By John Walker on November 8th, 2012 at 2:00 pm.
It may not seem like an immediately fascinating news story to say that an MMOs subscriber numbers have stayed the same, as mentioned in Nathan’s post earlier, but I think there’s an interesting point to be made when noting that World Of Warcraft is back over 10m. While the game has previously peaked at over 12m paying subscribers, a lot of fuss and soothsaying took place over the past year, declaring the MMO’s demise as inevitable. Subs numbers dropped to 9.1m, and much of the media declared, or at least speculated, that this was it. Rather than noticing that it was just a long time since there’d been a new expansion, so as you’d expect some players would have felt they’d seen all the current content so looked elsewhere for their gaming crack. In fact, the media has been gleefully predicting the doom of WoW for years. So why isn’t anyone reporting the real story here? Why isn’t anyone spotting that this is a phenomenon?
Yes, I’m absolutely about to be smug about this, but I think it’s a relevant point. Every time the reported subscriber numbers dip, it’s a news story. And not just in the gaming press – the mainstream jumps on it too. Search the BBC’s news site for World Of Warcraft and you’ll find five stories about the game’s subs numbers in the last year. In one of those stories you’ll find me pointing out that ten million subscribers is bloody loads for a seven year old game (as it was at the time). They didn’t include the line where I pointed out when Pandaria comes out, they’ll go back up again. Which they did. Smugface.
The real story here, that no one is reporting, is this:
World Of Warcraft Still Has Ten Million Subscribers Despite Being Eight Years Old!
Not just players. Subscribers. Free-to-play MMOs can boast far higher numbers (and indeed a number of Eastern subbed MMOs can boast even higher), but we’re talking about 10 million people who are still paying £9 a month. That’s (…) £90 million a month entering Blizzard’s bank. NINETY MILLION POUNDS. A MONTH. £1,080,000,000 a year. Did you read that? ONE BILLION POUNDS A YEAR. Let’s make it dollars for maximum effect. ONE POINT SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR! And that’s not even including the £30 a copy of Pandaria costs. (Three million sold on the first day, some at far higher prices for deluxe versions, making at least another £90m in a day.)
So yes, it dipped to a measly £82m a month in August. Ring the bells of doom! Except, stop ringing, because it’s back up again now.
And here’s an exclusive news story for the entire gaming and worldwide media: In six months time WoW’s subscriber numbers will have dropped again! You heard it here first. After a year or so they’ll likely nudge 8m. And then probably in mid 2014 Blizzard will release another expansion, and they’ll climb their way back up to 9, 9.5m. And we’ll see a hundred-thousand news stories declaring it the end of WoW, crediting these number drops to Game X coming along, then forgetting that when they report how Game X has gone free to play, before being scrapped entirely.
And I say this as someone who finds WoW about as exciting as vacuuming. And I’d rather stuff fiery plutonium in my testicles than play anything else in their catalogue. This isn’t some WoW-fan-rant here. This is someone saying, “Er, guys – this very old game still has more subscribers than most Western MMOs put together.” It’s just completely ludicrous that everyone is hell-bent on reporting this story as if Blizzard are having some sort of failure on their hands. This is the most ridiculous success imaginable, and while I’m sure their sky-headed accounts people probably expected it to eventually have eighty-billion subscribers by 2020, the realists and the developers at Blizzard probably walk into work every day with the jaws scraping the doorstep. Any sane business model from eight years ago would have expected Blizzard not only to have completed a WoW 2 or a new MMO by now, but have absolutely needed to to keep their business afloat.
Yes, WoW’s numbers are in ‘decline’. No, it’s very unlikely they’ll ever reach their peak again. Why does anyone on the planet think they would? What mad-headed expectations did people create to think that this game would defy logic and reality and maintain an ever-growing player-base for all of infinity? But why isn’t the gaming press, and indeed the mainstream news, saying, “Bloody hell! World Of Warcraft still has ten million subscribers?! How the hell?” Instead we’ll have a hundred more stories explaining that the subscription model for MMOs doesn’t work, and a conflation of Activision’s inability to sell with Blizzard’s success.