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Is WoW alive in 2023? Seems like it most certainly is. Its development is active and consistent. The player count is something many other MMORPGs can only dream of. Yet there is an argument to be made that WoW is closer to being dead than most online games today.
So the question is, is WoW a dead game? Let’s explore further and seek out the answer.
What Is a Dead Game?
The state of being dead means several things for an online game. Usually, the most important indicators of a title’s “death” are:
- Absence of an active player base. It occurs when people stop investing themselves in the project as much as they did before, or when they just quit playing completely. Black Desert Online exemplifies such a situation.
- Termination of development. Though it doesn’t happen that often, it’s still an obviously bad sign for a game. The developers stop supporting the game for certain reasons. An example would be Heroes of the Storm. In 2022, Blizzard announced that the MOBA would not be receiving major updates anymore.
World of Warcraft Overview
World of Warcraft debuted in 2004, leading forward the story told in the Warcraft game series. It was like a volcano eruption in the world of MMORPGs. This genre was not as diverse as it is today. Aside from games like Ragnarok Online, there were not that many other MMOs to choose from.
WoW’s Golden Age
The project was not only dominating the charts as an MMORPG, but also making a significant impact on the broader gaming industry. It boasted a player base larger than that of the most popular games of that era, surpassing titles such as:
- GTA San Andreas
- Battlefield 2
- Final Fantasy XI
- NFS: Most Wanted
- TES IV: Oblivion
So it was not only the king of MMO games. It was the king of games, period. But where does this popularity come from?
- It was a significant push forward for the MMORPG genre. No other project could compete with WoW in the graphics quality, lore depth, gameplay mechanics, combat responsiveness, and so on.
- It continued the story of Warcraft. Many people wanted to go exploring Azeroth after playing Warcraft III. Besides, there were many unanswered questions left after going through the campaign. For instance, “What’s going to happen to Illidan Stormrage in the Outland?”and “Will Arthas ever be free of Frostmourne’s whispers?”
- The social interaction element was second to none. Some might say that WoW played a pivotal role in popularizing it. .Today we can see the influence of social interaction even in games designed for solo-play, such as Genshin Impact or the Diablo series.
The first several years were a massive success for World of Warcraft. The player base was going up with each passing year. The first expansions, The Burning Crusade and The Wrath of the Lich King, each made the MMO jump a few million subscribers higher. After the release of the Icecrown Citadel raid, the active player base was close to 20 million people.
The Fall of the King
Since we do not see such huge numbers these days, a question comes to mind — when did WoW start declining? The short answer to that would be 2010–2011, the time of the Cataclysm launch. This expansion’s release was, undoubtedly, a huge reason why the game went downhill. Many players either lost interest after their triumph over the Lich King or expressed discontent with what Cataclysm introduced. For instance, things like the Looking For Raid system and new talent trees.
However, the period everything in WoW went downhill was also the time of the ascension of other projects. Industry giants started appearing in the arena, including:
- TES V: Skyrim
- Diablo III
- COD: Black Ops II
These were practically the first ones to surpass World of Warcraft. WoW’s player count dropped to approximately half of what it was during the peak of WotLK. However, its player base remained massive, and until now, it’s still among the top-played projects. It’s just that the reigning king had lost his crown.
Some of the further expansions boosted WoW’s popularity and attracted many people. However, that boost’s effect was usually only seen at the beginning of the expansions. After Cataclysm, they go as follows:
- Mists of Pandaria (September 2012)
- Warlords of Draenor (November 2014)
- The Legion (August 2016)
- Battle for Azeroth (August 2018)
- Shadowlands (November 2020)
- Dragonflight (November 2022)
Unfortunately, a clear tendency can be seen throughout all of these: the player base is going down. Some of the abovementioned expansions were more successful than the others, but they all had one thing in common. People come with the new content release, and then the player count goes to the same spot in a couple of months.
The event that actually positively impacted WoW was the release of World of Warcraft: Classic. Not only did it allow the game to get over 10 million active subscribers once again, but it also increased the average player count by a couple of million for the years to come. The Classic versions of TBC and WotLK expansions were also a huge success. In general, the release of WoW Classic has reignited people’s interest in the MMO.
The most recent event that made WoW boom once more is the Classic Hardcore servers’ launch. Surprisingly, millions of players have found the one-life-only adventure the most wonderful and engaging experience. The game mode has considerably increased both the player base and the streaming platforms’ viewership for WoW.
The Current State of WoW 2023
Do people still play WoW? They do, in fact, which you can prove for yourself in many ways. You may check any gaming charts you can find online and see that millions of people play the game to this day. You may go to Raider.io and see the latest Mythic+ rankings or how many people have completed one or the other raid. At last, check out the Hardcore servers — they are popping off! So why do so many people presume that the game is dying?
Factors That Make WoW Look Dead
Although the player base numbers are great to this day, it’s crucial to understand that half of the people play Classic rather than Retail. Classic is not actually a great indicator of the overall popularity. Nostalgia is a significant motivation and the primary reason for many people to play it.
But what about Retail? Is WoW worth it anymore? That depends on your personal perspective, of course. Still, let’s have a quick overview of what a player might confront when playing the project today:
- Long queues. Have you ever been waiting for a PvP opponent for more than an hour? That happens quite often today. Since the introduction of Solo Shuffle, many PvPers have been experiencing various issues in this aspect of the game.
- Invitation thresholds. It is crazy how much a player has to have just to get into a M+ or raid party these days. Play a meta spec, bring food, install addons, do damage, and be an expert in 10 different boss mechanics going on simultaneously.
- New-player unfriendliness. WoW is getting more and more complex with each expansion. Imagine all the struggle a newbie has to go through to try out everything it has to offer today.
In summary: only a fraction of players are willing to do what it takes to access the endgame content. Old players are gradually leaving, and new ones aren’t coming. Can a project in such a state be considered alive?
Still Breathing: Why WoW Is Actually Alive
Despite everything said, WoW cannot be identified as a dead game due to many reasons:
- Huge player base. Though it has lost millions of subscribers since its peak, it is still one of the most-played MMOs today.
- Constant development. The roadmap is always abundant: expansions, seasons, patches. This wouldn’t be happening unless the developers deemed it worthy.
- Community engagement. Blizzard has been doing their best recently to set the game’s course in accordance with the players’ opinions. That is proved by the new customization options, playable class-race combinations, official Hardcore servers release, etc.
- People’s love. Even those who criticize WoW today still love it and want it to develop in a positive direction. Many players who have quit are ready to come back the moment the game gets better.
- Still the king. Why is WoW still the best MMO? No one has yet beaten it in terms of gameplay. It is probably the best choice today for casual players who do not overthink the game’s internal issues and just want to enjoy themselves.
These points indicate that it’s early to write World of Warcraft off as a dead game.
Our beloved MMORPG is surely not dead, it is just not as popular as before. If we look at the curve starting from the very release 20 years ago, it’s clear that lots of people have stopped playing. Some of the reasons for that are external, like the abundance of other projects to choose from. But many inner problems persist, and they must be fixed for World of Warcraft to return to its former glory.