WARNING: INCOMING RANT; Are MMOs a Passing Fad? World of Warcraft Exploring The Idea of Microtransactions

I know I’m a few days late to the party on this one, but news broke over the 4th of July weekend that Blizzard is exploring the idea of putting microtransactions in their flagship MMO game World of Warcraft.

It made me wonder if WoW is starting to fall off in terms of popularity. I personally do not play anymore, but I played the game for a good number of years starting in the Burning Crusade expansion pack and making my way up to the latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria.

This, however, was where I quit playing. After all the time I spent with WoW  and finally reaching end-game raiding in Cataclysm, WoW’s 3rd expansion, I didn’t have it in me to make that trek again.

A big issue I had with WoW was the streamlining of talent trees. First they went from 52 point trees to 36 point trees. This was a good compromise. It still gave you a feeling of accomplishment along with the thought that you were able to create your character as you wanted it.

As time has progressed however, you now literally click one button every 15 levels until endgame. There are no longer talent tress, now they are more akin to feats that one would get in a pen and paper game.

Another issue I have with WoW is the constant additions of new stuff. Not dungeons or raids or PvP focused content, but just…stuff.

First it was the cross-realm dungeon finder. This enabled players to completely skip the story of the game to more or less power-level and make it to the vaunted end-game (which a former WoW developer attributes to killing the genre). Then came the cross-realm raid finder. This enabled players to pick up a random group to do a dumbed-down version of the 25-man end-game raids (which people still complained were too hard). Then came the “Pokemon Battle” mechanic for the vanity pets and the “Farmville” cooking mechanic where you plant and harvest your own crops.

While trying to appeal to everyone, they are beginning to lose their fanbase. While numbers hold steady at around 8 million they are at thelowest subscription numbers they’ve seen in years shedding 1.3 million subscribers in Q1 2013.

Many viable alternatives to WoW are emerging as well, some of the bigger names in the MMO realm such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 are above 2 million and 3 million players respectively. SW:TOR recovered from a dismal launch by dropping their subscription model and going free-to-play with an optional subscription. Eve Online has surpassed half a million, and it is not nearly as popular as the aforementioned games.

The Secret World was another big name stepping into the MMO arena this year, and even they stood to gain by dropping the subscription model that WoW still clings to, moving over 70,000 copies in a month after going free-to-play.

Make no mistake, they are still the undisputed king of the MMO arena, however, they continue to face harsh oppostion from up and comers like Guild Wars 2, the soon to be re-released Final Fantasy XIV and themselves really.

The microtransaction talk to me is an indication that Blizzard is starting to feel the effects of WoW’s decline in popularity. This is a last ditch effort to continue to make money from the subscribers that they have while continuing the path of making the game “more accessible” to people who may not identify as a “hardcore gamer”.

To me, part of the fun of a game is challenge. Even while frustrating, there is an immense sense of accomplishment when downing a boss, getting that new gear, or hitting 56k DPS in your heroics, and WoW no longer has that. They just keep homogenizing, streamlining, and sharpening the game to a fine tip and WoW is the sharpest and shiniest blade on the shelf.

However, like a friend said to me regarding the matter, “You can only sharpen a sword so much before there is nothing left.”

 (Archived rant, original post from Tumblr on July 8th, 2013)