In 2004 Blizzard Entertainment released its juggernaut, World of Warcraft. Through various advertising schemes and a slow climb it eventually took over the online video gaming world, becoming the most played Massively Multiplayer Online game in history. Each of the expansions since its original release have sold over 3 million units, and it continues to be a very popular choice.
But with each expansion came certain changes to the game. Certain quests and aspects of gameplay were toned down – made easier so WoW could appeal to a more mainstream audience. After three expansions, and the fourth on its way, Blizzard's masterpiece is a shell of its former self. It now panders to casual fans, allowing for an incredibly fast leveling system so players don't have to spend months "grinding" to build up a solid in-game character. They use actors and various celebrities for commercials, trying to draw in people from all demographics.
The honest truth is: WoW is tanking. They took their focus off the hardcore gamer that the original game was tailored to fit. And in doing so they gained millions of new, young (and incredibly annoying) fans. But these fans are fickle, playing through their free trial and never touching it again. Unfortunately Blizzard calculates these trial users in their estimates for how many players they have online… The commercials may still say "over 10 million playing", but there are hardly any original WoW junkies left. Most analysts of the industry are saying they won't make it to the next expansion, and it may go "Free to Play" before 2013.
What did Blizzard do wrong? I'm all for evolution; "evolve or die" as the old saying goes. But you never leave your first love just to make a quick buck. You don't bite the hand that feeds you, and you don't leave your core demographic of gamers out in the rain so you can pander to the casual fan. Sound familiar? It's what WWE has been guilty of for quite some time.
I don't understand why these giant companies are ditching the old, and ushering in a new shiny product to appeal to the masses. We live in an age where a completely independent programer like Markus Persson can release a BETA, and have it become the most played game in the world. I'm talking of course, about Minecraft. The game just celebrated its "official release," but millions of fans around the world have been enjoying the work of Notch (Persson's famous nickname) for two years! The man has turned an indie project into a billion dollar product…
The same people that used to work for Blizzard put out a DOTA clone called League of Legends. It is currently the most played online game on the planet, and the best part: it's completely free. League makes money off the fans who like the game enough to buy in-game outfits and new characters (which they can still get if they just play the free game). How many small-time people and businesses have to succeed before people understand that you DON'T have to appeal to the casual fan!?
WWE doesn't need the celebrity guest hosts. They don't need to make crappy movies to garner a negligeable boost in sales and/or ratings. They don't need to pander to the casual fan at all… In fact, doing has spelled almost certain death for every company that has tried it. Oh, they'll make a truck load of money, but eventually the casual fans they think are so important will find a new fad. They'll move on to MMA, reality fight clubs, or the underwater basket-weaving channel. They will leave, and WWE will be left looking stupid with neither mainstream fans or their hardcore faithful.
You don't alienate your original fanbase to draw a quick buck. But I understand the need… Keeping enough hardcore wrestling fans interested enough to buy PPV's and subscribe to the WWE Network requies a LOT of work. It means real creative thinking, revolutionary steps into the future, and shaking up a product. It means actual talent development, characters that don't all act, talk, and wrestle the same way. It requires actually talented backstage employees that can craft a story.
Why spend the time and resources to put out a revolutionary product, when you can just keep bringing in new fans that will pay for your monthly events and move on? Because…they will move on. People like me will always be around, but as long as the product is terrible, I refuse to pay for any of it. They need to bring back the hardcore fan, because we are the ones actually passionate about the product. We are the ones who can take WWE back to a place of sky-high ratings and PPV buys. But we only latch on to things that are good. We gravitate towards the Minecraft's and LoL's because they are good alternatives to a terrible industry.
I've said this for a long time: WWE will never die because of competition. There's not a soul alive that can touch Vince McMahon in this day and age. There's not an interested party with enough money or vision to make it happen. WWE won't die because it has to defend itself, it will die because it doesn't. TNA's best strategy isn't to challenge Vince and company to a Monday Night War. All they have to do is let the ship sink on its own…
Follow me on Twitter @MikeKillam.