The Rumors Of Azeroth's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Because World of Warcraft is approaching the decade mark, its player base is declining. Even though the player base is not as strong as it once was, a number of fans still log onto World of Warcraft and play out an expansion just to see its story lines unfold.
Every MMORPG Does Get Old And Stale Eventually
World of Warcraft is nearly a decade old. Blizzard produced the most successful massively multiplayer roleplaying game of all time. WoW unseated Sony Online Entertainment's Everquest, A number of other MMO developers attempted to create a WoW killer. None succeeded. The recent candidate that has a much better chance of success than many of the earlier company's is Bioware and Mythic's Star Wars: the Old Republic.
Decline Is To Be Expected In Any Game
World of Warcraft, like other games before it, became and stale. People become tired of the game and quit. other players try new games that match their tastes. WoW may be a fantasy game with steampunk elements, but the game offers little that distinguishes it from its competitors.
Blizzard has a rich tradition of storytelling that is unmatched by its competitors. When a player sees the cinematics, they get the feeling they are in a thriving, evolving world. Blizzard's tradition of rich story tellingwas set by Starcraft and the earlier Warcraft games. A player may have his favorite faction, but he gets the feeling that Blizzard is telling the stories of people who might exist somewhere else in the universe.
Symptoms Of World Of Wacraft's Player Base Decline
The most obvious symptom of an MMO's decline is a decline in server population. PvP servers have never been well-populated. Blizzard's assumption that PvP is a more popular option than PVE does little to help crowding on the game's normal servers.
When Blizzard starts closing servers, MMO analysts will know that the game has lost a large portion of its player base. It has a long way to go before losing its top spot. Similar trends occurred with the Dungeons and Dragons table top roleplaying game and the Magic: the Gathering collectible card game. These games are still played and maintain the number one spot in their respective genres.. It is likely that this will occur with the World of Warcraft universe.
Proposed Solutions To A Declining Player Base
Rapid expansions will not solve WoW's problem of a declining player base. Blizzard already offers one free and one paid expansion to players per year. Frequent expansions may help bring new players back to the base, but it may be seen by others as a greedy money grab. Rapid expansions are simply too costly for some players. Eve Online, another MMO that is not a direct competitor to WoW, does offer free expansions twice a year.
If Blizzard were to switch to Eve's fee expansion model, it may help with the declining player base. It would certainly keep players in the game longer. People would not need to buy the latest expansion when it comes out. Players would simply log on and receive the expansion while downloading information in the background.
However, rapid expansions will not stop players from leaving the game. What Blizzard needs to decide on is the appropriate niche for World of Warcraft. It already has the spot of the most popular fantasy mmorpg.
The Best Solution
If Blizzard wants to maintain a loyal player base, it needs to develop a more defined niche for World of Warcraft. Generic fantasy games are not unique, even if World of Warcraft is likely maintain the number one spot in this genre.
If WoW wants to develop its own flavor, it should take a look at the amount of steampunk options that are already in the game and play those up a little more. Fantasy purists may not like a dwarf running around with muskets and explosive sheep, but those are all things that give Azeroth its unique charm.
One thing Azeroth offers that many other games do not is a rich steampunk vein. Both the gnomes and the goblins contribute to the technology of the world. While these races and the engineering skill are included for flavor. They also help to reinforce the idea that Azeroth isn't the sword and sorcery fantasy setting that one would see in the Lord of the Rings or in Age of Conan. Because there is no steampunk offering at the moment, Blizzard could easily market WoW both to people who love fantasy roleplaying games and to people who like web comics like Girl Genius. It may be sometime before Blizzard even loses enough money for the loss of a few players to hurt the company.
Author's personal experience.
MMO Gamers Website.
All of the screenshots used were taken from World of Warcraft. Additional art from World of Warcraft Boxes.