How AoC and WAR might affect WoW: One player’s perspective

Lots of people are speculating how Age of Conan and Warhammer Online are going to affect World of Warcraft subscriber numbers. I could link to quite a few posts, but I’ll cheat and link to Tobold’s post, because he already did the linking for me.

I’m a tiny data point in a sea of MMO subscribers, but I suspect I represent some small percentage of WoW players (or former WoW players). Personally, regardless of the presence of Age of Conan or Warhammer in the MMO market, I’m done with WoW. I unsubscribed a couple months ago, and I don’t suspect I’ll be returning for the Lich King expansion. I don’t have any desire to level a Death Knight. I don’t participate in WoW PvP, and I have no interest in end-game raiding or dungeon crawling, even in smaller groups.

I may end up in Warhammer. If I end up enjoying Warhammer, that will likely be my MMO of choice for the forseeable future. But, even if I end up not enjoying Warhammer, I don’t see any reason for me to return to WoW. I’d rather catch up on single player games that I missed, or return to Eve Online, or try Vanguard, or return to LoTRO. I feel like I’ve exhausted everything I want to do in Azeroth. There’s no point in returning to WoW. There’s no housing, no meaningful economy, no PvP that affects the world around me. All I can do is consume their new content like a tourist, and I’m tired of that. Once I see it, once I level up, what’s left to do for someone who doesn’t raid? Not much, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be skipping the Lich King expansion because of it.

If I do succumb to Lich King curiousity and re-subscribe, it won’t be a long term experience. It would be virtual tourism, not a virtual home.

However, I realize that there are millions of players who do continue to enjoy what WoW has to offer, and will happily raid and PvP in the new expansion. I’m in no way predicting the failure of this expansion. In fact, I expect Blizzard to stay at the top of the MMO heap for quite a long time. I don’t see any possible successors to the throne in the upcoming generation of MMO’s. I’m just saying that I don’t think the chances of Blizzard regaining my subscription money is very high. I’m guessing there are other gamers who feel the same way I do, but I don’t think we’re going to make a very big dent in their overall numbers.

Anyone who wants to talk about AoC or Warhammer eating some of Blizzard’s Subscriber Pie has to also consider this fact: A major factor in Blizzard’s huge subscriber base is their worldwide appeal. Almost half (if not more than half) of their subscribers are outside the US and Europe, I believe. Please correct me if you have more current data! Assuming that’s close to correct, what are the chances of Warhammer or AoC drawing significant subscribers from beyond the US and European market? Do Chinese or Korean gamers care about WAR or AoC at all? If any MMO is going to seriously affect Blizzard’s stranglehold on subscriber numbers, it’s going to have to have worldwide appeal. You can’t compete with WoW unless you win over the Chinese subscriber market. Even if Warhammer won over all the current US and European WoW subscribers, I think think that would only be about 50% of WoW’s overall subscriber base. And what are the chances of everyone in Europe and the US choosing Warhammer?

I think Mark Jacobs is well aware of this, which is why he has stated that he doesn’t expect Warhammer to compete with WoW subscriber totals. He does, however, expect WAR to be second to WoW. Given this chart, that means WAR will need over 1 million subscribers (surpassing Lineage and Lineage II, and not counting Runescape). If Warhammer hits those numbers, I think it’ll be a huge success. But it still won’t affect Blizzard all that much. Even if all 1 million eventual WAR subscribers cancelled a WoW account to play, Blizzard would just go from Really Incredibly Freaking Profitable to Incredibly Freaking Profitable. I suspect they’ll continue their market dominance for some time to come.

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10 Responses

  1. People are beginning to realize that there is no game currently that can compete with those subscriber numbers.

    Of course WoW will decline eventually. But at this rate, it is declining at a glacier pace. Slooooowly ebbing away at the edges.

    My best guess is that Blizzard’s next MMO is released before we ever see a large decline in WoW’s subscribers. Win-win for Blizzard.

    Oh, and I can’t wait to see this sentence in a forum someday:

    “WoW2 is such a WoW clone”.

  2. Like I’ve said before, I don’t see a lot of new people coming in to play War or AoC. These games aren’t for the newbie MMO player, they are for the hardcore player. So some company is going to lose customers, the question is if not WoW then who?

  3. @Nick, I was thinking about Everquest and their subscriber numbers. They peaked around 550k, I think, and they’re probably around 100k now, roughly? If I make up numbers and call their current subscribers one sixth of their peak, and if WoW declines similarly to EQ, WoW will still have around 1.5 million subscribers at the 10 year mark. Yikes.

