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Blizzard Speeds Up  WoW  Development To Address Subscriber Churn
Blizzard Speeds Up WoW Development To Address Subscriber Churn
May 9, 2011 | By Frank Cifaldi

May 9, 2011 | By Frank Cifaldi
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    19 comments
More: Console/PC, Production, Business/Marketing



Blizzard is looking into ways to speed up its development process in order to reduce the downtime in-between World of Warcraft expansions, according to the company.

The move is in response to a subscriber churn that happens after each expansion to the game -- a churn that appears to be growing as players get better at the game.

"As our players have become more experienced playing World of Warcraft over many years, they have become much better and much faster at consuming content," said Blizzard president Michael Morhaime in a Gamasutra-attended conference call.

"And so I think with Cataclysm they were able to consume the content faster than with previous expansions, but that's why we're working on developing more content."

"We need to be faster at delivering content to players," he added. "And so that's one of the reasons that we're looking to decrease the amount of time in-between expansions."

When asked if this decrease might mean we'll see expansions lighter in content than in the past, Morhaime said the company is not ready to talk about the content of its upcoming expansions, saying only that "we are looking at ways to speed up the development process."

"What we have seen so far is that people have been consuming this content very quickly, and so the subscriber levels have decreased [following the release of Cataclysm] faster than in previous expansions," he added.


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Comments


Victor Lara
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So in the end... you might say the WoW killer was... WoW itself?

Stephen Fletcher
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I think it was more that WoW refused to change and adapt (most likely for fear of "breaking" their own game).

Myself and others I know have stopped playing because its pretty much the same game it was so many years ago. While there are some new places to go and new quests to do, they are all done in the same manner and skills they were done since the beginning more or less and this causes the game to be too repetitive. And now they've changed it to a level grind (which at least meant different quests to fulfill and places to go) its now a reputation grind that is just doing the same few quests over and over which offers no variation to game play to the user.

Brent Orford
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Bring back 40 man raids and specific class roles... problem solved. It's a lot harder to successfully choreograph a 10+ minute fight with higher numbers of people where you need to bring certain classes then allowing 10/25man's where you need "tank/healer/dps".



I'm with Victor - WoW became the WoW killer when they dummed it down for the masses.

Ben Droste
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But the difficulty that arises from organizing 40 people is not fun, it's a chore. You don't make games 'harder' by making it 'harder' to actually play them.



WoW improved immensely for me in Burning Crusade when they dropped the number to 25, and the 10 man versions in Wrath were fantastic with a few friends too. You could worry less about the logistics of organizing everyone and get on with actually playing the game and engaging in the REAL challenges.



As to class rolls I agree with the sentiment, at least to some extent. While I understand why they did it and it did make filling raids a lot easier, I worry that it had become a little too homogenized by the time I stopped playing (when Cata launched). In BC I played a shadow priest, which was a kind of support dps class, but as part of the changes in Wrath it become straight DPS.

Now you're either tank, dps or healer and nothing in between. Each class plays differently but the rolls are essentially the same within their types.

Ian Uniacke
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I don't entirely agree...I think they've made a bit of a shift back to specific roles such as crowd control, kiting, crowd healer, tank healer, enhancement, and a few others those are just a few examples. Also they now try to build in specific gameplay into the bosses to highlight these roles such as highlighting the difference between damage absorption (eg a priest/pally) and healing (eg druid).

Rodolfo Rosini
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Moreover Mike Morhaime commented: "And as a first step, we will introduce two new exciting new dungeons: Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman! Next we have plenty of exciting content coming up, Molten Core will all the textures recolored in green and Scholomance with no light sources."

Kim Pittman
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They are trying to please everyone and pleasing no one.



1. They keep nerfing pve content because it is overpowered in pvp. They have done this with numerous classes in Cataclysm already. They nerf abilities. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, expect they don't balance it with buffs or re-tuning the bosses. I imagine it's hard enough to balance for pve or pvp alone, much less both at the same time.



2. They seemed to have listened to a vocal minority about the difficulty and ramped it up for Cataclysm. But really, it's just frustrating as well as difficult. This same minority griped about the ease of getting epics as well. And unfortunately, this has closed off dungeons and raiding for a large number of people. If the purples aren't relativity frequent in their acquisition, then there is no reason to chase them. The sheer volume of random accidents that can happen in a boss fight that causes a complete wipe is absurd. Not to mention poor planning on pieces of gear (7 different belts, but only 1 wand available? Really?)



