Level Cap: World of Warcraft Subscribers Hold Steady

By Nathan Grayson on May 10th, 2012 at 11:00 am.

I wish Adorable Panda Sitting On A Fence was a class. I'd totally play one.

Oh what a difference a few months can make. When last we checked in on World of Warcraft’s green, red, and cow-colored masses, things were looking grim – or, well, as grim as they can look when you have over 10 million subscribers. But, rolling hills once rife with freshly rolled alts, that number was a far cry from the 12 million of 2010. One empire was in decline, and another – Stars Wars: The Old Republic – was seemingly on its way to filling the power vacuum. But then, the gaming world did the industry-wide equivalent of briefly glancing at a roving herd of bison, only to look back and see that nothing was the same. Furniture was on the ceiling, cats were starting small businesses with dogs, and SWTOR was leaping up and down and making lightsaber wooshing sounds at a clearly disinterested crowd. So then, let’s check in on World of Warcraft.

Speaking during a financial call, Blizzard president Mike Morhaime gave a thumbs up and winning smile at his game’s chances. Or at least, he would have, if you could somehow speak those things through a phone. Instead, though, he confirmed that his company has regained control of its bucking bronco of an MMO, which is still resting contentedly at 10.2 million subscribers – same as last time.

Blizzard, of course, hasn’t exactly been subtle about trying to re-bait players into chomping down on WoW’s nigh-inextricable hook. Items like the Scroll of Resurrection let players auto-boost all the way up to level 80 if they so choose, and systems like Item Restoration make everything friendly, frustration-free, and – as a result – more inviting to a wider range of players. How much are these new additions contributing – as opposed to a simple lack of anything truly different or more established being readily available? I’m not even sure if Blizzard could give us precise numbers on those two. Morhaime did, however, note that a whopping 1.2 million Annual Passes – replete with free copies of Diablo III – have at least temporarily quashed players’ wayward tendencies.

We may, however, have an answer to the latter question soon. Tera, Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, and even Blizzard’s own Diablo III each have a shot at sniping a handful of subscribers. And while one figurative yapping Chihuahua isn’t much of a threat, a tiny army of suicidally courageous dog rodents could probably, like, steal and subsequently choke on one of my shoelaces or something. There is, I suppose, strength in numbers.

Do any of those games offer experiences interesting enough to keep players from simply falling back into WoW’s safe embrace a couple months later, though? And, more importantly, when will Mists of Pandaria launch relative to all of this? It’s in beta right this very second, so sometime this summer seems likely. But will its thick, meaty paws spend a couple months clawing for dear life over an abyss of irrelevance, or could seemingly candy coated additions like monster battling and, well, pandas hide the immobilizing teeth of a bear trap? I haven’t the foggiest. And also, where did all my shoelaces go?

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78 Comments »

  1. Jimbo says:

    And now on BBC1: Stars Wars. The Director’s Cut. With extra stars.

  2. Butler says:

    Great marketing. But then, it’s Blizzard: I’d expect nothing less.

    • Alceste007 says:

      Blizz’s income is down from the previous quarter thou (not to mention year over year). So either folks are not buying as much stuff out of the cash shop or Blizz’s is replacing high paying customers with customers that do not pay as much.

      Still, Blizz is doing well enough.

  3. gunny1993 says:

    People stick to this game like flies to shit, Blizz could go round to each of their subscribers houses and punch them in the face and they would still outnumber every other mmo ….. kind of like david Attenborough

    • Maldomel says:

      You seem angry. If I can give a word of advice: be nicer.

      • Runs With Foxes says:

        He’s right though.

        • Maldomel says:

          Yes maybe, but is that a reason to be angry like that? To insult people? I know this is the internet, but being polite is not that hard.

          • gunny1993 says:

            People stick to this game like geckos to most non-adhesive surfaces, blizz could go round to each of their subscribers houses and give them a power point presentation on each of their personal shortcomings and still have a huge fan base …….. nice

          • caddyB says:

            Haha that was better.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            Or did you mean the shot at Sir Attenborough?

      • gunny1993 says:

        I used up all my nice on pandas

    • warthog2k says:

      David Attenborough goes around punching WoW subs in the face? OR he single-handedly outnumbers all other MMOs?

