Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 01, 2012
How successful is Mists of Pandaria?

Due to the network effect, a lot of people like to know that the MMORPG they are buying is highly successful. Big sales numbers mean lots of people to play with, a better chance that your friends are playing, and less chance of the game shutting down. So how is Mists of Pandaria doing? There is some controversy about that: Analysts called box sales disappointing, being 5 times lower than Cataclysm. But others pointed out that Blizzard pushed digital sales a lot more for this expansion than for previous ones, and that there isn't really a good reason to actually buy the box any more. Blizzard already has your credit card details for the subscription, so buying the game online was the easiest method for most players. Only we don't know how many copies sold digitally.

Conspiracy theorists (of which there are many on the internet) quickly concluded that sales must have been bad, because Blizzard didn't say otherwise. My personal guess is that there is another reason why Blizzard isn't talking - yet: For the first time a World of Warcraft expansion launches nearly simultaneously in China, on October 4th. Thus Blizzard would like to announce big numbers by waiting until after the China release, and then giving us the combined number.

As far as I can see from secondary indicators, like XFire numbers or how overloaded WoWHead has become, Mists of Pandaria isn't doing so badly. But then of course World of Warcraft is measured with a different measure than other games: Unless it breaks records, MoP will be considered a failure, even if it sells more than any other MMORPG this year.

As for deciding whether to play Mists of Pandaria: After cutting through all the hype and hate, the take-home message about MoP is that it is still very much World of Warcraft. You can discuss details for hours, but in the end MoP still has exactly the same strong points and weak points that World of Warcraft has had for 8 years. If you hated WoW before, MoP will not change that. If you loved WoW before and aren't completely burned out, Mists of Pandaria is quite enjoyable as an expansion. If you were waiting for a revolution, this is not the expansion you were looking for.

I think the major difference between this expansion and the previous one (and I stopped playing in cata) is that there are a ton of things to actually *do* once you (quickly) hit the level-cap.
Sure, many of those are blizz-versions of pokemon and farmville, but there are things to do.
And for an old time player like me, that was enough of a revolution to get me back.

If I had a better internet connection at the moment, I'd be back. And I wasn't at all interested in Cataclysm.
They didn't announce Cataclysm first day sales until eight days later. It hasn't been that long since MoP was released in the west (and I understand the Korea release was 9/27.)
>If you were waiting for a revolution, this is not the expansion you were looking for.

On the other hand, if you were looking for an evolution from Wow's base formula, shaped by the years and trials of WoW's successes and failures, then this is definitely the expansion for you.
The initial sales of an expansion merely reflect the popularity of the previous expansion.

Cataclysm had huge sales but that only served to highlight how popular WOTLK was. A lot of players wrongly assumed that the high Cataclysm launch numbers were an indication of players approving of Blizzards statements at the time pointing towards a more hardcore PVE focussed expansion. This ignored the fact that only a tiny percentage of customers read community sites and most players were completely unaware of how Cataclysm was shaping up when they bought their copy in the first week.

The large numbers of players that bought Cataclysm believed they were signing up for a further two years of “more of the same” hence the figure was an endorsement of Wrath.

This naturally leads to the conclusion that MOP sales will be poor as they reflect the unpopularity of Cataclysm and the majority of dissatisfied and ex-customers were not aware of the change in focus for MOP.

Think about it….outside of what you read on community sites, what information is there for a potential returnee who quit in 4.0 to 4.2? The general public see some box art with a panda. No mention that it is easier and more accessible. No mention that 5 man dungeons are now playable in DF/casual guilds. No mention of easy scenarios with no role requirements and no queue. No mention of Pokemon and Farmville. Why would they buy MOP?

I’ve been playing for years and read all the community sites but even I was surprised by certain things...

I anticipate unremarkable or perhaps disappointing initial sales and then hopefully things will pick up as word of mouth spreads to those that previously quit the game in Cataclysm. My personal opinion is that MOP is a huge creative improvement over Cataclysm but I am disappointed with the focus on questing which I dislike with a passion. However I have heard nothing but glowing reports from the remaining super-casual players in my guild that are typical of those that disappeared in Cataclysm. They never particularly liked the pressure of PVE group content and prefer solo questing and all seem to be addicted to pet battles.

Let’s see if word spreads. It could be a bit of a tragedy as MOP is the expansion that those lost players needed and yet it may have come too late or they may miss out due to a lack of information. Chain emails from Blizz sent to their registered email addresses don’t count as most are deleted without being read if indeed they make it past the spam filter.
"As far as I can see from secondary indicators, like XFire numbers or how overloaded WoWHead has become, Mists of Pandaria isn't doing so badly."

I don't know how much you can read into Wowhead, since a new expansion means lots of new quests and other things people will need to look up (and not necessarily that there are more players).

