World of Warcraft (WoW) has struggled to maintain its initial success since its release in 2004. Blizzard Entertainment has yet to fix the issues hindering WoW from regaining its former glory. In a recent interview, the company’s co-founder and ex-CEO Mike Morhaime explained why he thought WoW was popular at launch, and what has changed since then.
The good ol’ days of World of Warcraft
WoW’s launch was an unprecedented success. Before release, Morhaime expected WoW to attract a “smaller audience, and grow from there.” He and many others were astonished when WoW quickly exceeded over one-million active subscribers and kept growing. From 2004 until 2011, WoW was the king of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG).
After its second expansion, WoW began to struggle and has yet to recover. WoW’s active subscribers started to dwindle in 2011, around the release of its third expansion. The decline wasn’t pressing, at first, but the numbers would continue to drop throughout each subsequent expansion. Blizzard made their active subscriber count private after a sharp drop in popularity followed the release of WoW’s fifth expansion.
Although there are a few spikes in WoW’s subscriber count, the king of MMORPGs has yet to recuperate its losses, JinnRemona
Mike Morhaime on what makes a good game
Morhaime believes that a good game must offer players a “social experience.” After reflecting on his time at Blizzard and on WoW’s success, Morhaime developed an appreciation for the social elements of gaming. Early on, some of WoW’s content required players to form parties, raids and guilds. WoW’s gameplay facilitated players “sharing experiences” with each other. Morhaime attributes WoW’s success to its social experience, saying “World of Warcraft was actually the most social of all of our games” and “the ability to share your entertainment with others is core.”
WoW is struggling because it is designed to be accessible instead of social. Morhaime observed the irony of WoW’s attempts to appeal to a larger audience:
“As World of Warcraft evolved over the years, it actually became less social. In an effort to achieve accessibility, we removed some of the reasons why you needed to play with the same group of people over and over.”
New content has been continuously introduced to WoW, but reasons to experience it with friends have not. The number of heroes required to slay a dragon has dropped over the years, and so have the number of heroes playing at all. Adaptations to WoW that favour accessibility are hurting its core social experience. Morhaime is concerned about gameplay designs that favour accessibility because they may negatively affect “some of the reasons why [WoW players] play and why they might want to continue playing.”
Already in alpha, WoW’s next expansion is around the corner and you can check out our exclusive preview here. Hopefully, Shadowlands can fix the problems plaguing the once-great MMORPG. Follow us on Twitter and let us know where you think WoW went wrong.