The Real Story About WOW Changes And Why

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The Real Story About WOW Changes And Why

Post by Goodmongo » Thu Aug 18, 2011 11:34 am

Beware this might be considered a wall of text by some. Skip to the end for a short TL/DR summary.

Let me start out by saying that I frist started to play a few months before TBC came out. I quit last February. I played and raided as a tank/healer/dps and loved my feral cat the best. But this analysis isn't about playing so much as subscriptions. Blizzard is in this to make money and as much money as possible.

We all know that WOW is the big MMO on the block and that it had over 12 million subscribers. But recently it lost close to 10% of its subscribers in just the last six months. Actually just over 5 months but that's not important. Many say, so what they still have over 10 million and are still number one. But 1 million subscribers amounts to 180 million dollars a year at $15 a month so that is a piece of pocket change.

Analysis of subscribers and the rate of increase/decrease is difficult and the numbers are hard to find. But we do know a few facts and trends. Some of these are:

1) The number of subscribers for an established region always fall off a few months before a new expansion. People take a break as the old content is 'old' and wait for the new release. This happened for TBC, WRATH and CATA.
2) The number of subscribers for an established region always increased for a few months when a new expansion is released. Old players comming back, new players joining because of the expansion etc. Again this happened for TBS, WRATH and CATA. However, as I note the increase for Cata was very short lived.
3) Blizzard over the years added new geographical areas that at times greatly impacted the subscriber numbers. For example adding China almost doubled the number of subscribers in just a few months time. This needs to be factored out so we won't confuse things and compare an apple to an apple.
4) Each expansion has a number of major releases and the subscription rates fluctuate just before and after these releases. However, since timing is always hard to do and there are more than simple one month plans the impact is no where near as great as that surrounding an expansion.

In retail sales there are two numbers they track. One is for total retail sales and the other one is for established stores. This is important when we look at WOW and where its been, where its at and where it might be going. I have tried to factor out events like China but it is hard to do as Blizzard keeps the details pretty secrect and the only numbers most people can see are those published in the quarterly and yearly financial reports.

To me one of the best indicators of how WOW is doing is to look at what happenes around the time of the first and second major releases after the new expansion. In otherwords 3.1 and 3.2 for Cata and of course the same for TBC and WRATH. You can also do this for the other major releases but Cata is only at 3.2 so it hasn't happened yet.

Before I get to it I want to mention how players have reacted over the years. Many long time players say WOW is too easy and needs to go back to vanilla/TBC days. They may be right in their feelings but this is about subscribers and money. There were many complaints that in WRATH too many people got to see end game content and got to kill the LK so it diminished their accomplishment since others did it at the 30% nerf. And let's not forget all the arugments about gear availablity. All of this is important but not for the reason you may think it is.

So after looking at the numbers and doing my best to decifer them I came up with the following thoughts and conclusions.

1) Vanilla had a steady increase in subscribers. This was due to it being new and gaining populatrity through marketing word of mouth and of course beating the competiotion in the MMO marketplace.
2) TBC hit and WOW started to get even more hype. However, the number of subscribers was still relatively limited After all a subscriber base of 3 million was considred huge back then and still is for most other games.
3) During TBC the type of subscribers were no long just the hard core players. Let's face it there are a limited number of these people in the world. WOW was gaining people due to how the game worked and more social networking was comming into play. And let's not forget that world PvP was in decline around this time. The number of PVE server in comparrison to PVP servers exploded dramatically. The new players were comming for friends, fun times and graphics.
4) A major complaint of many of these new subscribers that joined in TBC was that they never got to see end game content. There was an increased REDUCTION in subscribers near the late releases of TBC in established regions. Some were mad that they had to grind out keys and got left behind and didn't see raids outside of Kara.
5) Blizzard decided that for the next expansion they would make end game and gear more accessible to more people.
6) WRATH hit and the subscriber numbers jumped way up even in established regions. This was somewhat expected with the marketing and publicity that WOW was getting being the biggest MMO out there.
7) The number of subcribers that left vs. joined during the major releases of WRATH were much stronger than TBC or late vanilla. It seemed that WOW was now a family and friends type of game. Boyfriends got their girlfriends to play. Husband and wife players joined up. Kids played with their dads and moms. Sort of like Las Vegas trying to become a family vacation spot instead of the old rat pack '60s town. BTW that worked as far as number of tourists is concerned.
8) During WRATH there was a gowing discourse between old game and more hard core players of vanilla/TBC and the so called wrath babies. Gear wars started and complaints about ease started up. But the number of subscribers were holding steady and in many regions increasing.
9) During WRATH Blizzard released a harder raid, Ulduar. Many old time players loved it but almost all the new ones did not. This was a major reason in my opinion for the rapid release of TOTC. People could now skip ulduar and get better gear. It is interesting to note that Blizzard reported a slight increase in subscribers around this time. Maybe they were getting ready for the final LK releases and no one knows for sure.
10) LK is out! Subscriptions are up. It is during this time that WOW hits new highs on subscriber numbers.
11) Blizzard rolls out the nerfs to allow more players to see LK content. Looking at the quarterly numbers the subscriber totals are constant and not decreasing.
12) Near the end of WRATH the subscription base does take a hit as expected. But the percentage drop is smaller than they expected according to a quarterly financial report. And of course talk of Cata was growing.

