This is a guest post by former WoW blogger Honorshammer on the state of the game and his theories on why the player base has decreased. Interesting read and another take on yet the state of the game.
Blizzard’s recent conference call for investors had the blogosphere churning about the announcement that WoW lost about 5% of its player base and it back to pre-Cataclysm levels. Everyone is giving their opinion to explain why this is happening. Unsurprisingly, most everyone is taking something they don’t like about the game (too hard/too easy/too hardcore/too casual) and pointing at that and saying “see, i was right all along. People are leaving because of x.” I’m moderately guilty of this myself to some degree, and I will acknowledge that up front.
But I think the player base is too diverse for there to be one factor that has flipped a switch and led to the decline. There are likely a myriad of factors, and in this post I want to touch on one I don’t see getting much play in this discussion, the possibility that the story of WoW has simply been played out.
I was introduced to the Warcraft universe through Blizzard’s excellent Real Time Strategy games like Warcraft III: Riegn of Chaos and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. It was my enjoyment of those games that gave rise to my initial interest in World of Warcraft.
In those games Blizzard’s developers introduced some incredible characters. Jania Proudmoore, Kael’thalas Sunrider, Lady Vashj, Sylvanas, Illidan, and of course, the big guy himself, Arthas became fan favorites.
During Vanilla, WoW was still fresh and there was the sheer joy of exploring a new world. We met Jania in Dustwallow Marsh, and Sylvanas in the Undercity. The other major lore characters were still on the horizon, calling us to become powerful enough for their notice.
From the very beginning in Burning Crusade, we were taunted by Illidian’s “You are not PREPARED!” The developer’s made it very clear were on the path to fight him. First though, we fought Kael’Thalas in Tempest Keep (and Magister’s Terrace), and Lady Vashj met her end in Serpent Shrine Caverns. Finally, in what was originally the last raid of Burning Crusade, we got our payoff and fought Illidan himself. Part of my motivation for the guild hopping of my BC days was my desire to see these character’s story arcs to their conclusion. It was like I had started a book in Warcraft III, and now I wanted to finish it. Not doing so would have been like listening to a song that didn’t resolve.
Wrath made no bones about its primary nemesis. This was it. The path was laid out to the Frozen Throne. We would face Arthas himself. From the moment you got off the boat in either Howling Fjord or Borean Tundrea, Arthas was there, taunting you, urging you on to a final confrontation with him. For this player, Arthas was the penultimate antagonist. Ever since we witnessed the amazing cut scene of Arthas running King Terenas through with Frostmourne, we wanted a piece of him. My anger was ignited when in his blind passion for vengeance he took up Frostmourne killing my beloved Muradin in the processes. Through the levels and expansions, one thing had remained, the quest to confront Arthas.
By the end of Wrath, my avatar stood over Arthas’ lifeless body. The character who adorned the cover of box for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (Human edition), Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King was dead. His arc ended. And with his arc ended, the developers had finished the arc of every major villain from the Warcraft III games. The story was told.
What would propel us into Cataclysm would have to be new villains. World of Warcraft was now going to have to have to stand on its own story, and not simply finish the story begun in Warcraft III. I believe for a portion of the player base, World of Warcraft did a poor job of communicating its ongoing story. Our characters needed more motivation than we have been given. We need more than ‘he’s got duh perps, yo” to raid week after week in search of the next villain. We never got the connection to Deathwing that we had felt with Illidan, or Arthas. Arthas called to you from two expansions away. Deathwing whispers can barely be heard the very expansion we will confront him. Too much of the story was obfuscated outside of the game in comics, wikis, and novels. Our characters set out to defeat Deathwing more out of duty than raw passion.
So once the new zones have been seen, and the new dungeons run through a couple of times, we, as players, came back to the question of our motivation. Before, the answer had been to stay on the course to Illidan, or to Kael’thalas, or Arthas. Now the answer now was to prepare for Deathwing. For whatever reason, some players found that answer left them unmoved.
I can only speak for myself. I am still actively playing World of Warcraft, and I have no plans to quit, though I am playing far more casually than I did previously. Before killing Arthas, leaving would have felt like leaving something unfinished, like putting down a good book only halfway through. But now, the book feels read, and leaving a natural progression when the next good book is published.