Received wisdom tends to be that World of Warcraft is a game in slow decline, still very much a going concern but nonetheless the last great dinosaur of the subscription MMO. Turns out that's not quite the case - while its 12 million+ subscriber glory days might be behind it, its global population is ever so slightly on the rise. That didn't stop owner Activision losing a wee bit of money over the last year, though.
The current subscriber figure stands at 7.8 million, up some 200,000 from last November, revealed Activision in an investor call yesterday. That is not bad going at all. I wonder why - was it people coming back in for the annual Christmas shennanigans? Was it an advertising campaign? Was it peopel feeling the need to plunge fully into another world to escape winter doldrums? Was it zombies? Maybe zombies quietly rose from the grave sometime in December, but instead of eating people's brains they all started playing World of Warcraft. It's got to be that.
In other news, Activision made a shit-ton of money again, but Call of Duty: Ghost sales were down from the series' escalating usual. This partially contributed to the publisher's revenues for the most recent year slipping to $4.58 billion from last year's $4.86 billion. Profits were down to $1.01 billion from the previous year's $1.15 billion. 0.14 sounds kinda tiny, but 0.14 billion dollars is an awful lot of money.
However they'd anticipated some decline, and in fact beat expectations somewhat. Projections for this year look pretty much along the same lines, suggesting that for now the company's period of explosive COD/WOW/Skylanders growth may be behind it. But who knows? Videogames! Yes, I am available for work as an expert analyst.
"2013 was a transformational year for Activision Blizzard and for our industry," Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said whilst trying to make things sound better. "Our transaction with Vivendi returned us to independence and eliminated the challenges and constraints of being a controlled company."
Another statement had plenty of chest-thumping about the year ahead: "As we look to 2014 and beyond, we have the strongest and most diverse pipeline of games in our history. We expect Bungie’s Destiny, an innovative shared-world, first-person action game to be Activision Publishing’s next billion dollar franchise. Activision Publishing also has terrific new games planned for the Call of Duty and Skylanders franchises, and Blizzard Entertainment has an expansion to the top-selling PC and console game Diablo III and another major new release.
"Also in our pipeline for 2014 and the next few years are at least three potentially groundbreaking new free-to-play franchises—Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft and Heroes of the Storm, and Activision Publishing’s Call of Duty Online. We believe these games have great global potential. Free-to-play as a business model has now achieved scale, both in the West and in China. Hearthstone, which released in open beta on PC last month and which Blizzard Entertainment plans to expand this year to tablets and smartphones, is already attracting millions of players with strong engagement and monetization in the West and China, putting it on track to join World of Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft as their fourth mega franchise.”
They think Destiny's gonna be huge
+ Call of Duty will be F2P
+ Hearthstone's going to phones too and is being seen as its own franchise rather than a Warcraft spin-off.
= Money. And 200k rise or not, WoW may well be yesterday's golden goose compared to this stuff.