How do you deal with an aging game during its low periods?
BfA has seen an ostensibly large uptick in Store activity. In the 5 months since BfA was released we’ve had several items of note added to the store:
- The Dreadwake: £54
- Vulpine Familiar: £19
- Whomper: £9
- Cap’n Crackers: £9
- The Last Chance Bundle: Up to £50
- And now: Hogrus, Swine of Good Fortune: £19
Now that’s quite a churn rate for promotions in the store in only 5 months, and people, rightly to some degree, are getting pretty angry at Blizzard for what they’re seeing as Blizzard taking the piss with “cash grabs”.
Previously Blizz would have added maybe 2 store mounts throughout an expansion’s lifecycle, yet here we’ve had 3 mounts, 2 pets and a “last chance” bundle of helms, pets and mounts in only 5 months.
So, why do I consider this a good thing, as per the title? Surely the people saying these are cash grabs are right?
Well, yes, obviously they are, as otherwise they’d be free or earned ingame. But let’s start with the obvious and natural response to ANYTHING on the store: it’s an optional purchase. You could play WoW for years and never ever purchase anything on the store in your life and it would have absolutely zero impact on your gameplay experience.
Secondly, these store items are designed either for whales like me to purchase and prop up the game’s profits/sustainability, or for people wishing to buy an ingame gift for a friend or family member. And either of those things are completely fine. Each to their own, as it’s their money to do with as they like.
Have I bought any of the above items since BfA released?
I “bought” the Dreadwake when it was available, because realistically I knew I would be subbed for at least 6 months, and with that purchase I got a sub for those 6 months that was cheaper than paying monthly (as I had been doing) AND a free mount into the bargain. It was a short to medium-term no brainer.
I also bought the Last Chance Bundle, as the helms were always something I wanted for transmog, but thought were way too expensive at £10 each. So when I was able to get them in a bundle for £14, along with another mount and pet I hadn’t picked up yet (Swift Windsteed and Lil XT)? Tbh it was a pretty good deal, and I got a reduced price because I already owned a lot of the items in the overall bundle.
I also bought Cap’n Crackers because Y’arr Motherfuckers.
But I haven’t bought the Vulpine Familiar, Hogrus or Whomper. Will I? I’ll probably buy the Vulpine Familiar or Hogrus with ingame gold, as I have a large amount of gold sitting Alliance side gathering dust while I’m mostly Horde-centric at the moment. I’ll likely just buy the other outright at some stage.
Also, bear in mind that Whomper was the now traditional Annual Charity pet, so really can’t be wailed on too hard.
So where’s the justification for spending cash in the store?
First off, none is required. If you think it is, then re-read the 7th & 8th paragraphs in this article then come back.
That aside, with BfA not being the greatest expansion the game has ever had, subs numbers are likely to be trending lower at the moment. Estimates of 2-3 million active players would probably be on the very low side of estimates, but not completely impossible. At present I would personally estimate that the game probably has about 4-5 million players, counting both cash subs and those paying for their subs with gold.
And of that, I would estimate a 80/20 split between cash subs and gold subs. Which means that atm WoW has an active cash subs base of about 4m players. That means an active montly income of just under £36m.
Now that sounds like a lot (and it is), but you have to remember to factor in:
- Server maintenance costs
- Infrastructural maintenence costs
- Staff Costs (300+ active WoW staff, plus supplementary staff like community managers etc): This will likely be the single biggest cost.
- e-Sports tournaments and prizes (including MDI)
And remember, all these costs apply to operations and staff right around the world:
Put all those together and there has to be a floor where income from cash subs vs costs of actually running & maintaining WoW starts to enter the red.
At that point, that’s when cost reduction measures kick in. Server merges happen, staff layoffs start to occur, tournaments start to get cancelled and the game begins staring down the barrel of being shuttered, no matter how inconceivable that thought may be.
We saw exactly this situation happen with Heroes of the Storm, and by all accounts that had been a successful, if obviously more niche game than WoW. But its decline and subsequent downsizing took many by surprise.
The one thing that WoW has going for it that HotS didn’t have is an active cash sub base providing a monthly income. HotS operated on a free to play model supported by a cash shop. So obviously a cash shop alone isn’t enough to support a game like HotS, which led to Heroes of the Dorm being shut down, staff layoffs and a reduction of the game overall in Blizzard’s plans.
So even with all of the cash subs (like me) paying a monthly fee, logically it would suggest that if Blizzard are willing to shoulder so much criticism for a steep uptick in Store items since BfA’s launch? With an assumed subs drop off given the number of other complaints the expansion has seen so far, the game NEEDS the income from the Store in order to maintain the current operational status quo.
Legion, by all accounts, was a successful expansion. Possibly WoW’s most successful in terms of reception from the player base, even if subs numbers are much lower than the game’s height of 13m players (all cash subs!) back in Wrath. We didn’t see such a proliferation of Store activity throughout Legion’s lifetime (IIRC), so the fact that we’re seeing this now is highly indicative of the possibility that the game needs this supplemental income to avoid staff layoffs or server closures.
Because once anything negative happens that indicates an admission on Blizzard’s part that the game is anything other than still ultra-successful (such as closing servers, laying off staff, withdrawing/reducing tournament prizes), that could then potentially hurt the game further, because once the blood is in the water it’s hard to filter it clean again. And there are many many people that salivate at the thought of the game dying, including some current players…
So my advice to everyone would be this:
If you absolutely detest the Store and everything it stands for in your mind, ignore it, and carry on playing the game (or not). Also, let others spend their own cash/gold in whatever manner makes them happy. You don’t get to tell others what they can or cannot do with their own time & resources.
For everyone else? Treat it as it should be treated: entirely optional and cosmetic only, with treats you can buy for yourself or others and ignore/wind-up the haters.
Like me, when I’m soaring past them on my flying Piggy mount!