SANTA MONICA, Calif. – “World of Warcraft” is losing players, and the players that have stuck with the video game are aging. So, just ahead of “World of Warcraft’s” 15th anniversary, Activision Blizzard is going retro.
The company launched “World of Warcraft Classic” Monday, a nostalgic version of the multiplayer online roleplaying game, in which players can adventure as orcs and elves, among other characters.
“World of Warcraft Classic” returns things to the way they were when the game first launched in 2004. It will be available for no additional charge to current subscribers to the game.
Classic WoW is no walk in the park. Players must manually search for others to team up with for massive raids that involve 40 people communicating and working together — moments that have led people to make real-life friends. Traveling from town to town will take time. The graphics are significantly pared back to resemble the original.
“We really approached this as almost like an archaeological dig. ‘What was it like back then?'” said John Hight, “World of Warcraft’s” executive producer and vice president. “We’re carefully scraping the dust off the dinosaur bones and bringing it back to life.”
The company said interest in “World of Warcraft Classic” was so strong that it overwhelmed Blizzard’s servers. More than 2 million players created characters in anticipation of the launch, Blizzard said.
“World of Warcraft’s” total number of players has declined over time. Although there are over 140 million accounts on “World of Warcraft,” the game currently has just five million individual subscribers, data collector Statista estimates, down from the 12 million players the game had back in October 2010.
That represents an opportunity: Activision Blizzard is betting on nostalgia to bring back some older players and to lure new ones.
“We have this audience that played it originally, and they want to come back, and then we have this new audience that has never played it and they want to check it out,” said Hight. “What will be interesting to see is in the months to come, who stays with it.”
Because WoW has lost millions of subscribers, the potential market for “World of Warcraft Classic” is huge, noted Will Partin, a doctoral candidate studying the gaming industry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“The big challenge is that many of the players who left WoW left because life took over and their priorities shifted,” said Partin. “And releasing WoW Classic can’t really address those lifestyle shifts.”
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack said on a conference call with analysts during last quarter’s earnings call that the company can’t predict how long players will be engaged with the classic edition after it launches.
Michael Pachter, an analyst at financial services firm Wedbush, modeled growth of 460,000 subscribers but that number could go up depending on whether Blizzard was able to draw back lapsed subscribers.
Some World of Warcraft fans are in an age demographic commonly regarded on social media as disinterested in games: Baby Boomers.
“You’d be surprised how many of us Baby Boomers are still playing this game,” said Tommy Dillard, 63, an Uber driver in California and an avid WoW fan. “There’s a Facebook group I’m in, it’s called World of Warcraft 55 and older…Some of the people are new and some of them have been playing from years ago.”
Activision Blizzard said the age of the average player is rising every year.
In the company’s 2018 annual report, Activision noted that it relied too much on a few franchises for revenue. “Call of Duty,” “Candy Crush” and “World of Warcraft” made up 58% of the company’s revenue for 2018.