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Will Titan's birth mean WoW's death or will they manage to coexist?

There's been a lot of talk lately about WoW's future and I thought I'd share my take on it, especially since Titan will have a key role to play in what's coming next for Blizzard's hit MMO.

First of all, despite all the doomsaying that's been going on lately, WoW is neither dead nor dying right now. You're looking at a game with 11 million players that lost about 6% of this over the course of 6,7 spring / summer months. And most of these were accompanied by a content drought, patch 4.1 not bringing that much to the starving gamers. It's really not an issue.

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WoW's true problem, one that will tightly relate to Titan's launch, lies in another area. Its player base has probably never been so unhappy and worried. There are numerous reasons for this: over-simplification of the game, player interaction (mostly through automated matchmaking systems), a lot of of main WoW devs moving to Titan, lack of true innovation, etc. How many of these are true and how many are just community created issues is up for discussion, but when it comes to bringing a game down, perception can easily have the same effect as reality.

Even so, WoW is not really in trouble yet. It can easily change the mood with an awesome expansion pack. And I'm absolutely sure it will happen. Game developers moving to Titan is also a non-issue. Blizzard has said they want to use this new game to increase recruiting and bring in new talent so the WoW poaching is definitely not going to continue. It was just something that was needed at one point, to transfer over some of the huge experience they've gathered since 2004.

So nothing is decided yet and all the doomsayers are jumping the gun badly in my opinion. We've seen that they plan to launch 2 expansions in the next 3 years... that is absolutely huge and these alone can take the game to new subscriber levels. But you know what? That's only a small part of what's next.

In order for WoW to endure Titan's launch and probable ascent, it needs to have more on its side than being different from it. Specific genres are not that critical to most MMO players... we'll play pretty much any game that launches and is not an absolute trainwreck. Moving from a hotkey classic MMO to a shooter style MMORPG won't be a jump too big for a lot people, as long as the new game has features that interest them and is accessible enough.

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Another issue that has to be considered by Blizzard is that the new game will appeal to a very critical demographic: the nostalgic WoW vanilla players. Since there are few chances they'll get the classic servers they want, most will be tempted to go in another Vanilla period, even if it's not WoW's. Even more, the smell of a fresh new Blizzard MMO will attract a lot of other players.

This is why I think WoW will try to come up with more reasons than usual for players, old and new, to play it.

The main one, that I see 100% happening, is becoming a F2P game. No matter what subscription model Titan will adopt, keeping WoW P2P would put it at a severe disadvantage:
  • If both games are P2P, most people will feel the need to choose only one and the fresh new toy usually wins at this.
  • If Titan will be F2P then a P2P WoW would bleed subscribers like there's no tomorrow.
If we could see a report on WoW's income sources right now, I'm sure that the services and vanity items section already brings home some decent cash. In 2-3 years, it will probably get much stronger and I think it will be able to keep WoW profitable on its own. Combine this with the current success of Starter's edition and it's clear that Blizzard is seriously considering taking this step. It might even do it sooner than Titan's launch, although I doubt it.

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The other important thing that will help WoW succeed even after Titan comes is real change and innovation. It needs to feel new in order to keep its devoted customers and attract new players. The last expansion especially has severely lacked this and the reaction it triggered has been extremely negative. If Mists of Pandaria really ends up being the next expansion, hate it or love it, the message it's sending is clear: the real cataclysm is coming. It shows that Blizzard can still surprise everyone and is daring enough to try and shake things up, even after a so called cataclysm.

Another thing that keeps bugging me is what will follow the 5th expansion, since I really really doubt they'll just stop working at the game after that. The obvious answer is another expansion (doh), but I can't help feeling there will be a huge change in the way they deliver us new content. It's a hunch that is based on exactly nothing, but it's still something to ponder upon.

To sum it up, WoW can absolutely still reach new peeks and it can do more than just survive Titan's landing, but for this to happen, some important steps must be made in the next years. And knowing Blizzard, I trust they'll make it so. WoW is their biggest earner and saying they'll give up on it is ridiculous, especially since it's still far from being old or weak.