Are Blizzard Digging Their Own Grave For WoW?

An interesting interview on Wired with Blizzard’s Chief Operating Officer Paul Sams (thanks to Tobold for the link) made me a little concerned about the subscription thought process behind Blizzard’s next MMORPG. Although the interview was likely designed to intrigue and encourage us about Blizzard’s next project (still unnamed, by the way), it had the opposite effect on me and made me wonder something – are Blizzard just digging their own grave for World of Warcraft?

To paraphrase the interview, Blizzard are essentially creating a new MMO which will be “significantly differentiated enough” as to not cannibalize existing players from WoW. Yes, it seems that Blizzard are actually under the impression that if they create a new MMORPG that is different enough from WoW, players will actually choose to subscribe to both. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone, aside from bloggers, who subscribes to more than MMO at a time and, if they do, actually has enough to time to actively play them all.

Now, that’s not to say that no one will opt to have two subscriptions or manage to maintain an active presence in both games but I do feel that they will be in the vast minority. I’m currently subscribed to two MMOs (EVE Online and World of Warcraft) and I don’t have enough time to play both in the quantities that I would like, so, ultimately my maintaining of multiple subscriptions falls down to the fact that I can afford it without strain and love the MMORPG genre so much. However, I think that most gamers – particularly WoW ones – are very unlikely to maintain two subscriptions for an extended period of time because they just aren’t hardcore MMO players. Whether Blizzard like it or not, ultimately they are going to lose a big chunk of their WoW player base to their next MMO and I just hope that they aren’t not counting on this fact. Apologies for the double negative there :)

You also have the Chinese issue. Wired (annoyingly) did the old “11.5 million” players routine when introducing WoW yet failed to mention that 2/3 or so of this number is actually made up by Asian gamers who pay to play by the hour. Of course they can’t play two games at once which means if Blizzard launch their MMO in China it’s highly unlikely that they will make any more money than they currently do – they’re profits will come from new gamers alone, not existing ones, and any player that switches won’t give them any more money other than the initial box purchase.

Perhaps we’ll see a Blizzard “all access subscription” like SOE’s and that wouldn’t be so bad but it would have to be at a reasonable price point to make it enticing. Regardless, Blizzard are certainly not going to make “11.5 million players x2″ with the release of their new MMO and, if they’re depending on this fact, then they might be naively putting the nails in their own coffin.

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31 Comments

  1. Jason says:

    I think perhaps you are reading that sentence differently than intended… by saying “which will be ’significantly differentiated enough’ as to not cannibalize existing players from WoW” I believe they mean that player won’t be leaving WoW for this game, not that they expect people to subscribe to both. They intend for the new game to appeal to a different demographic – i.e. it won’t be fantasy based DIKU-style RPG with level grinding and raiding.

    • Gordon says:

      It’s a good point but something I didn’t include in my post was another quote from Sams which says:

      “I think the game is going to be significantly differentiated enough. Such that, you’re not going to feel like they’re one in the same resulting in that you have to pick or choose. My feeling is that they’re distinct enough to where you’re going to say, “Okay, I have all my friends over here. I dig this, I have a lot of time and energy in this, I’ve got these characters and my guild, and this that and the other.” So I have connectivity there, and I want to continue that connectivity. But man, I think, “Well, this is awesome, and I want to go check this out too.””

      I took that to mean they’re basically thinking the new MMO will be so different people will opt to play both.

  2. Longasc says:

    The thing with MMORPGs is that they tend to cannibalize the userbase of each other. What made WoW great was that it appealed not non-MMO-players. They recruited their RTS-Warcraft II/Starcraft fanbase into playing MMOs.

    This is also what makes us as UO/EQ players special and better than these scrubs, never forget that! :>

    Which demographic is Blizzard going to suck into MMO gaming next?
    One should also not forget, a lot of what he said was blablabla the usual interview babble. Blizz is great, the gamer is what it is all about, did you not know that already? Now you got it told… again. :)

    WoW cannot last forever. It is already a phenomenon. Ultima Online is still running but at much much lower subscriber numbers.
    They can and even MUST cannibalize their own MMO if they want to be the undisputed no.1 in the western MMO market. Given the huge Blizzard adoring fanbase, they can dare to introduce new IP and have a huge chance at success even if it is only good – the fandom will make it great.

