World of Warcraft’s pre-patch for the upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion dropped. It brings the usual set of pre-expansion talent and game changes, a massive “stat squish” in preparation for several years of new content, an updated client with DirectX 12 support baked in, no more support for DX9, and a host of other in-game changes. But one major change comes unannounced, and it lowers the barrier to entry for the still-popular MMO.
Up until now, you’ve unlocked access to World of Warcraft by first buying a copy of the base game plus expansions, and then paying for a monthly subscription. The typical fee has been along the lines of $40 for base game plus all released expansions up to and including the current, except when a brand-new expansion was about to drop, as is currently the case. To simplify this, let’s use numbers. Ordinarily, with Battle for Azeroth (WoW’s 7th expansion) about to be released, we’d expect WoW + Expansions 1 – 6 to sell for a discount (say, ~$15-$20) while WoW + Expansions 1-7 would sell for $40 – $50. As of now, that’s changed. You can access the entire base game and everything up through the end of Legion for just $15, and need only buy BfA when and if you decide to push further into the game.
Hard as it might be to believe, there are still people getting into World of Warcraft for the first time. I recently introduced my fiancée to the game and met several other new players in doing so. Blizzard is also presumably gearing up for a substantial surge of returning players. I’ve already seen some familiar faces popping up in guild again, and players returning to the game.
How this will impact player retention isn’t clear. With Legion, Blizzard saw a huge surge of players coming back — so much so, that it temporarily drove the game to new heights. Obviously much of that surge will have dropped away again, but with features like World of Warcraft Classic — a new game mode that will invite players to return to the heady days of Patch 1.12, aka “Drums of War,” when the first wave of major class changes were implemented but before the Dark Portal opened, allowing players to adventure into Outland / Draenor and see the first new world WoW had ever explored — we may see yet stronger numbers.
Look for a comparison of WoW performance under both DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 in the not-too-distant future. DX12 games have been few and far between so far in 2018, and the API hasn’t seen much adoption after an initially strong showing in 2016. In 2016, 11 DX12 games and two Vulkan games came to market. In all of 2017, we saw just five DX12 games and one Vulkan game. Bringing a developer the size of Blizzard into the DX12 fold is good for Microsoft’s API and overall adoption.
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