With my time returning to World of Warcraft, I have come to the same conclusion, independently, that much of the blogosphere seems to already know: the thing that will kill World of Warcraft is World of Warcraft. Their hubris will be their downfall. This will be, unfortunately and as hopelessly optimistic as I was in starting this, my last degree of WoW.
My biggest worry when re-entering World of Warcraft after having not played it for three years was the feeling of playing catch up the entire time. I am a very casual player. I like to get in grind mode occasionally for loot or leveling, but I also like to explore both areas and quests. I had plenty to explore in World of Warcraft. However, I would be exploring mostly alone. I saw people here and there on both my blood elf in the blood elf starting zone and death knight in the outlands, but it was almost awkward. It was as if we did not really expect to see each other there, and secretly did not want to. It felt kind of like meeting an old high school buddy at the mall.
On global chat and guild chat, I continually saw the nightly events for some raid (mostly max-level Ulduar), but I never saw anything for Outlands. I tried to get a group for “ramps,” some early dungeon in the Outlands. After 15 minutes on a Friday night, I managed to get one other death knight in my party. I could not take this type of gameplay any longer. It actually destroyed my will to play MMOs for a weekend.
This is how WoW will eat itself. Players just starting or returning and 20 levels behind will hit a lonely cliff face. At the top they will hear something of a party, but the climb is long. This is not something a developer should want. If anything a returning player should be surrounded with activity.
For prosperity’s sake, I want to take a look at what one of Blizzard’s main MMO competitors is doing. Turbine is roughly following World of Warcraft’s expansion system and increasing the level cap by ten every expansion. As with World of Warcraft, this increases the time a new player will catch up to the majority of the active player base. Unlike Blizzard, Turbine is constantly updating and smoothing out the early play experience. This has dual benefits. New players experience some of the freshest content created by developers who are intimately familiar with the game, and old players can create an alt, not just to grind up to max level, but to experience the new content.
An MMO requires new blood to survive. Otherwise both the player base and developers stagnate. When stagnation occurs, the shiny new grass that Developer X just planted for open beta looks all the more enticingly sweet. WoW tourists become WoW ex-pats all the quicker, and there are plenty of new countries springing up in 2009-2010. I kind of doubt 11.5 million is a current population statistic, and unlikely to be beat. We’ll see if and how Blizzard ever deals with this problem. If they do, I might be able to return.
left you with nothing but they want some more