      Just imagine what he could do if he teamed up with Richard…

    • RF says:

      About 6-7 million of these are Asian accounts, which make barely a pittance in terms of cash.

      I think, at least check, there were about 2 million unique CHARACTERS (not accounts) seen on EU and US servers combined. Even taking into account bad figures, that’s a fucking tiny number.

      • emorium says:

        honestly the unofficial numbers mean nothing. they are basically characters that record stuff going on around them so they miss alot of stuff. the first server (Aegwynn-EU) on the first website i found on google showed 40k alliance players – 0 horde players.

    • MrCrun says:

      I’d feel honoured if David Attenborough came to my house and punched me in the face. Because then I’d have met him.

      You’re still right though.

  4. hench says:

    I just don’t understand how so many people can still play it? Especially now in Cataclysm when there is barely any raid progression to be made just so everyone can do the latest encounters.
    I mean, in BC/Vanilla a new guild had to progress through all the raid tiers. In Cataclysm you can jump straight into the latest raid (if you made some easy heroic dungeons for some gear beforehand). There’s just such a lack of content.

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      i imagine wow at this point always as something like an extended chat room.
      edit: what i meant is: it’s been out for 8 years, if you have a guild you really like you perhaps stay in wow even if it’s just for the company because otherwise you would just fall out of touch
      edit2: and that’s why i don’t think there is anything like a wow-killer, because people don’t stay in wow because it’s such a good game but because everyone else is there(i don’t even know why i have an opinion about this as i’ve never played any mmorpg besides meridian59)

      • hench says:

        Yeah it seems like it. The faction capital is the lobby and then you choose which ‘minigame’ you’d like to play; Dungeon, battleground, arena or raid. There’s no consistency between them. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose a battleground, it wont affect the gameworld. But this is an issue I have with all themepark MMOs..

        • Dances to Podcasts says:

          “t doesn’t matter if you win or lose a battleground” Just like all real life 21st century warfare! :)

      • Toberoth says:

        Oh my god, Meridian 59. Thanks for the nostalgia trip :-P

      • Phantoon says:

        It’s been a glorified chatbox for the expansion after the one you began playing in.

    • Maldomel says:

      That whole “easy” progression thing, raids, the scroll and all those means to achieve in little time what was taking months before keeps people in.
      If you are entirely but already have an experience in MMOs or games in general, you don’t really want to go from the bottom to the top using the longest way. Kinda sad, but true. Same thing if you restart with a new character: you want to be at the peak of your powers as soon as possible.
      After that there is the habit. It can go on to an addiction, but mostly it’s just that it takes a lot of time to play and to be “good” or “average”.
      To top all that, put the whole “social” stuff, online friends and guilds and you get the primary reasons why people are still playing WoW en masse.

      • Phantoon says:

        You can hit 85 and clear Dragon Soul in the same day on normal. Month of gear farming and you can be doing the heroic raid.

    • f1x says:

      Pretty much yes,
      I was playing since beta, until Cataclysm, with pauses in between, and for the last two years maybe I’ve subbed for 2 or 3 months in total

      From my experience many people has got close friends inside the game, and they keep playing because of those friends, I cannot see someone playing without socializing with someone, so its definitely the community that keeps it together, of course that pug groups, raid finder and general chat are full of trolls but usually inside guilds people is nice, and with guild leveling and perks now people is not jumping from guild to guild that much and guilds are not creating and disbanding on the same day

      what is for sure: people is definitely not playing because of the content, new content gets old really fast…

    • Peco says:

      I make the mistake of returning to wow about every 6th month. Purely nostalgic reasons, and due to my old guildmates being great people (going on its 6th year). The fact that I’ve spent 7 years on my gnome mage also drags me in… poor little fellow, all on his own.

  5. Maldomel says:

    I think Blizzard will really worry about subscriptions when they’ll fall under 8 millions people or something. For now it is still holding tight to its throne on top of the mountain, and no contender has scratched its crown.
    Maybe the games you’re mentioning will put a significant dent on it though. But that’s what everyone has been saying for what are now years of reign.

