16 Nov 2015 7:53 PM +00:00 UTC

World of Warcraft Developer Tackles Problem of Decreasing Subscription Numbers

In its prime, MMORPG World of Warcraft had a massive numbers of subscribers. We're talking millions and millions of players. Currently though, this number is down to 5.5 million, which is the lowest number of subscribers since 2005. World of Warcraft executive producer J Allen Brack sat down with Polygon during BlizzCon to talk about the numbers, and how Blizzard's WoW team is responding to the decline.

"One of problems that we have as a team and that I think the community has as well is this perception that there's a direct relationship between the number that we announce and the health of that community, and the health of that business," Brack said. "That's not really true. I wouldn't say that World of Warcraft is necessarily half as successful now as in previous times."

Brack goes on to say that "For us, the team can't focus on how to make a quest that adds a hundred thousand more subscribers. How does this raid boss retain people for five months longer? You're going to drive yourself crazy as a developer doing that. The only thing we can do is focus on good experiences, focus on learning everything that we can and trying to put it into what we're working on and make World of Warcraft the best thing that it can be."

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Brack and his team have added some conveniences to the WoW experience, to make the game easier for former subscribers and their friends to return to. One example of this was the level boost option included in the last expansion, Warlords of Draenor, which instantly took a character to level 90. Similarly, in the upcoming expansion Legion, an included level boost token will allow a character to instantly jump to level 100. This will allow players to try out new classes that they never had the time to level. There will even be a new tutorial system to help players adjust to their newly leveled characters. The level boost token won't be consumed until after the tutorial is complete, so if you try something like the Rogue class but don't like it, you can boost a different class instead.

I think the instant level boost token is a double-edged sword. Yes, it makes game content more accessible and less overwhelming for new or returning players, but it also devalues the time and hard work that World of Warcraft veterans have put into their max-level characters. Still, it's probably for the best at this point, because WoW is over a decade old, and losing players fast.

J Allen Beck also mentioned at BlizzCon that the team is looking to introduce smaller patches in-between expansions, which have historically been released every 2 years or so. This will eliminate some of the downtime where players have no new content, and hopefully keep some of them around for longer. Production of the Legion expansion has also been sped up, which is why it will launch about 6 months earlier than a new expansion normally would.

I have to applaud Blizzard for continuing to support and innovate for a game that's almost half as old as I am. Still, it makes me wonder when or if Blizzard is going to move on and make a new MMO, or relaunch WoW with more modern visuals and mechanics. Square Enix decided to move on from Final Fantasy XI (though continuing to support it), and we've seen the great success the company has had with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Still, 5.5 million people are still enjoying World of Warcraft, which is still providing Blizzard with substantial income. And with more expansions in the works, it doesn't look like the WoW team is planning to slow down any time soon.

Source: Polygon