That’s a pretty large number and is comparable to the population of Burning Crusade, except that it’s getting lower. The two main things people seem to point to are game age and Asia. However, I know that saying the game’s age is a common issue, but I feel that it’s too high level and generic of an excuse. You have to look more into detail about the aspects of the game which makes the game feel aged to understand what might drive customers away. This blog post will attempt to de-construct the game age myth and delve deeper into the various aspects of what might be driving customers away as a result of the generic game age label.
For the most part, the vast majority of World of Warcraft’s questing mechanics are extremely primitive: talk to NPC, kill monster, loot XXX items, kill monster for XXX items and escort missions. There have been attempts to introduce slightly more advanced questing mechanics like vehicles, stealth quests (aka Call of Duty Black Ops missions), advanced escort missions, timed events or cut scene quests. But most tend to fall within these missions.
The problem with the questing aspect is that it tends to grow old really fast. In fact, considering how leveling is more focused on questing for experience and later on dailies for reputation gain and valor, it’s easy to see how people can burn out quite quickly. And once you complete your leveling, you can do it all over again or better yet face the daily grind.
Considering that the vast majority of Mist of Pandaria focuses on questing progression, it’s no wonder why many people might feel burnt out after a few months.
I’m not talking about the in-game Farmville that they put in (although that also counts). I’m talking about how a vast majority of the end game is simply farming. Whether it’s materials, valor points, conquest points, gear, etc., the end game progression race is mostly just farming. In short, repeated content with an extremely slow sense of progression. Discoveries in astrophysics feel faster than your character’s progress in the end game.
The excitement of discovering new things, killing new monsters, conquering dungeons, etc. quickly diminish once you realize that you are extremely limited in what you can do. The only excitement is downing raid bosses, PVP and the new piece of gear you can obtain. But the rest is just building up to the point where you can accomplish one of those three goals.
Yet that’s the farming aspect. It’s just rinse and repeat until a new content patch comes out or you work on a different character. But then again it’s just the same process with different labels.
Perhaps, the most frustrating aspect of these games is the sense of slow progress once you hit max level and obtain most of the gear you want. RPGs to me are always about progress of ones character. It’s about growth in a way that you cannot in the real world. So we use an alter ego to accomplish these feats.
The argument for MMORPGs is that progress is slowed to prolong the life for content in a game. Older RPGs like Bard’s Tale, Might and Magic, etc. had methods to prolong content like long leveling processes, mob zones that regenerated after a certain point, etc. But for the most part they were far faster in terms of the grind, mostly in part because they did not have to deal with the consequences of being online all the time and other real participants that could unbalance a game (such as those who had extreme amounts of time, money and/or means of automation to do farming or leveling for the owner). So for non-MMORPGs, progress could be instant, especially if the game had its own set of cheats or if there was a trainer.
Creating a sense of balanced progress is a real challenge for any game designer. How much leeway do you give players without making it seem too frustrating or easy? This question determines the level of satisfaction that players can receive. But it’s a tricky subject since the range for this is quite huge and depends exclusively on the type of audience.
In the case of World of Warcraft, the audience is quite vast. Even when the game is down by 1.3 million subscribers, it still boast 8.7 million subscribers. And it’s worldwide. So you have to find a good median.
The thing is that I think the game has gotten to the point where progression feels quite overwhelming. The game requires a lot of dedicated time to really get the full potential for the money. But I think that the recent changes with the latest expansion and especially the dailies aspect is that people can no longer keep up. Some try but it’s really difficult. The game can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to time sinks. As a result, you feel like you no longer can grow in any meaningful manner. And that can be truly demotivate a person because you end up constantly asking your, “What’s the point?”
A Very Divided Community
With the game’s age, comes a very mixed batch of people with all types of expectations and desires. And despite losing people, the game also constantly gains new people. The problem is that it’s very difficult distinguishing players because there are few tools in the game that allow people to mix in with whom they want.
The end result of this mixed community though has become the whole “casual vs hardcore” battle. But I argue that it’s far more divided than that simplistic outlook. The game has people who grew up playing since day 1, workers, families, people with busy lives, celebrities, people who became celebrities, kids, even cartoons. And this can be further broken down and you can keep breaking these lines down.
The thing is that I see the game dying through its inability to segregate players towards the groups they want to play with. I’ve stated numerous times that the game really needs to focus on the social aspect. The game itself is entertaining to a degree but it depends mostly on being with others to accomplish one’s goals. Yet if you’re isolated, the game can be quite intimidating and the people are quite unforgiving.
Some people just blame hardcores or elitists as creating the poisonous atmosphere. I think it’s more than just that. For instance, you have people who figure out ways of exploiting situations like LFR or griefing players. As these situations continue, many people end up feeling discouraged and just quit. LFR and LFG, while being great for people who lack friends to play with, can also be a horrible experience when you encounter griefers.
Time Sink and Dangling Carrot
Progress is all about knowing that you will arrive at a certain point for doing certain things. RPGs for the most part are built around this premise (there are those that actually want to roleplay but I honestly think those are the vast minority, especially in an online computer gaming environment). For a paid game to succeed like World of Warcraft, you need to add the time sink and dangling carrot aspects to make the environment work.
However, the dangling carrot trick, as the analogy goes, only works as long as the victim continues believing that they can obtain the carrot. For World of Warcraft, as the game ages and people meet certain goals (or don’t), they eventually lose start realizing that the carrot never really is in their grasp but placed further and further out. Worse yet, is that when a person finally gets to nibble on that carrot, they find out that the carrot has gone bad or has been replaced by a new carrot that is pushed out to the point where it looks like an orange toothpick.
That’s the state of World of Warcraft. The game designers themselves want you to just be playing the game and not doing anything else but focusing on the non-existent carrot. Eventually, you figure out that the carrot doesn’t really taste good and that a good apple hanging from a nearby tree will satisfy your craving and taste buds a lot better.
I believe that a lot of people may not come to the same epiphany but certainly the sentiment. That’s why 1.3 million people kill their subscription. While the game is fun, it’s better in spurts. But the game itself does not allow for spurts. You’re either with the game or out of touch and far from the progression race.
The game should not just be a progression race but a more open ended environment. The way the game is designed at the moment is that you’re probably going to focus on the high end content like raiding or PVP. You don’t really see end game questing nor lore. Even when the designers told people that Mist of Pandaria would not have a traditional end game boss, they still focus a lot of the content effort around raids and Garrosh. So what else can one do if they’re isolated and not interested in that type of content?
At any rate, I’m certain there are many other reasons. For instance, I know a lot of friends who just graduated from high school that got jobs. They barely have the time to play the way they could back in high school. Other long term players also just ended up burning out or wanting to try other games. You can’t play the same game forever and that’s just a fact of life. Certainly, there have been elements that the game has introduced in an attempt to keep it interesting, but I think when you look at the overall issues I presented here, it’s easy to see why people slowly will be inclined to quit as a result of the so-called “game’s age” syndrome.