Tuesday, June 19, 2007

WoW: Rocking the Bass

Mostly because I'm not remotely interested, it takes a while for WoW news to reach my little corner of the internets. But even I sit up and take some notice when Tobold quits. That's a lot of things but none of them a good sign. Checking in with some of my WoW addicted friends, I see it's not an isolated incident – a lot of people aren't happy with the game or the latest expansion. And they're leaving in droves. Or at least not playing as much which amounts to the same thing – inactivity precedes cancellation. Mr. Koster goes some ways towards explaining just why this is happening. To my untrained eye, the phenomenon is all about the Bass diffusion curve. A theoretical model for the adaption of new products or services. Or even ideas.

But that's neither here nor there, the basic idea is that with every product there's an initial sharp adaptation followed by a long, slow steady decline to a baseline level. The slope of the curve, where the data points fall, might change but the shape is always similar. People rush to a product then lose interest for any number of reasons so usership falls off. Updates or holiday seasons can create a new curve on top of the existing curve but they're only delaying the inevitable decline.

And while it's odd to think of a game with 8+ million subscribers as being in trouble, it's probably going to be a long time before Blizzard triumphantly announces their 9th million subscriber. Oh, there'll be plenty of people playing and it's altered the landscape considerably but their period of rapid growth seems to be over and, now, they can only lose market share.

WoW is now two years old and coming off a major expansion – creating a spike in interest – but it's easy to see why players might be tiring of the gameplay with newer and better competition on the market. If, say, you tire of raiding, adding more raids isn't going to pique your interest for long. The game's not novel, it's not exciting, not anymore, it's created a level of quality that others aim for. Almost anyone who wants to try WoW has likely done so by this point, they can only lose customers who are enticed away by other offers.

And the problem is that although the developer can create such a spike in interest with a new expansion it takes time and effort to create each expansion. A lot of time and effort. They can't just ship one overnight, after all. It's a major event and, as far as I know, there's not another one on the horizon any time soon. After a certain point the law of diminishing returns takes over and you won't even be retaining as many customers as it takes to make it worthwhile to release an x-pack.

Even mighty WoW, then, has a shelf life. Which just goes to confirm that what I've thought all along. There is a WoW-killer: time.

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