Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 06, 2007
A rising tide sinks all boats?

If you are looking at PC games sales charts, you will find that World of Warcraft and the Burning Crusade expansion figure pretty high in them all the time, even nearly 3 years after release. New players come into WoW all the time, in large numbers. On the other hand the number of total subscribers has pretty much stabilized at 9 million. So if large numbers are coming in, but total numbers are steady, we can be sure that equally large numbers of players are quitting WoW. Which isn't a bad thing for Blizzard. Not only do new customers pay more than old customers, by buying the boxed games. But old customers who quit are a prime target for resubscription when the next expansion comes out. The only question is: Where do the people who leave World of Warcraft go?

Lots of blogs discussed the "rising tide lifts all boats" theory, which goes as follows: World of Warcraft is a popular, entry-level MMORPG. Once people got their feet wet in WoW, and played enough of it, they will move on to other MMORPGs which are more niche. PvP, science-fiction, pirates, shooter, or hardcore MMORPGs, you name it.

But that theory isn't inevitable. What if the rising tide sinks all boats instead of lifting them? It is totally possible that people enter the MMORPG genre with World of Warcraft, get bored after 2+ years, and then leave the MMORPG genre again. Who says that once you played a solo-friendly, fast-leveling WoW, you will want to play a enforced grouping, slow grind hardcore MMORPG? What if players look around and find that the alternatives to WoW aren't any better, and once they are burned out of the gameplay of WoW they don't want any game with a similar gameplay any more?

Some people have misunderstood my disappointment of where WoW is going as "WoW hate". That couldn't be farther from the truth. I believe that World of Warcraft is the best MMORPG on the market. But like any other game, after some time you get bored with it. That this takes thousands of hours is very much to the credit of WoW. That still doesn't make it "endless", and me and other players leaving WoW is a very natural process. But if you are used to the quality of World of Warcraft, you can't just move to any other MMORPG and enjoy it. Some you will dislike because they are so much inferior to what you are used to. Others you will dislike because they are so similar to the game you burned out of.

Everquest wasn't my first MMORPG, but it was the first I played for over 1 year. Then I spent the next three years hopping from one game to the next, until I found in WoW another game that got me hooked as much as EQ had. And my guess is that for many people leaving WoW now, it will be similar. They might try other games, but quickly tire of them. Then try a mix of other MMOs and single-player games, until the "next big thing" comes along. And we don't know how far away this next big thing will be. It could be three years in the desert, or it could be that next year's Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is already "it". I don't see any other announced MMORPGs getting as much as a million subscribers. I'll know it when I'll play it. Until then, here's hoping (and hopping).

If you are looking at PC games sales charts, you will find that World of Warcraft and the Burning Crusade expansion figure pretty high in them all the time, even nearly 3 years after release. New players come into WoW all the time, in large numbers.

My theory on why WoW stays in the top ten is that gold farmers are constantly having to buy new accounts because they keep getting banned.

This might explain why Vivendi doesn't appear too serious about eliminating gold farming from their golden goose.

The only real threat to WoW is Star Trek Online or Guild Wars 2. Everything else is probably four years away - if not more.
The first MMOG I played was PSO on the Dreamcast. I played it on and off for about 5 years, from the Dreamcast to the Gamecube and finally to the PC version.
Most of the people I played that game with went to WoW long before I did.
Now most of the people I know who have quit WoW have gone to LotR.

