Ready or not, World of Warcraft which is the leading MMORPG title on the market is going to release its fourth expansion officially on September 25th. It has ben in beta for some time now, but we are going to see if World of Warcraft can maintain the same level of magic and appeal with this upcoming expansion. As we have reported earlier, the world of MMORPG is going through quite a bit of transition lately. It was primarily quite a cash cow for some companies due to the paid subscriber model. Month after month, millions of users would pay a fixed $9.95 and up just to play an online game. Whether they actually play the game or not, the subscriptions keep rolling in and the re-bills keep coming in. It is kind of like your electricity bill or your phone bill. Regardless of whether you use it or not, there is a minimum bill that is going to come. This is quite a nice stream of income.
However, the industry has changed to free to play, so that a large number of MMORPG players have migrated to completely free to play program where you can play the game as much as you want. However, if you would like some certain bonuses or items, then you have to go to the online store and pay real money for these items. Originally there were some doubts whether the free to play model would actually take off. Considering how the market is stacked up now, it can be safely said that free to play is here to stay. This brings us back to how World of Warcraft can survive in a space that is increasingly free to play.
One clue to that is the erosion of WOW’s previously impressive subscriber base. While World of Warcraft still has millions of subscribers, it lost several millions during the past few quarters while recently that number has stabilized. This is not a good sign for the subscriber model. Another clue as to the impact of the free to play model on World of Warcraft is offering a free to play version up to level 20. This ostensibly is aimed at getting people to get a taste test for the game, get them hooked and get them turned on so that they would want to migrate to a paid subscriber status. The jury is still out if this is an effective strategy.
It is clear from the two developments described above that the MMORPG space is going through a key transition. Blizzard, the developer of World of Warcraft, is getting big that its fourth update, to be officially released on September 25th entitled Mists of Pandaria, will not only maintain World of Warcraft’s freshness among its existing members but also improve its content quality and also boosts its global brand. The end objective obviously is to either maintain the member base or grow it. Some industry observers have noted that the panda theme for Mists of Pandaria is not an accident, but it is aimed at Chinese market. The Chinese MMORPG market is gigantic and according to this school of thought, World of Warcraft is being positioned in such a way as to appeal to a large growth market and since its American market has pretty much matured and saturated.
According to the co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment, Mists of Pandaria will contain the largest variety of content ever crafted for a WOW expansion. He is saying that this update will appeal to newbies, veterans and players in between. We are hoping being WOW fans ourselves that it will also appeal to people who have “outgrown” World of Warcraft. This is where the rubber meets the road. Whether there is enough compelling content to bring old fans back. If they are able to do that and they are able to hold their attention, then Blizzard would have achieved its objectives. If Mists of Pandaria falls on its face, then this would just really be a delaying action until either World of Warcraft comes up with a winning update or faces the free to play reality of MMORPG and comes up with a bold move.