A New Player in Azeroth!

When it comes to World of Warcraft, I can divide my friends and acquaintances into two groups:

  • Those interested in playing WoW
  • Those not interested in playing WoW

The former group is mostly made up of those who currently play the game, those on a break but who know they will come back for the next expansion, and those who once played and still have some interest in the game and who might come back some day.  The union between that group and the group made up of those who have played WoW would make for a Venn diagram that would almost completely overlap.  Being a member of that first group almost requires that you have already played WoW at some point.

The second group is more diverse.  It includes people who played WoW and didn’t like it, or who felt betrayed by some change along the line, as well as those who don’t like the MMO genre, or didn’t like some other game in the MMO genre and are thus soured on it forever (EverQuest being the primary source of those people), or people for whom video games are pretty much a game console only thing, or, of course, people who just don’t play video games.  Lots of those out there.

Basically, nearly ten years into the life of World of Warcraft, most anybody I know who is going to play WoW already has.  The pool of people who haven’t played WoW, but might at some point, has basically dried up.

Or so I thought.

The other day a friend mentioned that he and his wife had started playing WoW.  They downloaded the very limited Starter Edition, of which I wrote recently, rolled up trolls, and started in on Azeroth.  He reads the blog occasionally, so I’ll have to ask if that post planted a seed.


In hindsight, I suppose them picking the game up wasn’t a huge leap.  They play Diablo III and StarCraft 2, so have Battle.net accounts already and probably the Blizzard Launcher installed as well.  It is just a short step from there to having WoW installed.

And they are both MMO players.  He played EverQuest at launch with a big group of us from work way back in the day, though since then he and his wife have trended more towards free to play titles like Runes of Magic and Rappelz.  Their free time can be “bursty,” with stretches of not being able to log on being common, which tends to make a subscription game something of a drag.  You hate to pay if you aren’t going to play.

But the fact that they picked up WoW… so technically there are TWO new players in Azeroth… got me thinking again on the whole MMO lifecycle again.

At the start an MMO is nothing but new players, and new players drive the game and are its life’s blood.  You basically fizzle on the launch pad if that is not so.

Then at some point there is a transition, a time when the audience for a game is primarily people who have played the game.  New players are still important, but maintaining a loyal installed base becomes a primary mission.  EverQuest has been in that zone for about a decade.  WoW, while still seeking new players, is clearly past the tipping point and catering to the installed base, and keeping them subscribed is the primary business model.  It is certainly no coincidence that housing (of a sort, in the form of Garrisons) is coming now, as Blizzard probably hadn’t felt the need to play that card until Cataclysm.  Given their speed of development, it wasn’t going to happen for Mists of Pandaria, so Warlords of Draenor becomes the expansion where Blizzard finally responds to the realization that their business model needs people to settle down and live in Azeroth.  The game needs to be a bit stickier.  Dailies and faction and things like Timeless Isle aren’t quite enough if the content gaps are going to keep getting longer.

Of course, stickiness and people living settling down to live in a world is great for the game of choice, but is another problem with the genre.  I won’t play the fool and say that the potential market for MMOs is only n players big, as some have in the past.  The potential MMO audience is big and probably getting bigger.  But we also, as a group, tend to stick with our MMOs over time.  I remain interested in the next new game, but when it comes down to playing, I spend my time in WoW, which is about to turn 10 years old, and EVE Online, which is now past 11, as do a lot of people. (And I pine for EverQuest now and again, though so much time has elapsed that I probably will never really go back.  Maybe there is an expiration date on MMOs if you’re away too long.)

As a group, we don’t jump to the next game so much.  That Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Dark Age of Camelot remain viable, money-making enterprises in this day and age speaks to that as much as those of us who try the next new thing, only to return to the game we feel is home.  It isn’t that the genre doesn’t have a big enough audience, but that MMOs are like sponges.  They soak up players and hold onto them.  Even after all these years sitting in a corner, EverQuest is still moist, just to push the sponge metaphor a step too far.

Anyway, I was happy to hear about friends starting off playing WoW.  I was careful not to smother them with a burst of welcoming gifts.  When somebody is discovering a new world, it is often better to let them explore on their own rather than jumping out from behind a bush and shouting, “Come to this server! Join our guild! Have some free stuff from the guild bank! You should really go here and do this and kill that mob and get that drop and run this dungeon and blah blah blah…”  I’ve killed games for people doing that, and have had the same done to me.

