While you can't blame the subscriber losses this expansion on one thing and one thing only there are a few things that stand out as glaring mistakes on the part of Blizzard that have caused some of the losses. It has been said before by many, myself included, that warcraft is not going to die that easily and no game is going to come in and take it out. The only thing that can kill warcraft is warcraft.
And it sure seems like they are attempting to do that.
Again, it is not one thing, but there is one thing that stands out to me looking back on things. The ease of game play is hurting warcraft more than anyone could have ever imagined. You would think that making a game more accessible would make it grow but it seems to be doing the exact opposite. The more they open the game to everyone, the easier they make the little things, the more subscribers they lose.
There is a reason for that and anyone that knows RPG games will know that reason without me even mentioning it.
The grind. Games like warcraft grew because of human addiction. People would start playing and it would take forever to do anything. It would create a sense of, just five more minutes. That 5 minutes turned into 5 hours, 5 days, or 5 months. There was no such thing as let me do this quick.
That is the key to the success of this type of game. You need to make it take as long as possible while not too long. It is a balance, like everything, to make the reward worth the time and make the time as long as possible. It keeps people playing.
That is why warcraft grew like it did in vanilla. No, not looking back with rose tinted glasses. I did not play in vanilla. I just know a little bit about human nature and addiction and as much as people like to say they hated the grind and they are glad it is gone, they would have done it if it were there.
It is that approach that made people play more. It is that approach that made people feel like they needed to log in every day. It is that approach that made people prideful in the pixels they had online because they felt like they earned it. It is that approach that made people think there was something worth aiming for. Even to a new player seeing someone in all those nice shiny pixels knew that if they put in the time and effort they too could have them. Nothing was elitist, it was all time based and with time and effort you too could be decked out in all epics. It is that approach that made warcraft grow. The approach that everything took time and everything could be earned by everyone with enough effort if they were willing to invest it.
The grind has many beneficial factors for a game like this and for its success it needs to have some sort of time sink that the player wants to do. If there is no time sink, the game starts to lose the interest of the players. As we have seen this expansion.
The grind keep people doing something to get to a goal they deem beneficial. If the grind takes time they spend time playing to do it. If they are spending time playing to do it there is less time they have to try other games. If they can not try other games, they can not leave to move on to them.
The grind makes people feel like they accomplished something. The longer the grind the more time they invested to get it done the more they feel prideful in what they have done. The more time they invest the less likely they will be to just up and quit because they have invested so much time in the game and achieved so much that was hard and time consuming to do.
The grind is an artificial way of creating content. If people are forever grinding to get something they are less in need of getting new content. Once people have done everything they need to do they start looking for more content. Hence the reason most people are dreading right now in the game.
The beauty of a grind system is that you can always go back for it. If new content comes out and you did not finish a previous grind you can always go back to it. So saying that the majority of the player base will be left behind if the grind is too intensive is wrong. They will just skip that grind and move to the new grind for the new content. Then, if they have time one day, there is that old grind that is still there for them to do, as extra content.
With cataclysm everything became near instant.
The reputations were put on a tabard and as people enter the random system and spam dungeon they become exalted doing something you were going to do anyway as soon as you hit 85, grind dungeons for gear. So it took no time and no effort.
Leveling became too quick, so much so that I would guess a nice portion of the players they lost were alt-a-holics. Those people like to level. If leveling is too quick people run out of things to do fast. I know some people that have been playing since vanilla and never had more than 2 max level characters, ever. Now they have all 10 slots on a server filled. Even myself, I never had more than five and I am pushing 20 now. Thanks to fast leveling.
While I do agree with the blizzard mantra that all people should be allowed to raid I do not believe in the way they added it as it takes away from content. Yes, everyone could raid. But not everyone is ready to raid instantly. It is the grinding to become a raider that keeps the non raiders that would like to raid interested.
When people needed to grind gear, even with valor or emblems, and needed to get better, just so they could get into a raid group and see the content it gave them something to do. Now, you get into raid finder, do not need any skill and you get to see all the content.
This effectively removed a fair deal of content for players. Those same players that would do a little here and there slowly gearing up and then hoping for a group that could down content in a pug they could spend weeks, months or even a year before seeing the content they wanted. Now, they just enter the LFR and it is done, removing another very important grind.
Grinds are good because they take time and the more time you make people invest in your game the more connected they become with it and the longer they play it. When you give them everything they want quickly they do what they want and they move along.
And that is why warcraft is bleeding subscriptions.
For the average game player, not myself because I am a geek, but for the average game player there is nothing to offer any more. The ease of the game to get everything you want faster and easier means that people run out of things to do faster and easier and they leave the game, presumably to find something else to do. And that will be the eventual death of warcraft. Them pushing people away by letting them finish thing too quickly.
The idea of ease, and letting people do all the things they want to do with less time and less effort means people are done doing what they want to do faster and they leave the game.
If warcraft ever wants to get back to the numbers the used to have they are going to need to make the game more of a grind. As much as people say they hated that, that is what kept them playing. Hate it or not, grinding is good design that keeps people invested in the game.