Now things turn interesting. The old hard core players want much harder content. They did not want easy epics etc. But Blizzard knew that much of the increase in subscribers was due to average players getting into the game. So they tried some drastic things. Changes to the trees and healing. Harder heroics and less epics. And they thought that they could please all the people all the time.

Cata is released and sells the most copies for any expansion ever. Subscription numbers actually exceed the previous high established during WRATH LK release. But then some bad things happen. Subscriptions start to drop off faster than expected and sooner than expected. Major complaints from both sides. Some saying too easy many others saying way too hard. No more PUGS. Guilds rule the roost. I can go on.

2011 hits and subscriptions continue to fall and now over a million have left. The 10% loss is the largest and fastest loss in WOW's history. But what are the reasons for it? Maybe the game is just too old and yesterday's fad. But there are hints that the majority of the losses are people that joined in WRATH and are mad for various reasons. A survey that I read a few months back listed wait times for heroics and lack of PUGS to be a big negative for many people. And here is a biggie. Blizzard noticed that during WRATH the number of DPS to tanks/healers was growing. This excelerated in Cata to where over 80% of all classes are DPS and not tanks/healers. Some people are leaving because they are not in a guild or the guild doesn't have enough tanks/healers to do the job. Healers have complained from day one about how hard and zero fun healing has become in cata.

The recent changes were made not to really address threat but to do something about the losses in their subscriber base. They must have more tanks/healers. In fact Blizzard has toyed with the idea of making tank bots. One anaylsis suggested that many of the people that left were tanks and healers. No way to know for sure but if true that spells doom for WOW unless they can do something drastic. How long before droves of DPS leave?

TL/DR Summary
The largest increase in subscribers were in WRATH. WRATH for better or worse let more people see end game content. Most of these are average players and more DPS. The changes to Cata making it harder has cost subscribers especiallyin the tank/healer classes. This might be or is leading to possible huge losses in other subscribers. The changes are trying to stem this tide by making tanking and hence healing easier.

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Re: The Real Story About WOW Changes And Why

Post by Toro » Thu Aug 18, 2011 12:56 pm

You forgot to add something semi-important into this, or at least I feel, as stated in a blue post (dev water cooler):

With people gearing at the rate they are, even in the raid environment (tanks desiring mitigation, dps shooting for higher numbers), and Blizzard's intent to make the fights "interesting," more mechanics are being thrown in. Picking up adds, yeah, that sounds easy, wait for threat to be established, then attack on call... when you throw excessive motion into this (I'm going to point out dark swills for heroic maloriak), you tend to have issues keeping mobs in the pack, which lowers overall raid dps, resulting in more time on adds and less uptime on the boss. This change was to help scenarios like this, where Blizzard has directly stated that they "love" this concept.

The 66% increased threat is not just for scenarios like this, but also to help address the ongoing posts of threat dumps in the first 30 seconds of a fight, though, that is directly related for reworking vengeance to be initial, which also ties into tanks favoring mitigation over threat.

The obvious "having to wait isn't fun," which was in the blue post... that hit home for a lot of the flaming-pussy, staff-whacking, grab-your-ankles-while-you-get-sodomized-because-you-burst-to-hard community.