    • Vorphalack says:

      The problem so many MMOs have had is targeting all their resources at stealing players from WoW. You don’t have to look very far to find a WoW clone that either fell flat on its arse or is limping along on the verges of solvency. Stealing from the industry giant is risky, and in my opinion totally unnecessary.

      Blizzard themselves told us that over twice as many people have quit WoW as still play WoW. So that’s a whopping 20,000,000+ people that might want an MMO but don’t want what WoW is offering. It seems to me that the next big success in the MMO world will be the one that taps into that demographic. WoWs subscription numbers don’t even need to move for another title to come in and be a huge success.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        Problem is, that game is going to be Titan, not any of those wanna-be contenders.

        • Phantoon says:

          Only if Titan does something new.

          My server was once fourth in US population, but there’s not all that many notable or interesting people on it anymore. It’s just kids running around, having ego contests now.

          • lordfrikk says:

            It doesn’t have to, even. It just has to be a Blizzard quality game. People can bitch all day long about how World of Warcraft sucks now and this and that is shit but truth be told, not a single MMO out there has done even half of the things better or even on par. I tried multitudes of MMORPGs since I stopped playing WoW some years ago and only thing it it does to me is that I want to play WoW again. The competition just doesn’t understand what makes the games fun IMO. They just want to be another WoW killer which is wholly missing the point and is actually the reason why they can never become one.

  6. Zarunil says:

    I tried playing WoW, but nearly fell asleep due to the lack of challenge. True story.

    I blazed through PvE using nothing but auto-attack and Arcane Shot, with the odd Concussion Shot thrown in. No need for Hunter’s Mark, Serpent’s Sting et cetera.

    • Jahnz says:

      That’s no wonder. Hunters are one of the easiest classes to level. The trick there to keeping interested is to see how many mobs you can take on at once. Try to push the envelope. They are “faceroll” easy when it comes to normal leveling content.

      • Phantoon says:

        Did you just respond to a statement of “leveling is boring” with “that’s your fault”?

      • Snakejuice says:

        This, I had a lot of fun powerleveling my Rift AoE cleric with massive (10+) pulls as soon as I found a good spot for it. :)

    • Obc says:

      i don’t believe that you got to 85 with just that. i leveled a hunter to 45 in feburary i think with all heirloom and whatnot and it still wasn’t as easy as you describe. and have you tried the dungeons? i mean yeah, leveling is not that difficult, especially with a hunter and some skill, but after level 30 it does take “some” effort.

  7. jezcentral says:

    News just in: Lots of people enjoying a game. Internet appalled.

  8. Tkrens says:

    World of Warcraft will remain popular for many years to come. Indeed popularity will steadily decrease, but -ten million- players do not just vanish into thin air. Even so, the game will remain profitable for Blizzard even if the playerbase falls below a “mere” million, though It will likely lead to a lot of people being sacked or moved to another game/department/whatever.

    That said, there is no doubt in my mind that Blizzard will produce a sequel or spiritual successor to WoW. Though I cannot say if it will be as successful.

    • marcusfell says:

      They, uh, already are. Haven’t you heard of project Titan?

      • Antsy says:

        Ignoring the tone of your reply, you can’t show Project Titan to be either a sequel nor a spiritual successor to WoW.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Pretty much. Wow was never a really bad game. And it’s soo accessible. Certainly people can tire of it (sometimes just for a while and then return). Or find other games more to their liking. And no, WoW will never grow too much again, I suspect. But Blizzard is doing what it can to stop it from losing too many players too quickly. And if they can, well, WoW might hold out for quite a long time still..

  9. Maxheadroom says:

    went back to WoW after a 2 year absence for the lv80 boots thing and a bit of a nostalgia blast through Kara with some old guild mates. Already cancelled my sub again and I doubt I’ll even log in again beforer it expires. Get the feeling I’m not alone in doing this either

    Fully expect their subscriptions to drop below 10million again in the next few months

  10. caddyB says:

    Depends on how good Pandaria is.

