Why Wow Won’t (or Shouldn’t) Go F2P

WoW Gamescom Announcement

Tomorrow will bring some form of big announcement for Blizzard’s (and the industry’s) flagship title, World of Warcraft. We’re most likely to get news of some new expansion loaded with lots of new and rehashed features, but rampant speculation points toward the possibility of some F2P announcement. I’m pretty sure that one is still many years away.

Why World of Warcraft Won’t Go F2P

The Change is Too Radical
Blizzard has made a business of keeping WoW’s course steady as she goes. WoW has been about raiding since 2005. They could have changed that model to try and attract more people, but they don’t. There’s no need to change a sure thing, even if your numbers are only making you 100M a month. The cash flow is still fantastic, and WoW’s subscription numbers will skyrocket once again. Even if the numbers grow to HALF of what they were in Q1, that represents ENORMOUS growth. When your product bounces back that well in the next iteration, you don’t change. You wait until it stops bouncing back — at least Blizzard can afford to wait when it still generates that much cash. Change of this magnitude is far too radical to make simply for the sake of change.

The changes to the game itself to accommodate F2P would alter the very essence of WoW, and that itself would ignite a loss in players. Players, especially WoW players, do not want change. They don’t. Again, that’s why WoW has stayed the same game and simply become easier over the years. You have the same game providing the same experience, and doing everything it can to continue to provide that same experience with the least amount of friction possible.

F2P Belongs to New Properties
Blizzard has done a fantastic job keeping their business models separate. WoW is their subscription model, Hearthstone is their F2P, Diablo and StarCraft are their B2P, and their new games will do just fine however they end up launching.

Change Admits Defeat
I’m among those leading the school of thought that Blizzard is gradually phasing WoW out and transitioning their players to their newer games which are ultimately going to be what keeps a WoW player a ‘Blizzard’ player 10 or 20 years from now. I’m personally in that group. I stopped playing WoW some time ago, but I will be a life-long Blizzard fan playing their games. Blizzard wants more Keens.  SO, despite my thought that this would ultimately be their way to go, it’s too soon. Blizzard knows its too soon. Doing so now admits the game is going that direction. Admitting that spooks not only shareholders but players as well. It admits a form of defeat. F2P has to come at a time when it isn’t perceived as failure, and we all know a game converting to F2P is done when a game is failing. WoW is NOT failing — yet.

WoD has less content

Players Unsub Because They Want More
The reason players unsubscribe isn’t because WoW has become less fun to play. Okay, I guess that’s why some people do (I did). But most of these subscribers stop because WoW’s latest expansion offered less than previous expansions. WoD only gave them 5 dungeons, 2 raids, and 1 content patch. They ran out of things to do. The answer isn’t to charge less for less. Blizzard can charge more for more and still get it! Their value proposition simply needs to be more for the same or technically the same for the same (what they used to give). Deep down they know this, and deep down they let WoD drop for other reasons…  ::cough:: Phasing out go play Hearthstone and get hyped for Overwatch ::cough::

Tomorrow morning’s post will be on What Happens IF WoW Goes F2P. Yeah, I’m hedging.

  • Agree entirely (although WoW wasn’t making $100m per month even at its highest peak, it certainly isn’t now).

    One more point I’d add, though – WoW already effectively went F2P a couple of months ago, when the WoW Token launched. I’ve been playing for free since then, without ever making any effort to farm gold, nor dipping into my gold reserves. Just playing the game generates roughly twice as much gold as I need to buy a token.

  • I rounded up and then probably exaggerated a little on the numbers, but in terms of straight revenue isn’ t 5,600,000 x 14.99 = 83M and change? Then I assume their cash shop purchases + tokens amount to a fair amount. The numbers aren’t THAT important. Suffice it to say they are enough. 😉

    Tokens… interesting. Yes, I’ll touch on them tomorrow.

  • I’m annoyed people keep saying tokens are F2P.

    They really aren’t, they are sold based on supply, therefore SOMEONE IS PAYING for the token you BOUGHT. Essentially the subscription isnt free… the person paid gold, and someone else paid 20, blizzard is effectively making 5 dollars MORE on your “free” month than if you had just paid for yourself without the token.

    People just don’t grasp the basic economics, as its a player generated token, there is a cost, the fact you can buy a token with gold from someone else is a factor of the gold economy, but it in fact earns blizzard more money per sub than before. It does give greater variety in ways to pay for ones monthy sub, but that’s all.

