decrease in Q2. We will see!

Comments:
At this point, if WoW went truly f2p, would anyone come? I have never played it, but love Hearthstone and did ponder trying out the free lvl 1-20 stuff last fall. But, is there really any sense in trying to join a 10 year old mmo?
 
I think a lot of people would start accounts, but I think the F2P switchover is a long way away. Especially since they've been so successful in monetizing the players in other ways (Name changes, server transfers, selling expansions, tokens, stuff I probably don't even know about).

Given the general rule that 1% of FTP players are the ones paying real money, at this juncture I have little doubt they would lose money by the switch just from how many current paying subscribers would stop paying.

But no Tobold I doubt we'll see a noticeable number of people who will get back into WoW so they can spend 20 hours a month grinding money to get a token. If they were that into WoW they wouldn't have quit in the first place. The Token isn't free to play, it's work to play. Substantial difference.
 
It is hard to look at these numbers and not conclude that a lot of people were excited for the expansion, but ultimately disappointed in what was delivered. I predicted success for WoD nearly a year ago, before I knew anything at all about the expansion, simply based on the desolate MMORPG market at the time (and still currently, if we're honest). As I learned more about it, I was pretty intrigued by garrisons.

But the implementation just makes me sad. We have certainly done quite a bit of analyzing of garrisons here, and I know I am far from the only person that feels garrison activities just feel like chores. The professions they are centered around were gutted and feel highly unsatisfying. Long time crafters hate the changes, and non-crafters resent having to do them (or throw away thousands of gold).

Almost as significant is how they pushed everyone into raiding by massively over-rewarding it, to the point that it made everything else obsolete almost immediately. I know plenty of people like raiding, but the casual majority does not, and they burn out very quickly.
 
Overall, Blizzard is gaining players. Did you see the numbers for Heartstone and Heroes beta? Sure, they're not subscribers (those games are free) but we all know that f2p means cosmetics/hats/vanity stuff.

Not to mention Overwatch, which will surely bring even more people.
 
The WoW token isn't F2P, as Blizzard is merely shifting who purchases a subscription to the person who buys the token from Blizzard. So, you get a person buying tokens is in effect paying for someone else's subscription.

F2P implies that there are some people who will pay nothing at all, and that lost money won't be recovered. Blizzard isn't doing that at all, because somebody has to pay for those tokens that are in circulation.
 
@ Redbeard

Also, someone is paying the sub of someone's else for a higer price, compared to a normal monthly fee.

Blizz did it the right way.
 
But, is there really any sense in trying to join a 10 year old mmo?

As a practical matter? WoW has been one of the friendliest new-player experiences I've ever seen in any game, in terms of catch-up. Gear progression is reset every expansion, and often multiple times within each expansion. Long-term players have more gold and options, but brand new players aren't much worse off than alts most of the time.

On an emotional level though, you're absolutely right. I played a grand total of 1 hour of Team Fortress 2 and immediately stopped, primarily due to the realization that I would be competing with veterans with 5+ years experience. Did I really want to spend time/energy learning such a large amount of gaming minutiae only to still be behind in terms of experience? Nope. Much better to play some other FPS, preferably one that came out more recently, even if its quality was less than TF2.

I can easily imagine someone coming to the same conclusion with WoW.
 
Fortunately in WoW you aren't required to compete directly with other players. There are a lot of things to do that new players with no knowledge can do just fine even if other people have more experience. Unlike a PvP game like an FPS where not knowing things means you're just dead.
 
The fact that Raph Koster said it makes me skeptical immediately. He's batting 0.000 in terms of successful projects. His is a classic case of "those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." He's had too much trouble turning his theory of fun into something actually fun.
 
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