It seems my interest in a game lasts a lot longer than most people's does. I am still enjoying WoW after almost 2 years play, and have no intention of quitting at the moment.
I have no idea what my next online game will be, and even when that will be. No matter how good Conan, Star Trek, Guild Wars 2 or Warhammer turn out to be, I won't be quitting WoW.
Hello guys!
I´m perhaps one of the people you´re talking about, and I know others too. Besides from some betas and trials, WoW was my first MMORPG and for about one and a half year I loved it. Then it got a bit boring..mainly because it was all the same. Same graphics (I don´t like the WoW-graphic), same kind of monsters, same char-classes for all that time. So I quitted and began to search another game. Another MMO to be precise, because I became kind of addicted to the social components no other kind of game can provide. The first thing I tried was EQ2. Hell, how can anyone play with such an interface? I thought the WoW-Interface (which I tweaked heavily by addons) was bad! And even if Everquest had addons too, none of the interfaces I saw managed to beat just the Standard-WoW-Interface. I am a am I supposed to work with an Interface like THAT? *quit*
Next one.. Vanguard. Hey! Interface looks great! World and Chars are nice too. *starts running around and exploring*. Uhm.. Nobody there? Walked for about half an hour, came from one town to another, no other players? In addition, there was some bad press about gold farmers literally killing the entire economy of the game. Well, this was pretty much what I searched, but.. *quit*
Next one.. DaoC. Poor interface..but give it a try. Do these guys really call it "quest" when a guy sends you into a singleplayer-instance to wipe that thing clean, and after that sends you into the same (respawned) instance to kill one guy (at the end), and after that sends you inside again to repeat from step one? *quit*
In the end, I reactivated my WoW account. Luckily, Burning Crusade came out soon after so I had something to do.. but give me a single, well-crafted piece of MMO that hits my expectations and isn´t heavily PvP-focussed and I´m out of WoW in no time!

Enough of me.. I said I know others, too ;)
To be precise, I have three friends who started playing WoW as their first MMO together with me.
Number one stayed pretty casual. I played one Char to 60, did some first steps into raiding and when he realised how time consuming it was, he quitted his account. Now he´s playing his singleplayer games again and from what I can say, he never looked back and never thought of playing another MMORPG.
Number two quitted without even reaching 60. He was too angry that a highlevel with no real skill could kill his little rogue, no matter how godlike he played it. Guess he simply wasn´t the type of player for an MMORPG.
Number three went pretty hardcore. He was the kind of guy everyone likes, so he was highly popular ingame and good players teached him until he did a good job himself. After the raiding started, his day was sleeping and playing WoW basically. Needless to say that pretty much messed up his studies. In fact, due to the school system here, it changed his entire life, after failing some important tests he had to change subject. This shock finally woke him up, he quitted WoW. And even if some time went down the river since then, he sure misses WoW, but he will never touch another MMORPG again. A burned child doesn´t play with the fire.
How can anyone say that STO is a real threat to WoW? I don't see the hordes of casual people who picked up WoW on a whime, most of them closet nerds not full on like the majority of us blog posters, getting their jollies at the idea of a Star Trek Online game. I don't think it'll do badly, if developed right, but it's certainly not the IP to dethrone WoW.

Guild Wars 2, maybe. By the time it hits in 2009 (right?) WoW will be on its 4th year and by then I doubt it'll still have 9 million subs, but then... I never thought it'd have 9 million at all. It's crazy that the numbers continue to grow.

Warhammer I think has quite the good chance at taking away a lot of WoW's masses. The turn-off for a lot of folks will be that it's more PvP centric than PvE. Something about the notion of PvP scares off a lot of the newer people to the MMO scene. Ganking and griefing that happen on full PvP servers scare people, and unless you do your research or flat out try Warhammer you won't know that it's also fully PvE-able.

Meh, my point is. WoW's numbers will start to fall sooner or later, and probably pretty slowly. The only thing that's going to "defeat" it, will be itself, or its sequel.

It's an anomaly in the genre that I don't see happening again, not with the swarm of new titles coming out. Some will fail, some will have moderate success, and a few might even net a million subs. But I doubt we'll see the kind of cultural Icon that WoW has become for some time.
@ Kiseran:

You may want to check out LotRO if you're looking for something to break away from WoW that's not heavily PvP focused.

7 day trial from their site. Give it a go, if you're indeed tiring of WoW. I played in Alpha through just last month, 12 months total. But in the end, it was too group centric for my tastes.

