I Can See Why World Of Warcraft Is Losing Subscribers

After another nearly six month hiatus I reinstalled World Of Warcraft and just for the heck of it started poking around in that game again, for not much of a real reason.  Guild Wars 2 has plenty going on without the monthly fee, and the new Neverwinter game has quite a bit of potential, plus nobody I used to play with still plays WoW – the last guy I used to raid with having been gone about as long as I have and having not even gotten past Level 85 back in March.  Overall, there have been some nice quality of life improvements to the game mechanics since the last time I played for certain builds like Discipline Priests and Mistweaver Monks, but I’m noticing something in WoW now that never used to be a major issue before.

World of Warcraft has become a video game that screams, “WE DON’T CARE!!!” via how it runs.  :-\

For starters, I’ve been streaming the game with the streaming launcher, which is a nice idea to not need to download 20 GB of data up front just to play the game again (I never bought Mists Of Pandaria on disc – the first WoW expansion that I didn’t buy the physical box for), but the background streamer is woefully lacking in bandwidth management options.  There’s normal mode and fast play mode, but I’m sticking with just normal mode and still getting significant lag.  Not good when I’m mostly leveling healers via Dungeon Finder.  :-\

There are also issues with performance in Pandaria itself, which I’ve been seeing since the expansion launched.  Not good for Blizzard to blow its own engine and actually release a continent that causes performance problems on a system that flies all over Skyrim and Guild Wars 2.  I’m not exactly a fan of getting the most performance problems from games that don’t look very nice graphics-wise like WoW’s cartoony Warcraft 3 art style.  Neverwinter is giving me this problem too with its diamond-in-the-rough state since launch.  Ironic, because WoW’s cartoony look helped it be friendlier to less cutting-edge systems when the game first came out and helped bring about this game’s incredible success back in the 2000s.  What’s happened since then?  Who knows?

However, the biggest wart I’ve seen on WoW’s face right now is the sound cutouts.  Yup.  Audio issues.  That taboo AV rule where even if you have a fuzzy picture, it’s more damaging if your audience loses the sound than the visuals.  Blizzard has broken one of the most basic rules of delivering a successful presentation here.  Seriously?

Basically if I play the game long enough I start getting audio cutouts as though the surround sound encoder on my sound card is flaking out.  World of Warcraft is the ONLY game that’s doing this.  Neverwinter – no problems.  Guild Wars 2 – no problems.  Guild Wars – no problems.  Burnout Paradise – no problems.  Portal – no problems.  Portal 2 – no problems.  Eventually, restarting my computer fixes this problem, but this is the kind of slowly-deteriorating performance issues that I’ve previously associated with buggy Elder Scrolls games like Morrowind back in the day.  Even Skyrim has had some problems with crashes to the desktop just like its two predecessors.

This is inexcusable in the year 2013.  These RPGs are supposed to be a video game escapist’s dream.  Their whole point is to let someone live another life in another world as another character – digitally.  Technical issues that limit play sessions are like naggy parents that eventually force you to shut the computer off and go to bed.  Sounds nerdy, but these kinds of games aren’t games you just play a quick game of and then shut off for the night.  They tell stories, create experiences, and in the case of some of the better players, create friendships in the online gaming world in the case of the guys I used to raid and run dungeons with in this game who I would team up with in another game again if the opportunity ever presented itself.  Break the immersion, and you break the success of these online RPGs.

A quick Google search revealed this complaint thread on their forums about these sound issues.  I’ve tried the “workarounds” their techs and admins proposed.  Nothing works.  This game, for the first time ever (I’ve been playing since WoW Classic back in 2006) has an immersion-breaking technical issue that creates a love-hate relationship with the game because you can’t just play and play anymore.  Previously, things like crashes to the desktop were rare enough to be significant events whenever they happened, and audio issues were fixable by changing a setting like going from hardware to software sound or changing the number of sound channels.  Let’s also not forget the biggest source of frustration here.  Patch 5.3 came out in May.  It’s now August.  I suppose I’d probably be driving myself nuts even more if I was one of those hardcore WoW fans who only played this game and nothing else.  😛  Fortunately, if I get annoyed enough, I have plenty of other games to play this time around.

…seriously, what did I come back to?

Patch 5.4 is arriving on September 10th.  If this nonsense is still going on post-5.4-launch, this will be a short WoW renaissance for me indeed.  If this is what passes for acceptable in the wonderful world of Blizzard these days I suppose we can expect more of the same in terms of subscriber losses.  Speaking of subscription MMOs, Zenimax Online Studios should take notice with their recent decision to go the Warcraft route with Elder Scrolls Online.  :-\

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