Okay this time I have to jump in and give my knee-jerk reaction.
Originally, this was supposed to be a response I was going to leave on @Xsinthis ' blog, but it was starting to get so ridiculously long that I'd thought just to post it here.
The post in question: http://xsinthis.net/2013/07/a-look-at-world-of-warcraft-subscription-numbers/
Very good post, by the way.
I'm still not ready to jump on the bandwagon of joining free-to-play with WoW.
Like Xsinthis, I'm not sure if it's going to "save" it or not, but I think the problem I'm seeing is that people are completely blinded by the subscription numbers and forget to look at what drives those numbers.
Or, at least, I'm not seeing anyone talk about it.
I'm seeing posts about business models, cash shops, history of subscription-based games, etc.
Here's my 2 copper:
It's a tough year for WoW because of the competition
There's a ton of great games that were coming out in 2013 and I think Blizzard did the smart move of making a push in 2012 for all their products before the next slew of games were out.
And each Blizzard IP has a handful of reasons why it's better and more convenient not to have anything out this year.
It's not a competition they would be able to fight, not without high caliber "gaming ammo" to drop in the gaming pond.
They knew this would happen and it's why they're talking about it very matter-of-fact, almost nonchalantly, in the conference calls.
The problem: WoW nostalgia is depleted
Remember that most of World of Warcraft is based on the Warcraft RTS series, which were wildly popular.
Simply based on the fact that Warcraft became an MMO, the people that played the RTS followed where Blizzard was taking the franchise.
The growing popularity of World of Warcraft started spreading and more and more of the people that were originally reticent to play the game joined in, from vanilla through Burning Crusade.
But the crowning jewel was Wrath of the Lich King.
Wrath of the Warcraft III
If you've followed the RTS, you should know that Warcraft III was the most popular, and it was quickly followed by its expansion pack The Frozen Throne.
Warcraft III offered a compelling story of different races caught in wars - against themselves, against other factions, and against the Burning Legion.
But you started right out the gate with the young paladin Arthas Menethil on his quest to figure out what's happening to his kingdom.
And throughout the game, you followed his quest, his dark turn into a death knight, and his ascent to the Frozen Throne, leaving you with a big "To Be Continued" feeling that this was not over.
And so after years of waiting, people gathered to discover the next chapter to the story.
It's no wonder why Wrath was the peak of WoW, is what I'm saying.
After that, Cataclysm brought Deathwing forward.
Now don't get me wrong: Deathwing was one of the Big Bads of Warcraft and many people knew who he was.
Unfortunately, not enough people.
Warcraft III was one of the most played games of it's time, but you rarely saw people decide to "downplay" their gaming experience and play Warcraft II - which is when Deathwing was introduced to players.
He also was introduced in books, namely "Day of the Dragon" and the "War of the Ancients" trilogy, but tie-in books could never be as popular as the games themselves.
So Deathwing was not a character that the players knew enough to keep them interested in the game.
Worse: Blizzard did an incredibly poor job at introducing the Villain to the players.
They should've given them a reason to fight him, a list of reasons why he's incredibly dangerous, some more motivation to want to go stick a sword in him.
And in that way - as much as people complained that the Lich King was too much "in our face" throughout his expansion - they should've put Deathwing front-and-center to keep players in line with what should have been their big target for the expansion.
But, of course, interest dropped because of this and a plethora of other reasons.
Pandas in the Mists
With Pandaria, before we even knew that Pandaria was the continent would be explored, lore buffs were baffled (myself included) because the major plot points of the Warcraft RTS had been addressed.
So there was no logical direction to take.
Sure, we could come up with different big, major, evil threats that need to be dealt with, but there were none that could be as Big and Bad as the ones we've already killed before.
Players were drawn to this mostly because no one knew what to expect.
Pandaria still took off very well with an expansion that was lauded as being the most solid and the most nostalgic kind that players had ever seen.
The lasting power, however, didn't last, as the "box content" was consumed and the technical faults made players hit a wall.
Players had a choice: spend their time and money on climbing that wall or go look at all the games that were starting to come out because 2013 had just arrived.
Screaming at something won't make you kill it
So in the end, all this is not surprising.
My point is: Blizzard doesn't have to go free-to-play with World of Warcraft if there isn't any interest in playing the game at all.
What they need to do is combine aspects of the old and new and push forward some content that will interest people and make sure that no big walls will hinder people's progression through the game.
I'm not saying that they will reach the magical number of 12 million subscribers again, but I'm saying that they will try to do everything that they can to resuscitate the populace's interest in the game.
I'm saying that contrarily to what the birds of doom are writing and commenting and tweeting, World of Warcraft will not bow to these people's cynical whims and lie down and simply wait to die.
There's still a ton of stories, a ton of bad guys, a ton of juice still left in this IP to let it drop.
We just need a good reason, a good Bad Guy, and every step of our way should be a step closer to its' doom.
All eyes on BlizzCon.