So we shall see if a new seed grows in the game.

What do you think?  Do you know anybody who hasn’t played WoW who might still be interested in playing it nearly a decade into its life?

Addendum: Semi-related, something Noizy Gamer tweeted about WoW new player retention rates… from 2010.  70% of of players were not making it past level 10.  But then 70% of new players in F2P games seem to leave right away.

21 thoughts on “A New Player in Azeroth!

  1. bhagpuss

    Well, Mrs Bhagpuss and I waited five years before we played WoW and only then because we were at a real loose end MMO-wise, having tried just about everything else we coudl think of. I know (as in have vaguely chatted to in-game a year or two back) a couple of people playing EQ2 who have never tried it and every time there’s a big discussion about WoW in global chat in any MMO someone will pipe up and say they’ve never played it.

    So I guess there are still MMO players not actively opposed to WoW who have yet to get around to giving it a go. Can’t be all that many, though, surely at least not compared to the numbers who HAVE tried it.

    I actually feel more inclined to give it another try than I did a year or two back but the chances of ever finding the time to play WoW rather than any number of other MMOs is slim. It’ll have to join a line of about 25 other MMOs I’d quite like to be playing if I only had the time.

    As for Everquest, which at the moment I am playing regularly if casually, it’s pretty vibrant. I went round the half-dozen servers I have characters I’m still interested in the other day and all of them were busy, each with 300-400 people in global chat, 60-90 people in Plane of Knowledge, 300+ Bazaar traders up etc etc. There are also always returning players asking questions in chat, some of whom out themselves as no having played for a decade or more.

    EQ is a really enjoyable casual solo game now up to at least level 75 or so. SOE should try marketing it that way for a while.


  2. Ming

    To be honest, I am most curious what your friend and his wife will make of WoW. I’ve long been of the opinion that longtime players underestimate how much more knowledge they have of how the game is played, where things are, what things do, where to go for things, that they tend to be a little harsh on genuine newbies and disconnected from the genuine newbie experience, so I’m interested to see what your friend and his wife makes of it with presumably minimal external knowledge.


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Ming – Me too. He has asked a couple of questions that indicate they have gotten pretty far. He wanted to know if anything should have told him he could only train two professions before he was actually there, at a profession trainer, attempting to train a profession.

    The game informs you fairly clearly at that moment, but I am not sure there is any indication before you are standing there ready to train that you could be limited to 2, aside from one of those loading screen tips.

    Question aside, if he was asking that he had gotten fairly well into the first zone or two. But then they are playing trolls and I have not done the troll starting zone since before Cataclysm.


  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Gevlon – But does somebody necessarily say, “Let’s start with the 10 year old game and not the newer stuff!” when they reach said age of playing?

    I don’t know the answer to that, but I suspect that focus would tend to be on more recent titles.


  5. sleepysam

    I have been unsuccessful in any recruiting efforts unless the person is a former wow player.

    You should at least explain the RAF program if they might decide to stick around.


  6. Piacenza

    Anytime someone ventures into my tiny inner circle and seems the least bit cool, I try and recruit them. So far I have had pretty much zero success.

    But as Commander Peter Quincy Taggert says, “Never give up, never surrender!”


  7. wowstorylines

    I will let the newbie know that I am willing to help, however, sometimes it’s better if you learn on your own. If they get stuck and need help, I’ll be there.

    We have some family members that have recently started playing the game and I will admit that it can be kind of comical listening to them talk about all of the “new” experiences they are having in-game. :D


  8. OontzMonster

    Hi, I’m new here, as to say: this is the first post of yours I have the pleasure of reading :)

    I still believe there are people out there, maybe not in my circle of Urkel, but people that just simply have never played an MMO before could potentially pick up World of Warcraft and like it. Granted, one of my friends-who have never played a *real* MMO-did just that. He gave in and tried World of Warcraft, found it boring and never played again.

    I explained to him that there are certain things that are better in MMOs than other games, which is being social. If you don’t have any friends when traveling to Azeroth, it’s important to try and make some.

    Of course this is tough when you are in a game that’s almost 10 years old and the game’s elitist players speak an almost foreign language and in acronyms. There’s just no room for the noobs :)

    I told him he could play with me if he wanted to, so to not smother him with OMG MY GUILD’S (WHICH YOU SHOULD TOTALLY JOIN BTW LOLOLOL) BANK IS FULL take ALL the stuff! HAVE MY GOLD PLS PLS PLS PLS !!!!

