Oh what a difference a few months can make. When last we checked in on World of Warcraft's green, red, and cow-colored masses, things were looking grim - or, well, as grim as they can look when you have over 10 million subscribers. But, rolling hills once rife with freshly rolled alts, that number was a far cry from the 12 million of 2010. One empire was in decline, and another - Stars Wars: The Old Republic - was seemingly on its way to filling the power vacuum. But then, the gaming world did the industry-wide equivalent of briefly glancing at a roving herd of bison, only to look back and see that nothing was the same. Furniture was on the ceiling, cats were starting small businesses with dogs, and SWTOR was leaping up and down and making lightsaber wooshing sounds at a clearly disinterested crowd. So then, let's check in on World of Warcraft.
Speaking during a financial call, Blizzard president Mike Morhaime gave a thumbs up and winning smile at his game's chances. Or at least, he would have, if you could somehow speak those things through a phone. Instead, though, he confirmed that his company has regained control of its bucking bronco of an MMO, which is still resting contentedly at 10.2 million subscribers - same as last time.
Blizzard, of course, hasn't exactly been subtle about trying to re-bait players into chomping down on WoW's nigh-inextricable hook. Items like the Scroll of Resurrection let players auto-boost all the way up to level 80 if they so choose, and systems like Item Restoration make everything friendly, frustration-free, and - as a result - more inviting to a wider range of players. How much are these new additions contributing - as opposed to a simple lack of anything truly different or more established being readily available? I'm not even sure if Blizzard could give us precise numbers on those two. Morhaime did, however, note that a whopping 1.2 million Annual Passes - replete with free copies of Diablo III - have at least temporarily quashed players' wayward tendencies.
We may, however, have an answer to the latter question soon. Tera, Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, and even Blizzard's own Diablo III each have a shot at sniping a handful of subscribers. And while one figurative yapping Chihuahua isn't much of a threat, a tiny army of suicidally courageous dog rodents could probably, like, steal and subsequently choke on one of my shoelaces or something. There is, I suppose, strength in numbers.
Do any of those games offer experiences interesting enough to keep players from simply falling back into WoW's safe embrace a couple months later, though? And, more importantly, when will Mists of Pandaria launch relative to all of this? It's in beta right this very second, so sometime this summer seems likely. But will its thick, meaty paws spend a couple months clawing for dear life over an abyss of irrelevance, or could seemingly candy coated additions like monster battling and, well, pandas hide the immobilizing teeth of a bear trap? I haven't the foggiest. And also, where did all my shoelaces go?