Posted on May 8, 2013, James Murff World of Warcraft Loses 1.3m Subscribers, Still Crazy Profitable
World of Warcraft may be losing subscribers, but that doesn’t mean much. After all, when your MMO is above and beyond the most popular one on the market, you aren’t in any real trouble.
In the Activision-Blizzard earnings call today, it was revealed that Blizzard saw a loss of 1.3 million World of Warcraft subscribers during the first quarter of 2013. Of special interest is that the majority of these subscriptions were lost in the eastern market (China, primarily) more than the western (North America, Europe). As the eastern market produces far less revenue per subscriber, this isn’t as large of a blow as it could have been. “We believe in the long term value of this franchise, and will continue to commit substantial resources to World of Warcraft,” was Bobby Kotick’s response to the loss.
Thoughts on the future of World of Warcraft’s subscriber base weren’t grim, but they weren’t great either. Blizzard estimates that they will continue to lose subscribers – with small spikes of returns when each content patch drops – until the next major WoW expansion. The call gave the impression that the time between major expansions and increased competition from free-to-play titles were the primary culprits. It’ll be interesting to see if that drives faster development or World of Warcraft’s entry into the free-to-play market.
The loss of these subscribers is negative news, but what is more fascinating is how the loss of 1.3 million subscribers is hand-waved away as being not that big of a deal. Granted, it’s not – World of Warcraft is above and beyond the largest subscription MMO on the market – but it would be for other MMOs. 1.3 million is a little over double the subscription base of the two closest subscription-only MMOs to World of Warcraft: Rift and EVE Online. This massive difference in scale guarantees World of Warcraft’s status as an outlier on the MMO charts. It’s also, at least to me, a bit comical. If Rift lost that many subscribers, it would be outright dead. Twice! World of Warcraft just shrugs it off and keeps going. Losing 1.3 million customers would cripple most businesses, but not Blizzard’s frontrunner.
Those eager for news on the future of Blizzard did receive some good tidings, though. Despite the loss, WoW still has 8.3 millions active subscriptions. The newest WoW patch is supposed to hit servers sometime later this month, and the primary goal is to bring back lapsed players with fresh new content. Hearthstone – the online trading card game based on World of Warcraft – is supposed to enter beta late this year. Finally, Blizzard has an unannounced MMO, and while it wasn’t directly mentioned in the call, it seems likely that it will be announced sometime this year.