When Blizzard announced the next expansion to MMO behemoth World of Warcraft last week at Blizzcon, I was nonplussed. Kung-fu pandas? Really? Was my disinterest symptomatic of the gradual decline in satisfaction I’ve felt while playing WoW since early this year, or could it be attributed to other factors?

At the time of this writing, the official Mists of Pandaria preview trailer on YouTube has 18,000 likes and 16,400 dislikes, a near even split. Personally, I found the trailer entirely uninspiring. Compared to the impending threat and wow factor conveyed in the Cataclysm trailer, it lacks the same punch.

I’ve played WoW on and off since 2007, shortly after the Burning Crusade expansion went live. My heaviest period of play was during the Wrath of the Lich King era, including the year long wait between the Icecrown raid and Cataclysm launch. Finally taking down the Lich King was one of my favorite moments in WoW. I was fairly motivated back then, even during the great update drought, where several of my guild mates grew burnt-out from the lack of content and the status quo.

I thought Cataclysm was great – for the first few months. Ultimately, not enough had changed to hold my interest. I didn’t object to the dungeons becoming difficult again, in fact I enjoyed the challenge. The same goes for raid content. I just ran out of things to do. I was losing interest. From what I’ve read and seen, Mists of Pandaria offers more of the same – five new levels to gain and a burst of end game content (the novelty of which will soon wear off), with the Pandaren race and pet battles providing the real meat of the expansion.

This time last year, I was pumped for Cataclysm. I’d been collecting achievements to occupy myself, PvPing, reading up on the new zones, talents etc. So I wonder, what has changed? Perhaps I’ve simply outgrown the game. That said, if the expansion had contained something to revitalize my interest, perhaps I would have resubscribed shortly before its presumed arrival next year. Even the incentive of a free copy of Diablo III isn’t enough to encourage me to sign up for another 12 months.

There are a few factors in play as to why the Mists of Pandaria announcement failed to ignite my passion:

  • I’ve pre-ordered Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’m looking for something fresh and new, with updated graphics and more importantly, a story I actually care about. I’ve mentioned before that I have very little interest in the Star Wars Universe itself. What does interest me is innovation, while surrounded by familiar elements.
  • Even if SWTOR fails to retain my interest after a few months, Guild Wars 2 is on the horizon. GW2 promises even more than SWTOR in terms of innovation when it comes to MMO mechanics. How well those promises are implemented remains to be seen, but it’s safe to say that the thrill of something ‘new’ will always divert interest from an aging but well established game.
  • World of Warcraft has never really had any ‘real’ competitors. I’m not suggesting SWTOR or GW2 will be the death of WoW in any way – they won’t. They do, however, have the potential to carve their own niches in the MMO market with more success than the challengers which have attempted to do so before them. That’s not to say MMO’s like Dungeons and Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online aren’t profitable – if they weren’t, they’d no longer be operational. Plenty of MMO’s have launched during my years as a WoW subscriber, but other than Rift, none of them have caught enough of my attention to persuade me to sub. Arguably, this is partly because I was still very invested in WoW at the time. Still, from my perspective BioWare is a company that can rival Blizzard in terms of creating amazing worlds and designing enjoyable games. They also have an edge when it comes to storytelling. All reasons I’m prepared to give SWTOR a chance.
  • Thinking of Pandaren results in my face distorting into an unfortunate expression. It’s an odd reaction, sure, considering World of Warcraft has never been a particularly serious MMO, and Pandaren were introduced as part of Azeroth’s lore in Warcraft III (I wasn’t fond of them then either). I’m tempted to attribute this dislike to my age bracket (almost 30, or as my young cousins would say, ‘old’). Pandaren are quite obviously designed to appeal to a younger audience, but then so is much of WoW. Throw in the new Pokemon style pet mini-game intended for Mists of Pandaria and I believe Blizzard is shifting their focus towards a younger demographic. I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that plenty of mothers and fathers have no qualms at all with Pandaren, and are looking forward to playing them with their children. Similarly, I’m sure there are plenty of 30+’s out there who are genuinely excited for MoP.
  • I’m tired of glacial paced updates. While I was subscribed to Rift, I was spoiled by the rate of content updates. Five updates in seven months. In World of Warcraft, Blizzard would manage two in the same time period. Static worlds no longer ‘content’ me. Finding something new to do every six weeks keeps me entertained, especially when the focus isn’t almost exclusively on endgame raiding.

I have no doubt that Mists of Pandaria will be a successful expansion. The list of announced features and changes is as extensive as its cataclysmic predecessor, although as with Path of the Titans (an alternate advancement system which was scrapped before Cataclysm’s launch), what is promised and what you actually receive may differ.

At the risk of looking like an idiot a year from now, I think MoP will be more successful than Cataclysm in terms of subscription retention and pleasing the player base, due to the refocus towards a younger audience that I believe is taking place. WoW is an aging MMO, destined to continue leaking subscribers as older players and long time subscribers move on to other games (including Blizzard’s own Titan project).

As a 10 year-old kid, I didn’t care about the graphics presented on my NES copy of Super Mario Brothers. All that mattered was the fact that could play an amazing game which was fun and cool. I suspect the same applies today. Pandaren (and much of the rest of WoW) are cute. Pokemon style battles are still incredibly popular among teens and pre-teens. Simplified talent systems make for fewer decisions and more time spent playing.

However, in the oft uttered words of my father, ‘It’s just not my cup of tea.’