World of Warcraft’s Declining Subscription Numbers

Back in 2004 when World of Warcraft was initially released, I really wasn’t paying much attention to PC gaming. I don’t think I even heard about World of Warcraft until some students who worked for me started talking obsessively about it. I bought a copy in May 2005 largely to satisfy my curiosity, and have spent about 3,000 hours since then playing a couple of characters.

Like a lot of people, however, my interest in World of Warcraft at the moment is pretty much non-existent. Every time a new expansion has come out I’ve bought it, leveled my main character to the new level cap, and then quickly gotten bored and unsubscribed. World of Warcraft subscription numbers have declined to the point where–after announcing that in Q3 2015 WoW subscribers stood at 5.5 million (down from 10 million in Q4 2014)–Blizzard added that it would no longer release WoW subscription numbers.

There are a lot of reasons for the decline in WoW subscriptions, but ultimately the game just isn’t as fun anymore. I came to realize the game was likely no longer fun for a lot of people when I started talking to my 13-year-old son about the game. He’s the resident WoW fanatic in our house now, and he can (and will) go on and on about WoW mechanics, optimized builds and gear for various class/race combinations, etc., to the point where my eyes glaze over.

But here’s the thing–although he has a subscription to World of Warcraft, that’s not typically where he spends most of his time playing the game. Instead, he spends more time playing vanilla private servers such as Nostalrius Begins.

A private server is an instance of World of Warcraft that is not run by Blizzard. Blizzard tends to tolerate such private servers as long as they’re not exploitative and aren’t charging large sums of money to players. For the most part, people who play on private servers tend to be hardcore fans of the game who probably also play the official version, so I assume Blizzard sees benign neglect as the best approach. It probably helps that private servers attract relatively few players (Nostalrius is one of the most popular private servers, for example, but appears to attract less than 10,000 players).

The vanilla designation means that is designed to be identical to some official previous version of World of Warcraft. In the case of Nostalrius, for example, the server represents the game as it was before Blizzard released the first expansion to the game, The Burning Crusade. So my son and thousands of other people spend a lot of time playing World of Warcaft as it was almost 10 years ago.

The weird thing is that with the Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor expansions, Blizzard specifically implemented features and systems that were apparently designed to appeal to more casual or younger players like my son. I imagine the thinking was that this would expand the potential audience of the game (features like the battle pet system were clearly designed with this in mind). And yet it is precisely those changes which have led my son to spend more time on private servers, such as Nostalrius, rather than log into to Blizzard’s official offering.

My main takeaway after playing through Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor was that Blizzard went way too far in its efforts to simplify the game and its mechanics. I especially detest the new character “customization” system which has pretty much gutted customization to the point where they might as well just ditch it altogether. The game has gotten to the point where it offers as little challenge as something like the original Dungeon Siege.

On the other hand, there aren’t many games I’ve played 3,000 hours in only to say “yeah, after playing for 10 years this game finally feels kind of stale.” WoW is still one of the top 5 video games I’ve ever played, and Blizzard is to be commended for letting the private server system thrive for people who want to experience the game as it was before all of the recent changes.

World of Warcraft Subscription Numbers, 2005-2015

Per Blizzard, "World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules." 
YearSubscribers (Millions)
2005 (Q1)1.5
2005 (Q2)3.5
2005 (Q3)4
2005 (Q4)5.5
2006 (Q1)6
2006 (Q2)6.5
2006 (Q3)7
2006 (Q4)8
2007 (Q1)8.5
2007 (Q2)9
2007 (Q3)9.3
2007 (Q4)10
2008 (Q1)10.7
2008 (Q2)10.9
2008 (Q3)11
2008 (Q4)11.5
2009 (Q4)11.5
2010 (Q3)12
2010 (Q3)12
2010 (Q4)12
2011 (Q1)11.4
2011 (Q2)11.1
2011 (Q3)10.3
2011 (Q4)10.2
2012 (Q1)10.2
2012 (Q2)9.1
2012 (Q3)10
2012 (Q4)9.6
2013 (Q1)8.3
2013 (Q2)7.7
2013 (Q3)7.6
2013 (Q4)7.8
2014 (Q1)7.6
2014 (Q2)6.8
2014 (Q3)7.4
2014 (Q4)10
2015 (Q1)7.1
2015 (Q2)5.6
2015 (Q3)5.5

Funko Word of Warcraft Vinyl Figures

All I really want is a female gnome rogue figure, but alas DC Direct ended its World of Warcraft action figure line before getting that far, and these Funko Pop! vinyl figures are cute but, alas, no female gnome rogue.


