Well, that explains it

Yesterday Activision Blizzard issued their Q2 2015 earnings report, and I found two interesting items in it. (You can download the actual report, the slides, listen to the conference call, etc. on the corporate website home page, but if you don’t want to plow through all of that, check out Joar’s excellent analysis over at WoW Alt Addiction.)

First interesting item:

Quote from Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard:

Our audience size and the total amount of time people spend with our franchises continue to grow. In the second quarter, our monthly active users grew by 35% year-over-year, and the time our communities spent playing our games grew by 25% year-over-year.

Who knew that time spent playing the game is one of the things the Blizz execs measure as success? It explains nearly everything people have complained about in WoD.

  • Ground travel only, no flying.
  • Slightly slowed travel speeds when compared to Azeroth proper.
  • Having to stop and fight mobs en route to a quest location.
  • Garrison “chores” for every alt every day.
  • Longer and longer boss fights for raids.
  • Longer time to even get to bosses because of huge numbers of trash.
  • Circuitous commercial flight routes even after the so-called “improvements.”
  • Complex jumping puzzles that involve 5 minutes or more per attempt (like the ones in Nagrand).
  • Apexis grinds as a rep requirement.
  • Garrisons spread out to maximize time spent running between fishing hut, mine, level 3 tower, profession huts, and shipyard.

Now you may say that none of the things I mentioned are very significant in terms of additional time required, and you would be right if considered individually. But look at the bigger picture.

Pseudo-mathy stuff: According to the Q2 report, WoW currently has 5.6 million players, a figure we will discuss more in a minute. I don’t know exactly how Blizz measures player time, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that they compute an average daily play time for each franchise. So WoW might have an aggregate daily average of — just pulling these numbers out of thin air for the sake of making a point — say, 3 million active players on any given day. If in second quarter of 2014 the same 3 million active players averaged 20 minutes of play time, that would come out to something like 537,000 quarterly player-weeks. (3,000,000 players x 20 min/day x 90 days, converted to weeks)

Call it .5 million quarterly player-weeks.

Now add 10 minutes per day additional play time in Q2 2015, due to all the WoD time stretchers. That comes to over .8 million player-weeks.

Of course, this is a very very rough calculation. A year ago there more players than now. I have no idea how many play each day or what the average play time is. I did not account for the fact that some people only play for a certain amount of time even if it is slower progression. Not to mention a year ago there were more players than there are now.

Seemingly insignificant game time sinks can add up to a huge difference in aggregate time spent actually playing the game. (Which by the way translates into more revenue from WoW’s Far East players, who pay by game time not by monthly subscription.)

So, if you are in charge of WoW development, and you know the corporate execs consider increased game play time to be a measure of success, how interested are you going to be in listening to — much less fixing — player complaints about garrison time sinks, long travel times, etc.? Are you going to listen to players or to your corporate bosses when you give guidance on new boss encounter fight lengths? 

Second interesting item:

As others have written about, WoW lost another 1.5 million subscribers in Q2, added to the 3 million loss in Q1, bringing current subscription levels to 5.6 million. There are certainly multiple reasons for this (check out The Grumpy Elf for a good summary), and Mike Morhaime put his usual “expected cyclical drop” spin on it, but no thinking individual can ignore the obvious conclusion that WoD is a huge failure, possibly the biggest stinker in the history of the game.

The other major factor I see in the subscription decline is that Blizz has lost the trust of its players. Other expansions have been deemed failures, but they did not result in such drastic and sustained player loss. But Blizz has acted arrogantly throughout WoD. They have treated players shabbily, refusing to even discuss widespread and legitimate player concerns, often dismissing them with flippant and disrespectful non-responses. They have just gone through the motions with beta and PTR tests, ignoring serious player input. And if they have not lied outright, they have certainly been slyly and purposely disingenuous about nearly every aspect of WoD, from flying to the role of garrisons to what constitutes “content.”

People will just not put up with that kind of treatment for long, and the result is they vote with their feet.

We will see what effect tomorrow’s Gamescon event has on the player base. It is possible that it will be so awesome that it re-energizes interest in the game, and if the actual expansion carries through on what will undoubtedly be a series of terrific promises, it might be enough — combined with the movie — for a miraculous turnaround for WoW.

I hope so, because I still love this game. But honestly I am not optimistic. Nothing changes the fact that WoW is an aging game model, useful to Activision Blizzard mainly for its name recognition and echoes of past popularity. And! sadly, nothing apparently will change the current Blizz attitude of disdain for its customers.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

2 Responses to Well, that explains it

  1. Grumsta says:

    Even if Blizz do announce the most amazing-looking xpac, do they have enough credibility left that people will believe that they can and will deliver it?

    On paper at least, there is little wrong with the ideas behind WoD. It is the execution (in both senses of the word) of those ideas that caused the issues I have with the end-content game of 6.0 and 6.1.

    I bought WoD as soon as it came out. I tucked the flying mount away for use later in Draenor (still waiting…..) and used the bundled level 90 boost to try out a DK on the Horde side. It genuinely looked like good value.

    After the horror of the release week, and the subsequent thrill of getting to 100 and then hating the reality of life at that level, I will never subject myself to that experience again, ever.

    I will watch the trailers, and read the analysis, and I will don my “I’ll believe it when I see it” T-shirt, and wait.

    If beta-testers are excited, and report favourably that Blizz are fixing reported issues. If Blizz can manage to launch the new xpac without the chaos of WoD. If the levelling is at least as good as MoP/WoD. If there are plenty of optional and interesting things to do when max level is hit. If professions have at least some semblance of logic and reason to them. If the RNG elements are reined back to a reasonable level. Then I will consider buying the next xpac. But only when it’s on discount.

    I’d like to see Blizz give the next xpac away to anyone who paid for WoD. Not holding my breath.

    In the meantime I will waddle my way around the dirt roads and mountainous cul-de-sacs of Draenor on my Soaring Skyterror and ponder the emptiness of the words of Blizzard.

    • Fiannor says:

      I agree — words are weak, actions speak. And it will be months before we have any idea of whether Blizz will actually deliver on what they unveil today. I am trying to keep my approach one of healthy skepticism instead of jaded cynicism, but after the past year it is very difficult. In my opinion, they have already broken yet another promise to us on flying, so I find it ironic that they will be giving us an entirely new set of promises today.

      In spite of myself, though, I am very excited about today’s event. Because I want to believe Blizz can still be the company it used to be.

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