2011 – Will It Solidify WoW’s Decline?

Here we go: a predictions post. I usually avoid doing these because I don’t like being proven wrong. This time I feel confident enough to make the statement unless Blizzard changes how they roll out content. Going by their previous development history, I simply don’t how this expansion will keep people satisfied for the next two years.  

I have a few reasons for saying this, but first let me preface this post with a simple explanation: this is not a doom and gloom, not a “the Cataclysm honeymoon is over,” not a final missive from a jaded lover. I’ve been wondering about the longevity of this expansion for a long time. Now that it’s out there and we’ve had some hands on time with it, I think we can make an educated guess about the future of WoW. In answer to myself nine months ago: no, Cataclysm will not last long enough.  

So, back in March, I was pretty skeptical about the 5 levels and fewer dungeons this iteration of WoW would offer. We, of course, saw people hit 85 within a day of the expansion releasing. That’s to be expected. What’s a little more troubling is how quickly everybody else seems to be hitting it. Green Armadillo echoes my own experiences having been halfway to 83 before ever leaving the first zone. He also rightly notes that doing anything outside of questing breaks the leveling curve. This isn’t surprising given a lot of the side-ways you can go about leveling now. High end archeology gives upwards of 45k experience per successful dig. Each gathered node awards a mob kill at minimum. Questing itself is so streamlined that you can completed two dozen without every leaving small circle of territory and walk away 100k XP higher. Scott and Randy agree with GA on the last episode of The Instance, noting how much quicker the cap can be reached. Tobold also points out how Blizzard exchanged length for breadth – breadth taking the form of much needed revisions. 

This is all good for Cataclysm. Playing through it now is something I would recommend to any and all MMO players. As you’re leveling up, it’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to see that XP rise so often. All those quest turn-ins get the dopamine a-flowing. In the long run, though, I honestly believe that this will bite Blizzard in the behind. 

Here’s the thing: we just got out of two years of badge grinding and trudging through the same raid encounters at six-month stretches at a pop. Within a week, all of the raid content has been beaten and the average player is back to dungeon farming.  

How long will this sustain people? There’s a reason people took breaks towards the end of Wrath and within a week we’re back to the routine that burnt them out in the first place.  

Now, I realize that we’ll have all new dungeons and raids to run, a new world to explore. That’s true and great. For now. Blizzard’s development cycle is somewhere around two content patches a year (content meaning a new region, 5-mans, or raid). In six months, will the shiny still be there? In six months, will you still look at the world with such awe, or will you be done questing, grinding heroic Deadmines for the 40th time and plugging away at the same OS-10 style instance you were three weeks before? 

Less dungeons, less levels, means less variety and quicker burn-out. Similar difficulty and identical loot tables means the raiding game has been halved for players who partook in both. I don’t think the average player has it in them to stay with the same thing they were tired off last month… at least in the long-term.  

So, the way out, as I see it is to do one or more of these things: 

  • Increase the content schedule
    • Keep to the 90 day rule many other MMOs consider standard. Blizzard polish or not, six months between updates is too long.
  • Stick to the expansion a year rule
    • According to that leaked product schedule, they won’t do this. They’re planning 18 months before expansion four, which is 2 years in Blizzard time.
  • Wait three months and release a Looking For Raid tool
    • PuGs will fail more often than guild groups, sure, but this tool would be heralded as a success just like the LFD tool. It would empower players to raid on their own time. There’s really no reason this shouldn’t happen -or-….
  • Use phasing to let players for cross-server groups
    • This would be an alternative to the above. The technology seems like it’s there or close to it. If Blizzard is opposed to random raid finding, give players the power to find others who play on their schedule… and don’t charge them for the chance at it.

While it’s entirely likely that Blizzard will still be millions and millions of players higher than it’s best competitor, unless the above happens I think we’ll see those activity graphs begin to take a noted down-tick, continuing on from where we saw them last expansion. 

In no way claiming this chart is 100% accurate; I had another one in mind, actually, but I couldn't find it. Funny.


To be clear, I think Cataclysm is the best expansion WoW has had to date. Not only is the questing and storytelling FAR better than anything before it, the variation and gameplay are just amazing. While Larisa says she feels like a marionette, I feel like I’m experiencing the story more than I ever have in the past. This is how storytelling in MMOs should work. At least directed storytelling, like what they’re trying to do here.  

Simply put, and forgive me for sounding crass, this isn’t enough for two years. It’ll be interesting to see how they try to compensate for that.

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