3. Having the best gear doesn't guarantee the ability to over power the boss. In previous expansions there was always a way to get enough "best in slot" gear so that a group could over power the mechanics. Meaning eventually a group could brute force their way to victory. Sadly, tying into the difficulty thing, now, even having the best gear for the raid boss a group is on, doesn't guarantee success, even if following the mechanics.



4. Nothing new was really added in Cataclysm. Yes, they needed to re-vamp the old world, but 5 levels and 5 new zones simply wasn't enough. Look at Wrath, where they added Wintergrasp, Achievements, Vehicles, Death Knights, glyphs... and Cataclysm added... Guild ranks/perks/achievements, archeology, and new race class combinations? While cool, none of it was particularly game changing.



5. Raid Lockouts changed. It seems like such a minor thing, but when they changed raid lockouts to share between 10 and 25, and homogenized the gear between them they essentially cut the raid content by half. And they cut the ability for people to farm the 25 man gear (which was slightly better) so they could then overpower the 10 man raids.



The answer isn't more content, it's making the content accessible for everyone so people don't get bored two weeks after hitting level cap.

Lydia White
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I had pretty much the identical problems with Cata. However, instead of the PVP/PVE balance issues, I just took issue with the overall homogenization of the classes. It's bizarre to be a Paladin that plays exactly like a Warlock that plays exactly like a Shaman... I liked alts to have a break from the same ol' thing, but when I started leveling my alts I realized they are all identical now.



I unsubscribed two weeks after hitting the level cap because I was bored with nothing to do. For the first time in five years of playing I was bored... Raids were inaccessible, pugs were impossible, professions became a ridiculous grind, and there was no hope of finding fun with alts because they all play the same now.



I took my subscription fee to WoW and bought Netflix for Xbox Live. I haven't had a reason to watch TV in over a decade. Compared to an MMO it feels so...pedestrian.

Dave Sodee
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I was expecting more to be honest with Cata. But after so many years in WoW maybe it is just run it course with me and many players. I want:



To be able to have cool ass armor I can customize. I want a toon that is my height that I want so all is different. I want a pet that no one else has ...it is not possible in wow.



I want more exploration...hidden lands and treasures. I want a rogue to be able to get something useful from pickpocket. I want fishing quests that actually give shit after all the time spend fishing.



I want boss drops to be something useful for members in the party as usually the shit dropping is always for a class not present. How about make it worth the hours running...

Thomas Lo
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People talk about the picayune things but Blizzard has already addressed most of these issues. WOW has many tiered experiences that allow for more niches of gameplay and thus a more attractive game for alarger audience.



The main problem has always been content. I played during WotLK which was notorious for being released without an end-game. Nax was insanely easy and eveyrone was pugging it for months before the next tier of content. Ulduar itself was an amazing dungeon that was remarkably well-tuned and provided content that lasted for several months. And then we got the Crusader Trials which were absolutely god-awful. Terrible tuning, terrible balance, only 5 bosses. It was one of the worst dungeons ever. The actual lich king content was terribly balanced too. The first bosses were too easy and cleared easily. The Lich King himself was too hard and they never bothered to balance him so they just gave everyone a 10% buff every week against him.



The point is, WOW has fluctuated from mediocre to great and back again over time (the PvP content and balancing is the time). This is a mix of not only a lack of content but a lack of GOOD content punctuated by great content. So they can start producing more tiers and equipment every month and make it trial of the crusader level and people would still leave.



Given how important WOW is to blizzard and now actovision, it is in Blizzard's best interest to get more teams working on WOW and making QUALITY content at a consistent rate. Others may not yet understand how to make an MMO competitive to WOW, but they will get there. Blizzard only has everything to lose if they do.

Mihai Cozma
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They got it wrong, people left earlier than usual after cataclysm (including myself) not because they are better at the game, but because the game itself got almost nothing new this time, and putting out expansions more often it is not going to help too much, unless they are targeting the people who are interested only in leveling and thats all (I myself pay usually one or two months to level up some of my characters and see the new quests, then quit, however this time I'm done for good with it).

Franklin Brown
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Nerf the heroics and have them drop epic-quality gear.



My enchanter hasn't seen a single epic to disenchant, and my best-geared player isn't qualified to even enter the "new" (lol) heroics that were released in 4.1.



