Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 07, 2008
The end of the WoW monopoly

Being a blogger it is probably not a surprise if I think that bloggers are ahead of the curve compared to the general populace in knowing (or even setting) the trends in MMORPGs. Subscription numbers show you who is the market leader today, but you need to listen to the buzz on blogs and game sites to know what will happen tomorrow. And if I read it right, we are heading into a phase where the relative importance of World of Warcraft in the MMORPG market will decline.

That is not to say that I predict some sort of gloom and doom for WoW. It will remain the top dog in market share in the west for years to come. It has long since reached a critical mass, which allows it to attract new players even if veterans burn out. And whatever else you can say about World of Warcraft, it still is probably the best possible choice for somebody wanting to start his first MMORPG ever.

But the excitement surrounding World of Warcraft as a product on the internet is definitely in decline. The fizz is gone. When I wrote a parody called The Freezing Jihad about WoW expansions, the sad end result was that the expansion Blizzard actually announced a few month later wasn't all that different in feature list from the parody. If I would write another parody predicting another 10 levels and a new hero class for the third expansion in 2010, nobody would even laugh any more. Nobody expects Blizzard to be able to launch another expansion earlier than 2010, and nobody thinks they'll come up with something more original than adding 10 more levels on the top and a couple of features they "borrowed" from other games. Already Wrath of the Lich King has surprisingly little excitement surrounding it. People will buy it, in millions, but because it feels like a mandatory upgrade, not because they expect to be blown away by it.

Meanwhile the competition isn't sleeping. In spite of lacks in the quality of execution, Age of Conan sold well. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning will sell even better, because their quality of execution is better, even if they probably overhyped their game for too long, and will suffer some backlash in consequence. Some other games failed to take off, but enough survived to make the MMORPG market feel increasingly crowded. If I wanted, I could probably play MMORPGs for free for the whole 2009 by just taking advantage of various "free trial" and "come back to us" offers, WoW included. And more interesting new games are announced for next year, and not all of them will fail.

Unless Blizzard completely changes their ways, by the time their third WoW expansion comes out in 2010, it won't be a must-buy any more. It will excite less buzz than the release of Diablo 3, and much less excitement than a possible announcement of Blizzard's second MMORPG. WoW will remain profitable, and with a solid market share, but it'll be discussed more as a gold standard to measure other games against than as the place where things are happening. By 2010 anyone still playing WoW will appear as quaint as somebody playing the original Everquest now. The virtual monopoly WoW had on the MMORPG market will be gone, and it'll move on into a phase where it'll be thought of as just a legendary part of history. Which, after all, is not a bad place to be.
If WoW continues to push the level cap then the game will almost certainly run into decline as it becomes increasingly less accessible to new players. Even now, anyone picking up the game has a pretty lonely time of it till they hit Outland. Most people you meet in Azeroth are on their third, fourth or fifth alt. But how do you design a MMORPG that doesn't progress in this linear fashion? Do you think all MMORPGs are engineered with a finite lifespan, or are their other ways, other design directions, that could help ensure a more lasting game?
WoW was good for the MMO business as a whole, being it has introduced a large number of players to the Genre. However well polished it is though, it's far far from perfect, and their expansions (for me) lacked any dramatic changes.

I hope that if WoWs popularity continues to wain after WOTLK, that those players quitting will not just all move to one game, like WAR, but end up spread across a myriad of next gen MMOs. More diversity, more innovation, more child like wonder please! :)
Every product inevitably has a life cycle, so MMORPG's too. Right now WOW is solidly in the cash cow stage, meaning emphasis for Blizzard will be on milking it for every dollar it can, whilst investing as little as possible in it; extending the cash cow phase for as long as they can being the primary goal.

With little or no significant competition this is a pretty easy and even relaxed task. Just rake in the cash and change as little as possible.

With WAR the theatre of operations may be changing. It is still pure speculation (and nothing else!) though; games and MMOs in particular seem to thrive on hype. It remains to be seen how much of it Mythic can actually validate. Caution is probably recommended...

But if they can deliver a solid package, with all promised features working as intended and offering a polished experience it may be the first significant threat to WOW.

Graphics and gameplay wise it is pretty similar though; a standard level based mmo. A genre that may itself be in a declining phase of its lifecylce...

