World of Warcraft wants you to get off its lawn. The massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) is almost seven years old, which is something like a hundred years old in MMORPG years. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but World of Warcraft is definitely getting a little creaky in its joints.
During a recent earnings conference call, Blizzard admitted that there has been a bit of a gradual decline in the game’s subscriber numbers. “[W]e experienced a slight decrease in subscribership during Q2, closing the quarter at 11.1 million subscribers worldwide,” said Blizzard President Mike Morhaime during the call. But Morhaime also pointed out that such slides are inevitable when an online game is in between expansions. “In terms of subscriber growth around the world, what I would say is what we have seen is that subscribership tends to be seasonal and driven by content updates and so as we are heading further away from an expansion launch, it’s normal to seasoned declines where the team is currently working on our largest content update since Cataclysm, and that will hit later this year.”
The next World of Warcraft expansion will certainly perk up interest in the game, but in the long term, World of Warcraft might be in the sunset of its undisputed reign over the online gaming landscape. The free-to-play model is letting players experiment in all kinds of fantasy lands, which gives them pause before committing to paying out rent to the land of Azeroth. World of Warcraft recently went free-to-play until level 20, but consider its competition: Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and the big beastie looming on the horizon: Star Wars:The Old Republic. World of Warcraft is no longer the obvious choice in what was once an under-realized genre.
This is not to suggest that World of Warcraft is “DEEEEAD!” As Blizzard’s Morhaime stated, a new expansion will act like a shot of adrenaline, and people will dust off their accounts to see what’s going on in ol’ Azeroth. Even when the novelty of the expansion wears off, World of Warcraft will still command respect as a dependable veteran in what’s still a very young genre. As long as Blizzard keeps pouring attention into the game, there will always be a solid fanbase. The difference is that World of Warcraft will probably wind up sharing the highest plateau with other MMORPGs, something it’s never done before. That, however, hardly spells doom for the game. In fact, a little competition will help keep World of Warcraft young, even if its dated visuals still speak of its age.
If you doubt the long-term vitality of World of Warcraft, consider that its predecessor, EverQuest, is still kicking around. Going further back in time, Ultima Online still commands a fanbase–though its subscriber base is admittedly quite tiny.
It goes to show, however, that it can be difficult to detach oneself from a comfortable MMORPG, even when something newer and shiner enters the fray. World of Warcraft may not reign on top of the world forever, but it will retain a faithful player base for as long as Blizzard lets everyone chill in Azeroth.