WoW and the Endwalker Excuse

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.

A baby murloc backpack

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.

10 thoughts on “WoW and the Endwalker Excuse

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tipa – Every once in a while I run it in another language, copy it, then paste it into Google translate to find out what it comes back as in English. That is pretty funny sometimes.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @arhanta – You only have 500 mounts and call yourself avid?

    The problem with the transmogs that they have given out is that you really need to be going for a specific look to have any use for them. I already have all the transmog collecting achievements, and a baby murloc backpack doesn’t fit any look I would go for, so it would not weigh very heavily in convincing me to resubscribe to WoW. Maybe if they went more serious with some of the backpack cosmetic looks like LOTRO has, but this does nothing for me. I’d rather have a mount.

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  3. arhanta

    I’ll have you know I am at 40922 out of 59650 according to “All The Things” addon, so I might not be very good at collecting, but I am crazy enough to count such things… To each their own weaknesses…

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  4. Pallais

    I don’t think the Activision/Blizzard financials are going to mention anything that could be taken as a downside. They don’t even acknowledge they bring in the least amount of money amongst the three parts of the company. The illusion that they are still some sort of 800 pound gorilla in the gaming industry is one they emotionally can’t let go of.

    They’ll say nothing about any problems and just focus on things that can be spun as upbeat. I think it would take years of decline before they are ready to say things are bad to investors. Then only if they have turned things around and are having an increase.

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Pallais – They used to blow Activision out of the water 3 quarters of the year, then a Call of Duty title would release and Activision would be huge for that one quarter. But now Activision has figured out how to have Call of Duty income year round, Blizz has dawdled in 3rd place.

    If they make more than $450 million they can probably get away with some hand waving about “normal for a Q4 when nothing shipped,” but if it is less than that… and they have nothing in the pipe for Q1… they’ll have to make some excuse… and probably lay some more people off.

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  6. kiantremayne

    I’d be interested to see both WoW and FFXIV’s numbers next summer. At that point we’d be a year since the thundering herd stampeded over to FFXIV, and 6 months past Endwalker’s launch. Some of those players will have remained with FFXIV, some will have quietly slunk back to WoW, and a proportion will have dispersed to smaller MMOs or left the genre entirely. The question is, which will be the biggest category?

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