Casuals have no end game. In Wrath, I could log in for an hour and run three heroics, and have something to show for it. In Cataclysm, I'm lucky if I can finish one, and if I draw a bad PuG, my limited playtime becomes a miserable wipe-fest.



Sorry. I don't pay 15 bucks a month for that kind of headache.

J Z
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This seems absurd, the players are churning through content faster? Blizzards last expansion added new content for new players, and added a tiny bit of content for existing players. The players haven't changed, Blizzards idea of what "content" is has changed.

Ben Lippincott
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I don't personally think that casuals or the dumbing down of the game are really what is driving people away from the game. They are certainly factors within but the real problem is that players simply don't feel as invested in the world or story after so many years of being in such a static state. Yes, there have been many changes in the narrative and additions of classes or areas, but there are two big things that Blizzard doesn't seem willing to do.



1. Give players a chance to change things. Guild halls have been on the back burner for too long now and players don't feel connected to a world that never moves or alters according to their actions. If players could build homes, halls, and fortresses according to templates with a couple of variations it would give the players a chance to really change how the PvP aspects work.



2. Bring into the game a chance for the players to make cross faction negotiations. This could be implemented by having a neutral location sell translators services and instanced locations where players could communicate with their enemies. It would have to be managed for certain things and would require a lot of coding to avoid players using it to cheat Battlegrounds, but I think that it would go a long way to giving the players measurable impact in the world if zones in the world could be made peaceful or more warlike as to their efforts.



These are just the changes I believe would improve and change the nature of the game to extend beyond the three ways to play currently (quests, instances, and PvP) and would give the players more latitude in how they can affect things. The main reasons I see people turning away from WoW is because of more creative games pulling them away to set them free to their own devices, specifically Minecraft which 5 people who used to play WoW for a few hours nightly now have switched to. The five of them work in teams to play around in the game making large expansive projects and toy with making their own quests.



I'm not saying WoW should take down their game or completely reprogram it, just that with so many users turning to other games for entertainment and not new content, they may wish to consider how to change things up. If this expansion didn't draw new people in I don't think a new expansion is the answer.



(The following rant is from a person who has only played WoW for one month and barely made it to level 50 before quitting. Take salt as necessary to avoid indigestion.)

Matt Cratty
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There's a few reasons.



1. Wow is old. Its harder to stay interested.



2. Blizzard "streamlined" the game, making it stupidly easy to burn through every bit of content there is in a heartbeat. This is the one that got me. I understand why they did this. The re-working of quest nodes was great. But, the experience is just too fast with the dungeon queues. There's no longer a feeling of having accomplished anything. Alienating core gamers to please the new gamer may work short term, but its not clear to me that it will work long term.



Until you fix the basic fact that WoW doesn't feel all that magical or epic anymore, I'm not sure that more easily digested content will fix anything.

Ed Alexander
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I think WoW could regain some of it's luster again if the design of the game turned around a bit and started going back towards what it once was. It has strayed from the hot spot and is subsequently cooling as a result.



I can whine like an elitist prick for days about how the game became too easy and the steps put in place for the hardcore raiders (Hard Modes) were too artificial, but the inherent problem is the Risk vs Reward and the impact it is having on its player base.



The Reward is given out too easily and too greatly for the small amount of Risk required to get it. The idea was that too few players saw the raid content, it was too inaccessible for those that wanted to see it, etc., but when changing this became the driving motive for the design philosophy, WoW began to lose meaning and accomplishment with its player base. Not like an immediate backlash, but every different "flavor" of player had a different rate at which the game began to deteriorate for them.



These changes were hyper stimulation to the players who were a) at level cap, b) were done or mostly done running Heroics for gear and c) wanted to get shiny purples. And these players made up a lot of the player base, so it was easy to see how the design of the game shifted from designing the game for the game to designing the game for the players.



What I mean by that is the content that was made very much felt like it was meant to add on to the end of the existing content, that once you got tier 0, you would step up to MC and get tier 1. Once you had that, you would step up to BWL and get tier 2. Once you had that, you would step up to AQ and get tier 2.5. Once you had that, you would step up to Naxxramas and get tier 3. But at the same time, there was the High Warlord/Grand Marshal side to the PvP where the rewards at the top were very worthwhile and the gear was very good for PvP'ing with very high stamina and survivability.



