At one point, it was earning more than some small countries did in an entire year. It also had a population that, had it been a real country, would have allowed it a seat at the U.N. I'm talking here about World of Warcraft, one of the biggest video game
juggernaut franchises ever. But with World of Warcraft's revenues beginning to sputter, membership in the decline, and a lot of competitors in the fray, how exactly does one follow one of the biggest games ever? Well, that's what I'm going to look at today.
First, a note of disclosure. I was once a World of Warcraft gamer. Several years back--I believe I've been Warcraft-free now for over six years--I ran a dwarf hunter. I had a pet bear which I called "Grylls" after the same gent of "Man Vs. Wild
" fame (to the best of my knowledge he never once drank his own urine), and had to borrow my initial gold to buy a mount when I hit level 40. So I know a thing or two about Warcraft, and I also know why I left.
So what should show up in the next big Blizzard MMO franchise? Well, there's already some talk about Titan, and how it's getting delayed until 2016 while the game is retooled and made ready for launch. This is probably a good thing, really; sure, World of Warcraft is losing subscribers at a fairly good clip, but for Blizzard to bring out a half-baked followup would be a downright tragedy, and would likely cost more in the long run.
Not much is known right now about the supposed follow-up, Titan, so a lot of speculation will likely prove worthwhile. One potential route is for Blizzard to go a "Warcraft 40K" route, taking its popular races and advancing them into the future. This isn't an idea without merit, but it might be seen as too derivative.
Blizzard will likely also be under a lot of pressure to go to a free to play
stance, especially given how many games are taking such a stance. Free to play has been seen to work previously, and Blizzard certainly has the player base to make people think that free to play would work--especially given how many gamers would come back to a free to play stance--but maybe this is about more than just price structures and storylines.
Not long ago, I took a round with Defiance, the new Xbox Live only game that was, essentially, a console MMO. I had a lot of fun with that game, actually, not least of all because the solo quests were engrossing enough to keep my interest and the group quests were a lot of fun. I'd only been playing for a couple hours when I got the chance to go after an artifact with a group, but sure enough, I managed to take the fifth place slot on the leaderboard, mostly because I did a lot of healing. It was engrossing. It was outright fun. And I didn't mind paying that Xbox Live subscription cost because I was enjoying myself.
Gamers today are looking for a bit more than go here / get that / come back / repeat until bored, and that's going to have to be one of the things that Blizzard will likely need to do. That value proposition isn't going to come out by itself, and if Blizzard wants to recover its lost player base, it's going to have to start with making a fun experience again.