World of What-Now? The Curious Decline of the World's Most Successful MMO, WoW

What could have caused the curious decline of World of Warcraft?

A recent report on IGN says that the world’s most successful MMORPG has declined to a (sarcastically) pathetic 7.7 million subscribers.

Yes, they’re upset about this.

I’m aware that to most of us without pants made of 20-dollar-bills would find this to be a pretty unnecessary gripe. But given the game’s former numbers, I can understand why the Souron-esque rulers on the Activision Blizzard throne are displeased. So let’s put this into context.


  • World of Warcraft launched in 2005, and according to a press release made by Blizzard soon became the best selling PC game on the market. It was a cultural phenomenon the likes of parachute pants and MC Hammer. 
  • Unlike parachute pants, WoW continued to grow, and by 2007 had amassed somewhere in the area of 8.5 million subscribers at $15 per month. For those of you keeping track, that’s $127.5 million per month.
  • By 2011 the subscription base skyrocketed to 12 million netting what was by then Activision Blizzard something in the area of a bazillion dollars per month (I’m aware that’s not real, but they were making so much money I doubt they even counted it anymore). This was the peak of the juggernaut that is, or perhaps was WoW.

**The most recent expansion allowed players to step into the shoes of the Sexual Harassment Panda from 'South Park'**

Uh Oh

Over time the subscriptions began to dip, and eventually hemorrhage. Sometimes it was because of other games, such as BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, being released to solid reviews, and other times I’d imagine it was due to player boredom. One that that is certain is it is a consistent rend with WoW that subscription numbers always get a spike right after the release of an expansion, meaning players are still waiting to adventure through Azeroth; maybe they’re just looking for something new.

As of now, just under a year after the most recent expansion The Mists of Panderia (September 2012), the game has hit it’s lowest subscription base since launch at 7.7 million people.

**This is actually me in High School.**

What Happened?

If I had to venture a guess: People got bored.

WoW was a revolution when it was released. Sure, the industry had several MMOs; it was by no means a pioneer. Yet WoW seemed to have an engaging world and alluring polish that many other games on the market at the time lacked.  For me, WoW was the first MMO I had ever played, and until recently the only one (Dragon’s Prophet is really cool guys – dragons).

To say that WoW was a revolution is not saying it didn’t have its problems. I mean, for people that can’t get enough fetch quests it was great! But for those of us that didn’t want to feel like an Alfred to a Bruce Wayne it got supremely obnoxious. On top of that it was really hard to solo in that game, let alone take on more than one similarly leveled mob at a time. I realize that a core component of raiding and the game as a whole is reliant on teamwork, but sometime people just want to relax and tackle some meaningful quests on their own. And I hate to bring it up, but WoW was the most grind heavy game ever, and I’m including all JRPGs in this proclamation.

Still though, WoW was almost always a good time, and very often an addicting experience.

Blizzard’s problem in this scenario is that they went by the “if-it-isn’t-broke-don’t-fix-it,” when they probably should have been going by the tried and true formula within video games: “More, but better,” for each expansion. Blizzard mixed it up from time to time, but it was always an uncomfortably familiar formula: You’d quest, you’d kill stuff, you’d have some cool distractions here and there, but all in all it was kind of the same thing. This kind of production does not work in most facets this industry; the fans clamor for innovation and, for better or for worse, if we don’t get it developers are made aware.

**Kind of wondering how many times I can reference this episode.**

Blizzard’s Next Steps

What can they do to fix this? In my mind no matter what they do, they’re just putting a Band-Aid on enormous festering wound. Yet the first thing that I can readily think of is to give up. Keep supporting WoW, sure, but the game is running on infrastructure that was established in 2005. It’s mind-boggling to me that they don’t realize that it is time to release their next big project; we all know they’re working on it.

Blizzard has just about run this well dry. Keep issuing patches, make it more playable, as they have been doing for the better part of a decade, but they need to do more. Especially with developers coming out with new MMOs every day, and WildStar just around the corner (which looks really cool by the way), Blizzard needs to up their game.

The ladies and gentlemen a Blizzard are talented visionaries that have reinvented a couple of genres with the deepest fan base in the world. I have fair confidence that they can bring their fans back again with a new game.

**Seriously guys - go watch it. It's amazing and shockingly accurate.**

What do you, my lovely readers, think? Can Blizzard bring it back with a new, innovative game, or are their MMO wheels destined to forever spin in the mud. Also, how many of you are or were WoW players? Are you still playing, and if not, why did you stop? What can Blizzard do to bring you back? Sound off in the comments down below and maybe we can go slay 12,000 boars together and if we're lucky, gain a single level!

Featured Columnist

I am an aspiring video game journalist and a professional awesome person. My words make knowledge parents in your brain that give birth to baby-smiles on your face. You can listen to my podcast by going on iTunes and searching Video Game Podcast Show!

Published Jul. 26th 2013
  • Rem_8482
    the game went downhill after ''The Mists'' was introduced, and then the boredom set in. I was an all hours player b4 it, and even lost a relationship because of it,
    I can't pinpoint what went wrong with ''Mist'' but it just left me unimpressed with what had come prior to it's intro. 1 thing or 2 things that struck me was the reliance on Raids and Dungeons that Solo's had no chance of doing, as some 1 else has commented on, so the game became frustrating, and so I cancelled my subscription, one of many who have. I now concentrate on Diablo 3 and am trying to fight my way up the Inferno scale, and also just started playing Dragon' Prophet.
  • Germ_the_Nobody
    lol Grind heavy? Seriously? Did you not play Everquest? Cuz if you had, you probably would not even dare to think WoW was grind heavy. haha Coming from Everquest made WoW freaking heaven for me. And yeah, I'm talkin "Vanilla".