However, I cannot see how you can see Xfire as a positive indicator for WoW. They peaked at under 67k total hours over the weekend, when they had previously been at over 80k earlier this year. I find this very surprising, and as I said before MoP release, I consider anything under 100k to be a sign that WoW is in significant decline.
You know what I find interesting? That at my local Target the prime gamer slot is still taken up by TOR. If you want to find Mists, it's down close to the floor.

Sure, Target isn't exactly a gamer haven, but at the same time you'd expect a big new title to get the eye level treatment at least.

I dunno, the box sales are a mixed bag. It would be totally natural to just buy one through so I wouldn't take that as proof of much.

I don't know much about Twitter, but peaking at #7 at 3 AM in the US on release night isn't the most impressive thing I could have imagined.

I'm suspecting Xfire users tend to be more hardcore gamer types than your typical WoW player.
Woody's comments feel right to me. Wrath was a great expansion, the peak of me and my friends' enjoyment with WoW. We all bought Cataclysm, which lost us completely. Two of the guys still kept playing, and they bought MoP. They've been talking about it to us for the last week, and it seems like there's a much more casual/low-number-friendly focus.

One of my family accepted a scroll of resurrection and has spent a lot of time engaged in the pet battle system, which he describes as having a similar level of depth as pokemon, complete with attack/creature types, innate quality (think EV training/breeding) and a set of NPC and PVP challenges. He discovered a few things that brought a couple friends back. One of them is justifying their love of the farming as a love of Harvest Moon, despite other friends assuring us that the complexity is more Farmville than HM.

The 'expansion the lost players needed' comment is certainly ringing true for my crew. Marketing did not work on them. Word of mouth has.

At some level, I'm impressed. On paper that's the kind of thing I applaud - where the product sells itself more than the hype does.

But I'm still pretty confident that the things which drove me away from WoW are still there. The interminable gear/rep grind, the obligation-inspiring daily quests (/chores), the 'elite' status of (usually jerkwad) raiders, gated content containing all the lore.
...I have this scroll of resurrection in my inbox. The boys want their old Guild Leader back, and I'm torn between curmudgeonly grumbling vs running the risk of getting burned out and pissed off again, of being an intelligent, self-aware adult somehow finding myself lured into wasting great swathes of time on boring content for the sake of 'efficiency'.

It really highlights the power of the social network factor of these types of games.
So I did a quick poll on of the 20 online people in our guild. Only 2 bought a physical copy the rest digital. The days of queing at the store are almost at an end. Physical sales are down for sure overall sales will be more interesting.
I have historically purchased physical copies from Amazon. I bought digital this time.

If you purchased a digital Commemorative Edition you got the CE pet and mount a couple of weeks before MoP hit. Any digital purchaser was able to start playing at midnight without even logging off. Which was not only nice, but greatly obviated the "login servers are full" problem since people were not logging on. Box copies were for traditionalists, Luddites, gifts and impulse purchases and seem a pretty irrelevant indicator to the success of MoP.
My impression is that while Wrath was great, it was during Wrath that things started to go wrong with balance, and the treadmill became obvious. Also (this was after I left so I'm going on my impressions of what I've read) dungeons and raids got too easy. they tried to fix that at the start of Cataclysm, but they found they couldn't go back. You CAN ruin a game with a choice that's effectively irreversible.

Now they're trying to build again but with more of a focus on the stuff they didn't ruin. Good call IMO. Dungeons/raids were my thing (and for all the issues, WoW may well still be the best for those) but that Pokemon stuff is interesting too.
Just to add a data point: I have bought boxed before and bought two copies digital weeks before release.

And I do believe Gerry Quinn's observation regarding the overall game is accurate. I don't fully subscribe to the "Wrath was awesome and Cataclysm ruined everything" school of thought. Basically, it was inevitable that WoW was going to lose players at some point. Azuriel analysed this quite well already something like two years ago.

Cam, ask yourself this: if Cataclysm had been exactly like Wrath but with different-shaped mobs, what are the odds that you would have kept playing anyway?
Gerry: the treadmill became obvious in Wrath because, before that, most players couldn't even get on the treadmill.
Yes, vanilla WoW and BC were touted as "solo leveling to max level" for everyone (as opposed to say Everquest).

Which of course meant that most didnt get to even see molten core. I personally frequented Dire Maul and the BRD with pickup groups but it was tiring, especially being a hunter.
Some truth in what you say, neowolf. But when everybody did get on the treadmill, the treadmill broke, and we were worse off than before.

The latest TWIM on was discussing an investment banker who said Bliz sold 600k box copies. The host speculated that they did not see digital adding more than another 600k. well...

IMO retail boxes are becoming like subs, not as useful of insight into the modern gaming landscape.
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