How Much Longer Can World of Warcraft Survive?

wow, world of warcraft, mmorpg
I’ll never let go, Thrall!

WoW is one of the oldest MMORPGs in the world. But how long more can it survive?

World of Warcraft’s influence is huge. It’s been the most popular MMO out on the market for over a decade now. Surviving all of the attempts made on its life by so called “WoW-killer” MMORPGs and outliving them, it is still maintaining a large subscriber base, providing countless hours of fun for its players and making Blizzard a respectable amount of money.

However, all things must come to an end; even a giant such as WoW will have its servers shut down one day, but how much time has it exactly got left?

An MMORPG In Its Teens – How Long Has It Been?

Suramar, WoW's largest urban zone.

World of Warcraft released on November 24th 2004. If you played WoW at launch when you were in high school, chances are today you’re starting to think about settling down and starting a family. Blizzard’s objectively biggest game has been operating smoothly for 13 years now, and has been the favorite pastime of several generations of gamers.

Usually, people tend to play a game for a couple of months, maybe years before moving on, but this isn’t the case with WoW.

It is the only game to have such a large and constant subscriber base, made up of hundreds of thousands of people even after more than a decade has passed.

When you take a break from WoW and play other games, you know it’ll be there, waiting for you whenever you decide to return to Azeroth. 

Azshara – one of the most comfy zones in the game.

There are those who believe that WoW is holding the MMORPG genre down and keeping it stagnant, because it has made other developers copy its formula over and over hoping to achieve the same success as Blizzard.

So far none of these WoW clones have managed to stay relevant enough to not go free to play or shut down completely, which just brings us back to the original point that WoW is one of a kind and completely unique. 

But how has the game aged? Why are people attracted to WoW’s formula after all this time?

Siege of Orgrimmar raid.

Let’s hand it to the folks at Blizzard, they sure know how to polish and evolve their game. Few people know that World of Warcraft is actually based off a heavily modified version of the Warcraft 3 engine which is over 16 years old.

WoW’s never been amazing from a technical standpoint, but its art style has aged like fine wine – pay a visit to any zones that haven’t been touched in 10 years such as Outland and you’ll see what I mean.

Old Nagrand still manages to impress.

Over the years, the visual department has added some bells and whistles like dynamic shadows, light shafts, better models with more polygons and higher textures, as well as basic physics and better animations, making the game a more modern experience. 

New animations in Legion.

But gameplay-wise, WoW has pretty much stayed the same at its core. Every new expansion is the same – you progress through zones, reach maximum level and then engage in raids or PvP. This idea is older than WoW, even MMOs in the 90s had the exact same system in place. The answer to why someone would play this sort of game for a decade straight isn’t that straightforward; there are a lot of variables and unknowns to take into consideration, but we can simplify it. T

he formula just appeals to some people’s tastes. Just like certain gamers like to run around shooting in Battlefield and Call of Duty, or play the same map for thousands upon thousands of hours in MOBA games, WoW players like to engage in questing, monster hunting and raiding with friends. One important thing to note is that the game’s list of gameplay features keeps on growing and has by no means remained the same since 2004.

A lot of new stuff is being added all the time, and WoW has taken inspiration from other MMOs on the market from the things that they have done well. Combat in recent WoW has become more action and mobility-oriented, which the addition of the Demon Hunter and Monk classes reflects pretty well. Quests are no longer the only big experience sources in the game, with additional objectives available for players to engage in while running around a zone.

The fact that WoW is adapting and complementing its core gameplay experience, which in turn is essentially the same, means that Blizzard can still generate interest with new stuff.

Dropping Subscriber Numbers - A Cause For Concern?

WoW’s population over time.

World of Warcraft had 12 million subscribers in 2009. This is considered to be the peak of the game’s lifespan and popularity, and since then, according to Blizzard’s financial reports, subscriber numbers have been dropping at a steady rate. Every new expansion, sub numbers briefly spike as it brings back some people to the game, others leave, some new players join and the cycle repeats.

Due to some questionable design choices by Blizzard that some people didn't like, during Warlords of Draenor the game experienced a steeper decline than usual. The expansion has received a lot of critique and has gone down as the worst expansion to date.

Had some pretty fantastic zones, though.

Another questionable move by Blizzard happened near the end of 2015. They decided not to release subscriber numbers to the public anymore, and the last concrete stats we have are that in November 2015, World of Warcraft was played by 5.5 million people. Connected (or virtual) servers also happened, which indicates that certain servers became all but empty and had to become part of a greater server group in order for players to find people to play with.

Legion seems to be undoing the damage Warlords made, and a lot of people are returning to play the game again. All in all, subscriber numbers dropping is a natural thing. Nobody expects WoW to be around forever, and as time goes by there will certainly come a point where WoW will simply stop being relevant and too old, whatever the number of expansions it gets.

A once bustling Shattrath City – now empty. The same fate will befall WoW. 

No matter how much time passes until WoW finally shuts down, it will certainly remain in the collective minds of gamers worldwide long after its death, always fondly remembered and mentioned as one of the biggest and most unique online experiences of our time.

Reading up on WoW? Have a look at some more articles we have prepared for you:

World of Warcraft: 10 Most Epic Ground Mounts You Should Have

The Story Behind World of Warcraft: Legion

Ranked: The Best and Worst WoW Expansions

More on this topic:

Gaming since 2000, ever since I could reach the Street Fighter arcade cabinet. Student, athlete, writer.
Gamer Since: 2000
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Top 3 Favorite Games:Battlefield: Bad Company 2, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Total War: Rome II

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