    Blizzard has done nothing but improve upon the game damn near monthly for all of its years. It's impressive.
    The game is just old (I do not think its age shows), and F2P title's have dropped like flies.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    They're improving upon a game that was designed almost 10 years ago though. Which is an obvious achievement that it's still even live, but the number say there has been a sharp decline as of late and the numbers don't lie (or so they say).

    I think Blizzard is failing to recognize that many players, though not all, are looking for innovative new ways to play.
  • Germ_the_Nobody
    lol They won't find innovation anywhere right now. All they'll find is the same thing in a different setting. And they aren't just improving on a game made 10 years ago. It's been improved upon practically every single month since its existence, making it a game that has never been outdated.

    The numbers are falling because people don't want to pay anymore. That is all. I bet you anything those numbers would go right back up if WoW went free to play.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    They can absolutely find innovation. Blizzard is a group of extremely creative and talented individuals; many of the people there have spent an entire career reinvigorating genres.

    And yes, I think part of it is people not wanting to pay anymore, but I honestly think that more of it is the sameness of it all.

    I'm not bashing Blizzard or WoW (even though I know it seems like that at points) - the only reason I stopped playing is because I went to college and didn't want it to distract me from my work. But there comes a time for a company to move on from something and while I think they'll be supporting WoW for a long time into the future, I also think it may be time for a WoW 2 or its equivalent.
  • Germ_the_Nobody
    I wasn't saying Blizzard can't innovate. I meant players will not find other MMORPG's that offer any real new innovation. Also, I think gamers are unrealistic about innovation. It's practically impossible.

    The "sameness of it all" exists in every single other MMORPG including SWTOR, Rift, Guild Wars, hundreds of other F2P titles I could name. The thing about WoW is that it has always adapted to new features, it has always brought new life.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    Innovation is difficult simply because developers tend to mimic (in a good way) what works. Innovation comes when what used to work no longer does. Take a look at many of the later FPS games in the current generation: They are getting very similar in terms of core gameplay. Then take a look at some of the stuff shown off for BF4: That is true innovation. It comes in small increments but amounts to volumes. It's the cornerstone of the industry and it is absolutely possible, albeit financially cumbersome.

    I know the sameness exists across most MMOs, but Blizzard made a reputation for he selves for circumventing stuff like that. I expect them to deliver again soon in order to keep fans on board.
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    Never got into WoW but have plenty of friend been there since the start. And hat's off to Blizzard for any game that can run that long and still be active.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    It's obviously a great achievement! But I'm getting the feeling a lot of fans are sticking with it almost out of habit.

    I really believe that Blizzard is resting too much on what worked in the past.
  • TygerWDR
    Featured Contributor
    I stopped playing WoW because the storyline took a nosedive. I didn't appreciate being told throughout Panderia "You are a horrible carbon based lifeform" by EVERY NPC IN THE GAME. Ok one or two didn't care, but every turn I was reminded that because of my presence, Panderia was being attacked by all the bad things that were NEVER THERE until I showed up.

    Gee thanks. Unsub.

    Wow could turn themselves around, but they won't. My humble opinion? They're gonna put all their eggs in the "Titan MMO" secret project and try to make it the "WoW killer". joke's on them, they can't kill their own product short of turning off the servers. Which, by the way, I could see them doing. "No, really, you'll LOVE "Titan"! So much so we're shutting down WoW so you can play it!"

    What SHOULD they do? I got idea, but I'm not giving them to Blizzard for free. consulting fees begin at $1000 an hour for Blizzard, they can afford it.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    What would you have to see in a sequel to win you back over?
  • TygerWDR
    Featured Contributor
    More than I'm willing to post here. Suffice to say that, for now, a storyline that didn't involve making me loathe myself for DARING to buy the expansion and play it, therefore ruining all these creature's lives.

    That and drop the references. I kid you not, when one pandaren said to me during an escort quest "I can't go any further, I've taken an arrow to the knee" I literally put my hands up, and said aloud to an mpty room "DONE!"

    If you need to make pop culture references to keep my interest, you lost my interest long ago.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    The punishing the player part seems pretty fair. I didn't play Mists, so I don't know much about that.

    I do, however, LOVE pop culture references. The arrow to the knee bit is a little overdone and not subtle at all though.
  • Jeni Harrison
    As an avid player I think the disturbing thing that keeps me logging in (albeit with a lot less frequency that I used to) is the fact I have invested thousands of hours and to give up on it would be admitting to myself that the time was wasted. Pathetic I know right.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    It's not pathetic, I've definitely felt that way about games before.

    What made you lose interest over time?
  • Chad "Chuina" Albritton
    As I am not an avid World of WarCraft player I do not know many details other than the occasional casualization rant. It is easy to see that World of Warcraft is a phenomenon in MMORPG's as no other MMO has really ever come close. I do not think it is Blizzard's fault for the declining sub-base but people getting tired of a 10 year old game and ready to move away from a theme park title. 7 mil is still a lot!
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    I don't really blame Blizzard entirely. But I do blame them for not recognizing the trend. The fact that there's always a huge spike in subs after an expansion followed by a dramatic dip is indicative of fans wanting more than a new area and a level increase. The WoW fans want a new world.

    It's pretty clear that people still love it, as they come back for every expansion, but I'm not sure it's enough any more.

    And yeah 7 million is okay, but when you compare it to 10 million after the most recent expansion and 12 million at the peak it's not great. I'm sure they'll reveal something within the next year or so though!

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