It’s no secret that Blizzard’s immensely popular MMORPG, World of Warcraft (WoW), has been suffering ever since the release of the game’s most recent expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Whether it’s the pandas, the retcon, or the multitude of changes to the game mechanics, World of Warcraft has lost over two million subscribers since Mists of Pandaria released last September. The most recent statistics released by Blizzard state that WoW has dropped to 7.7 million subscribers.
At one point in 2010, WoW boasted 12 million subscribers, so the number of subscribers has been steadily dropping, and is almost at only 50% of its highest number. Whether this is due to an influx of free-to-play MMOs, a lack of continued interest in the world of Azeroth, or the rise of the MOBA genre, World of Warcraft seems to be on its last leg. According to a recent comment from Game Director Tom Chilton to IGN, Blizzard may have read the writing on the wall. The announcement directly mentioned the next patch for Mists of Pandaria, stating that it would “bridge the storyline between Mists… and the next expansion.” He went on to hint that the next expansion for World of Warcraft would be announced at BlizzCon, which is set to happen this November. I personally believe that Blizzard should make this the final expansion for World of Warcraft, tying up the story of Azeroth.
Some people play WoW for the PvP, some people play it for the PvE. Some people play it with their friends, and some people have just been doing it for so long that it’s become a habit. We all have our reasons for playing, and 7.7 million people still do, but for me the reason was the story. I got into WoW shortly after my cousin introduced me to Warcraft III. I’d been a fan of StarCraft for some time, and he told me it was basically the same thing with a different setting. I really enjoyed Warcraft III, and its expansion, The Frozen Throne, and World of Warcraft had just been released a few days.
I was about thirteen at the time, and I had never heard of an MMORPG – in fact, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I just thought, “Oh, this must be like a sequel to Warcraft III or something.” Even after I’d discovered what WoW actually was, I stayed on because I loved seeing all the characters and exploring all the worlds from Warcraft III. I was thrilled at the chance to fight my favorite hero, Kael’thas Sunstrider (though certainly less excited the second time around), and finishing off the Lich King was monumental to me. I started to lose interest during Cataclysm because it didn’t feel like the story of Azeroth was really progressing anymore. We were back to fighting Nefarian and Onyxia, whom we had killed in the original “vanilla” release of the game, and I finally cancelled my account the day that Mists of Panderia was announced. It showed that Blizzard had essentially decided to abandon the stories set up in the original RTS Warcraft titles, opting instead to go in their own direction. Though I would’ve been okay with this if said direction did not completely counteract established lore.
According to Blizzard, Panderia is a continent that has been “hidden behind the mists since the time of the Sundering.” For those of you who don’t know, the Sundering is what created the massive maelstrom in the middle of the map. It was a result of Queen Azshara trying to abuse the Well of Eternity, and it happened, oh, about 10,000 years ago. I was done at this point. Not only was Blizzard trying to implant a new race of pandas (which I could’ve begrudgingly accepted as a simple gag not to be taken seriously), but they were trying to canonize their existence by saying they’d been around for 10,000 years “hidden by magic” or some nonsense.
People often cite the existence of the Brewmaster from Warcraft III as reason for their existence being acceptable in the canon, and to that I say: Brewmasters were only referenced in the official campaign as secret characters or Easter Eggs, and there was also a hidden Hydralisk in the game, so if you accept Panderans as a canonized race, you also have to expect the next expansion to be World of Warcraft: Zerg Invasion, and I don’t think anyone wants that.
If Blizzard were to make the next expansion the final expansion, it would allow them to revisit actual storylines that make sense within the context of Azeroth, rather than inventing things or grasping at straws. They could easily make it the Burning Legion’s final attempt at conquering Azeroth, with the final raid boss of course being Sargeras the Destroyer. Not only would this make for an absolutely incredible final encounter, where perhaps players could even receive direct assistance from the Pantheon and other titans, but it would be a strong cap to the rest of Azeroth’s tale, making it the only planet that the Burning Legion failed to conquer, and ultimately becoming the victor against the greatest evil force in the universe. Not a bad way to finish off my Blood Elf Mage’s list of achievements.
In addition to bringing the story back to relevance, many former subscribers would likely reactivate their accounts just for the sense of closure. People have an irrational desire for closure in almost everything, and the knowledge that they could effectively close the book on their adventures in Azeroth would be enough incentive for them to resubscribe, at least for a few months. Even fans of WoW’s PvP side would likely reactivate for a bit, knowing that this would be their last few chances to make Gladiator. Everything would just have a heightened sense of tension and catharsis to it, knowing that it’s coming to a close. There’s something to be said for sentiment, and many people would give into the chance to have that “one last hurrah.”
Regardless of the many factors contributing to its downfall, World of Warcraft will likely never achieve the amount of subscribers that it had three or four years ago. The game peaked, arguably during Wrath of the Lich King, and people have been jumping ship ever since. Despite this, many people still have a special place in their hearts for World of Warcraft, and aren’t completely opposed to giving the game another shot if presented with the right reasons. However, Blizzard has to realize that the most important part of poker is knowing when to leave the table. I know personally that if the next expansion for World of Warcraft is the finale, I would reactivate my account and play through to the end (note that I have not played Mists of Pandaria for a single minute), but if the next expansion is just another stop in the road, I will likely forget about World of Warcraft or be in a different place in life, unable to return and finish the game. The longer Blizzard continues to flog the proverbial dying horse, the less keen people are to get up on it for one more ride.
This final expansion will be World of Warcraft’s fifth, and it has dominated the MMORPG scene for a solid decade. How much more can it possibly have left in the tank? The story must come to an end sometime, Blizzard. “No king rules forever.”