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Bad Luck Blizzard

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We’re coming off of a pretty horrible week for Blizzard Entertainment (or the recently formed Activision-Blizzard), makers of such iconic titles as World of Warcraft, Diablo III and Star Craft II. Out of their three flagship franchises (which I just listed), two out of three have suffered setbacks – meaning anyone currently into Star Craft II might want to be worried that their game is next.

First they were forced to admit that World of Warcraft’s subscriber numbers have plummeted once again, after trying to pass off the last expansion Mists of Pandaria as a raging success on all fronts – not that it has any issues as a title, in fact I think it moved the game forward in a lot of ways, but its unfortunately not winning people back in quite the numbers they would like. World of Warcraft is now sitting at 8.3 million subscribers, almost 4 million short of the recorded peak of 12 million concurrent which was set a few years ago. If the numbers were to drop any further they might risk going down to the number of subscribers they had during the first couple years of the game – a definite sign of the times for this going on nine year old title.

Secondly and much more dramatically, an update to the auction house mechanic of Diablo III has resulted in a glitch which allows players to duplicate millions of gold at a time. As anyone who has played Diablo III likely knows, the auction house economy serves as the back bone for the gear acquisition drive of the game – frankly without it working as intended it becomes very difficult for someone to play the game normally at all. And once gold duplication began the entire economy escalated at the same right – causing Zimbabwe-style inflation. Quickly items which had been worth hundreds of gold previously escalated to a value in the millions, and climbing by the minute. This kind of bug is also very hard to correct, as you have to track each individual piece of gold which by now numbers in the tens of trillions.

What does this mean for the company? Well obviously it’s not good. On the one hand you have your main cash-cow World of Warcraft finally wearing out its welcome, and unless you can revitalize this quickly it risks capsizing within the next couple of years. On the other hand, your newest title (not counting Heart of the Swarm) and one of the fastest selling PC games of all time is suddenly collapsing in on itself – and one of the best potential fixes, a restart, could set you back thousands in player disputes and complaints.

Luckily if you could pick one company to handle two problems of this magnitude at the same time, you would have to pick Activision-Blizzard. Not only do they have a strong history of resolving bugs, especially within online games, but their almost limitless capital allows them a bit of wiggle room for when these international crises crop up.

Assuming Blizzard can fix Diablo, there is still the bigger issue of World of Warcraft as an aging title. In my opinion it's a classic case of “game fatigue”, people have simply been playing the game too much for too long over the years and now even if they do go back (like I did) the prospect of playing for months on end – particularly with so many great titles out there – isn’t as desirable as it was 9 years ago.

It looks like they might wanna speed up development on their unannounced next-gen MMO codename ‘Titan’, because retaining their large subscription base from World of Warcraft is going to be particularly important for the company moving forward.

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