There are a lot of reasons to not be subscribed to World of Warcraft at the moment, although “the current state of the game plus the overall vibe of everything Blizzard” is indisputably the obvious one-two punch for the game at the moment. But the other day in the MOP newsroom we were debating whether or not the game is currently a good value for the money, and the reality is that… there’s a lot to unpack there! Enough that I think the answer to that question can be ballooned out to a whole column.
Now, fair warning, this column is not concerned with all of the (very valid) reasons to say that Blizzard as a company should not get any of your money at the moment. What we’re talking about is the game itself. Is it worth the price of $15 per month for access? And my answer is no… probably. A case can be made, and while it’s one I don’t ultimately agree with, I think it’s important to consider multiple angles here.
First and foremost, I want to discuss one obvious thing that is both easy to dismiss and also highly relevant: For some people, WoW is worth the money because that’s where all of the people they know are playing. This is kind of irrelevant when it comes to evaluating the value of the game because it’s inevitably highly personal and isn’t really something you can account for. If all of your friends play the game and this is the only place you can all hang out, that’s not really a mark in the game’s favor, even if it’s a factor for your choices.
Of course, it also is a good reason for saying that above all else, this is important to you. So, swings and roundabouts. What we’re looking for here is the game itself, update frequency, quality of content, and so forth. And in that, we start running into problems.
At this point it’s actually too charitable to call statements about how slowly WoW updates jokes; they’re just facts. The game patches less than a lot of games that are supposedly in maintenance mode, and its actual most recent patches had a distinct paucity of content for people who do not care about being the best. By that metric, it’s an overwhelming no.
Except that’s also forgetting about WoW Classic, isn’t it?
I feel like this is one of those things that’s also easy to do because the audience for the two games is honestly kind of separate, but it’s undeniable that you’re getting three different games for the price of one subscription between The Burning Crusade, vanilla Classic, and the retail title. That’s a lot of different options for one fee, and while it’s quite possible that two of those options don’t appeal to you in the slightest, you can’t deny that there’s a lot going on there.
Of course, that also runs into the problem of what counts as value, something someone should write an article about. (Just kidding, I already did that.) You could argue that it doesn’t matter how many games you’re getting for that cost; if you don’t want to play them, it’s functionally not real value. But then we run into another problem, which is gauging the sheer amount of content that WoW has pumped into itself over the years.
Any realistic discussion of WoW has to note that while a lot of it is no longer relevant endgame content, there is a lot of stuff (that’s the technical term) still bumping around in the game. Like, if you want to advance your Garrison out in alt-Draenor, there sure is a lot of stuff to do there! You can call it a lot of things, but you can’t consider it content-light. An argument could be made that when you look at the sheer amount of old content available that you may have never explored, there’s a lot of the game to play.
But at the same time, there’s that question of relevance. If we go back to the Garrison, there’s a lot of stuff to be done if you want to really have the best Garrison you can, but the rewards for doing so are… well, mostly internal. The game isn’t going to give you anything for them, there’s no relevance to any of it, and there’s not something profound waiting at the end there. I’ve mentioned before that WoW is a game about rewarding the Right Now over the past, and this is very much the case with this aspect of the game as much as anything else.
That’s not even getting into the fact that a lot of this content requires other people to participate for you to see it, and those other people are just not interested in significant numbers. You can either solo run through Icecrown Citadel and treat it like your personal playground whilst blowing past every mechanic, or you can look for people to run it authentically and never find them. Neither of those options makes this content seem relevant to a discussion of value. It’s there, but that’s all it is, like an entire amusement park full of rides that no one cares about any longer.
And please, if you’re a big WoW fan and you’re about to ask what the alternative is, please do some research: There are a lot of MMOs out there that have kept older content relevant and a bit of research will help you here. Please.
Content you can’t effectively access is no content at all. And while there are still some alternative playstyles you can make work in the game right now, it’s a lot harder to, say, focus on making money for anything other than your own edification. Put it another way, while you can definitely argue that the game has more “forgotten” content than some games have content period, at a certain point you have to develop a whole different playstyle to make that relevant, and there are other games you can play that just already do that.
So with all this in mind, where do we end up on the scale of value? Is the game actually worth that monthly subscription? The answer, as I mentioned, is complex because on a sheer “relevant content” and “modern update” scale, it fails pretty spectacularly. Just 2021 alone is an indictment of how little forward motion there is in this live game, and somehow updates and improvements seem to be taking longer rather than arriving faster.
At the same time, just saying “no” feels a bit disingenuous because we’re not talking about a game that has an objective problem of there being literally nothing to do. There’s a lot to do, and there are a lot of possible motivations for people to explore the game.
If anything, the problem here is priorities and what happens when a game consistently prioritizes a very specific mentality where a lot of that value gets demolished in favor of time-limited experiences and systems that players lose connection to the virtual world as being a world, instead assembling things into a cohesive whole where the parts of it remain relevant and engaging even as time marches forward.
Funny how that keeps working out, isn’t it?