  11. Azhrarn says:

    While I’m pretty sure Guild Wars 2 won’t damage WoW or SW:TOR to much, it may draw quite a few of it’s players. But since the game is just a single purchase, with no subscription, they can afford keeping their current subscription MMO active as well, although I imagine that if they get into GW2s combat too much, they may drop their subscription MMO due to a lack of challenge and the static combat.

    • Bremze says:

      Guild Wars 2 probably won’t take a chunk out of WoW subscribers and there probably won’t be any SWTOR subs left by the time it comes out, but then again it doesn’t have to. With no subscription fees and a cash shop they’re already set and a MMO that doesn’t actively punish you for playing it is a pretty huge deal. It’ll probably come down to how well can Anet market the fact that you can do all the fun things from level 1 (Unless you’re only into dungeons, I guess you’ll need a few hours then) to an audience conditioned to grind until the “fun” starts.

  12. yabonn says:

    But we know that 10 (15?) years old Everquest still has a player base, eroding slowly, despite competition from many new MMOs.

    Maybe we’ll see a similar Long Dusk for Wow, starting from 12M, players instead of 300k (?) players for EQ.

  13. Gasmask Hero says:

    This news makes me happy, in an odd sort of way.

    Never, ever going back there though.

  14. Derppy says:

    World of Warcraft is a solid MMO. 7 years of constant updates and polish, multiple expansions totaling in a massive amount of content. Very few bugs, great customer support and a huge player base who feels familiar in the game.

    It’s a very “standard” MMO with graphics that age quite well. It’s excellent at what it does, even if some people find it dull.

    When a new MMO comes out, it sells itself with innovative features and great graphics. It manages to draw some players from WoW, but it’s impossible for a new game to match the amount of polish and content WoW has. It can never be as solid at launch. The players play it for a while and when they get to the end-game, they realize there isn’t all that much to do, so they return to WoW.

    It’s pretty sad it’s so difficult to compete with Blizzard, but it’s just a fact the real “WoW killer” will be Blizzard’s next MMO. They have experience and budget for amazing game and even if it might be hard for them to compete against their previous MMO, they have the tools to drive people to the new MMO. They could slap a discount for WoW players, even give the base game to them for free and if that isn’t enough to move the masses, they could start intentionally making WoW worse.

    • afarrell says:

      And six months later, the top 1-2 of the innovative features appears in WoW.

    • UnravThreads says:

      Polish? Few bugs?

      What WoW were you playing?

      • Obc says:

        to be honest there really aren’t any real gamebreaking bugs anymore, not since vanilla. i would like you to mention a bug that made it impossible for you to enjoy the game. whenever a new patch comes out there are always some stuff that isn’t working properly but its dealt with quite fast.

        also the only thing really annoying as of late was the darkfairy bug which reset some achievment and thats about it.

    • Vorphalack says:

      ”Start” intentionally making WoW worse?

      Have you seen the screen shot at the top of the article?

    • Phantoon says:

      You realize at launch, the servers spent more time down than up? For months?

      They fixed this by changing the netcode- but now you can’t run a city boss raid in the main city of either faction because lag.

      • Obc says:

        of course you can, every month there is atleast one raid on either side (during wrath there was even one every week and during wrath there were even more player) at least on the server i am playing. it does lag a bit but its still very fun to do it.

      • Nevard says:

        “At launch”

        …how is that relevant again?

  15. DickSocrates says:

    Anthropomorphic pandas needs to become the new ‘jumped the shark.’ They look so foolish I can’t believe they got passed any kind of testing.

    Maybe they don’t test at all, just assume they’re right because they have been for so long and got arrogant?

    • Wisq says:

      Yeah, my only real thought on seeing the article was, “are those stupid panda things still actually part of the game?” I’m amazed they haven’t driven more people off.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        Blizzard knows that the pandas only drive away hardcore loudmouth forum pos(t)ers. And they’re a tiny minority. Everyone else knows pandas are fun and cuddly. Remember that article on Eurogamer about the demise of Free Radical, that I believe was linked in the sunday papers here? That guy with his Wesley Snipes and Vin Diesel posters? That be you.

        • Phantoon says:

          So it’s just me that recoiled in revulsion upon first seeing the female pandas?

          Because they’re clearly sexualized, after Blizzard said they wouldn’t do that again when they goofed up with female Worgen.

