The Endwalker expansion for Final Fantasy XIV will become fully available to all and sundry tomorrow. There was an early launch for people who had pre-ordered on Friday, but at some point tomorrow everybody will be welcome.
It has been, of course, a mad house with queues and issues and imperfect experiences, but that is what success looks like in the genre. It will be FFXIV’s turn to dominate the headlines, as befits a leading title in the field.
I won’t be joining in. But that’s fine. Every game isn’t for me and I have other things on my plate. I’ll watch the headlines breeze by and instead see if I can spot the impact that a big launch like this has on the rest of the genre.
EverQuest, which also launches an expansion tomorrow, probably won’t even notice. Its audience has been winnowed down to the true believers at this point.
New World will probably see a continued decline in concurrent user peaks on Steam as the remaining players that were biding their time there before the expansion move on, and I know there are eyes on the already sagging PCU numbers for EVE Online.
And then there is World of Warcraft.
We are already more than a few news cycles past reporting on the exodus of players from WoW to FFXIV, lead by prominent streamers, due to both reporting on the horrors of Blizzard’s internal culture or harassment and discrimination as well as Shadowlands vying for the prize of being the worst WoW expansion so far. A pretty serious double whammy in that… though I suspect the latter is the bigger issue when it comes to losing players.
The thing is, on the financials front, Blizzard hasn’t really had to own up to this pair of issues yet.
Q1 still had Shadowlands launch fever going for it.
Q2 had the Burning Crusade Classic launch to cover for Shadowlands, and the headlines about Blizzard misdeeds didn’t hit until late June.
Q3 was always going to have some subscriber hangover. A lot of players subscribe in 3 or 6 months increments… Blizzard even has special rewards for 6 month subscribers twice a year… so disaster was going to be in the offing. And then there was Diablo II Resurrected, which sold very well. But D2R was literally the only good news they had, brushing off WoW as seeing normal, cyclical decline.
So I am very interested to see how the financials will spin Q4 2021 when they come out. Those who declined to resubscribe will start dropping off and Blizzard has almost nothing going for it in Q4 save for the WoW Classic Season of Mastery. And while the 13 servers that launched with that would be a lot for most MMOs, it pales in comparison with the initial WoW Classic launch. Furthermore, there haven’t been any headlines about queues or people busting down the doors to get onto those servers. The blue tracker for WoW Classic issues has been talking about server merges for Burning Crusade Classic.
Furthermore, the new reward for six months subscribers is a transmog item which, while cute, reminds me of the outrage the last time the reward wasn’t a mount but a transmog item; it wasn’t pretty.
It is starting to look like Blizz is going to have a tough time explaining itself when the financials release this coming February. There are some potentially tough questions to be asked by investors when MAUs and revenue are both down during a traditionally strong quarter.
But then there is Endwalker, a big expansion from what many consider a direct competitor to WoW at this point. Blizz could mention this as a mitigating factor, but it would be a huge admission of failure if they do so.
Blizzard in general, and the WoW team in particular, likes to act as though there are no other MMORPGs in the world. When you are #1 you don’t mention your competitors, that only gives them air. That is a day one marketing lesson. Only those back in the pack mention the opposition. For me it was a major surprise that at one BlizzCon they acknowledged that EverQuest was the inspiration for World of Warcraft.
So I will be very interested to see what the Q4 2021 financials look like for Blizz and how they explain them. The degree to which they acknowledged competition will likely be a barometer for how much trouble they think they are in.
If they don’t mention the market or competition, then they believe they’re going to be able to pull out of their slump.
If they mention that the market for MMORPGs is crowded or that competition has been stiff due to other launches and expansions, then they are clearly in a bind.
But if they mention FFXIV or Endwalker by name in the financials, they might as well hire a skywriter to spell out that WoW is no longer the market leader in 100 foot letters above Irvine.
We shall see in about two months.