WoW's Post-WoD Sub Numbers

Blizzard infamously stopped publishing WoW's active subscriber numbers during Warlords of Draenor, after they had fallen to less than half of their previous peak of 12 million. Since then, there's often been speculation about how well or badly the game is doing, but ultimately we didn't have access to any real data to back this up.

Apparently this changed this week, as Franchise Manager John Hight gave a talk at the annual Game Developers Conference called "The First 30 Years of Warcraft: The Making of a Game Universe" on Wednesday. There isn't a recording available online at the time of me writing this, but apparently some photos of his presentation were leaked, revealing some surprisingly open admissions of failure in regards to Shadowlands and showing a graph of overall subscriber trends since the launch of the Legion expansion.

Now, this graph didn't include numbers, but YouTuber Bellular matched the graphic up with information from previous public earnings reports to make some pretty convincing guesses:

Screenshot from the video "Report: WoW's Actual Subscriber Count & Blizz's Official Shadowlands Post-mortem"

There are a lot of interesting tidbits to take away from these numbers:

  • Even at its lowest of lows, WoW still had 4 million subscribers, easily eating any other classic MMO's lunch. The game still sporting 7 million subscribers as it's approaching its 20th anniversary is actually pretty insane.
  • That lowest of lows happened after the launch of BfA, but subscriptions then surged again with the launch of Classic, reaching a peak of over eight million, which was the highest number they had seen since the release of Warlords of Draenor.
  • Shadowlands did indeed drop off very hard (a slide in Hight's presentation specifically calls this out) and was presumably only saved from dropping even lower than BfA due to the fact that overall subscription numbers were still propped up by Classic.
  • Dragonflight had an unexpectedly weak launch, but has had "record post-launch stability and growth", with current sub numbers actually exceeding the ones seen at the expansion's release. Classic is presumably still helping to some degree though, so it's hard to say how Dragonflight has performed on its own. Regardless, there's a clear recovery going on compared to the doldrums of 2022.


Casual Keystone Master Reflections

Last weekend I hit a pretty significant milestone in retail WoW: me and several of my guildies got the Keystone Master achievement for completing a Mythic +15 for the first time.

It was a really nice run as well; we only suffered three deaths in that Black Rook Hold (two of which were people getting squished by boulders) and we finished with almost ten minutes to spare, which is rare for us even on lower keys.

To more experienced M+ players this probably means nothing, but to me it felt like something that we'd been working towards for a very long time, from our tentative first steps into mythic in season 1, to the growing pains we suffered in season 2. Season 3 has been a bit better in that regard... but I'll write some more about that in a separate post.

I think I finally figured out the biggest challenge to being successful in M+ as a casual player - and it's that the mode feels designed for people who run twenty keys or more per week.

There is just so much information to digest and things to learn in a single M+ season: eight different dungeons make for thirty-two boss fights you need to master, at least as many if not more trash mechanics you need to understand, paths to figure out to achieve the correct trash kill percentage, and then multiple affixes on top of that which rotate every week... it's a LOT.

The problem with being casual, which in our case means running about four dungeons per week, is that several weeks can pass between you seeing the same dungeon twice, and do you really remember every single mechanic from the two or three times you've run it before by the time it comes around again? Of course not!

We generally try to run four different dungeons every week for the sake of variety (which I think is understandable), but it was kind of eye-opening when this season we decided to run the same dungeon twice in one day. The other week we bricked a Throne of Tides so hard it's not even funny - it must've been a +13 or +14 I think and we spent a full hour or so in there. First we wiped multiple times on Commander Ulthok, and after finally getting him down we did the same thing on Ozumat, to the point that my husband was close to losing it again and kept saying that we were clearly too bad at this game and couldn't do it. This prompted our guildie to fetch his more experienced brother (who had helped us out before) and to stream our next boss attempt to him - and the funny thing is that said brother didn't really have anything to tell us other than to comment that we shouldn't run around like such headless chickens when we got the pure water buff, and yet, just by virtue of having him watch us, we suddenly succeeded on the next attempt, clearly pulling ourselves together out of sheer embarrassment. We then did another Throne of the Tides that same afternoon and it was super smooth, because all the pain points of the previous run were still fresh on our minds. That +15 Black Rook Hold was also preceded by another run of the same dungeon that had been a lot less smooth (though we didn't fail the timer), ensuring that by the time we did the +15 we actually remembered what we were doing.

I can't help but wonder how we would have done if we had tried Mythic Plus before Dragonflight introduced the concept of having a different set of M+ dungeons every season. I imagine it must have been quite boring to run the exact same dungeons every season, but at least most of what you learned in the process stayed useful throughout the rest of the expansion, instead of you having to learn new bosses and trash mechanics from scratch every major patch. It's weird how that increased dungeon variety is both more interesting and an additional obstacle to more casual participation.

With that in mind, I'm very curious to see how we will do in season 4. Not only will that take us back to the original Dragonflight dungeons we visited in seasons 1 and 2, but Blizzard is also going to do a "difficulty squish" that will raise the difficulty of heroic and mythic zero dungeons, with the new M+ starting at what's effectively +10 now. I'm tentatively hopeful that this will put our casual group in a better position for season 4 than we've been in before, as we've at least seen all the original Dragonflight dungeons before (even if we may not remember them that well), and the increased damage output in mythic zero will (hopefully?) make it easier to learn the boss mechanics properly there before having to deal with additional complications like timers and affixes. Currently in low keys, you can be healed through doing a lot of things completely wrong, so you don't really realise just how badly you're doing until you die to those same mechanics on a higher key, but then who wants to pause and review tactics while a timer's ticking? We'll see how it goes.


Is Season of Discovery Becoming Season of Mastery 2?

It's been a bit quiet on here for the last two weeks, mostly because I think I may well be done with Season of Discovery. I managed to level my dwarf priest to 30, but since then I haven't really had any particular urge to log in, even if the RP server makes for a nicer environment than the PvE megaserver. I'm not saying that I definitely won't check back on it at some point, but right now I just don't really feel any incentive to do so.

When Season of Discovery was first announced at BlizzCon, I was intrigued by how it was being promoted as a season more focused on levelling and exploration, and it did feel like that to me in phase one, but phase two... not so much.

Exploring and questing in the open world is made unpleasant for most players as the megaservers are too big to sustain the kind of population they have, even with layering, so everyone ends up grinding dungeons instead and then burns out. (I've actually heard Scarlet Monastery being referred to as "the scarlet prison"... that tells you everything you need to know, I think.) You'd think that if the devs wanted the focus to be on open world gameplay being enjoyable, they would've addressed that.

Yet Blizzard is once again desperate to push everyone into "endgame". I thought the 50% XP buff for levels 1-25 when phase two started was quite reasonable to get people into the same levelling bracket, but they've now increased the XP buff to 100% and made it last all the way to 40. In a way I get why they'd do that, but is your season still about levelling when you're trying that hard to push people past it? Presumably to get into raiding?

One of the reasons the original Season of Mastery wasn't that interesting to me was that its stated goal was to speed-run people through the levelling process so they could get to raiding and see the old raids in a different light. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and from everything I heard about it, some of the changes made to the raids in SoM were pretty neat and interesting if you were looking for more challenge out of that content. It just wasn't for me.

I was really hopeful that SoD would be different, but at this point it doesn't really feel all that different to me, what with the game pushing you to max level at double speed... for what reason other than to raid? It doesn't matter that the current level cap is 40 and that the current raid is Gnomeregan, it's the same concept and makes it feel like Blizzard is just falling into the same old patterns of behaviour again, catering to the exact same crowd and turning everyone else off.