So I’m back from vacation and the big news in MMO-land appears to be the very successful launch of Age of Conan. Tobold summed up a bunch of these theories about what it means to WoW early last week. Mostly, I tend to agree with his observation that AoC won’t “kill” World of Warcraft and will have a marginal impact on it’s profitability. As he points out, one day WoW won’t be the biggest kid on the block any more, but not because of a single WoW killer, but by a thousand little cuts.
The biggest WoW Killer at the moment is the lack of expansions. I wrote a couple of months ago that, at the most basic level, people get bored with what they have and start looking towards other things for variety. And right now, more than anything, I am seeing a LOT of boredom in the WoW community. Tobold’s assessment is that Age of Conan will have a million subscribers this year and most of them will be ex-WoW players that would have quit playing WoW with or without AoC. I couldn’t agree more. WoW seems to be bleeding players at the moment and not all of them are turning to AoC.
The blogosphere seems to get caught up in the idea that the WoW Killer needs to be another MMO. The real killer is stagnation. Players turning to games like AoC is just collateral damage. The reality is that they don’t need to turn to another MMO at all. WoW is simply a form of entertainment and it doesn’t just compete with other MMOs, but all alternate forms of entertainment. This could range from other platforms (360, Wii) to other genres (FPS, RTS) to completely different types of media (Movies, TV, Books) and other types of leisure activities (Hiking, Surfing, Swimming, Golf).
Speaking purely from personal experience, I am finding less and less things to do in the game. My current WoW-hobbies are primarily including playing the WoW Merchant game, playing Battlegrounds (for FUN, not honor) and power-leveling a friend’s Alt. (The power-leveling has actually been the most entertaining one since we chat on vent about stuff and I actually feel like we are two people playing one character. It’s odd, but I have as much attachment to that Hunter of his as I do to any of my alts.) In many ways, I find myself wondering why I am even bothering to play at the moment. I’ve been resisting the urge to create another Alt as I largely view that as a time sink created by boredom. When I rolled my latest main, I decided that it would be my last re-roll.
So I certainly understand why people are tired of this game at the moment. It’s still the best MMO on the market, it’s just not new and exciting any longer. From at least two of my real life friends (and from what I have read on other blogs), my understanding is that the freshest WoW-like experience at the moment can be found in AoC.
This, of course, is symptomatic of the larger issue that WoW has only one expansion in almost four years. By contrast, Everquest had SIX expansions during the first four years of it’s life. Everquest II (released at the same time as WoW) has had SEVEN expansions over the same period of time. Even assuming that WoTLK ships by Christmas, that will mean an average of one WoW expansion every 24 months in an industry where the standard has been set at one expansion every 9 months.
My prediction? In the coming months, WoW is going to continue to steadily decline as people get bored and look for alternate entertainment. This will happen regardless of AoC or Warhammer Online. The longer the expansion takes, the bigger the decline. When the WoTLK expansion does release, many people will come back to play. BUT – the moment that boredom even remotely creeps into the game, many players (myself included) aren’t going to have the patience to wait for another infusion of content.
With regards to AoC and Warhammer Online – well, these games have an excellent opportunity to take and hold market share. The bored WoW player base is ripe to be plucked. While I believe that anyone with a level 70 account is likely to play WoTLK on release, the next expansion will be held up against the new standards set by these other games. If the product offered in WoTLK isn’t better or new enough, then don’t expect people to KEEP playing the expansion once they have had their taste of the latest WoW flavor. Unless Blizzard increases the pace of it’s expansions after WoTLK, then I don’t expect it to have the staying power that Burning Crusade experienced.