  • This article appears to convey a different sentiment from previous ones regarding WoW’s future, unless I am or have been interpreting your opinions incorrectly.

    Previously it sounded like you have been holding strongly to the belief that Blizzard is ready to phase out WoW, but this article sounds far more optimistic regarding its longevity.

    My stance has been that Blizzard has no reason to phase WoW out in the foreseeable future as it continues to make money on subs, and when it doesn’t meet their profit expectations they will then continue to milk it as F2P.

    Has your opinion changed favorably regarding WoW’s longevity or is your timeline for phasing out longer than I appreciated based on your previous articles?

  • They have to do something ‘radical’, otherwise the bounce back will be less than WoD, and the decline will be quicker and deeper. You know how it is, when people start to exit a game, it snowballs. We’ve seen it countless times before, and now it’s WoW’s turn.

  • @Gankatron: I have always maintained that Blizzard would never phase their game out immediately. Phase out does not mean stick a fork in it. My timeline must be longer than you may have interpreted. F2P would be excelerating their decline waaaay faster than even I thought they’d go.

    Blizzard has every reason to ween people off of a 10+ year old game (SLOWLY, and at their own pace). A WoW player may make them money today, but WoW is not forever. Unless Blizzard finds a way to get that person to become a player of their other games, that player’s projected future value declines. It’s great that Blizzard made X dollars off a WoW player in the past, but what matters now is the future. What does that player represent? If that player is done with WoW in a year or two then that player represents roughly $360. If Blizzard can take that same player and get them hooked on Hearthstone AND/or Overwatch, then that same person could represent $500, $900, $1000, etc.

    @Danath: You are 100% correct.

    @Werit: Yeah but there is always a bounce back, and even a bounce back that is technically smaller is still a massive amount of money. If they jump from only 5.6M subscribers to lets say 7M, that’s STILL (napkin math) 20+M a month more in cash flow. It’s crazy how much money we’re talking here when we get into WoW’s subscriber numbers. They bounce back yearly what most MMOs never even hope to obtain.

    WoW is not a radical change game, and Blizzard has never been a radical change company.

  • Keen, it’s not 5,600,000 x 14.99 because it’s not 5.6 million Western subscribers paying Western prices.

    It’s been a long time since they broken down by region but you’ve got to assume that half or thereabouts of those 5.6 million are in China and paying pennies.

  • Yeah that’s very true. But none of this even factors in tokens and the millions brought in by their cash shop. And then when every expansion launches, etc.

  • Thanks for the clarification.

    I definitely believe that Blizzard is actively trying to get WoW players hooked on Hearthstone and Overwatch, as evidenced by the overt cross brand marketing of the characters.

    In this way I see WoW as the central hub of which their cross-branded products rotate around.

    In a way it would seem odd to play games that feature characters from WoW lore when WoW was discontinued.

    Since WoW cannot be considered a competitor for their TCG or DOTA offerings I would believe discontinuing WoW as their primary focus would more likely damage the Hearthstone and Overwatch player base than aid it, as it might feel like the latter offerings were shackled to a dead game.

  • Also to avoid confusion, I do believe that Wow will eventually reach a point of unsustainability, but I view that event in a similar light to when people predict the downfall of the US as a superpower, that is, all empires fall, but I doubt it will happen in the immediate future.

    In other words by comparison an insightful prediction IMO would be to say WoW will be pulled in 3 years, something that would surprise me, as opposed to saying WoW will be phased out eventually.

    As such the impact of the prediction is dependent upon the time scale involved.

    Again by analogy if I told people that I just came from the doctor and she said I was going to die some of my friend might gasp in disbelief (hopefully?), but if I then told them she said I likely only had maybe 50 more years to live, they might be more apt to shrug their shoulders and sarcastically reply, “Do you think, really?”

  • It could be years from now, but as the number of subscribers sinks to a record all-time-low in the future, MMOs that stubbornly cling to the dead subscription model will be forced to choose between Freemium or Fold. ArcheAge attempted a hybrid subscription/freemium model & it was a disaster. Might as well change it’s name to ClassWarfare.

    Now Square Enix is a damn stubborn company. I’m sure they would shut down FFXIV before switching to microtransactions. Blizzard I’m not so sure about. Half the people in the forums are already smelling “freemium implantation” since WoD came out & agree that Blizzard will eventually cave in.