Anywho, this wasn't to derail the obvious fact that marketing drives business, but adding in some more facts never hurt anyone.
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Re: The Real Story About WOW Changes And Why

Post by shinryu » Fri Aug 19, 2011 2:15 am

Honestly? I think it's about jumped the shark with Cata; it gave us 5 less levels, fairly substandard raids (unless you seriously buy into their whole "omg, heroics matter" philosophy, in which I have no desire to kill things on a harder mode), and overall I think is just less engaging. No doubt some of the content while leveling was nice, but even it was split; Hyjal was generally fun and it was nice to see an area of the map long unaccessable even though WC3 Nelf campaign was centered around it, and water, it was different, but overly long. Deepholm to me was nothing but pure drudgery; the whole point in finishing that area was for their equivalent of Sons of Hodir to be unlocked, but Deepholm to me just felt too big in the travel time involved from place to place. Not to mention boring; stone, eh, stone people, eh, stone creature, eh. Wish they'd put a bit of emphasis into the backstory of deathwing being here instead of "oh, there's a trail of his blood". Uldum, I generally enjoyed, but the numerous unskipable cutscenes were horrible. Twilight Highlands were generally fun, but only lasted you a mere level (or you might not even bother going there if you quested heavily in the prior areas and could ding 85 in uldum).

So yeah...just a lot of rehashed stuff as well; how many more setback jokes do we need about nef/ony, I'm surprised Kael'thas hasn't made another appearance. BoT had too much trash and too few bosses, though I thought BWD had a nice amount of boss/trash ratio, despite the boring wagon wheel layout. Throne...well you'd think they'd learn that random loot was crap, but it made another annoying minor appearance in FL as well.

Honestly, at the rate Cata is going, I won't be surprised if they cut their losses and announce an early release for whatever the next expansion is, as it's clear Cata is pretty much a failure despite the massive initial sell. I always suspected 5 levels was gonna fail, and indeed there's almost nothing to keep you engaged, it feels like doing wotlk all over again honestly.

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Re: The Real Story About WOW Changes And Why

Post by Goodmongo » Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:25 am

Everything you said about Cata is true. However, none of what you said about Cata is related to the changes in threat and some of the other mechanics that Blizzard might change. My post was from a business perspective and is tying together the recent changes that were announced to other facts like the increasing loss in subscriptions and also the increased percentages of DPS to tank/healers.

The new content would not answer why Blizzard is considering making a tank bot for heroics and raids.

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Re: The Real Story About WOW Changes And Why

Post by shinryu » Sat Aug 20, 2011 4:18 am

Goodmongo wrote:Everything you said about Cata is true. However, none of what you said about Cata is related to the changes in threat and some of the other mechanics that Blizzard might change. My post was from a business perspective and is tying together the recent changes that were announced to other facts like the increasing loss in subscriptions and also the increased percentages of DPS to tank/healers.

The new content would not answer why Blizzard is considering making a tank bot for heroics and raids. mean why the finally caved in to long-wanted stuff. Eh, that was definitely most likely as a result of the lost subscriptions I agree, what better way to convince people to re-sub than to give them a long-wanted feature. The tanking changes, eh; that alone will not convince more people to tank, so much as it helps bad tanks at least try to do their jobs and to simplify raid tanking more.

And to be fair, there are more DPS classes to choose from than tank/healing, and more people prefer to play DPS instead of another role; that will always be an imbalance issue, simply from how the game is set up. Just look at priests, 2 healing specs and most I bet play only shadow for great pve damage and decent pvp playability with their 2nd offspec. No matter how easy you make other stuff, I bet you couldn't convince more people to tank or heal even if all you had to do was push 1-2 buttons on a click interface.

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Re: The Real Story About WOW Changes And Why

Post by ethanehunt » Thu Nov 03, 2011 3:10 am

I agree that you level too fast through the old zones. There is very little sense of threat or danger. Even only using the gear that you earn from quests (ie no heirlooms etc) it is very hard for your toon to die. I have even tried to pull packs of mobs to try and kill me and the usual effect is that by the time I manage to collect enough mobs to be a danger (about 6 or 7 mobs), the first two mobs that I have tagged have gotten bored and reset.

If the challenge becomes 'how do I keep 7 mobs tagged' rather than 'OMG I've pulled 2 mobs at once, HOW will I survive?' then that's a boredom inducing problem. I've levelled 3 or 4 toons to 30 or 40 in the new zones but have given up on them because it's wayy too easy.

I believe that a solution to make questing more challenging/difficult for experienced players is to raise the barrier to picking up new quests.

Right now you can't pick up a quest that is more than 5 levels higher than you (* I think it's 5). If they made this number 7 then players who wanted a challenge could grind through the more difficult mobs and quests. A player can make their own choices whether it's too hard or not and drop back a zone or two if they are getting stomped on too easily.
People who want to zoom through the levels can still do so, but those who want to stop and smell the roses are missing out.

They have done a great job making the storylines in these old zones epic and compelling, but the gameplay suffers if you are fighting easy grey mobs by the time you get to the end of it- even if you start the zone at the absolute minimum level.

Let us take quests at lower levels and bring back the sense of danger!

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