It’s a big Blizzard-y world out there, this week
Once again, Activision Blizzard dominates the Into Gaming feature. Why, you ask? I mean, hey, World of Warcraft is down to a paltry 5.6 million active subscribers. Who cares if that’s still more than the next three subscription MMOs combined? Who cares if Hearthstone’s release in a smartphone sized version has increased game activity by 31% and led to more than $20 million dollars in optional purchases last month?
World of Warcraft did indeed have a decline in active subscribers. This is understandable given that the gamer blogs and news sites were speculating that we had seen all the new content for the current expansion that we were going to see, and Blizzard all but confirmed that by saying they would have a special announcement at Gamescon on August 6th. The pre-expansion burnout is a time-honored tradition among WoW players, so the drop didn’t surprise me at all. It is worth noting, however, that this is the lowest number of active subscribers in ten years. The king of MMOs is definitely feeling the pinch from the increasing numbers of AAA quality games that have adopted a subscription free model, whether that’s buy to play like Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online, or free to play like Rift.
So what about that August 6th announcement?
Yes indeed, we have a new expansion on the horizon. World of Warcraft: Legion has been unveiled and will be coming to a computer near you…well they haven’t said, yet, but Blizzard loves them some holiday shopping dollars, so my money is on sometime before Christmas.
Legion refers to the Burning Legion, the big bad guys responsible for all the really terrible stuff that happened on Azeroth a really long time ago, and now they’re back looking to finish the job. There will be a new continent, The Broken Isles, and players will finally journey to the Tomb of Sargeras, an especially onerous big bad guy who was imprisoned eons ago.
Character level cap increases to 110 and there is a new class, the Demon Hunter. It appears to be a physical-magical hybrid damage dealer, visually a throwback to the Burning Crusade expansion, so if you ever thought Illidan, the villain from that expansion, looked cool and thought you’d like to get you some of that green fire for yourself, well, demon hunters are right in your wheelhouse, then.
No word about Garrisons at all. One of the most highly anticipated features of the current expansion, Warlords of Draenor, player garrisons have become the popular thing to hate in the game right now. I’m not sure they are quite as awful as the haters make them out to be, but on the Internet as soon as enough people turn against something, then EVERYONE has to hate it, or you’re no longer cool. It would seem that in Legions, your Garrison will become something you go visit when you want to waste some time.
But we will have Class Halls, although we aren’t really certain yet how they will work. But it sure is cool to think about all the paladins hanging out together, and Blizzard has indicated that each class will have their own faction, so to speak, and for paladins the Silver Hand will be making a comeback. Okay, you roleplaying lore geeks, go ahead and squeal. I know you want to.
Will Legion save World of Warcraft?
First, we must acknowledge that the game is still the most popular subscription MMO on the market, and by a wide margin. Final Fantasy XIV might claim four million accounts but there are likely only around one million active subscriptions. So WoW hardly needs saving in the traditional sense. But there is certainly some luster gone from the shining armor of the grand game, and asking whether Legion is enough to polish things up or whether the game has jumped the shark is a fair question.
I think what’s changed is that before, players would keep their subscriptions active while waiting to see what Blizzard would do next, suspending them briefly when a new expansion was on the way. But now we’ve seen a lot more players willing to suspend those accounts simply when they are bored with the game, because there are so many other games to play without any financial burden.
Will Legion reverse that? I don’t think so. I think that Blizzard, behind the scenes, is now thinking hard about how they transition World of Warcraft to a new subscription free revenue model. I think the change is still a couple years away, but I now think that it is inevitable. What about you? Are you looking forward to this new WoW expansion, or dreading it? Let us know. We’d love to air your comments.
That’s Into Gaming, I’m Mark Lautenschlager.