With Warlords of Draenor almost upon us, World of Warcraft is riding a bit higher these days. Player numbers are up, and the hype is kicking in for the release in just a couple of weeks. Yet, Warlords of Draenor is being released in a different MMORPG mood and market this time around, even for Blizzard. Warlords promises a mix of advancement and nostalgia, and it really couldn’t come at a better time. With WoW’s 10th anniversary, the game is indeed an aging one, but one with loyalty like none other. Blizzard looks to go into this one with a new refocused view on WoW and its community.
With the final word of the cancellation of Titan now weeks old, one gets the sense that a weight has gone from Blizzard’s shoulders, and that is the pressure to unveil something bigger and better. Expectations for Titan would’ve been high and players demanding, which, isn’t something that Blizzard appears to shrink from. However, with Titan, it appears, from accounts official and unofficial, that it was tough to nail down a solid direction in such a huge game project. Blizzard is now concentrating on smaller projects and isn’t even certain another MMORPG is in the cards. That is telling when it comes to WoW, which even as it has lost many players over the years, is also compelling and familiar, and sets a tone which some can never pass up for long.
Reports came in recently that WoW gained 600,000 players, no doubt partly because the new expansion is coming. Warlords of Draenor is sitting to be much better received than the last expansion, Mists of Pandaria. For one, it surely hasn’t gotten the same type of polarizing early word. There are no pandas, no accusations of pandering to children (regardless of the Pandaren history in Warcraft), and this new expansion comes at a time of renewal for the game, with updated models and visual polish. Warlords isn’t without its bits of controversy, like selling boosts to cap for those not pre-ordering, but the pre-release atmosphere for this expansion is in a good place.
When you release an expansion to a game like this, most of the content will be aimed at those already playing the game. That’s a given, which is why you have level cap increases and advanced content. WoD is focused on enhancing that sense of familiarity, to bring back memories, and give players content with WoW characters and history yet in a new way. Some might dismiss WoW’s familiarity and the loyalty and affinity its players have for the game is nothing more than addiction or an inability to move on, but while that might account for a few people, the game didn’t get or stay where it is, globally, that way. That includes how the game has changed over time. WoW to many is a relaxing space for them to hang out with friends. That familiarity aids the game, and Warlords of Draenor plays to that nostalgia while still trying to offer some novelty.
Many comments responding to the news tried to downplay the importance of those numbers or talk about how many will leave after they’re done playing through the new content. Yet 600,000 people is highly significant, even if many of them will drop in to play the expansion and possibly leave afterward. Yet some will stay. WoD will be offering garrisons, somewhere for players to stay and grow their impact. It’s not exactly housing that players have asked for for years, but it’s significant. Blizzard is offering fans things they’ve asked for, plus a taste of more.
The presence of Titan emphasized the question of “what was next?” hanging over Blizzard and the WoW community. As WoW aged and started losing players, many were hanging their hopes on Titan. The questions regarding what was next and what Blizzard could possibly present to one-up itself became the focus. Yet there was no ‘next’. It stalled, then production was scrapped in order to start over from scratch. Yet, ultimately, Warlords of Draenor represents the “next”, signaling a new focus for Blizzard on the community it has, as well as smaller projects. But when it comes to its signature, WoW, the current message seems to be along the lines of ‘We’re going to focus on this game. We’re going to develop for this game, revitalize this game, and actively listen more’ as long as you’re here.
The way we play MMORPGs can be so personal, and Blizzard trying to woo these people back is important, because it’s addressing WoW as it is now, and the both changing and consistent needs of the players that always flock back, whether for a month or two, or who miss their MMO homes. It’s something that other games with similar longevity also have to address, but with WoD on the horizon, many feel like they are coming home again.