World of Warcraft: The Beginning of the End?

By now you’ve heard, WOW is going free to play (at least the first twenty levels..). Love it or hate it, World of Warcraft was (and still is) undoubtedly the most popular MMO in history. World of Warcraft was so popular at one point that it boasted an insane 12 million subscribers. That’s 12 million people paying a MONTHLY fee of $15.00. Blizzard and Activison were making so much money that they could probably feed a hungry 3rd world nation sloppy joes on a regular basis (yum). Recent numbers show that over 600,000 people have quit playing WOW since last years launch of Cataclysm (bringing the number of subscribers to 11.4 million). Here is a list of things that made players like myself leave the game and never look back.

Blizzard and Activison were making so much money that they could probably feed a hungry 3rd world nation sloppy joes on a regular basis (yum).

1. Failed Security: If you’ve ever played World of Warcraft you’ve probably had your account hacked. Yes, all your gold, purple pants and sentimental pixels were sold to a vendor to help pay some gold farmers rent. How the hackers manage to get thousands of passwords each and every day is a total mystery, but getting hacked in WOW was a pretty common occurrence (no matter how careful you were). Blizzard was always great about returning lost items, but getting your stuff back was a MAJOR hassle right on par with getting a new social security card. Their “solution”…The Authenticator.

2. Authenticator: WOW security was getting breached so frequently that the only way to stop accounts from getting hacked was to force paying customers to type in a randomly generated code (longer than a nuclear launch code) each and every time they want to play. If you wanted guaranteed security you’d have to get an ap for your cell phone or get a hold of an official Blizzard authenticator key chain. Wrapped in a fancy package, players felt like they were doing something “cool” the first dozen times they typed in their authentication code, but soon it became arduous and annoying. Can’t the the login… I dunno, just be secure? What is the point of a password if Blizzard can’t find a way to protect their paying customers?

3. No Actual WAR in Warcraft: Sure there are epic battles, fights with dragons, and thousands upon thousands of quests, but there really is no WAR in Warcraft. What do I mean by this? There is no feeling of urgency to any of it, no real narrative that ties everything together.  Sure, there is a story buried in there somewhere, but the player really has to go searching for it.  The game is all about “STUFF”.  Most of the time players can be found sitting around town showing off their latest purple outfit or fancy riding mount. Somewhere along the line the true focus of the game became item acquirement and not adventure. Most players want nothing to do with the people on their servers. WOW became so large that walking through a capital city was like walking through Time’s Square.. just don’t make eye contact!

4. It’s Old and Dated: Blizzard knows this and is preparing for a mass player exodus.  Sure, as long as WOW servers are up, people will keep playing, but we will probably see a steady drop in the player base for many years to come.  When WOW was released in 2004 it was one of the best looking and playing games on the market, but a lot has changed since 2004. Games like Dragon Age and Fallout 3 have changed what players come to expect from an RPG.  People want great stories with with great characters, not fetch quests.

5. Going Free to Play: The Big news is that Blizzard is making WOW free to play up to level 20. If history is any indicator, MMOs go free to play when their subscriptions start to dwindle.  The idea is to draw in new players and breathe life into a struggling product. The following games started out with a traditional subscription model and went free to play: Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes, Champions Online, Age of Conan, Dungeons and Dragons: Online…and many more. Free to play isn’t a bad model, it’s just sort of shocking to see Blizzard go that route. It’s almost as if they know their days are numbered.

I’m in no way knocking a great game, just pointing out some major flaws that may be driving players away. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Blizzard’s top-secret new MMO looks at some of the game-breaking flaws of WOW and makes sure that they never… ever.. happen again.