    • Gordon says:

      The big difference between single player games and MMOs is that single player games have a much short life span and people have no objection to buying mulitple ones. MMOs however tend to be regarded as something which should last the gamer for months (at least) and they tend to only have 1 active subscription at a time.

      The best thing for Blizzard would be if they can tap into new MMO players rather than existing ones because I highly doubt people will play both their games.

      • Tesh says:

        I’ve put easily a hundred hours into pretty much any Puzzle Quest or Tactics game I have. They offer me *much* better value than *any* subscription game.

        • Gordon says:

          I think the only non-MMO games that I’ve really poured countless hours into were Final Fantasy VII and Civ 2. I guess I’ve just been sidetracked by MMORPGs since then.

          • Tesh says:

            Exactly why it’s not necessarily the MMO’s fault. If anything, I’d say that the *player* is the most important factor in how much time is spent on any given game. And when you get obsessive gamers, and find a way to monetize that, you can print money.

            Imagine if Nippon Ichi could make Disgaea into a sub game, or Square Enix doing that with a Final Fantasy. Er… yeah.

  3. Scarybooster says:

    I think by the time their new MMO comes out, WoW will be on a slop downward. I suspect it already is. Are they still holding 11.5mil? They might hope to grab ex-WoW players and bored current ones. WoW might survive for 10 years or more but they know their new MMO has to bring home the money or some other company will (Bioware).
    I just think it means they are not doing another fantasy based game. I hope they do a Sci-Fi to compete with SW:TOR and STO. I would like to see a Mech MMO too or Halo type

    • Gordon says:

      Well, another interesting thing from the article I noted was the “pressure” Blizzard seem to be under to produce expansions faster. No doubt the developers are being crucified over their slow deliveries as, considering everything works in peaks and troughs, they will be gaining a huge number of subscribers post expansion launch and then slowly losing them every month.

      I think we’ll certainly see the rate of WoW expansions increases, especially once their new MMO comes out to compete against it.

  4. Psynister says:

    A bit of an exaggeration if you ask me.

    Lets simplify the numbers here and say we’ve got 12 million users, and 50% are going to leave for the new game.

    So right now we have 12m users. MMO2 comes out and steals 50% leaving us with a 6m/6m split. Blizzard didn’t just kill themselves, they just switched users from one game to another.

    We will then assume, using simple numbers again, that 1m new people decide to try out the new game, so we now have a 6m/7m split, so Blizzard has increased profit regardless.

    Now, lets say 1m people stopped playing WoW all together before our 12m number was established because they hated it for whatever reason, but MMO2 gets them fired up so they join. Now we have 6m/8m split, and again Blizzard is making money.

    Out of the 2m that have joined, we’ll say 50% of them think the new game sucks too, “typical Blizzard, giving us the same crap with a different color, it’s just WoW Red”. So we drop down to 6m/7m split, and Blizzard still makes a profit.

    Are they aiming a bit high in their hopes of having people pick up both games at once without giving up one or the other? Absolutely. But is that going to hurt their profit margin? Not at all.

    The number of WoW players will drop, I have absolutely no doubt about that at all. There are enough people fed up with WoW but with no idea where else to go that they just stick with it anyway. There are also people like me that focus only on a single game at a time, so if I did switch to MMO2, then WoW would be left behind on principle, just because I don’t want to split my time between 2 games, and I’m certainly not going to do it when I have to pay for both of them.

    So, while I think Blizzard is thinking unrealisticly in their results, I in no way see this being the nails in anyones coffins save for Blizzards customers as they pull even more gamers that aren’t already roped into WoW.

