There are two signs that a MMORPG is on the verge of becoming obsolete: Rapid creation of expansion packs and merging of servers. It happened to EverQuest, it happened to Ultima Online.
Blizzard is now doing both with the World of Warcraft, plus one other indicator that I will get to later. As a publicly traded company that exists to increase shareholder earnings first and is a video game company second, Blizzard is attempting to hold onto every last penny that they can. The strategy is two fold.
1. Merge World of Warcraft Servers.
When a MMORPG starts to lose subscribers, the affects are not immediately noticeable. However, when those subscribers are leaving by droves, servers start to become empty and dead. For the experience of the players still willing to pay for game time, this put’s their monthly revenue at a serious risk. So, to reduce that risk, merging servers unites players that are still willing to pay monthly and affords them a populated feel to the game.
Blizzard plans to merge a set of servers today, February 13 and next week on February 25th 2014. This will add several more merged servers to the already massive list. Look for another mass merge in 10-14 months.
2. Create More Expansions Faster
Before Everquest finally kicked the commercial bucket, their dev team started pumping out expansion packs. At the tune of 2 per year. The idea was that the players that still remained were die hards. They were passionate. If you could give them more content, then they would buy it. Now remember, Blizzard wants to squeeze everything they can out of this game. As a company that has shown deliberate signs of following the EQ business model, look for this strategy to be imitated as well.
Classic Launch: 11/04
Burning Crusade: 1/07
Wrath of the Lich King: 11/08
Mists of Pandaria: 9/12
ANNOUNCED Warlords of Draenor later 2014 at the earliest.
Thus far expansions are predictably launched. However, I would look to see another quick announcement at BlizzCon after Warlords of Draenor is launched.
3. Increasing Value of Invite a Friend Perks
When the World of Warcraft came out, there were obviously no amazing perks for inviting friends into the game. No extra mounts, free levels, free game play etc. Now that Blizzard is seeing a decrease of subscribers look for this clear trend to continue or accelerate. One thing is certain, the fewer people still playing, the better the perks are going to become.