[WoW] Annual pass thoughts, class design, end of expansion blues?

One of the interesting snippets that came out of Activision’s last earnings call was the information that about 10% of WoW subscribers took up the annual pass offer. Green Armadillo shares his thoughts on this, and I agree that this is higher than I would have expected to see. That’s a lot of people who have committed for the long term, even knowing that there was no new content due, D3 wasn’t likely to be out before the Summer and the next expansion beta probably at around the same time.

I think it speaks for a large number of players for whom WoW has become part of their lives, so they either don’t mind paying a premium for the privilege of only logging on occasionally, or else it’s too much hassle to unsub and then worry about resubbing again later (in the same way that people don’t tend to shift their bank accounts around much, even if they could get a better deal elsewhere.) It’s not fair to say that the annual pass decision is made completely without reference to what new content Blizzard will be providing, because D3 and the MoP beta were thrown into the deal. But I bet a lot of the people who picked it up thought “I’ll probably be subbing for the year anyway, might as well.”

Which mostly boils down to a lot of people being happy to pay Blizzard £92 pa for access to WoW, plus Diablo 3 (when it comes out) and beta access to the next WoW expansion (oh and a mount, I forgot about that). There’s not much more to read into that, except maybe that older established players who are glommed onto their game of choice are much less fussy about new content and bug fixes than players hopping into a new and shiny game. Next year, Blizzard won’t be able to offer as tempting a deal to annual pass holders so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

What I do wonder is whether subscription game players in general would prefer the option of an annual sub. (At that point, you’re getting quite close to the old Guild Wars model where they aim to release one paid expansion a year and that’s all people have to pay, the only difference is in the amounts charged and how much extra content you get for your money.)

Watercooler on Class Design

Ghostcrawler posted one of his neat thought blogs, this time on class design and roles  in WoW. And it sounds to me as though they know all the issues inside out and the base problems with  some classes being way more hybrid than others (compare the druids’s 4 roles with the mage’s 1 role) would just be too much hassle to change at this point in the game.

I think that’s fair. No point annoying the players who like their classes just the way they are – well not more than totally shaking up the talent trees every expansion would have done anyway. But it sounds a bit weary to me, the tone of designers who’ve mostly given up. Maybe they got burned on the old DK talent tree model, where each tree was intended to be able to perform both melee and tanking roles. It’s a shame because I thought that was good fun, but I can see why sinking back into one tree per role for hybrids and … uh … one tree per different play style for non-hybrids is an easier and more comfortable fit.

I felt tired just reading it. Tired of the game design which involves always having to chase after ‘OK, so which is the best class/ spec for this role I’d like to do’ or ‘ohnoes, my class/spec  got nerfed and no one will want me for role X any more’  or ‘class X can fill 17 different roles, what do I get to make up for not being able to do that?’ (There’s a theme around balance and how your class ends up as the lens through which you see the game here.) Ultimately, you either pick a class/ spec because you love the theme and feel and playstyle, or you pick your preferred role (possibly because of theme/ playstyle) and try to pick the class that best embodies it – and these two approaches don’t always match.

As a player, I just want to be able to pick my class because I dig it and be able to perform whichever role I want to a level that’s acceptable to the rest of the player base. Is it really that much to ask? (yes :P ) Oh, and I don’t want to play a melee class in PvP but I really like melee classes in PvE. Come back to me when you’ve thought it over again.

Is it that end of expansion time already?

Usually the end of an expansion is marked by an upswing of hype for the next expansion. I think in WoW, this changed during Wrath, because there was a long slow period between the last major raid being patched in and the new expansion. So now in Cataclysm, it’s not surprising that people are already talking about this being the end of the expansion. (Incidentally, it also makes me suspect that the  slow period at the end of Wrath is  setting the pattern now for future WoW expansion cycles).

I noticed that WoW Insider has a column on “what to do when you’re bored at the end of an expansion” to mark this. They suggest speed running heroics (just in case you’re not bored of running heroics yet, I guess), soloing stuff from the last expansion, or joining their new social guild. There is plenty of other stuff to do in WoW, including collecting achievements, PvP, levelling alts etc etc.

Or you could unsubscribe and play something else, the MoP ‘open’ beta isn’t likely to start until Summer at the earliest. Just a thought.

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14 thoughts on “[WoW] Annual pass thoughts, class design, end of expansion blues?

  1. Incidentally I have read statements by multiple people regretting their impulse choice to buy the Annual Pass. Especially the ones who are now playing SWTOR seem to be struggling with the decision.

    I personally thought the Annual Pass was a clever idea on the part of Blizzard, but I would never have purchased it. I am frankly somewhat shocked by the current state of WoW. 4.3.2 is the last patch, there is going to be absolutely no more new content, and MoP isn’t even in beta yet. Six months or more of absolutely nothing new, mindlessly running LFR and Dragon Soul until you puke? People should kick Blizzard in the teeth for this.

    If you compare this to the content release cycles of Rift, Blizzard should be even more ashamed.

    Yet maybe I am only saying this because I broke my WoW habit last year. I had a short surge of renewed vigor for it in October/November, but that died when I first tried the most soulless experience I ever had in WoW, LFR.

    • “People should kick Blizzard in the teeth for this.”

      But they’re not, is the thing. In fact, sub numbers barely dipped over the last quarter even with SWTOR being released. Some of that will be down to the 10% who are now locked in for the year with the annual pass, but really I was expecting to see a larger drop. So colour me puzzled. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing.

      With the Annual Pass, it was a no-brainer for me to skip it. I had already stopped playing WoW and knew I wouldn’t miss it (maybe the people but not the game) for at least 6 months. I hadn’t seen a lot of people regretting picking the pass up though, so I just assumed they were mostly equally happy with their choice.