    That’s my two copper.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, I agree it’s an exageration but I think it’s very interesting to explore. Take your examples for instance:

      Even if Blizzard ended up with a 6m/7m split, their net number of new users (and thus new subscribers) is *only* 1million. Now considering their current game has 11.5million, only gaining 1m from a complete new game is pretty low especially considering they would still be maintaining the ongoing costs of 11.5m players on WoW.

      Also, the Chinese factor is very interesting as Blizzard aren’t likely to make any more money from gamers who pay by the hour. The only way they can make more money from their existing Chinese player base is if those people play twice as much.

      I just find the whole thing ironic that Blizzard are probably the ones who end up taking down WoW!

  5. Stabs says:

    Firstly the numbers have always been padded. Probably North America + EU peaked at about 4-5 million and has been in decline since January. (We discussed at Wolfshead’s blog some of the ways in which they distort their statistics).

    It’s a bit desperate of them to be hyping future WoW features so soon after a patch release. There were major 3.3 spoilers within 2 days of 3.2 going Live. While it has drawn a few people back (such as Tobold) most players reflect that while Cataclysm looks interesting it’s probably a good 12 months off.

    Another factor that is iimportant to consider is what Longasc mentions. WoW cannibalised Blizzard players of other computer games genres. Blizzard fans hadn’t had anything before WoW for quite some time. Now Blizzard fans will be getting 4 major Blizzard games within about 12 months: Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, WoW: Cataclysm and the new MMO. They aren’t splitting their fanbase between 2 games they’re splitting it between 4.

    Lastly there is a real chance that some other MMO company with break the 300K – 500K subscriber limit that seems to have landed on the rest of the industry. There are a great many interesting games for 2009-10. Some of them may succeed.

    The people who have tried to compete with WoW and failed have mainly failed for really dumb reasons. Vanguard? My PC wouldn’t run it. AOC? I spent £700 upgrading and it still crashed 5 times a night. It’s inconceivable that WOW’s competition will continue to produce games you need to buy a new PC to run when it’s obvious that a big part of WoW’s and Eve’s success is that they run on 5 year old PCs.

    • Gordon says:

      It will be interesting to see what Blizzard do. I’ve not doubt that they’re next game will have reasonable PC requirements – they aren’t the type of company to make demanding games.

      And yes, if they’re happy with 500k subscribers then there’s no problem. Of course, if they’re expecting to draw another 12 million, well, that’s an issue.

    • ZachPruckowski says:

      “Now Blizzard fans will be getting 4 major Blizzard games within about 12 months: Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, WoW: Cataclysm and the new MMO.”

      There is absolutely no way the new MMO is going from unannounced to announced to demoed to beta testing to release in 12 months. It’ll be 2012 at the earliest before we’re playing this new MMO. And it’d be very surprising if Diablo 3 came out in 2010. They’ve publicly said they’re only targeting two releases in 2010 – StarCraft 2 and Cataclysm.

  6. As I’ve said a few times before, Blizzard’s luck in the Chinese market is unlikely to be duplicated, even by themselves. Witness the recent problems with changing WoW’s Chinese licensee and how the government held that up for several months. The Chinese government is very protectionist, and it’s not easy for a foreign company to get a game into the market.

    At any rate, it’ll be interesting to see. I agree with Gordon, I don’t think we’ll see even a majority of WoW’s population springing for another game. But, I think the most likely “win” scenario for Blizzard is that the new game attracts people who are throughly bored with WoW at that point. They may not gain a millions more players, but they’ll keep a large chunk of the millions they have outside the Asian markets and still be very profitable.

    My thoughts.

  7. Moorgard says:

    To say that Blizzard is acting “naively” is, well, naive. It is more likely that they are acting with calculated precision.

    For as large as the WoW audience still is, millions of gamers have cycled through the game at this point. Most of those didn’t leave with a hatred of Blizzard; they just felt it was time to leave that particular game. There is a huge market of potential players without even beginning to cut into WoW subscribers.

    People will still be playing WoW a decade from now, probably with numbers bigger than many other MMOs will have achieved at their peak.

