World Of Warcraft Won’t Report Subs Numbers Anymore

World of Warcraft [official site] now “only” has 5.5 million subscribers, a considerable decrease from the game’s peak but still nearly a Scotlands-worth of people paying a monthly fee direct into the coffers of Activision and Blizzard. Blizzard also say this is the last time they’re going to announce subscriber numbers.

In Activision’s quarterly earnings call, which Seeking Alpha transcribed, chief financial officer Dennis Durkin said that “this is the last quarter that we plan to provide the subscriber number as there are other metrics that are better indicators of the overall Blizzard business performance.” That’s a nice way of saying ‘we’re tired of doomsaying articles being written across the internet every three months.’

The subs figures at the last quarterly report were 5.6 million, with 7.1 million before that and a solid 10 mil around the release of the last expansion. Before that it was losing anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million per quarter, getting as low as 6.8 million in the second quarter of 2014.

That makes it hard to predict what the future holds for the game in terms of figures, and even harder to work out how much money it’s making when “subscribers” can refer to people paying monthly, six-monthly, using pre-paid cards, and “internet game room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days,” as explained in the report itself. In some ways, there are better metrics for judging the game’s business performance – although I wouldn’t expect them to suddenly be used, unless they make the game look good.

Either way: it still has more subscribers than any other subscription-based MMO can claim, and likely will for a while yet.

38 Comments

  1. Freud says:

    In a way it’s amazing they’ve been able to get that many people to pay every month, as well as buying a new expansions.

    For being a dinosaur, it’s a lucrative one.

    • Gryz says:

      One thing everyone should realize, is that Blizzard juggles with the subscription numbers they publish.

      The number they mention in their quarterly reports is the total number of paying players world-wide. The problem there is that there is a huge difference between players in the US, EU, Canada, Australia, etc on the one hand, and the players in Asia on the other hand.

      The players in “the west” pay for a monthly subscription. The price is somewhere between $10 per month (if you take a 12-month sub) to 20 euros (via game-tokens).

      The players in Asia pay in a whole different way. They buy an X amount of hours of game-time. Every time they log in, their playing time is deducted from their total amount. That playing time stays valid for a long time. Forever maybe. Or a year. (I don’t know). As soon as one of those players logs into a wow-server, they are counted as “a paying subscriber in this quarter”.

      You can imagine how easy the numbers rack up. Suppose you bought 40 hours of WoW. You get tired of the game, but you still have 15 hours left on your tab. During the next year, you might log in once a year, for just an hour. To say hi to your guildies. Or to play for a short while when you are bored. Etc, etc. Not only are those hours cheap in price. They stay available for a long time.

      So it is my guess that in Asia, the numbers are much much higher than compared to the numbers in the West.

      The website MMO-Champion.com keeps track of active accounts in the West. Via the armory. They claim they know almost all active players. In May one of MMO-Champion’s employees said that they were tracking 3.1 million active subscribers. And 1/3rd of them had not logged in for a whole month (that was April). So in April, there were only 2.1 million active accounts left, in the West.

      It seems (according to MMO-C) that there are still ~2 million active players in the West. So the numbers dropped from 5 million players in the West in November 2014, to 2.1 million in April, to 2 million now.

      • holymadman says:

        This is really close to truth, since on EU at least, servers are ghost towns, only top 5-6 populated servers are sort of brimming with people but all others are almost empty.

  2. Cloudiest Nights says:

    It would be interesting to see if (5 years or more down the road) this could lead to the death of the traditional mmo to be replaced by more popular mobas, etc…

    • Uhuru N'Uru says:

      MMO’s wont die to be replaced by MOBA’s or any other format.
      MOBA players play MOBA’s they will look at every MOBa and pick they’re current favourite.
      MMO players play MMO’s they will look at every MMO and pick they’re current favourite.
      Both have peaked, they’re total numbers will likely never be increased beyond that peak, what the current favourite is may change many time while total players remain static or slowly decline.
      There is a huge number of gamers who won’t play either MMO’s or MOBA’s, simply because they don’t like them.