The content was like a ladder, and if you wanted to get to the top, you had to climb the rungs to get there. Even if some were spaced farther apart and that part of the ladder was difficult, you had to climb it to be the BAMF. Burning Crusade further improved upon this with the addition of bite sized raid zones that fit in the ladder progression and having multiple raid zones for each step of the ladder. You did Karazhan until you could do Gruul's Lair. Then you did both until you were geared enough to take down Magtheridon. Once you could do that, you would break into the next tier with Serpentshrine Caverns and Tempest Keep. Once you were done with them, and you could get past Kael'thas, you would break into the next tier with Black Temple and Mount Hyjal and finally Sunwell, though that was the first truly sour raid zone...



The world was always growing at the end, and while some players burned through it very rapidly, they were such a small minority and overall you were able to feed most of the player base for the entire expansion duration of 2 years. And then things changed.



Instead of long term goals for players to strive for, things became much closer to reach. Instead of rungs on a ladder to climb, the ladder would get cut shorter so players could reach the next rung. Classes became more homogenized. Gear became easier and easier to get. Everyone started to look the same. The draw of the old world progression system stopped when the old world progression system stopped. New content replaces existing content and there is no real reason for players to go back to old content, except maybe to Achievement farm.



EverQuest was quite the opposite way and to a pretty extreme degree by comparison. For example, in the Luclin era, we were running Luclin raids, Velious raids in Temple of Veeshan and Sleeper's and even sniping Kunark dragons when we could. There was such diversity in content and such a huge ladder of progression. Many raid guilds were fed for years and years.



I'm glad that WoW branched away from EQ with instanced raids, nothing sucked in my EQ experience more than the Ashenbone Dra... I mean, being cockblocked by a Euro guild who could get to the content before your guild was even able to make it home from work, and now it is respawning during their primetime until the server would crash during your guild's primetime and then you could assemble the raid and start clearing before every other guild you were competing with in your time zone could do the same. That wasn't much fun.



But WoW started much like EQ, though more intuitive and instantly gratifying, but as time went on, it just drifted too far into a direction that can't sustain the player ecosystem like it once did. I don't think that making more content faster is the true solution to the real problem (though honestly expansions could have come 5-6 months sooner to keep pace better). I think it is the fundamental bottom line - how great is the reward and how hard is it to get? More content is good, but continually cutting the bottom of the ladder to make it easier for more people to, by proxy, "climb higher" conflicts with that method of providing to the players.



And as Matt said, WoW is pretty old. That doesn't help things much... but what does is the communities that have been created through WoW. When the great Guild Apocalypse happened in Wrath of the Lich King, my guild and I all wanted a reason to come back to be reunited again, but Cataclysm couldn't do it. Instead we roll up on new MMOs until we can't stand them any more and then eagerly await the next possible oasis in which we can band together again with Ventrilo and neon green text and kick some ass, just like the good ol' days.



Edit: Cripes, what a novel...



*** TL;DR - Faster content delivery won't return player retention to what it was like increasing content duration and player perceived worth of conquering the content, in my humble and verbose opinion.

Sahle Alturaigi
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Hmmm... I hope blizzard took into perspective that there are plenty of new games in the market, including the relatviely popular new MMO, Rift.

Ian Uniacke
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Maybe it's just that within hard economic times (in the US especially) people cut back the easiest expense to cut back which is a subscription fee?

Ted Spence
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I can't speak for everyone, but I ceased playing WOW when I found the challenge of arranging a raid exceeded the fun of participating in the raid. For me it was probably the sum of a lot of little things; I'm sure for everyone it was different.



I disliked bosses that had "instant-failure" modes. These were the fights that required you to behave in one and only one approved pattern until the boss died. It was saddening to find that one tiny error in a fight caused the battle to be instantly lost; it made the raid completely dependent on the worst person in the group, and it meant instead of having fun and joking around on ventrilo everyone had to be staring at their notification bar without blinking to avoid missing something critical.



I disliked instances that felt too carefully planned, where there was no opportunity for discovery or surprise or success via planning. In the old game, Blackrock Depths had roughly a million different paths you could walk through the instance; no two runs were ever the same. Gradually, however, many of the later instances seemed to be direct "walk down this corridor; four trash pulls then a boss; no you can't be clever and skip around that corner to avoid something, we wrote special code to detect that and make you fight them anyway."



Finally, over time it became clear exactly how the reward system worked. The constant progression of tokens and token-based rewards killed a lot of the anticipation. Instead of "I hope something cool drops!", it became "I have to do six more runs to get enough of token X to get item Y."


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