    @Oakstout, that’s a good point. I suspect that at least some WoW players will maintain two accounts. I also think there’s a small number of MMO players who aren’t playing WoW that are ready to move to WAR. I don’t know if those other gamers are uncommitted (not currently dating other MMO’s), or if they’re playing LoTRO, AoC, Eve Online, CoH, Tabula Rasa, EQ, EQ2, Vanguard, Guild Wars, etc. If you add all those people up, it’s not an insignificant number. Maybe you pull 500k subscribers from games that aren’t WoW, or from former WoW players not currently still playing WoW (like me). Then maybe you pull another 500k from WoW. That puts Mythic at a million subs, with barely a dent in WoW’s numbers.

    Even if you make it 800k subs from current WoW players, and 200k subs from other games, it’s still not even 10% of Blizzard’s base. I’m not saying that Blizzard won’t lose customers. I’m just saying it’s not really going to affect them in a huge way.

  4. Also, you have to look at a game long term. Example. AoC sold over 400,000 boxes. Thats great for a game just out of the gate, but doesn’t reflect the number of subs that will stay after 30days. So really you can’t really gauge a game untill they’ve been out a year.

    Look at LOTRO, its still going strong, but it lost a lot of its subs after the 30days. Also, a lot of people bought the life time membership, so they might not be actively playing the game any more but can come back at any time for free.

    Things like this you have to examine up close, you can’t just use raw box sales as a measure of how well a game is doing.

  5. “There’s no point in returning to WoW. There’s no housing, no meaningful economy, no PvP that affects the world around me.”

    My own feelings exactly. I want more in an MMO. I want something deeper — I want guilds being more than just a chat channel, I want housing, I want a better crafting system. Don’t get me wrong, I loved WoW; however, I’ve since “broken up” with Azeroth and don’t feel any need to go back. Why would I, when things are going to be the same, with the same problems and same issues? Sure, there were some great times, but (like an actual real life relationship) those memories are best left as memories.

    I know from experience that going back will never give me the same feeling — believe me, I’ve tried a couple of times to go back to WoW, start fresh, whatever, and after perhaps a couple of days I stare at the screen and think, “What’s the point?”

    I’d rather look for “someone” new to me, rather than put all my effort and time into a “relationship” that isn’t going anywhere or that I’ve already outgrown.

  6. @Oakstout – Yep, true again. Most of the time, I’m talking or thinking about subscribers, not box sales. It’s interesting to see how many people are pre-ordering a game, but whether they’re still playing six months later is the test of the game’s longevity.

    @Mallika – WoW was good for a long time, longer than a lot of games for me, mostly due to the quality of the play. I do want more in an MMO, but it’s to WoW’s credit that I played as long as I did, and enjoyed it as long as I did, without those other elements we’re looking for. So, I broke up with WoW, but I do have some fond memories too :)

  7. OK I have to mention..since I am a data person that chart is so inaccurate and wrong…LOTR was not released until 2007…sooo why showing data from mid 1998?

    L2CHART

    PS They are predicting that WAR will do better than AOC due to PC requirements being lower…myself I am buying new pc currently and plan on quiting wow and going to AOC…love their physics and graphics…toons are actually solid…who would have thought…wow is great for people under the age of 15 but AOC is definatley something I have been waiting for..

  8. They’re showing data since mid 1998 because that’s the dawn of the modern MMO. Ultima Online was released in mid ’97, Lineage was released in mid ’98, then Everquest in ’99. How does including that data make the chart inaccurate?

    LoTRO is shown at its proper release date in 2007. Are you confusing the Lineage plot points with LoTRO? Lineage is yellow with triangles, LoTRO is yellow with diamonds.

    I’m going to bet we’ll see more people in WAR than AoC because historically, open-PvP games don’t hold subscribers as well as non open-PvP games. You’re right that lower PC requirements will also benefit WAR. Neither of those facts mean that you’re wrong for wanting to play AoC, and AoC definitely provides a unique MMO experience. It’s beautiful, it’s harsh, and it’s challenging.

    Last week Tobold mentioned “miracle patches” for AoC, and if Funcom can keep that up, there’s no reason they can’t carve out a successful home in the MMO market.

  9. well this all comes down to game design because WoW has a old game engine and is slowly becoming obsolete(well is just starting to become obsolete) so my prediction is that in the next few years WoW will start to loose subscriber to newer next generation MMO’s.

    It could be any game to take the MMO throne we will just have to find out.

  10. It is possible that the massive number of subscribers playing wow may not go anywhere on leaving the game.

    Many people see wow as having mainstreamed mmos but it might just be a singular phenomenon.

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