As Blizzard are likely reminded whenever they forget not to read news stories like this one, World of Warcraft’s subscriber base is falling. Not like a stone, but a spinning jenny. Gracefully, but steadily.
Even so, more of their staff are being sent to Azeroth’s coalface than ever before, and fewer returning to work on other projects. So what fearsome workflow paradox is gobbling up some of PC gaming’s most talented developers?
The nebulous, ever-changing Next Expansion, it turns out.
“We find that expansions are what bring players back to World of Warcraft,” explained designer Greg Street in a chinwag with Digital Spy.
He said that “really good” patches - like September’s Siege of Orgrimmar, which Blizzard told investors proved terribly successful - helps the company retain players for longer. But they aren’t so useful for relighting extinguished interest from former subscribers.
“We really want to get to a cadence where we can release expansions more quickly. Once a year I think would be a good rate. I think the best thing we can do for new players is to keep coming out with regular content updates.”
“Faster cadence” is the term Blizzard monarch Mike Morhaime used when he revealed the studio were already working on a successor to Warlords of Draenor - the as-yet unreleased expansion announced at BlizzCon.
“We've never done that in the past,” said Morhaime. “We've been doing one expansion at a time, sort of a very linear content creation model, and we've looked at ways that we can parallelize that. So that while we're working on this expansion we're looking at the new one.”
Elsewhere, the burgeoning WoW dev team are looking to procedural content to keep up with its community’s insatiable need for new stuff to burn through. Perhaps they’d better take the lift and go visit the Diablo III team for tips. What do you reckon?