      Take myself, MOBA’s are too complicated and take too long to learn, plus though competitve they are also co-op. I just can’t be bothered with MOBA’s at all and know little more about them than, they are not for me.

      MMO’s should be right up my ally. I’m a huge RPG fan and Most MMO’s claim to be RPG’s, yet I detest MMO’s.

      My thoughts on MMO’s are easily spoken they are all single player RPG’s with bolt on multi-player, if that confuses you, I’ll try to explain.

      Every MMO I’ve ever tried, all the players are basically playing as the same hero, playing the same quests, often at the same time or one after another.
      That is a purely single player campaign, make no mistake about it. When it was first used; I’m not an Expert, (Everquest?, Ultima online?), one of the pre-WoW MMO’s. The term WoW clone is now an insult, yet WoW was also a WoW clone, of that original MMO and at that time was probably all that could be done.

      Back when TESO was being pitched to the TES fans, mainly SPG players and mod users, the one thing that was stated over and over, Was it woukd not be a MMO.
      When the alpha arrived most TES fans saw it was an MMO and that wasn’t what they wanted.
      TESO tried to court the pure MMO crowd, most saw it as too much Skyrim, it became more MMO like before release, but they went back yo the next WoW Expansion, there’s always one to combat a big MMO launch and it works.
      Only one group loved TESO, TES fans who were also MMO fans.
      TESO is their perfect MMO and they usally loved it, after a rocky lauch it’s settled down.
      The majority of TES fans wanted much more than an MMO or the much quoted Skyrim co-op, that was but a subset of the whole.
      What I wanted, though it was discussed, I can only speak for myself, was an entire online world, universe even. One with no single hero story, indeed no story at all. Plenty of history though and plenty of individual encounters. A World where your character will die and you start again, as the next generation of that family. A world that evolves around and without your involvement.
      A Persistant Universe.

      If that rings a bell, Star Citizen is the fitst game to try for a persistant online RPG. Though EVE online tried a similar thing. EVE online is not a First Person RPG, it’s been described as spreadsheets in space.
      Will Persistant Universes be the next big thing, maybe. Star Citizen is a space genre and I’d prefer TES or some new world of the magic fantasy genre.
      There will be hero’s and Villains enough in these games, but they will have to earn that title themselves and create there own (Hi)Story. Leave the scripted stories to single player games, they do that much better.

      • BloodPukeSalvation says:

        im curious if you’ve had the opportunity to try out eve. it doesnt have that typical single hero story, and while your “questing” can overlap, as others can potentially be doing the same, in my limited play i’d say that element is minimal, volunatary (you can totally opt out of “questing”), and probably only occurs early in the game (first few days).

      • mukuste says:

        Sounds like Wurm Online might be what you want since it’s a huge persistent sandbox and you choose what to do rather than following quests.

      • Kala says:

        “When it was first used; I’m not an Expert, (Everquest?, Ultima online?), one of the pre-WoW MMO’s.”

        WoW built on EQs model, I think. UO was the free-form fantasy sandbox that went on to inspire things like EVE.

        (Though Lineage was released around the same period as UO and EQ and was big in Korea – I just dunno much about it)

        I’d posit the market is saturated with the former and neglects the latter largely due to WoW being such a behemoth in terms of mainstream and financial success.

        …Or it could be that’s simply the style most people prefer. But maybe it’s preferred because it’s the widely available option. Which gets a bit circular; who knows. But at this point, it seems like one style is popular enough to be synonymous with ‘MMO’ and the other has become niche.

        “If that rings a bell, Star Citizen is the fitst game to try for a persistant online RPG. Though EVE online tried a similar thing. EVE online is not a First Person RPG, it’s been described as spreadsheets in space.”

        Eve tried a similar thing…? Eve did that thing :S It’s well known for being a persistent online rpg. That it’s been described as “spread sheets online” for having a complicated market or tactical rather than twitch based combat doesn’t change that, nor does which way the camera is facing.

        …Though maybe you just meant you wouldn’t like it for those reasons?