          • Nevard says:

            If that is sexualised then I am not sure I know what the word sexualised means

    • Obc says:

      i love them and always wanted them to be ingame as they are part of the lore (CHEN FUCKIN STORMSTOUT WC3).

      i bet you’d “LOVE” their dances xD go watch them and come back with some enjoying rage ;)

  16. aliksy says:

    I’ve always found WoW kind of meh relative to the excitement people seem to get from it. Maybe because I never got to end-game, and I find the whole leveling up process a bit boring nowadays. (Spoiler: the time=success=power formula isn’t very good. Fewer MMOs should use it so heavily).

  17. derbefrier says:

    WoW was my first MMO. before WoW all i did was play counter strike and Team Fortress. It was an amazing experience from level1 all the way to the first 40 man raid. It hooked me good until the end of TBC i started getting bored with it. I took some long breaks here and there. and came back for WOTLK and CATA but played very casually and pretty much the only thing that kept me coming back where all the friends i made (was in the same guild the entire time) but after so many years the magic just faded and i was just paying 15 bucks a month for a chatroom so i quit for good shortly after CATA’s release. I am never going back though thats for sure

    • katinkabot says:

      Same exact situation as you. I did get Cata – so did a few others from my long-time guild after we quit in Wrath – and we raided a little bit but I was really getting sick of being on a schedule for raids: Be on at 6:30, raid for a few hours, repeat that the next day. Blech… I was also an elemental shaman and I loved playing that class so much, but Blizz really yanks them around. So that was super frustrating.
      I have to admit, though, I do have a bizarre emotional attachment to my toon – like one would have to a doll from their childhood – I would be really upset if she was lost and gone forever.

      • Phantoon says:

        I raided in vanilla as well, but I’m done with the game. It’s not the game itself that did it, of course, it’s the fact the community has dissolved and is mostly devoid of interesting and cool people.

        Everyone I knew is going to a competitor MMO, but I dunno how well that’ll pan out for those going to TERA, as I’ve not seen it, and the things I hear about it make it sound like a warcraft clone.

        • Xzi says:

          TERA is about the furthest thing from a WoW clone. But neither is it worth paying for in my mind. The combat is impressive, but not impressive enough on its own to keep the game afloat. It’s a very goofy Korean-styled universe, and some of the design choices were made poorly.

  18. Smashbox says:

    The roving bison metaphor. It’s just so … perfect.

  19. Xzi says:

    GW2 offers everything WoW does, and more. For free. And then of course there’s Planetside 2 in case every part of your MMO thirst had not yet been quenched. But people are creatures of habit, so I think WoW will do just fine until Blizzard releases their next MMO.

    • Nevard says:

      GW2 doesn’t offer everything WoW does, it’s a substantially different package (which I think is a very good thing, and is why I am planning to buy GW2).
      That said, it means that it is not necessarily going to attract the people already playing WoW.

      • Xzi says:

        Semantics. I suppose I should have said that GW2 offers better features than WoW does.

    • lordfrikk says:

      Hmm where did I hear that before?

  20. El_Emmental says:

    I could never get into MMOs.

    When I play, I want to be capable of achieving anything, with the right tactic, skill, or even luck.

    You know these few incredible moments, when you’re cornered, out of any known options, and you do something totally crazy, by pure instinct ?

    When you learn new tactics/moves in the heat of the battle, when your brain is functioning at 200% ?

    And not because you simply saw that in a guide/video/wiki to be “the strongest” the fastest way possible ?

    You know, that wild hi-speed improvisation that sometime turns out purely brilliant ?

    Not the kind of experience current MMOs want to provide :/

    If some XP come into play, it should allow me to specialize, to find new ways of doing the challenges, to experience a new/modified gameplay experience, but should never just add more numbers to my current numbers (also known as “stats”). That’s just meaningless.

    Sadly, current MMOs are focused on the leveling/gear instead, so the players experience a specific type of gameplay (some quests, some raids, etc) to get an ingame reward (XP for leveling, gold/gears to have a better gear), not to experience something genuinely interesting.

    The XP/gears barriers feel too artificial, you don’t actually need them to have an enjoyable session.