    Some complain about a lack of innovation in WoW’s expansions. This, too, is a calculated move. It would be foolish to radically change the nature of what WoW is. Giving more of the same–albeit with some variety thrown in–satisfies the majority of existing players. This is partly why their numbers go up after expansion releases. It is a better use of resources to keep existing players supplied with things they like and save the innovation for new products.

    While Blizzard certainly takes risks (the development of WoW was one), they don’t do so lightly or without consideration.

  8. Ogrebears says:

    Are they digging there own grave… not really. People are not going to sub to both, but about 1/2 are going to switch from one to the other.

    This is what happened to Everquest and everquest 2. mmogchart which is no longer update does have a graph from when this happen
    http://www.mmogchart.com/Chart2.html

    Prior and during the release of eq2 everquest 1 had roughly 450,000 people. After eq2 came out it dropped to less than 200,000.

    Though that drop could of been from people joining WoW, (it hard to say). But i know a few of my friend, and my self essentially switched games.

    • Gordon says:

      I think SOE compensated by creating their all access pass. Essentially they realised that it was better to have a bunch of people paying slightly more for a handful of games than slightly less for one. Of course, they have a whole library of subscription games to attract the player too unlike Blizzard.

  9. Andrew says:

    Blizzard really ought to trail blaze with the payment model for their new MMO. If they brought Asian-style pay-by-hour gaming to the west, I’ll bet they’d make a boatload of cash – far more than if they forced people who wanted to play into subscriptions.

    • Tesh says:

      Indeed. It will be interesting to see what they wind up doing. More of the same $15/month will be successful because it’s Blizzard, but I suspect that it would be leaving money on the table.

      Or maybe I’m just self sampling, since I will not pay for *any* subscription game, and if they go with a GW type model, they will actually get some of *my* money that is on the table.

    • Gordon says:

      Absolutely. But I doubt it. Blizzard play it safe and have too much to risk. I think any new model they could come up with would only make them less money than they earn now from the monthly subscription.

  10. Longasc makes an interesting point. The logical next genre to absorb would be FPS and Console gamers into an MMO.

    A cross platform FPS MMO done by Blizzard wouldn’t completely cannibalize WoW while bringing in new players from the pre existing Genre.

    You also have to look at the large portion of subscribers that have come and gone over the last 5 years. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of people who tried WoW is closer to 20 milion and if you may entice a large number of them to try this new MMO.

  11. Twan says:

    I wont pay for 2 MMO’s at the same time and none of my friends do. If anything we will migrate.

  12. Dblade says:

    You can see it in action earlier, with FFXI and FFXIV. I haven’t been following the FFXI community recently, but I have the feeling that despite the developers intend to have both games exist, they really want players to move on. That’s why the races in the new game look similar, and you may be able to transfer your name and your friends list.

    I think that people would subscribe to both WoW and the new MMO if the new one is different in tone-if it were a starcraft MMO or something. Even then you only have so many hours in the day.

  13. SmakenDahed says:

    It’s going to be a Shadowrun MMO… okay, probably not.

    If I had to put a real guess out there it would likely be a Starcraft MMO which would draw from the same pool of players but be different enough to draw in people that are craving the Sci-fi experience rather than the fantasy experience.

    I’m not sure what I’d do. I suspect I’ll try it, but I don’t know that I would commit to it. I’m very happy where I am now, so I doubt I’ll leave WoW entirely.

    World of Starcraft (or maybe Universe of Starcraft).

  14. luvy duvy says:

    no way i am paying 2 subscriptions HELL NO! if they make a game better then Wow then i will go to that one this is what blizz would probably do

    Make world of warcraft more shity to play so you can play there new MMO

    or give us some sort of deal you get so and so off if you play both

    or eventually end wow alltogether so you can play the new game

    I think they should just stick with what works Wow work on it make it better without alternating the graphics so everyone can enjoy remaking the game like there gonna do with cataclysm cause you know what could happen they advertise some game everyone goes to it like in Age of Conan or avion they hate it they go back to wow then move on and blizz loses allot of money

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