    You know what I mean…

    Anyhow, awesome post, had fun reading and definitely commenting ^~^ stop by mine sometime! I’ve added you to my Feedly, I think I found you on Twitter or something, then I saw you has a blog :D


  9. Shilgrod

    I just started a new account based on your posts nostalgia bug bit me. I hadn’t played since late into wotlk and its all new to me, but I convinced my girlfriend to give it a shot. Seeing the game through a brand new players eyes is equally frustrating and heartwarming. I must say that yhe new players experience seems to assume you know yhe basics so I imagine anyone playing totally nrw without someone who has a basic idea of how the game works would ferl terribly overwhelmed. Just my two cents thanks for all the free entertainment and keep on keeping on


  10. HarbingerZero

    I think Gevlon is onto something. If I were just now hitting an age where I could buy a decent gaming computer on my own, and WoW was the game I grew up wishing I could play, that would be my playground, not the newer titles. My friend that plays STO is much the same way. He wanted so badly to play it, but was not able to at launch. He’s got other games he is interested in as well, but since his “dream game” is now at his fingertips and he feels, in a sense, behind, he spends most of his time there.


  11. Helistar

    If it’s the trial mode you would not be able to help them much in any case, since they have no access to mail/trade/AH. But if/when it becomes possible and you decide to play the nice friend there’s one thing you can do to make their life a lot easier: send each of them 4 20-slot bags :)


  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Ald – Indeed, I just wrote a post about two of them. It is up there above the comments.

    The point of that wasn’t to say there were no new players coming to WoW, just that the game is now in a point in its life where people who have already played WoW is the bulk of their customers. The subscription numbers, which dipped down to 7.6 million at last report, and which I expect will dip some more with the next quarterly report, indicate that new players no longer flock to the game as they once did.

    And why should they? The game is about to turn 10, there are many other competitors at this point in history, and I am hard pressed to think of more than a couple that won’t let you play… to a certain extent… for free, or without investing in a box and a subscription at least.


  13. tsuhelm

    I have never played WoW and would love to, time, family and LOTRO just keep getting in the way!

    Restrictive F2P model also does not help…

    But great thought experiment about what brings players to MMO’s today…


  14. Kinless

    It’s what we become comfortable with and make “home.” Even nearly ten years later, running around WoW, on any level character, remains fun, comfortable, and familiar. It certainly doesn’t hurt, and probably helps, playing other MMOs out there. You can’t appreciate your own home until you see the others out there. And while other places are fun to visit, and inhabit for a while, and return to occasionally, home, as they say, is where the heart is.


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  16. Syl (@Gypsy_Syl)

    “…smother them with a burst of welcoming gifts” – ahahaha, that is SO me! :D Guilty as charged (but…it’s so much funnn!)

    I think it’s very hard to get into MMOs late, at least for myself. Even when I’m more casual nowadays, I want to be there when a game starts, be there with everyone else and miss nothing unless I chose to. I don’t know if that’s a form of achieverism or being ambitious, mostly I just want to grow along with the game. I want to understand where it came from and where it’s going. This is one reason why I don’t think I can start playing EQ; I would like to but there’s no way to catch up or reasonably get close to that type of understanding and ‘citizenship’ for someone jumping in in 2014. Maybe citizenship really sums up that feeling best for me.


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  18. Redbeard

    This was actually going to be the basis of an upcoming post, ironically enough.

    I’ve a neighbor’s son who started up WoW in the past year –the starter version– and he has been kind of disappointed in it. He was hoping that it would be more “role playing” than what it is, given that he started the game after he picked up Pathfinder.

    Still, he does play, but he realizes it isn’t what he hoped it would be.


  19. Mooftak

    I came to wow shortly before mop dropped as I was burning out on swtor. I did have an in, in the form of a guild of a friend, that gave me folks to talk to while I leveled and that did probably keep me in the game. Though tbh I’ve moved on to a different server and guild to call home. I did try to get a good friend into wildstar just recently and was kind of shocked how weird a mmo can seem to someone who’s never played one before. He is good at fps, rts, and games in general, but I needed to give him a surprising amount of guidance. I did vow to not pressure him too much about it and let him experience the remainder of his 7 day trial at his own pace (assuming he even decides to log in again), for the same reasons you gave. Great post!


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