One thing I’ve avoided engaging with too much has been the idea of player loss during Battle for Azeroth.
While it is true that the game has likely lost players (the most recent quarterly MAU metrics revealing a 8.5% loss across all Blizzard games), the thing I think that is tricky to breach from this side of the fence is why that might be.
I’ve written at length about the various issues in Battle for Azeroth, from the bizarre grindiness of Azerite to the lack of overall quality in the expansion, but yet I think discussing leaving players requires something else.
Why do people quit playing WoW? Well, it is hard to say in all cases, and obviously we don’t have all the data that Blizzard does about that. Given that, I want to approach today with anecdotal examples from my personal friend/acquaintance circle. I imagine if all of us that write about WoW were to do this, the results would be a fascinating cross-section, but the plural of anecdotes is not data.
With that said, I am going to talk through a few examples of player archetypes I’ve encountered.
The Main Story Tourist
While I will never quite understand this type of player, because it isn’t how my brain works, this type of WoW player generally returns for the beginning of an expansion, levels one or maybe two characters to the level cap, maybe does some endgame content (but rarely raids), and then leaves for the interceding two years. You might think this player type would be highly casual and only interested in WoW as something of a curiousity, but I know a variety of players like this. From hardcore-wrote-in-notebooks-about-farming-mats-in-Vanilla types, to more casual raiders, to those who simply want to see the new zones, there is a lot of ground here.
The players that I know who fit this archetype are former hardcore raiders whose life circumstances have dictated that they can no longer play quite so much. The most prominent personal example I have is a couple that used to play 7 days a week, one of whom was the guild leader with me as raid leader, who left after moving to a different time zone. With our raids set for convenient times for the US West coast, being on the East coast made making raids hard, which only got harder when they had their first child. Then another, then another, and at this point, they have logged on maybe twice during Battle for Azeroth. They still play because WoW has a fair amount of significance in their story – they met via a webforum and spent time playing WoW together as a component of a long-distance relationship. They moved together and our guild became friends, with the two groups being linked and many of us ending up at their wedding. They always seem to talk about WoW in polite terms, because regardless of the current state of the game, it is a component of their story and one worth revisiting from time to time.
The Casual Burnout
The second category I see personally is the type that really enjoys the game…to a point. They’ll play eagerly for hours a day, until the point where the fun drains out for them personally and they just log off and don’t come back until next expansion. I know a lot of folks like this, and it is usually the type who really does enjoy the game, but often doesn’t want quite as much of it as they bite off. My friend and fellow officer is like this – he has been about 50/50 on expansions where he either plays all the way through or drops out near the beginning. We recently lost him for the expansion as our difficulties in Heroic Battle of Dazar’Alor ramped up – after the 60 wipes to Conclave but before locking in steady kills on Mekkatorque. At the moment where the fun starts to trickle out, he leaves – and I can’t blame him for that.
This category loves to take their gameplay seriously but often doesn’t want it to be so serious that there is stress over frequent boss wipes or gameplay mechanics – a very normal and healthy response, might I add. For them, WoW is fun – but there is a boundary that can be crossed where it becomes too much work to manage. They might min-max through respecs, re-enchanting gear and changing up lots of their gameplay to maximize performance – but all of it is in service to having fun, with any acheivements or accolades being secondary to that fun.
The Social Player
Not much to be said about this one – for many, WoW is a social game, and if your guild is done and wrapped for the expansion or forever, it often doesn’t make sense to leave your guild and find another one. For me personally, I feel this strongly – sometimes, I want to quit my guild because I get so irritated and frustrated with them, but then I find myself thinking about what I would even do if I did that. The point of being in a guild is to enjoy gameplay with a like-minded group of individuals, but the process of finding a guild that fits is cumbersome, and not really in a way that Blizzard can even help with. For as much as I find myself annoyed at times with my guild, overall, I still enjoy playing with them. If they quit raiding, I’d probably stop playing. If I left the guild, I’d probably stop playing. If the numbers dwindled to nothing, I’d probably stop playing. For those to whom these things have already happened, I totally understand their response – to stop playing. I’ve met very few people who keep playing in dead guilds, or without some sort of social structure around them, even if they don’t interact with it much. (after writing post: *says not much to say, writes a long paragraph anyways*)
One thing I’ve left in many of these descriptions, based on personal experience, is that many of these states of quitting are temporary. Many people quit for an expansion, a tier, or even just a few months. I only quit the game twice – once in 2007 when my girlfriend was furious over a 6-hour long Karazhan raid, and once in 2013 when my almost-marriage imploded and I was moving/otherwise occupying my time. These could just as easily have been permanent quits for me – in 2007, I quit and didn’t return to endgame content until Wrath of the Lich King the next year, and if my guild wasn’t still toiling away in 2013 after I got my shit back together, I would have been far less likely to return.
Many people encounter the situations I’ve listed above and just quit forever. An excellent piece I read last week by Internet of Words detailed her exit from WoW, in her words, not because the game had changed, but because she had changed. Many of us can identify with that kind of sentiment. I had a friend get married, move to Minnesota, and start a cattle farm, and he has never logged back into WoW since. My old guild leader, before I took the reins and then started a new guild of our own, left for Rift, told us Rift would take over for WoW, and then returned after 6 months and still occassionally whispers some of us asking how we’re doing (not me, since I changed mains!).
The thing with the current state of the game is that many people may have logged in for the last time without realizing it. During much of the time I spent away from the game in the past, I didn’t really miss it all that much, and it didn’t occupy my time thinking about it. I think in the era we live in, where many people express their desire to quit loudly as a message, many more simply log off one day and never return. Many of us expressing unhappiness with the game are doing so in service of a goal – to help make the game better by describing how the experience feels and what makes us feel bad when playing, because we want to keep playing it. My posts of occassional dissatisfaction with BfA aren’t meant to say the game is objectively bad, but rather the process of trying to come to terms with what the game makes me feel and why I feel that way. I am still playing and remain fairly engaged, if not nearly to the extent of the past (hell, I had my first new 120 in 5 months over the weekend!), but I want that time to not be something I question as much as I currently do.
I think the bigger wonder to me is what happens when people quit. I know when I’ve “quit” or taken a hiatus in the past, it sometimes took a major event to pull me back in (the release of Wrath and patch 5.4, respectively). What would it take for people who have already quit to be pulled back into the world of Azeroth?
That is a topic for another time – and I definitely have some ideas about what could be done!