I don’t think it will mean much for WoW in the short or long term as far as design and gameplay is concerned.
I mean, Blizzard are already designing around this notion where people’s approach to the game is “cyclical”. A new expansion or patch comes out and everyone starts playing again. And then a month or two later everyone’s had their fill and they leave until the next patch or expansion comes out.
So WoW goes through these highs and lows, and it’s done so for quite a while now.
And Blizzard are obviously designing the game around this player behavior. Each tier operates more like a Season now and can be played almost independently of everything else. And the catch-up mechanics are there to facilitate this constant in-and-out approach to the game that players have.
So if WoW goes to Xbox Game Pass and millions upon millions of people get instant access to the game, then it won’t really change anything. Blizzard will still be overwhelmed whenever they release a new expansion or patch, with login queues and crowded zones and so on. And the in-between time will continue being like it is now, where there’s little player activity and most players are on a hiatus.
So if anything, then Blizzard will just double-down on the design they’re already molding the game around, because it reflects the player behavior of the current WoW playerbase – and even more so it reflects the player behavior of Xbox Game Pass subscribers, who cycle through games on the constant.
If all goes well, then WoW will just have higher peaks during new releases, like in the past. But the majority of the time the player activity will still be driven by the increasingly smaller core audience of veteran players as we see today.