World of Warcraft has been my vice for the past six years, and has commanded a lot of my time. Once I shook off the totally legitimate preconception that buying the game would be problematic for my teenage education, I dived in head first. And I loved it.
I could reminisce about all the raiding and endgame stuff I did, and how Blizzard have done a sensational job creating a world that you could get lost in; a dynamic environment and a captivating storyline which transcends the gaming zeitgeist. But I won’t, because that’s stuff everyone already knows. Whether you enjoy the game or you don’t, you probably know it’s really big and that a lot of people play it, and logic dictates that there’s a reason for that beyond subliminal opiates. It’s enthralling.
Since I arrived on the scene just as details of the then-next expansion – Wrath of the Lich King – were coming out, I had a good four months of levelling. Then, when the expansion dropped, I got swept up in the excitement of, essentially, a new game. Subscribers rushed back, and the brand new areas and questing zones were filled to the brim with people. I crashed, people crashed, servers crashed, it was awesome. Navigating Dalaran – a floating city which served as the central hub for players – felt like wading through Camden market in the middle of the day.
It sounds inconvenient, but a common criticism I have of many role-playing games is a distinct lack of interaction. The Elder Scrolls games, as an example, are brilliant, and the landscapes that the developers over at Bethesda create are almost unrivalled, but there’s no point in creating a gorgeous world for players to explore if it’s empty. Fallout, another of Bethesda’s masterpieces, was a success because it catered to this premise: the world has been hit by nuclear devastation and there isn’t much left. It’s an arid, barren warzone that you can traverse, and not having a bustling world fits the bill. That’s not the case on Azeroth – Blizzard’s in-game world – and an inordinate amount of players populating the place makes it really immersive.
I’m not selling it well by outlining server instability as a character trait, but it really made me feel like I was experiencing something great with a lot of people.
Finding that again has been hard. Blizzard releases it’s subscription figures every quarter, and for as long as I can remember they’ve been on the decline. When WotLK dropped and I was experiencing all the joy that high server populations bred, subscriptions were sat at an enormous 11.5M. That’s pretty big. Two years later, in the fourth quarter of 2010, there were 12M active subscribers for the release of the Cataclysm expansion. Developers had completely redesigned much of the old content, bringing it up to scratch and letting people old and new experience the divided terrain of Azeroth.
In the quarter prior to the release of the next expansion, Mists of Pandaria, subscription numbers swan-dived from 10.2M to 9.1M. They picked up when the game hit the shelves, as expected, but it set in motion the hemorrhaging of subscribers that has persisted since. The second quarter of this year saw subscriptions as low as 6.8M. That’s almost half what it was when I started.
Players are often victims of the ‘rose-tinted glasses’ effect where everything is prefaced with references to a better time way back when, and the insistence that nothing will ever be the same again. A load of blether, for sure, and something I’m endeavouring not to do here. It’s tough because I enjoyed it back when getting from one end of the world to another took time, and pulling mobs in the Badlands without aggravating the marauding rare buzzard was an art form – one which I made a hash of on more than one occasion – but times change and so does the dynamic.
The release of Warlords of Draenor is completely different though, for me. It coincides with me leaving university and getting on the hunt for a job; something which I hope will prove that three years of my life spent studying was not a farcical waste of time. As a result of this and some other changes, I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in WoD. I watched the trailer (linked above) and got really excited, and I even bought the book which prefaces the expansion. But I didn’t read it. I also didn’t stalk MMO-Champion and Twitter like I have done for years finding out every facet of information available for what I’m going to play. I only remembered today when Blizzard emailed me that it was even coming out.
That may not seem weird to most, but to me it is. Rather than view it as being negative, however, I’m slowly realising that it could go the other way. All the anecdotal waffle I just divulged was from a time when I was ignorant about the game, and it let me experience it first hand. Once I started committing more time to the game, I plugged myself into the matrix and schooled myself – as I do with all my passions – and it meant that I lost that sense of awe which comes with experiencing something for the first time. When you read about it, you ruin the surprise – something I’m well aware I’m doing when I read it, but it’s an urge I just couldn’t fight.
Time away seems to have scratched that itch.
I am going to buy Warlords of Draenor, and I am going to play it. Blissful ignorance hooked me on World of Warcraft six years ago, and with any luck, it might do so again.