        (Eve wears its inspirations from early-UO on its sleeve, in my book. Different setting and theme, but the underlying ethos is similar; right down to the individuals security status being an analogue to fame/karma, and high sec policed systems an analogue to calling the guards in and around cities. As well as the emphasis on PVP and losing all your items in both. Though Eves main innovation was being a SINGLE persistent online world…UO was sharded; and may even be where the term ‘sharded’ comes from).

        I’ll agree with the other commenter on Wurm Online (which I’ll also have to try at some point, though I fear the time commitment :3)

        • Kala says:

          Heh. P’raps not.

          “There has been speculation that the term might be derived from the 1997 MMORPG Ultima Online, but the SHARD database system predates this by at least nine years.”

          Damn you, lack of edit button.

    • LacSlyer says:

      Traditional MMO’s will never die even if the market for them continues to dwindle in the west. There’s far too many Korean and Chinese players to not make an MMO right now.

      As well, MMO’s offer a completely different experience to MOBA’s so there’s no way they’d die off in favor of them. MMO’s are about the longevity of shaping your character while MOBA’s are pretty much the exact opposite.

      • grimdanfango says:

        I think it’d be entirely possible for MMOs to die out.

        It’d probably be a great thing too… as soon after, Paradox will probably step in and fill the gap with something awesome, and a whole bunch of interesting new kickstarters would spring up.

        MMOs are dying because an entire genre stopped coming up with ideas, and started trying to immitate WoW as closely as possible to cash in on the formula. It’s a genre in absolutely desperate need of some fresh input, and if it takes the temporary death of the genre to get there, I for one would welcome it :-)

    • Distec says:

      As others have pointed out, there’s not much comparison between MMOs and MOBAs.

      My standard experience in MMOs is grinding away for materials and money on my lonesome, leisurely and alone. My standard experience in MOBAs getting frustrated for 20 minutes and then never playing them again.

      I agree in the sense that one genre will rise while the other falls a bit. But I don’t see one replacing the other simply because there’s very little overlap outside of PVP arena matches (which was always a separate, inferior activity compared to actual world PVP IMO).

      • mukuste says:

        For many people, these games are as much about the community as the actual gameplay, and in this regard the two communities are definitely comparable. You have your subreddits, your community blogs, your fan art, your discussion about the latest patch and the “meta”, and of course the people you can meet and (potentially) friends you can make. There’s basically a huge ecosystem of community-made content surrounding these games, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s LoL or WoW.

        • mukuste says:

          Also forgot to mention that I read many accounts of people moving from WoW to LoL, so I think these two separate demographics of “MMO players” and “MMORPG players” are a myth. The link to medium.com posted below is also insightful.

    • Ostymandias says:

      My guess is that games like Minecraft is the thing eating up MMOs rather than Dotalikes
      Semi-persistent world, repetitive gameplay with potential long-term rewards, sporadic and voluntarily player interaction, a lot of twelve year old’s.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      link to medium.com A very interesting article on exactly that matter. “Your target audience doesn’t exist.”

  3. Asurmen says:

    I presume subs numbers inherently doesn’t include those buying game time from in game gold?

    • LacSlyer says:

      That’s probably a big factor if this is the case. As well, when you consider the majority of other MMO’s don’t report official sub numbers either (most report overall sales, total accounts created, or total subscribers rather than concurrent ones) I’m actually surprised it took them this long to stop doing so.

    • Xerophyte says:

      I don’t see why it wouldn’t be included. Buying an in-game token requires someone selling an in-game token (more or less) so the people who pay with the in-game currency are just subscribers that are earning them 50% more in actual dollars per month.

      • Asurmen says:

        Because someone paying with in game gold isn’t spending any more. They’re not subscribed.

        • Gryz says:

          Their subscription is paid for. Not by themselves, but by the player who bought the token from Blizzard for real-life money.

          Someone buys their own subscription. One person plays the game. Blizzard gets 13 euros.

          Someone buys their own subscription for 13 euros. And they buy a game-token for 20 euros. They sell the game-token in-game for 40-50k gold to another player. That other player can now play the game too. But he doesn’t pay any real-life money for his subscription. Two players play the game. But Blizzard gets 13+20=33 euros.

