A fierce debate has been raging within the WoWenomics team for the past few weeks. This debate has centered around the simple question, are we witnessing the decline of World of Warcraft?
It was initially an insightful article on Spinksville that got us talking about this subject. In that post, Spinks mentions the age of WoW and ponders if MMOs might suffer the same marked decline as the author observed with MUDs. The argument about the connection between MUDs and MMOs aside, it did serve to get us thinking of the life of WoW more in terms of an arc as opposed to a straight timeline. If we accept that the life of WoW is an arc we are then prompted to ask the question, just where in this arc are we currently? Is WoW in a state of increasing or decreasing popularity and success?
As we mentioned, the WoWenomics team is torn on the state WoW. One of our members insists that WoW will live on (with continual content patches and support) even if subscriber numbers dwindle. In this way, says he, the game will never die so long as the endeavor remains profitable. Others argue that the game has already passed the plateau of the lifespan arc and is now in a state of deterioration. A few of us are of the belief that WoW is at the very top of the arc of the game’s lifespan and Blizzard is at the top of their game. Of course, this implies that there is an inevitable decline ahead. Tellingly, none of our number took the stance that the game is still on the upswing.
For their own part, Blizzard states that there is no firm deadline upon which they will shut off WoW. As business people, however, we argue that there is. Certainly they’ve already decided upon a certain threshold where the business becomes unprofitable and will be discontinued.
So, about that arc… Is there some way to definitively identify where we are in the WoW lifecycle? The evidence of decline is easy to measure but, perhaps, difficult to quantify. Wolfshead presents a well-thought out and comprehensive analysis of the web statistics for the official WoW domain. In the same post, the author presents a graph, charting Blizzard’s announced subscriber statistics. Seeing the data presented in this visual format makes it easy to identify a flattening of the upward curve that previously represented player growth.
But there is other evidence of decreasing popularity as well:
- Many big-name WoW blogs have recently closed up shop.
- Players from all servers are reporting more trouble finding groups, declining interest in guild activities and friends leaving the game.
- Departure of key development personnel to other projects.
- An apparent shift in design philosophy.
What is most evocative about this culmination of data is that we have been in the money-making business long enough to know that it often takes several factors culminating in a cohesive timeframe to force cataclysmic change. Is this what we are seeing now?
The combination of decaying web stats, leveling off of subscriber numbers, anecdotal user experience reports on players taking extended breaks and closure of high-profile community sites all seem to point towards a shift in popularity. So if WoW is not in decline, it certainly seems to be at a plateau. Were this an investment we were trading, we’d argue that now’s the time to sell.
Which brings us to the point of the in-game economy and WoW wealth-generation. We assert that the effects of a decline in the popularity the game will be felt very early in the economy. Perhaps just after players report exodus of friends and guildies to other games or non-gaming activities. We are split as to what that market activity will be, however. Will we see mass inflation as no one is farming anymore and prices are driven up by supply shortages? Or will it be the opposite and that the markets will deflate massively given a lack of demanding customers. Will Blizzard take any form of corrective market action to stabilize the game economy?
As traders in the various WoW markets we also have to ponder what we should do with our wealth and when to do it. Do we start selling our stockpiles of goods now, while we can still get maximum value? Or do we do it later when we may get less but can be surer of a state of decline. Should we be spending like crazy now just to have fun with it while we can? One thing we are fairly certain of is that, just like real life, you can’t take it with you.
Blizzard has already stated that their next MMO will not be WoW 2. That said, we do predict that they will pick up the WoW franchise again at some point (even if this is some years out) as they’d be mad not to.
We highly doubt that, regardless of the theme of Blizzard’s next MMO, you will be able to take any of your virtual property with you into the next game. This is understandable. Although we think it would be a pretty nice touch if you could reserve your character and perhaps even guild name, based on your WoW equivalent.
In the mean time, there will still be a few content patches and perhaps even another expansion cycle to go through before Blizzard pulls the plug. And even if they stop developing new content they may still keep the game going indefinitely so long as it is profitable.
So if WoW is losing its appeal, we are forced to examine why we are amassing wealth in the game and if it is time to spend more than we save. Obviously, the answer to this question depends largely on your personal goals as a WoW player and trader so we can’t answer for you. When it comes down to it, whether or not the game is in a state of decline or growth is irrelevant if you’re still having fun playing it. So long as playing still feels like a fun way to spend your leisure time and building in-game wealth is part of that fun, by all means continue trading away even if the ship happens to be sinking around you.
That said, given recent events and the aforementioned data, perhaps it is time to- at the very least- start thinking about just what you mean to do with all that gold.