It’s been awhile since we wrote about World of Warcraft, not because we wouldn’t like to, but because there is honestly next to nothing new to write about. Don’t misunderstand: There’s nearly always something that can be said about WoW. Right now, however, what people want to know is the one thing that we have heard next to nothing about since Gamescom at the beginning of August: Legion.
The timing of Legion’s reveal was suspect given that the week before Activision-Blizzard’s financial report for the preceding quarter had been released with the news that subscriptions had fallen off sharply yet again, to about 5.5M from over 10M in November 2014. The Gamescom presentation lacked the same enthusiasm that, for instance, the Warlords of Draenor expansion had a couple of years before. There was no true cinematic trailer of the quality that Blizzard is well-known for producing and the presenters were lackluster missing that Metzen exuberance of the sort that generates excitement.
Yet even with all of this, players and fans of World of Warcraft were interested enough in what was said during Gamescom -- how many can resist tying up loose ends of so many storylines and the return of Illidan and the Burning Legion after all -- to have given Blizzard a golden opportunity to recapture the imagination of its dwindling community. We were captivated...for about two weeks when it became clear that what was said at Gamescom was pretty much it and that this same information would be repeated over and over in the weeks following the convention. Since then, developer Twitter has remained largely silent. No new interviews have been granted (and, yes, we tried more than once). No new artwork, wallpapers, concept pieces, videos...no new anything.
The assumed reason is, of course, that Blizzcon wasn’t that far away (at the time of Gamescom, eleven weeks or so), a seeming disconnect on the part of the WoW development team that in Internet time, this is an eternity for a mercurial and increasingly suspicious community.
It is a fair guess that Legion's beta and release dates will be announced during Blizzcon, but will it be too little, too late with too much enthusiasm and momentum lost in the weeks between Gamescom and Blizzcon? Think about it: It is likely that the earliest Legion will arrive is March 2016, though one has to wonder how “ready” it will be considering the balance issues a new class brings to the game as well as the overhaul of existing systems such as the artifact “leveling” system, the change in loot drops with the removal of weapons as obtainable gear, the separation of PvE and PvP skills, the alterations in the inventory and transmog systems, etc. Without a decent amount of time in beta, the results of rushing Legion out the door to try to staunch the outflow of subscribers could be catastrophic.
Just a few sobering facts about WoW in the last several weeks that are indicative of the overall health of the game:
- MMO-Champion regularly puts out statistical information like this one about pet battling. Looking at the data that is used to create the graphs, it can be noted that the numbers are based on 2.1M players that have logged in since August 1st. That’s less than half of the published 5.6M subscribers listed in early August
- Speaking of MMO-Champion - it says a lot when a site dedicated to World of Warcraft has so much nothing to report about its centerpiece game that both WildStar and Guild Wars 2 take top billing in the news
- WoWhead is reduced to rehashing news about minor changes in old content for events such as Brewfest, how to use group finder, leveling pets during battles, etc.
- Publication of the first volume of the Warcraft Chronicles book series has been pushed from September 2015 to March 2016
- Pre-order perks for Legion have been announced, but not the actual preorder for the game
Don’t get me wrong: I find it rather nice that Blizzard isn’t making wild promises for features that ultimately won’t make it into the game. Similarly, it is no secret that keeping things under wraps until Blizzcon and the weeks following is good for sites like ours and for the overall WoW community. But even saying this, there are things that Blizzard can and should be doing to keep its community pumped up. Either it is completely unaware that the PR tactics of 2008 no longer apply or it simply doesn’t care. Both are rather frightening.
So because of Blizzard's hubris or lack of understanding, the WoW community, once the most stable and adoring, continues to bleed players. When November's financials are released, what will the picture look like? 2.5M? Less? It remains to be seen, yet at least some of the decline in subscription numbers could have been avoided if Blizzard showed a little interest in maintaining the momentum they had in the days following Legion's announcement in August.
The bottom line is that there was and is a need to “woo” the WoW community a little bit, to throw it a few bones here and there in ways that can be done without revealing too much too soon. Throw out a concept piece a week. Create downloadable wallpapers. Run contests like Wowhead is doing right now. Talk about Demon Hunters. Show off a new location. Any and all of these things can and should be done to keep people interested. Yet all we have gotten for the past six weeks is...silence and it is, at least to many, damaging the game more harshly than need be.
Has the death knell has finally sounded? No, at least not yet. World of Warcraft still makes money and still commands the largest community of MMO players in the world. It will stay viable for several more years. But with the likes of Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic (able this year to capitalize on the Star Wars movie frenzy), and Final Fantasy XIV all chipping away at WoW's subscription numbers, as well as the “up and comers” that will continue to attract players, it seems prudent for Blizzard to acknowledge that the days of “when it’s ready, it will be released” are over. That luxury is no longer theirs.
What about you? What would you like to see Blizzard reveal about Legion? What, if anything, do you think Legion will accomplish for World of Warcraft? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.