          If that second player had bought his own subscription, Blizzard had only gotten 2×13=26 euros.

          Result: with the game-token, Blizzard makes more money per player on average.

          • Xerophyte says:

            Some people in the game (yes, I still play, for some reason) have this very amusing tendency to go on rants on how thanks to the ability to pay with gold they are now some sort of rugged MMO nerd survivalist, sticking it to The Man by living off the land. All while Blizzard is of course earning more from their subscriptions than ever before. It’s all very precocious.

    • Uhuru N'Uru says:

      Of course they include in game subs as well, why on earth wouldn’t they do that. They count every single sub they can.
      They won’t annouince it any more because it’s getting less and less, most fans sub for expansions only now, from what
      I here. Without ingame subs that total is likely to be much less. This may be what they don’t want revealed, they $ subs total, could be much smaller than 5 million.

      • LacSlyer says:

        WoW subs have always, always fluctuated back and forth. Hell, it hadn’t been over 10 million in years and the latest expac pushed it well over that. And while this is the lowest it’s been in a while, I’m not convinced that numbers alone are why they’re moving to not announcing sub numbers, especially when no one else in the market announces them in the same manner.

      • Asurmen says:

        See above answer.

  4. Mrice says:

    Has acti-bliz ever fronted the idea of a sequel? Can anyone comment on the idea of a WoW 2?

    • anHorse says:

      Titan was kinda that

      They shelved it after spending millions

    • Shadow says:

      WoW might be its own sequel by now. After so many expansions, it’s a pretty different game from its vanilla incarnation.

      That said, coming up with a proper sequel, even more different than WoW and better than it, would be a monumental undertaking. I’m not sure Blizzard is too interested in the subject, given how it’s been diversifying with Diablo III, StarCraft II, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm. They’ll keep WoW alive as long as possible, but it’ll be years before it stops being wildly profitable.

  5. tomimt says:

    It’s pretty amazing really. Not that many games can boast with such a player base, especially when they have been around for a decade or so.

    I wonder how many free players they have.

  6. apa says:

    tldr;because money.

  7. Ashrand says:

    In other news, wives of cheating husbands to assume that he REALLY likes golf

  8. Llewyn says:

    As always, the obligatory disclaimer: Blizzard subscriber numbers* do not equal the number of people paying a periodic subscription fee, as this business model is only used in the US and Europe, not in Asia.

    *I’m pretty sure they originally avoided using the term “subscriber number”, probably favouring “active players”.

    • Tritagonist says:

      Indeed, or to use Blizzard’s own words (from their 2014 Q3 report): ‘World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules.’

  9. Neurotic says:

    I would be playing the shit out of WoW (still), but I just can’t justify the monthly sub.

  10. Urthman says:

    In other news, AOL still has 2 million subscribers.

  11. Hardmood says:

    i recently played the free 10 days on one of the “crowded” realms here, just for the sake of a “watching an old miss marple movie” moment. although it was enough fun to compensate for my bored feeling to play a never played class/race on THE OTHER faction^^ to lvl60, the game was pretty done with the “MM” in MMO:
    – from lvl1 to 60 i never saw even ONE active chat
    – auction house was even worse then what i ever experienced and therefor i didnt even bought a single item from AH while questing and leveling
    – i hardly saw other players (maybe half a dozen)
    – it was a constant farmfest for evry single rare mob in evry zone i played
    asf

    i dont think blizz will recover from the sub loss until they give wow an heavily extended version of the trial, means extending from lvl 20 to at least lvl60, better be lvl 80.
    this the only way i see a constant inflow of new players generating at least a bit more feeling of “MM” in MMO.
    but tbh
    i couldnt care less after the bigmouth WoD parody

    i dont think theyre able to even deliver a “watching an old miss marple movie” moment anymore. in fact i am convinced they dont even give a shit about these moments anymore.

  12. axiomatic says:

    I tried to play the latest expansion and got bored. I am sure I am done with WoW. Blizzard needs to let the upcomming movie take the front seat for a while and then seriously up the ante. As a basic starter they should at least get going on DirectX12 and then take the best of what is going on at Everquest Next and compete there too.