Blizzard Down to 5 Million WoW Subscribers?
One of my all-time favorite blogs to read is Tobold’s. It’s a great place to get a fresh take on everything that’s happening in the MMORPG world. As I was perusing his site over the weekend, I ran across this article.
In short, he refers to the recent rumors that Blizzard’s Chinese World of Warcraft servers aren’t going to be coming back up anytime soon. For those of you who aren’t aware, Blizzard recently transferred their license to operate WoW in China to NetEase, away from The9.
The9 filed several lawsuits in an attempt to stop this transfer, and the Chinese government accordingly refused to give NetEase a license to operate WoW, saying that “in order to protect the interests of domestic gaming enterprises,” they would “suspend review of all games belonging to foreign companies in the event of lawsuits or arbitration between foreign companies and Chinese companies.”
The Chinese servers have already been down for a month or so, and there’s still no word on when they might return. This really doesn’t hurt Blizzard as much financially as you might think, as they received little revenue from the Chinese players, who pay as little as 6 cents an hour to play.
But how does this get Blizzard down to 5 million subscribers?
Well, that number is admittedly an estimate, especially since Blizzard doesn’t release subscriber numbers by country…anymore. This number was arrived at by using the percentages from the last press release they revealed these numbers in, which as I recall was just after the release of The Burning Crusade expansion. However, it stands to reason that the country to country proportions wouldn’t shift that far from what they were then. After all, it’s not like WoW wasn’t already an established presence at that time. As Tobold himself explains in the comments of the post,
The source is the last Blizzard press release which still announced user numbers by continent. Unfortunately they stopped doing that a while ago, and we can only assume there have been no major shifts since then.
Blizzard has to be concerned about this. After all, their ’11 million subscriber’ claim is without a doubt the 800 lb gorilla in the MMORPG room. If this outage continues, they will undoubtedly see players trickle away to other MMOs that are up and running. As we all know, once a player is gone and established elsewhere, it becomes difficult to lure them back.
Many of the affected players have moved to Taiwanese servers, especially those who raid regularly. As for the others, even if Blizzard were to lose every single subscriber, they’d still be somewhere between five and seven million (estimated) active subscribers. That’s still a massive base of playing customers, and it’s still the bulk of their income base, which makes me wonder: Why haven’t we heard about this from Blizzard already? I’d expect them to come out and try to get the court of public opinion on their side (not that it would make much difference to the Chinese government). Still, why haven’t they?
My questions: When will hear the details of this from Blizzard, and how long do you think those servers can remain down before they reach a point where they will not recover the majority of those players? Even more intriguing: Does this whole snafu have anything to do with Electronic Arts’ purchase of The9 in 2007?