Considering the above my prediction would be that WotLK is the final xpack. No sense is spending more money on this slowly dieing game in a slowly dieing genre. Development of the nextgen MMO (revo- instead of evolutionary) will go into overdrive. New truely nextgen mmo introduced in 2010.
I'm very curious to see if WotLK will match the overwhelming success that TBC was. Is every current WoW subscriber going to rush out and buy it? If not, would those that choose not to upgrade continue playing?

I think any game that practices the vertical "pay up or get out" expansion philosophy is running a risk that one day the players will take the second option and leave en masse.
Next expansion "should" be in 2009, and offer "hero" classes that are just races being classes they were not before, ie gnome hunter, troll druid, etc...and no level increase but a new island with quests 30-50, new mounts & new pets.
Most successful MMOG's survived more than 10 years time. So we will see WoW still in 2014 with millions of players.

Of course we have alternatives but so far everyone who moved off WoW came back with a new expansion.

The main problem with not being inovative these days is inside Blizzard. Their top tear people are working on the next gen MMOG and everytime someone has a bright new idea or feature they ask themselves if they should put it into WoW or into the new one to leverage its sales.

Thats why the expansions are usually more of the same with incremental inovation.
"Wrath of the Lich King has surprisingly little excitement surrounding it"

In my guild, there is a lot of excitement. Whether that anticipation is justified or not, we will see, but I certainly don't know anyone who thinks Wrath will be a flop.
AoC may have sold well at release, but how are subsription numbers holding up? It's the huge number of long term accounts that make WoW so successful and profitable, not the initial sales.

While I hope that WAR will be successful, I'm very tired of all the hype surrounding it, especially after they had to trim quite a bit of promised content from the game. At least they were open about it.
im curious,

tolbold, do ya think blizzard will add guild hall and player housing as soon as possible ? their 'achievement' thing is a step to horizontal expansion.

i wonder if blizard can realy focus on non-raiders/non-pvpers and start adding horizontal features
The majority of WoW players (who are at the level cap) will buy the Freezing Jihad as soon as it's available, there's no question about that. But the lump sum for the expansion is pocket change compared to the subscriptions. And if all the Freezing Jihad offers is More of the Same(tm), then no matter how good it is, then a significant amount of people will look longingly for alternatives. A smart competitor would have something ready 2-3 months after Blizzard's release date and get a nice influx of customers. But if that alternative is as unfinished as Age of Conan, then we'll see a Tobold post called the Lukewarm Inquisition in a year or so.
Well, I for one am very excited for Wrath of the Lich King.

I do however fear for the future of WoW after the second expansion.

I think Starcraft II, Diablo 3, and Blizzard's 2nd MMO will really herald the end of WoW...
Tobold, I find much of what you say to be quite insightful. But I have to tell you, I think you are completely wrong about how people feel about WoW. And the upcoming expansion.

Every single MMO that hits the scene is titled "the WoW killer", yet WoW is still here. And WoW continues to be the dominant player in the field. And by a very, very large margin.

The only people who are disheartened in any significant way are those I'd call the "hard-core". The over-achievers who rush through content at a million miles and hour, expecting the same quality of content be delivered faster and faster than ever before. Of course that's not realistic. Normal users--even those who play far more than on average, continue to be happy with the game. And will continue to be happy with it into the future.

The upcoming expansion looks to be very nice, and people are excited about it.
Count me as another person who is excited about WotLK...and more excited than I was about TBC. Everything I'm hearing and seeing makes it look like the people designing the environments and quests have really been swinging for the fences. I think most people are more interested in talent changes and class balance at the moment, but I'm barely paying attention to that stuff. I'm interested in what we'll be doing in WotLK, and it all looks pretty neat.
Tobold, I'd hesitate on drawing many conclusions from AOC's initial sales figures. Rather, I think this might be a better indicator of AOC's success. While WOW may be a little stale, it's still the best MMOG out there, by far. It's unrealistic to expect it to continue to dominate, but it's also unrealistic to expect it to die off in a couple years. As has been pointed out in previous comments, some MMOGs (like UO) are over 10 years old and still going.
The problem stems from familiarity, and then goes on the playability.
It is easier to continue in your current game, if the new games all either are crashing and burning (AoC, Tabula Rasa, Vanguard) or look and play almost exactly the same (WAR)
Until someone takes a leap like Funcom and tries to change the genre a bit and can do it right (not like Funcom, who do not know what an MMO consists of), I think the market will grow stale.

