Activision Blizzard, creator of the "Diablo," "Starcraft" and "Warcraft" game franchises, revealed that the hugely popular fantasy MMO "World of Warcraft" lost 1.3 million subscribers in Q1 2013. At this point, "World of Warcraft's" membership now amounts to roughly 8.3 million, down from 9.6 million at the end of Q4 2012. This represents a continuation of an overall downward trend for the game’s membership numbers, which fell from 10.2 million to 9.1 million at the conclusion of Q1 2012.
Does this truly mean that the sky is falling for Blizzard’s venerable MMORPG?
The drop in subscribers doesn’t necessarily mean players are leaving World of Warcraft permanently. On May 15, 2012, Blizzard released the hotly anticipated RPG "Diablo 3," which broke sales records despite its disastrous launch. We think that the "Diablo 3" release prompted a significant amount of World of Warcraft players to temporarily shift their attention toward Blizzard’s newest arrival.
Let’s also not forget that three days prior to "Diablo 3's" release, on March 12, 2013, Blizzard released "Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm," the first expansion pack for the incredibly popular RTS, "Starcraft 2." "Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm" sold 1.1 million copies within 48 hours of its release, right as Q1 2013 was coming to a conclusion. With that in mind, is it not reasonable to expect World of Warcraft’s subscription base to take a dip?
What’s more, "World of Warcraft" is an MMO nearly nine years old, so we’re not surprised that some players are getting tired of Azeroth and choosing to depart. Blizzard has realized that the best way to attract and keep customers is by producing new content, an approach that seems to be working. On Sept. 25, 2012, Blizzard released "World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria." When the company's Q3 2012 results were announced, subscription numbers had increased from 9.1 million to 10 million, which supports our original premise.
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Another "World of Warcraft" expansion was already announced back in 2011 by Activision Blizzard COO Thomas Tippl. We expect these kinds of fluctuations to continue as players return to "World of Warcraft," consume the expansion pack, and then move on while they wait for the next "World of Warcraft" add-on to be released. Also worth considering is the fact that Blizzard is currently hiring 17 people to work on "World of Warcraft", which suggests that they don’t plan to abandon the game anytime soon.
Some more food for thought: If Blizzard’s jobs page is any indication, they may be planning for a post-"World of Warcraft" future. One section of vacancies is labeled “Next-Gen MMO.”
What do you think of this dip in WoW subscription numbers? Do you feel that it’s a result of in-game issues, or do you agree with our premise that the release of multiple Blizzard titles has contributed to the instability of "World of Warcraft"’s customer base? Is it something else? What do you want to see in Blizzard’s next MMO? Do you think it’s "World of Warcraft 2"? If not, what do you think it is? Sound off in the comments below.