A few months ago, Activision-Blizzard announced in an earnings call that World of Warcraft, the big daddy of online fantasy role-playing games, lost a staggering 1.3 million subscribers in a three month period. Yowzza! 1.3 million of anything is a big number, and it’s hard to fathom that number of gamers heading for the exits. I have to admit that I was fairly shocked when I first read the news. Sure, WOW is past its heyday, and I know many serious gamers who have grown disenchanted with the platform, but I didn’t think things were so bad as to justify a 1.3 million exodus.
So what exactly caused this loss? Experts believe that the age of the game, first released in 2004, is one reason players left. WOW just doesn’t seem as relevant as it did a few years ago. Also, the game is being forced to compete with an ever increasing number of free-to-play online competitors. That, coupled with a weak economy, has created a bad situation for Activision-Blizzard, and while it’d be a stretch to say that MMORPGs are dying as a whole, the numbers aren’t good.
So what about the Elder Scrolls Online? Will the same factors that hurt WOW’s subscription numbers hamstring ESO? In my opinion, the answer is no. To begin with, the Elder Scrolls Online is immune from issues of irrelevancy. Quite the opposite from WOW, ESO is fresh and hasn’t been released to the public at the time of this article. Legions of fans are enthusiastically anticipating the game’s final release. According to the Skyrim Fansite’s latest poll, 82.35% of respondents can’t wait to sign up for the game. While this poll is in no ways scientific, it does help to illustrate the game’s appeal.
To be sure, the Elder Scrolls Online will have to compete with the same free-to-play MMORPGs that WOW contends with. ESO will be subscription based, and this may turnoff some potential gamers. However, it should be noted that “free” doesn’t necessarily translate to “good.” Quality games will rise to the top, despite the number of freebies floating around the internet, and I have every reason to believe that the Elder Scrolls Online will be top shelf. To help mitigate the effects of free competition, ESO should:
- Make certain that subscription fees are reasonable and affordable, especially in light of the weak economy.
- Give subscribers their money’s worth in terms of game play, design, and social features.
- Eliminate barriers for newbies to make it easier to learn and participate in the game while at the same time keeping things interesting for hard core gamers who, in the end, will be the biggest supporters of the platform.
So what do you think? Are MMORPGs dying and do you see any negative consequences for the Elder Scrolls Online being released in today’s environment?