World of Warcraft subscriptions slip
Are MMO games running out of breath?
Mass multiplayer online games appear to be in decline, with World of Warcraft subscriptions down ten per cent, titles like Star Trek Online adopting the free-to-play model and the kid-friendly Lego Universe shutting up shop completely.
During Activision Blizzard's investor call yesterday, the company announced WoW subscriptions had fallen to 10.3 million, down from the 11.4 million users playing the game in March 2011, WoW Insider reports.
While Blizzard insists most of the loss came from Asian countries, it declined to provide a subscriber forecast. A sign that the future might not be looking so bright? WoW's next expansion pack, Mists of Pandaria, is on the way soon, so the figures could creep up again.
Yet the masses appear reluctant to pay to play, especially when there are so many free offerings around. One of WoW's MMO challengers, Star Trek Online, is adopting a free-to-play model, which will kick off on 17 January 2012.
As reported by IGN, developer Cyptic's Stephen D'Angelo said: "We tried to make it free-to-play at the original launch, but our publisher [Atari] didn't want us doing that, so we didn't."
The developer has since found players don't like paying for content and it has had to revisit the economy of the game, making it harder to acquire the high-end loot and in-game perks in order to keep people interested.
In these grim economic times, people are certainly weary of reaching into their pockets, even when it comes to keeping their children entertained. This is epitomised by the death of a more kiddy-centric MMO, Lego Universe, which has announced it will close its doors on 31 January 2012.
Those who have already subscribed beyond this date will be offered refunds and the final month of the game free. But if a mega franchise like Lego can't pull enough numbers in to make its game financially viable, it doesn't look good for the others out there.
It'll be interesting to see whether Star Wars: The Old Republic, will indeed be the WOW killer it once proclaimed to be. Perhaps it won't be lightsabres that bring an end to the Warcraft dominance after all, though. ®
I don't think Pokemon: Kung Fu Pandas in the Mist Edition will be seeing an upswing in WoW subs here in the west.
If it does then I weep for today's youth / humanity etc.
I suspect it's not just people not wanting to pay but, after a while, the games get stale. No matter how much new shiny pixelcrack you pack the game out with it still just boils down to grind, grind grind...
Mind, I cancelled my WoW subscription after just a month or so after I worked out how much time you actually spent travelling from one place to another either by horse (well, nightmare like thing, I was an undead warlock) or by Zeppelin/Gryphon/whatever; you effectively spend about 30% of your time doing, well, feck all (and that's before you go into guild/graphical chatroom mode).
Though my biggest gripe with MMOs is, well, the multiplayer part of it... what I would like is a large, persistent world in which you can either go off on your own, mash up some mid-level monsters and get some decent loot (a la Diablo), or do mule work like crafting or mining, or get together with a group of people to try and take on proper big 'n' nasties... basically, something like Ultima Online from about 8 years ago (before they introduced Paragons to Ilshenar).
However most MMOs tend to assume you _always_ want other people with you all the time so they make most of the PvM either utterly drab and without reward or basically impossible for single play so logging on at 3am during a bout of insomnia is pointless as the rest of your mates/guild will be offline.
Since the games pretty much force you into guilds you then find you'll have guild events which you should probably attend ... and yeah, sometimes you just can't bothered or have better things to do and the "game" you're supposed to be playing for a bit of fun starts becoming more like, well, a job :\
I'm sure Warcraft IV will be announced as soon as they finish heart of the swarm, Diablo 3 and the protoss SC2 expansion. 2019 is probably looking a good bet.
Free to Play
There are no (non-trivial) free to play games, someone pays or they go bust. The mechanisms used to induce some to pay generally make the games suck.
Monthly subscription only works for the biggest and best. If you are going to pay 15 bucks a month for one game you are going to pick the biggest and best game going and probably play the hell out of it because you already paid for it. That is why WoW dominates and all the also-rans are folding or moving to (not really)free to play models.
Sorry state of affairs really. I would like to see pay-as-you-play models, it works for mobiles. Giving away plenty of free 'minutes' removes any barrier to entry and makes it free to play a little and cheap to play a lot because more players are paying and you don't need sucky mechanisms to induce payment.
I was a long time WoW player to the point where it almost consumed my life and I remember frothing at the mouth when the first ex-pac was to be released.
Burning Crusade came and went and the jade started to set in. I was never in a hardcore raiding guild so a lot of the top end stuff I never got to play, no matter how much time and effort I sunk in.
Then Wrath of The Lich King arrived. A few small scale features that didn't really add much apart from the new class, which involved revisiting content I'd already gone through a dozen times before, with dungeon runs consisting of 5 death knight teams. -.-
That was the point when I quit. Cataclysm was released and for a little while I was tempted to go back and see the new changes. Then I remembered that the good memories I have of WoW (and there are more than a few) were all from the old content - the endless Scholomance runs, dying in Zul'Gurub, the fishing contest and exploring with guildmates.
All those are gone forever.
I don't know if there's anything that would make me go back to WoW but what I do know is that it'll take more than a panda and a new class.