While Blizzard now keep their subscription numbers a secret, it can’t really be ignored that players are jumping ship fast. Now, let’s be fair, player numbers are always highest at the start of an expansion and some drop off is expected. However, when guilds start complaining that there are not enough members left to fill raids and well-known streamers leave stating they are no longer willing to stream WoW then it seems clear that there are issues. So, what has causes this sudden drop off in player numbers?
Some have cited the recent announcement of legal action over abuse and working conditions in the company. Blizzard’s official response certainly didn’t garner much public sympathy for their claims that reports were “inaccurate” and “distorted” and attacked the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) calling them “unprofessional”, and “unaccountable state bureaucrats.” However, the Blizzard ship was already on fire prior to this lawsuit.
MMO population published it’s figures on current WoW active subscribers as 2.19 million in June compared to FF14’s at 2.49 million now up to 2.89 in their current count. This would indicate that many players were jumping ship prior to the lawsuit. While these figures are not official figures and have been calculated using subscriber numbers and online posts, these figures should provide a decent general indication of player numbers. It is worth noting both WoW and FF14 are nearing the end of their current expansions but that FF14’s active players total is bucking the expected end of expansion falloff and is actually rising.
So, what else might be causing WoW to lose active subscribers? The lawsuit is not the first indications of Blizzard having a bad working environment. There were previous reports of long hours and of staff being kept on temporary contract for years and being refused permeant contracts and the benefits and protection that comes with them. Blizzard’s interactions with players has also diminished sharply over the years and many players feel that the development team is out of touch with what players actually want. Issues listed include constant time gating, multiple levels of grind, actual content being replaced with systems content among many others.
Wow enthusiasts point out that the game always included grind. That might be true but since vanilla in which the grind was limited to getting to level 60 and then grinding for high level gear. Now, the grind trail has lengthened to getting to 60, getting high level gear, getting conduits and getting soulbinds. As someone who was involved in the beta testing for Shadowlands and someone who has played since vanilla, it’s my opinion that WoW has lost its direction of late. The game seems to be moving away from being fun and accessible to being designed purely to keep players busy for as long as possible. This has resulting in a feeling of logging on to complete daily chores, just to keep up with other players and maintain access to high level raids and dungeons. Legendary gear is selling in game for 200 thousand gold and Blizzard nerfed gold rewards for completing pre-Shadowlands dungeons and raids by about 70% forcing players to grind gold in Torghast only, leading to complaints of Blizzard draining the fun out of the game.
You have to wonder why Blizzard feel it is so important to control how players play their game? Is it really so bad that players can grind a piece of gear in a certain number of hours in old content, instead of grinding it in the same number of hours in current content? This isn’t a new thing. “Warning! fun detected, fun eradicated” is a fairly popular response by the community to the continuous nerfs on work arounds found to minimalize grind or just make it more palatable by widening the content to grind to include old content.
It’s my personal opinion that while the lawsuit might have increased the flow slightly that players have been fairly consistently leaving the game for many years and reason is not Blizzard’s reputation but its design philosophy of replacing real content like zones, dungeons and mini games, even recently, classes with extra layers/ systems of grind. This is leading to many players to feel that WoW is becoming more a second job than a form of entertainment and until Blizzard realise this and find a way of putting the fun back in, I can’t see any promise of a recovery or even stabilization.