MMO's will not stick around if they keep failing or are just lukewarm copies (LOTRO) with niche appeal.

WoTLK only excites me if the game can look a little better, because I am not going to continue advancing my machine and play a game that wants to party like "it's 1999".

I expected AoC to push the envelope, but as we all know...all hype.
WAR is headed down this same path.

I and many others are jaded when it comes to future MMO's. We have good reason to thanks to the last 2 years of junk.

WoW still has life and will for a while.

ok /rant off
I have to disagree with the AoC bit as well. The original sales numbers may have been decent, but the retention is amazingly poor, particularly considering how short of a time it's been out. Not only does what we can glean of the subscription numbers seem poor, most of the people I know who started playing it have canceled and the few who haven't say it's very much lacking.

Of course, my opinion differs in that I don't *want* WoW to be radically re-engineered in an expansion. I would like to see 'completely different' MMOs out there, but I'd like them to be *different MMOs. I think changing WoW fundamentally would be a huge mistake, akin to that of what happened with Star Wars a few years ago.

Heck, people predicted a ton of doom and gloom about how the relatively minor changes will ruin the game.
Although, upon review I think your post can be summed up with "One day, people will be playing something else."

Which is absolutely true. I just don't think we're looking at it for another few years, unless Warhammer pulls off a miracle.
I'm looking forward to Wrath, but I'm also looking forward to WAR. Really, I just want new content.

Blizzard's expansion schedule is way too slow. If all they can come up with is 10 new levels, fine, but they should be adding new zones throughout the game as they go and not just for max levels.
“Age of Reckoning will sell even better, because their quality of execution is better, even if they probably overhyped their game for too long, and will suffer some backlash in consequence.”

I had a thought .. I wonder if releasing the news on the class and city cuts before launch deflated some expectations? Thus limiting some of the backlash.
Judging from the beta stories now appearing on GameSpy, there may be *some* (=keyword here) substance to all the hype openedge1. For example, I like what i read about the PQs, they really encourage group play and -more importantly- make it easy to participate.

Seems WAR truely has some unique selling points that are not only relevant and -based on beta impressions- functioning as intended but also significantly change the overall experience a player gets from this basically standard level based mmo.

I agree though that most (potential) players will have become cautious or even sceptical by recent mmo releases.
I think you are completely wrong about how people feel about WoW. And the upcoming expansion.

Tobold is talking about the trends of bloggers being a leading indicator for what the masses will eventually think. His point is that bloggers are generally disenfranchised with WoW and not as excited about the upcoming expansion. His prediction is that the masses will follow this trend and I have to agree with him. WoW isn’t going to die with a bang, but with a whimper.

I'm looking forward to Wrath, but I'm also looking forward to WAR. Really, I just want new content.

I think most people feel this way. My question is which content will be longer lasting? In my case, I’ll level up to 80 on one or two toons and then probably unsubscribe from WoW. WAR, on the other hand, has the appeal of PvP where the content can be longer lasting by virtue of playing against other players. Even if WAR is a lousy game, that doesn’t mean I’m going back to WoW. It just means I’ll do something else like read or watch TV.
thank heavens
Tobold have you noticed how a lot of older games seem to be getting new attention in blogs these days: Everquest 1 and 2, EVE and Guild Wars are being actively blogged about by "new" players. There are quite a few bods going back to LOTRO as well having left some time last year. The MMO blogosphere is definitely a more varied place than it used to be.

It does seem people are willing to try something else out they never tried before, or change their habits.
People going to alternate style of games (Guild Wars, Xbox 360 game) or ones they never tried (EQ, Vanguard making a comeback...not sure why...but it is)

But, what will happen when WAR hits.
I think WoW has more mileage than Tobold seems to, I think it is going to take a new MMO that is done in a fundamentally different style and done well to really take a major focus away from the game (hint: WAR is not that game). Until then there will be other options that come out, take some initial players and interest from WoW, and then settle into their own little market niche or die out.
i'm willing to bet all the gold in my pocket that this topic has been discussed by blizz internally 1000 times and no points here haven't been debated already.

personally, i'm hoping blizz turns to the emerald dream in the next expansion. it provides them the opportunity to start something fresh from scratch. a whole new game within the game imo...and with a huge playerbase to bite into it. they can do whatever they want and be as original (hopefully) as they want.

there's no doubt that in order to survive they need something new, innovative, and original. they're aware of this already.
there's no doubt that in order to survive they need something new, innovative, and original. they're aware of this already.