Illidan (Convention Exclusive)
Illidan (Convention Exclusive)

Continue reading “Funko Word of Warcraft Vinyl Figures”

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Grind

William Murphy over at pushes back at the grind in MMOs, especially when you get to the endgame,

Games like WoW are designed brilliantly to keep us playing and entertained as long as possible.  It used to be that character progress in MMOs was incredibly slow.  But WoW changed that.  They made leveling an easy climb to the top.  Finally it seemed like a company understood that it didn’t need to keep us moving slowly along to keep us paying… and then we hit the level cap and found out what we needed to do for our class armor sets.  The process has been simplified these days sure enough, but 400 Frost Emblems for Tier 10 armor is still no drop in the hat.  You’ll still be repeating the same content over and over to achieve your goals, and that’s just the course of action Blizzard hopes you’ll take.

And that, for me, is when the fun stops.

No more do I play MMOs for the gear.  I don’t care about the payoff.  If it’s a grind, I avoid it.  And here, I define “grind” as something bland that I must do repeatedly for a pittance of reward.  If I’m playing a game where the only way to progress is through mindlessly slaying mobs because I’ve run out of actual questing content to partake in, I stop playing.  If I am told the only way to get the game’s best weapon or armor is by repeating this content over and over again, then I don’t try to obtain that item.  It’s my very own MMO credo.

Personally, I’ve stopped worrying and learned to love the grind, especially when it comes wrapped in such an interesting package as it does in World of Warcraft. The nice thing about WoW is that you can take it or leave it when grinding.

I know people, for example, who run high end raid content over and over and have gear far better than I’ll ever get. I know others who simply stop playing a toon once they reach the level cap.

Personally, I think what WoW does right is that there are multiple grinds. You could spend all your time repeating the same raid content. Or you could focus on the PVP content. Or focus on any number of other goals that require endlessly repeating the same task over and over.

Or — and this will sound crazy — why not go back and forth between the two? Some days, I’ll spend hours running the same dungeon over and over again. Then, the next day — I’m flying around mining and fishing about playing the Auction House. Then maybe a few days off and I’m back doing world PVP for the fun of it.

WoW is definitely on the theme park end of the MMO continuum, but the variety and sheer number of things there are to do at the end game mean it doesn’t have to get boring if you decided to play the game rather than letting it play you. It’s a shame so few MMOs have the variety that WoW has at the endgame.

Blizzard Wins Default Judgement Against WoW Private Server

Back in October 2009, Blizzard sued Alyson Reeves over the private World of Warcraft servers she offered through her company, Scapegaming. On August 10, Blizzard won a default judgement against Reeves/Scapegaming and was awarded $88.5 million.

Now World of Warcraft private servers are fairly common, and some are fairly interesting variants that do things Blizzard would never be able to do and remain commercially viable (for example, running servers that replicate what the game was like before the Burning Crusade/Wrath of the Lich King expansions). For the most part, Blizzard doesn’t appear to have gone after private servers in general, presumably because they serve an extremely small niche market.

But unlike most private servers, Reeves/Scapegaming was run as a for-profit business that made (apparently a lot of) money off of microtransactions for its private servers. That’s just asking to be sued into oblivion.

Hopefully this won’t lead to a wholesale backlash by Blizzard going after every private server out there, but given Activision’s pressure to monetize, monetize, monetize across all of their products, it seems more likely that the days of openly running WoW private servers are numbered.

Update: here is a 1.3mb PDF version of the original complaint filed by Blizzard against Reeves. In it, Blizzard alleges that Reeves/Scapegaming collected approximately $1.5 million in donations from players accessing its private servers