What's next for World of Warcraft in 20 years?

  • Written by Andrew Rogers
  • BBC Newsbeat

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, BlizzCon has been bringing World of Warcraft players together IRL since 2005

World of Warcraft is celebrating its 20th birthday this year, but it just canceled its biggest party.

Fans of the game have gathered online in Anaheim, California, every year since 2005 for the BlizzCon convention.

The convention was a place to meet fellow fans of the series, don your best cosplay and get your first look at what's coming next in the massive fantasy world of Azeroth.

But game maker Activision Blizzard announced the cancellation of the 2024 edition of the famous event.

Frustrated fans were assured that the event would return in the future, but did not say when, promising a series of smaller scale events instead.

There has been speculation among gamers about what the Xbox owner might do with its newly owned games, which also include household name franchises Call of Duty and Candy Crush.

Most of the talk has centered around whether Microsoft will bring some of its new titles to Game Pass, the Netflix-style subscription service seen as an increasingly important part of its gaming business.

These issues reportedly greatly affected Activision Blizzard employees, and the developer also canceled work on the survival game project widely known as Odyssey.

Vice president and executive producer Holly Longdale said that the developer has “so far” had “full support from Microsoft to do everything we have to deliver for our audience.”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, BlizzCon attracts a lot of people in costumes, dressing up as a character from the game

She said she viewed the merger deal as a positive thing for players, because it allowed the Warcraft team to exchange ideas with other Microsoft-owned studios.

Calling this a “very rare special feature,” Holly said she's already had conversations with the teams behind Minecraft and RPG The Elder Scrolls to see how they can learn from each other.

When asked if this might mean a crossover between the franchises in the future, she told Newsbeat: “I have nothing to announce right now. We're all optimistic. Who knows? It's early days.”

But she said some changes inspired by other studios have already found their way into Warcraft.

One example of this is a new setting that allows players with severe arachnophobia to remove the eight-legged creatures – which feature heavily in the world – from the game.

Holly said this special feature was brought from games like Grounded – a co-op survival adventure from Microsoft studio Obsidian.

The purchase of Activision Blizzard also boosted Microsoft's financial results. Published last week, the gaming division saw a significant increase in revenue that was mostly driven by purchases.

But sales of its Xbox console were down 31% year over year.

Holly told Newsbeat she believes World of Warcraft – which is not currently available on consoles – could play a role in this and wants to expand the game's appeal.

“We're always looking for ways we can expand our audience,” she said.

“Ultimately, this challenge will never end because we want to share the World of Warcraft with everyone around the world.”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, World of Warcraft now faces much greater competition in the online space, including huge rivals like Fortnite and Minecraft

In recent years, the game has added new ways to play that appeal to more casual players who don't want to spend hours leveling up their characters or don't want to fight other players.

But one of the biggest barriers to attracting new players is the reputation some online games have for toxic speech and behavior.

It's not unique to World of Warcraft, with Maria Hamilton, the game's associate design director, telling Newsbeat it's something Blizzard has been doing its best to address but probably won't get rid of entirely.

“Any online experience carries the risk of encountering someone who is having a bad day,” she said.

“We have good reports and good methods for monitoring problematic players and toxic players.”

Seeing a strong blizzard of time

Representation is a big topic in the gaming industry right now, and World of Warcraft has previously been criticized for including characters that some players consider racist or misogynistic.

“Some of our characters' races may not look quite as great in today's lens.”

Maria said she hopes some of the more problematic examples from the game's past can be erased, but says the company is trying to avoid repetition by bringing in outside diversity consultants.

Compared to the launch of Warcraft 20 years ago, games are increasingly competing not just for our money, but for our time and attention as well.

Holly said she sees streaming services like Netflix as a major competitor in 2024.

Despite the challenges ahead, both Holly and Maria said they are optimistic about the next 20 years of World of Warcraft.

“We have some great ideas on the way,” Holly said.

“As part of Microsoft, we feel there is some limitless potential on the way.”

But this year will not include the game's annual conference.

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