Blizzard has always made thier money outdoing other peoples ideas. They squished the competition for a few years and the ideas have dried up. They are in a pretty bad place right now because thier success killed a huge chunk of innovation which hurt thier model of identifying the innovations of other people and outdoing them.
Well, Blizzard could always copy EVE, give it thier trademark treatment, and call it Starcraft Online. =P
I think it's short-sighted even now to make any assumptions about the usual lifecycles and how things went with EQ, DAOC, etc.

WoW redefined the entire market. It might live forever with graphic refreshes and some new designers with some tolerance for risk. It might implode in 2009 after Warhammer launches great and Wrath disgusts with too much of the same ol'.

Whatever happens, it will be the first time in history it happened with a game like this.
Honestly I'd rather play WoW-60 with no TBC then buy WLK.

I think making this game for the extreme casual player and completely shutting down the extensive dungeons and large-scale raids of the original game is going to backfire on them as their core is more and more bored.
LOL, if Blizzard really "copies" other games, then why didn;t other companies "copy".

something tells me u folks are stupid.
Thanks for adding to the thread please enlighten more often with your great flaming azzhat posts.

WoW is what super mario bros was for nintendo. Sure its great and has its reiterations but its hard to say that it fulfills a MMORPG niche as there were successful MMORPGs before WOW like everquest. I dont really see it as a monopoly, since it would be hard to compare Super mario bros to Sonic the hedgehog to even Master chief. WoW can only get so big as there are plenty of ppl who prefer something different in the same vein.

WoW's success has been profoundly affected by the hardcore gamers who run the end game content and engage in the PvP aspects of the game.

That's the very thing that a lot of bloggers and pundits seem to overlook. It's not a matter of how much content that Blizzard can pump out to appease the masses, it's how well polished said content is when it hits the live servers. There is more to be said and analyzed about the structure of WoW's endgame and how well guilds can maintain progression when it's all said and done. The end game content is the glue that holds WoW together. If the hardcore sect of the game loses interest in pursuing the end game content, then the servers population will suffer dearly as the economy and all that goes with it(the trickle down effect) when raiding guilds decide to go somewhere else.

Are we seeing this now? Maybe a little, but I still say that even though competition in the industry is a good thing, we have -yet- to see anyone deliver a product that can pull away the masses and keep them for any length of time.
I doubt if WOW is going to be unseated soon, even by WAR. WOW is like D&D in the tabletop RPG world; there might be alternatives, but it's still the best seller.

As for excitement, the general feeling is just a bit above meh. I'm canceling my WOW account after 3 years but I'll be back for WotLK. Once my main touches 80 though... I don't know.

WOW is still doing the smart thing and making sure they're keeping the casual players, who probably form 80% of their base. One who's on 50 hours a week or 5 hours a week... they still pay the same.
Tobold said: "Already Wrath of the Lich King has surprisingly little excitement surrounding it. People will buy it, in millions, but because it feels like a mandatory upgrade, not because they expect to be blown away by it."

I'm in the Beta, and i completely feel different . Playing WoW since the start ,with a few breaks, i really look forward to Wrath.

There is so much new and exciting stuff going on, i'm really happy.
LOL, if Blizzard really "copies" other games, then why didn;t other companies "copy".

something tells me u folks are stupid?

Well genius give us one feature in wow that wasn't used in another game prior to its implementation.

And we haven't said they simply "copy". Blizzard takes other peoples ideas and then refine them and perfect them and make fun games that play well.

but they've never been innovative.

MP3 players were around with more features before the IPOD. Apple just came up with a well polished player with simple to use features people liked. They didn't innovate. they just did it better than anyone else. Not a bad thing.
If you look back at history, the mass exodus from one game has always been a mass exodus TO another game. People left UO en masse, because EQ gave them less ganking and more graphics. People left EQ because WoW gave them a solo friendly, faster paced game with high production values.

The "MMO Deathmatch" with no end game that WAR is serving up certainly different than what's being offered by WoW. The big question is: is this what players were asking for? WAR will finally answer the question, "If PvP had no rewards, would you do it?"