      • I suspect the numbers will look a lot different for the January-March quarter, given that TOR will have been out the entire release.

        I’m very curious about TOR’s long term numbers, given that I know of a few people who unsubbed WoW over a year ago went to playing that instead. It’s entirely possible that WoW might not be affected in their numbers because there’s enough turnover in the MMO market that new players are replacing the old.

        As for the annual pass, 10% seems awfully low to me. I expected that there’d be more along the lines of 20-30%, particularly since you’d figure that there’s a core group of long time players still there. I guess that means that the churn in subscription numbers goes deeper than I thought.

      • Yeah, I don’t understand this at all. What I also don’t understand is people quitting SWTOR to go back to WoW. Why, what in the world? Most of those candidates seem to be the folks who rushed to 50 in SWTOR and then got bored. Fine, they can do weekly LFR and achievements til they’re blue in the face.

        I introduced a RL friend to WoW two weeks ago, and while I played with her in the start zone, it just drove home that it’s not really a game to play together as a duo anymore, not the way SWTOR is, e.g. I’ll rather wait for Guild Wars 2, my anticipation levels for MoP are very low.

      • For my views on the “role of role” post, you can read my latest blog post. But the numbers are, I think, a bit misleading in this quarter. Considering SW:TOR only released at the end of it, a lot of people were annually passed, a new patch dropped, BlizzCon “launched” the new expansion, the last raid of Cataclysm went in, LFR happened, transmogrification was implemented and three new easy dungeons went live… Blizzard couldn’t have possibly thrown any more at the last quarter and STILL posted another loss.

        Since then, there are people regretting the annual pass, there will be no new content, the novelty of transmogrification will wear off, people will be sick of LFR, Dragon Soul will be nerfed to the ground, more guilds will have collapsed, six-month subscriptions will have ceded in the time since BlizzCon, SW:TOR will actually tell on subscriptions and Guild Wars 2 will be closer. I absolutely do not believe the worst has passed, and that the next quarter will see the worst losses yet.

        Expect a loss of over a million, maybe even two. That’s how far I think WoW has fallen.

      • …either way though, we should be debating the effect SWTOR had on WoW during Q1 of this year. We will know for sure if it had an impact.

        In the meantime though, I am gonna bet that sub numbers are going to bleed rather heavily while players wait for MoP. Especially if the choice of prime MMO’s increases with the release of TERA and GW2 during this downtime. Boredom and new games is never a good mix for player retention.

      • In fact, sub numbers barely dipped over the last quarter even with SWTOR being released.

        Where do you find sub numbers reported? And do those count ftp-ers?

  2. Man, the annual pass. That was really one of those things where I just wanted to grab everyone buying it by the shoulders and yell at them for a bit.

    “For God’s sake, they’re not giving you a free copy of Diablo III for subscribing for a year. They’re saying they’re pretty sure you won’t be paying them for WOW five months from now.”

  3. Either a game has hybrids or they don’t. They make each subset skill in the hybrid viable or they don’t. The one thing I most hated about WoW was that all the hybrid classes were cockeyed in one or another to encourage one class type in the trees. Mostly whatever was in the most need at the moment (healers or tanks).

    Then of course you hit a wall in the end if your class type was useless in groups. Goodbye to the chance of ever seeing the end of the latest expansion’s story arc.

    It has to stop. It will eventually. Especially since WoW is continuing to bleed more subscribers.

  4. WoW isn’t bleeding subscribers though, at least not like it has been. A series of failures throughout cataclysm (difficult random dungeons being far and away #1) took a toll on the numbers, but that’s mostly over, and MoP for all its panda silliness looks like it is a 180 from the cataclysm philosophy. I don’t know if people will return but the worst is likely over.

    I recently resubbed to WoW, having quit just before Cataclysm released, but I didn’t take the annual pass. Mainly because I will likely unsub in the event i get Diablo 3 to play it, and it only gives you access to the MoP beta which I don’t really care that much about. Since MoP will release this year, you’re already on the hook for another $40 if you actually want to use the rest of your pass. Now if they threw in the actual expansion for free, I might do it.

    I don’t really get the hybrid complaints though. Does anyone pick mage expecting to heal or tank? It might make sense to get rid of ‘specs’ for dps and have all of them play the same way, but then maybe people like the variety or find one spec smoother to play than the next. This is one of those things that just ain’t broke, so they shouldn’t try to fix it.

  5. Of the active MMOs out there now, which ones have a feature set that is above and beyond what exists in WoW?

    People were clamoring for TOR before it launched and look where we are now. People were ecstatic for the original GW and it didn’t make a big dent in the MMO world.

    There’s so much hype about the next big thing that it’s never actually come. Many people have taken a swing, some have had decent hits but absolutely no one will ever be able to hit a homerun. The MMO-virgin is extinct and that’s how WoW made its millions.

    WoW could release nothing but screenshots for 3 years and still end up with more subscribers than all other western MMOs combined.

  6. Wow can bleed subscribers for the next year and still be a viable – ridiculously viable game. The benefit to all of us is that more and more of those subscriber dollars can support the greater game ecosystem for a little while and give us some additional game choices.

    I paid for the year-pass out of a sense of momentum more than anything ese. My time as a semi-serious world of warcraft player is pretty much done. I know that. That said, my kids still play and I know I’m going to play Diablo 3 when it comes out. So it’s still a win for me.

    SWTOR? I’d love to play it. I played the beta and watched a HUGE number of friends give up WoW for it. Maybe when they come out with a Mac client I will ;)

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