There are issues in World of Warcraft. Not a rampaging dragon or an army of demons attacking the land of Azeroth, but some hapless players who after 17 years have had enough.
On YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter, there are stories of people leaving the game. Some cite long delays for new content in a game that charges monthly fees; others are annoyed by a lack of communication.
Gamers have flocked to competing games in greater numbers than ever before – led by a wave of famous streamers and content creators who have jumped ship.
Then, allegations of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at Activision Blizzard happened.
As Scott Johnson, host of the popular MMO podcast The Instance, put it, “You’ve got the perfect storm for a lot of players to hang up their Azeroth gear for good and look for a new place to play.”
Activision Blizzard hasn’t released the official player count for World of Warcraft (WoW) for years. But it does tell investors how many “monthly active users” all of its games have each quarter.
These figures show that its games have lost two million players in three months.
New figures on the number of active players in its games portfolio are expected to be released soon, when the company reports its latest quarterly results.
WoW is still making a lot of money – revenues are on the rise – so it is possible that these numbers mean that some of its other games are suffering rather than WoW.
“It is impossible to see the real statistics of exodus,” admitted Scott. “But from what I’ve heard inside and outside the company, this may be the most drastic drop they’ve ever seen.”
He doesn’t think the dissatisfaction is due to just one thing – but that after so many years players are used to every twist of the core gameplay.
“You’re still iterating on the same base systems and I think players are reaching a point of ‘been there, done that’ which may be more prevalent than in the past,” he said.
And then there is the competition – offering “similar but new experiences”.
Final Fantasy XIV is arguably WoW’s most comparable competitor. At launch in 2010, it was so bad that the developers “destroyed the world” to rebuild the game from square one – a redemption story that has since drawn millions of players.
But all of a sudden, we saw the number of players increase during what should be a quiet time for the game – its next big expansion isn’t due for months.
Zepla, a FFXIV YouTube creator and streamer, said that “the last few weeks have been crazy”.
“We usually get a lot of new players when an expansion comes along, but it goes beyond even that,” she said.
The game is so popular that it has temporarily stopped selling new copies. Director Naoki Yoshida offered a sincere apology for the server issues caused by the “breathtaking and unexpected” influx of new players.
It’s not the only MMO to experience sudden success.
New World, Amazon’s first attempt in the field, has not even launched yet. But his beta testing period saw him overwhelmed with server issues because it has reached nearly 200,000 players joining the game at a time.
Zepla was once a WoW player herself – but left years ago for FFXIV during her poorly received Warlords of Draenor expansion. She believes that many players have been frustrated for years.
“Common complaints include frustration with poor class balance, ‘out of touch’ developers, and unnecessarily complex and RNG heavy game systems. Simply put, many players didn’t feel heard. They did not feel that their time had been respected. And they are tired. “
Popular streamers have fueled some of this interest. Famous WoW player Asmongold has been credited with leading many players to both FFXIV and the New World in recent weeks.
“So the WoW community had heard good things about FFXIV before,” Zepla said, “and now in light of recent events, they might be looking for a new MMO for good.”
And then, in the midst of it all, came the sexual harassment scandal that hit the community hard.
Virtual picket lines
Scott Johnson has been creating WoW content online since 2004. He says he chaired a panel at the annual Blizzard Fan Festival in 2018 with one of the people named in the allegations – something he now sees in a new light. day. As someone who takes an active role in the community, he says he knows some of the women who have been victims personally.
“For me, I have never felt this level of anger and disappointment in my professional career as I have in the wake of these allegations,” he said.
Morale among the community is “the lowest it has ever been. Period. Blizzard has had its stumbles over the years, but nothing like it.”
On Twitter, he posted one of his illustrations – a broken Hearthstone, the tool WoW players use to get home. It has been retweeted a thousand times.
He’s not the only one taking a break, at least Azeroth.
Prolific WoW YouTuber MadSeason This Week Said He Is Leaving The Game – in a video made before the California case was made public.
Influential British streamer Preach is also among those who announced he would no longer cover WoW, describing the sexual harassment allegations as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Some players are debating a boycott, drawing virtual “picket lines” so as not to get into Blizzard games.
Zepla, for its part, thinks a boycott is warranted – but “I don’t think it’s the only way.”
Some content creators “have chosen to stay in the community because they feel they can use their platforms to amplify the voices of those speaking out against injustice,” she explains.
“Demanding accountability from within is another way to make a positive difference here.”
These are also practical decisions – changing the game as the creator can be a risky decision, with no guarantee that your audience will follow suit.
So is this the end of the (Warcraft) world?
“I’d bet the best years of the game are way behind her,” Scott says – but he doubts that will go away.
“While some players will take massive breaks or leave for good, there are others whose entire social circle is in the game – and leaving it would be like leaving the family.”
But he doesn’t think that’s the end of Azeroth.
“He’ll bleed, hurt and maybe forever mark, but I think he’ll probably live somehow.”
When WoW eventually disappears and its servers are shut down – perhaps many years from now – the impact it has had on the industry will continue.
Amid all of these issues, a video from FFXIV director Yoshi-P was widely shared.
“Without World of Warcraft, [FFXIV] wouldn’t exist, “he said in the fan-translated video.” WoW was the game we constantly admired.
“To say we won or lost against WoW is irrelevant to begin with, because it was the game we aspired to be.”