I'm a group PVE type of player, so I'm expecting that answer to be a resounding "NO". I'm expecting WAR to have nice box sales followed by a lot of early cancellations.

Which means you'll be playing a Death Knight in 2009, meet you in the plaguelands!
Yup. When each expansion makes the old content obsolete, it will run out of steam very, very quickly.

It will also prevent new players from feeling like they can catch up to where the 'real' action is.

Adding levels just sucks.

Me, I love Blizzard. But I also rejoyce that the monopoly might crash. Competition fosters creativity. Monopoly just stagnates.

A little competition should get Blizzard off their butts and start fixing issues that have been present since launch day.
But hey, anything could happen.

They might crash and burn, or they might just barely keep the game ahead of the curve for 4 more years, just out of reach of the competition.

Whatever the case, I'm gonna enjoy the fireworks, watch thousands of ripoff MMOs die, and wait for an MMO that fits my playstyle: Immersion and Exploration.
LOL at people who talk about questing content and how they'll cancel once they reach 80...well obviously they are not people who care about endgame content but more about leveling.

For people who enjoy endgame pvp and pve, which I believe is the majority of wow players casual and hardcore, Wotlk looks incredible. Lot's of class overhaul/changes, lot's of new PvE content, a new BG and a PvP zone with seige weapons, new models/environment...all in a polished and unbuggy format.

On the other hand, yes, leveling from 1-80 will be brutal for the new customer...but most of those have friends who play that game and are able to join guilds to get help and pass the time.

I just find it incredibly naive to think that WoW isn't going to be around for much longer. Getting to 70 is super easy now and I think a lot of current WoW players are locked and loaded to level through Northrend and do the endgame PvE and PvP content, which by the way, looks amazing.
LOL at people who talk about questing content and how they'll cancel once they reach 80...well obviously they are not people who care about endgame content but more about leveling.

If Burning Crusade is any example, then 65% of the new expansion content will be in the 71-80 “leveling” game, 15% will be level 80 5-man dungeons and the final 20% will be part of the new Raiding endgame. The problem is that I need to go through a painful, repetitive gear grind for that final 20%. I won’t be doing that in this game again. It’s not that I don’t care about endgame content, but that I won’t subject myself (again!) to a grind that doesn’t provide endgame content that is notably different. Put another way, I can experience 80% of the WoTLK content in one to two months. The final 20% will take far far far longer and arguably never for people who are time constrained. I’m at a point with WoW that all I can ask is – why bother?

I may unique in this regard, but I seriously doubt it. Boredom with WoLK will strike sooner than it did with BC and when it does, what will people do? Some might switch to another MMO, others might just watch TV. Either way, I expect significantly less people will be playing than today.
First off, I love how today people want to sell you a substandard product in comparison to what is on the market today and then whine about how the top product that has all but locked out the competition is at fault. Consumers will not and should not have to accept anything less than what they deem is the best. Word of Warcraft is only a monopoly in the sense that there is no competition.

Blizzard hasn't put some code into peoples computers that force it to play their MMO. *cough* Microsoft *cough*. The reality is that the competition doesn't want to spend the money and time it takes to do it right with all the demands there are by the powers that be to get it out there within a fixed timeline.

The WoW killer is either going to be done by a company with a miraculous amount of money to throw at it or it's going to be the game no one expected that kept under the radar for however many years it takes to develop and implement on it's own timetable.

There is nothing wrong with the industry other than there aren't enough companies out there that has what it takes to make it happen. That's not Blizzard's fault...they happen to be doing it right. We here in America have gotten the idea that we're supposed to make it in a deadline no matter how cheap or what corners have to be cut to get it. WRONG ANSWER! and don't give me some BS about how it all works. Change how it didn't used to be this way. Stop cutting corners, stop making ridiculous timelines, stop putting out trailers 2 years in advance of a game coming out, stop thinking that people will just accept an unfinished product. Do it right or don't do it at all. WoW is kicking your @!#$, aren't you tired of it yet? THen do something about it.

Lastly, if you think Blizzard hasn't realized what WoW is up against for the future you're all idiots. Blizzard has a new MMO on the table already whether thats Starcraft Online or Diablo online (the real MMO not the old crap) I dunno but its me on this.
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