It's Blizzard. Everything they touch turns to gold. Look at their track record. Warcraft, Starfcraft, Diablo, all of these franchises set a bar to pass. I don't think WoW is an "anomaly". I think Blizzard knows how to make a game well. I am by no means a fanboy of Blizzard (I hate RTS). But I do see that what they do, they do well. So much so that it raises the standard everytime they get involved. I think WoW's biggest threat will be Blizzard itself. They know this. Unfortunately, they won't conpete with themselves. So every franchise sequel they have is going to be held at bay by WoW's success.
Anselm, but anomaly I mean that it's not likely we'll see another MMO with WoW's success rate across the globe anytime soon.

Like you say, it's Blizzard. They have their brand, their IP, and their reputation for putting out very polished games going for them. These things, combined with the ease of access and word of mouth is what made WoW the success it is.

Until another company can show they have all these things and more, we won't see another runaway massive smash like WoW anytime soon.
Even if WoW tops out and stabilizes at 8 million members, that's still at least US$1 billion in total revenue per annum, of which some large fraction (100 million+?) could be used to make continuous improvements to the game. That is so much more money than competing MMORPGs have to play with, it can't be emphasized enough. Blizzard has the money to try stuff that other MMORPGs can't dream of funding, it's like the Manhattan Project of MMORPGs. I'm hopeful that Blizzard will continue to experiment with AI, questing and other aspects of the game to eventually by trial and error produce content that is breakthrough even for jaded players. For example, what if an AI could be created which was so good that it was difficult to tell who was a player and who was not (I know, sounds far fetched).

Please correct me, even though Lineage and some others also have large subscriber bases, WoW should have the largest revenue base because of its high subscription charges, right?

As an aside, I continue to be a fan of Ultima Online, but I have started playing WoW just to see what the fuss is about, and I fear that UO will never get enough money to make the new KR client work properly (it crashes every time I use it).
While I think WoW is an entry level MMORPG by the same token a semi-casual MMORPG with most of the frills of hard core games appeals to a very wide demographic in it's own right. I favorited this blog on technorati let me know if you would like to do any collaberations on topics in the future. Here's a link to my blog let me know what you think. MMORPG Guides

From Auto Assault Knights of the Forsaken, Nicod3mus.
Warhammer is probably the big challenger to World of Warcraft since they have a similar style of graphics and are promising a interesting pvp experience.

STO could surpise us all though since the only current sci-fi MMO out there at the moment is EvE Online which is is bit too hardcore and depends a lot on meta-game activities for its popularity.
@ revebm

You forget that chinese subscribers generate 15% of the income that us,EU and Aussie subscribers do. On top of that they get the BC expansion free. check out The9's website if you doubt me.

I was thinking about that rising tide theory. As I see it, the theory is meant to convey the idea of increased exposure being a good thing. In other words, players get into WoW that would normally not play an MMoRPG. Of those people, some will go on to other MMoRPG's. Even if you are correct in saying they may leave altogether, I can't believe this would be true for every single player. If even a small fraction of the players drawn in by that rising tide stay for more support of the genre, the tide still rises above it's original level. This I believe is the essence of a "rising tide" theory.

I don't think it's possible for WoW to increase exposure to a larger audience, only to have the original size of that audience shrink below the levels it was at before WoW came along.
Here's a link to my blog let me know what you think.

I think that if I hadn't been in a particularly good mood today, I would have deleted that comment with that link. Your "blog" has more ads than content. I only didn't delete the link because the content you do have is organized well. But I guess most of it is ripped off from somewhere else and outdated. I looked up Pirates of the Burning Sea, and was told that the official release date was June 2007. :)

Oh, by the way, all comments on my blog automatically carry the NOFOLLOW attribute. Which means that Google and other search engines ignore them for the purpose of calculating page rank. Apart from the very few people who click on the link in the comment, you'll get no traffic at all from posting links in my comment section.
Why is there no buzz whatsoever for Aion?

#5 on hype:
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