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 World of Warcraft  loses 1 million subscribers in three months
World of Warcraft loses 1 million subscribers in three months
August 2, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

August 2, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing

Things haven't gone too well for subscription MMOs this week. On Tuesday, EA announced that it's turning Star Wars: The Old Republic into a free to play game to combat its declining user numbers, and today Activision Blizzard revealed that World of Warcraft lost more than one million subscribers in just three months.

As part of the publisher's quarterly earnings report, Activision Blizzard revealed that World of Warcraft had 9.1 million subscribers as of June 30, 2011. That's an impressive figure, to be sure, but it's soured a bit by the fact that the game boasted as many as 10.2 million subscribers in March.

World of Warcraft has been leaking subscribers for some time now, but this drop is the game's steepest in recent memory. Over the past several quarters, the game's player count has remained relatively stable, hovering around that 10.2 million mark.

Activision Blizzard hopes to stop, and perhaps reverse those declining numbers later this year, when it launches World of Warcraft's latest expansion: Mists of Pandaria. Typically, these content updates have helped breathe new life into the seven year old MMO, so this upcoming release should help the game hold onto its players for at least a little bit longer.

Much like World of Warcraft, EA and BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic has also seen its subscriber numbers drop off over the last few months, and the game hopes to address these issues in November when adopts a brand new free to play business model. Of course, The Old Republic's situation is particularly rough compared to World of Warcraft, as it currently has fewer than one million subscribers.

For now, at least, World of Warcraft is holding strong as one of the few remaining subscription MMOs, but with it and other games struggling to hold onto their audience, it's hard to say how long that'll last.

Looking at Activision Blizzard's overall performance over the last quarter, the company saw a few notable declines, but still managed to exceed overall expectations. For the three months ended June 30, the company pulled in revenues of $1.08 billion, which was down from $1.14 billion year over year, but exceeded the average analyst expectation of $834.8 million. Profits, meanwhile, hit $185 million, down from $335 million during this period last year.

[Update: During a Gamasutra-attended investor conference call, Blizzard president Mike Morhaime pointed out that most of the players who dropped out of World of Warcraft this quarter were from Eastern territories. He added that he believes a number of players are "taking a break" from World of Warcraft to play the recently-launched Diablo III.]

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Ron Dippold
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I'd be willing to bet most of those were lost to Diablo III.

Rasmus Gunnarsson
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Or panda expansion. I'm guessing it feels bad to know all the progress you make will very soon be wiped to start anew so wouldn't suprise me if people stopped paying until the expansion comes out.

Nathan Zufelt
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Didn't they experience similar drops in subscribers before Cataclysm/Lich King? Probably see a jump of at least a million when the next expansion hits.

Marc Schaerer
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They would probably see more steady and continous growth if they would stop selling the expansions and roll them in at more regular rates like EVE does it (expansions twice a year, content update and changes near weekly)

Especially when they try to promote a 'changing shattered world' that gets shattered in a single go and never again changed ...

Blizz needs to go 3 steps back and look again at the definition of 'immersive', right now everything they do seems to be more effective at disconnecting players from their avatar than creating an emotional bond between player - avatar - the world.

Tyler King
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The problem is is that they are still selling millions of copies of those expansions. I don't know how many copies they've sold currently, but after one month Blizzard sold 4.7 million copies of Cataclysm. I'm sure it is much higher now. So why would they give that up? That model might be a good option when they have less than 1 million subs, but when they still have 9 - 10 million subs and many of those subs buy the new expansions why would they need to change? I also think that they know these kind of drops are coming. The game has had a very strong life for a very long time, but everything dies eventually.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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@Marc Shaerer

Dude-why would they go the route that EVE has? EVE seems so happy to tout it's endless growth and zero server maintenance, but they have what, half a million steady subs? WoW wouldn't be able to sustain the amount of content it has with that few people, let alone make any sort of reasonable release schedule.

Yamil Chaar
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@Marc: It's all because Blizz has decided to mass-produce content, "creating" only generic quests that can be completed by any class. Way back they had class-specific quests that would become a rite of passage of sorts and would help create that connection you mention. Right now... well, I feel like I am traveling through a park attraction. A theme park made for my amusement but devoid of any real, meaningful interaction or charm at this point.

They are trying to recapture some of that with Pandaria, but with the continued hesitation to update the look of the now 7 year old avatars, the game just looks tired, dated; the contrast between the new content and the old is just a little too strong.

But this is not just WoW, the whole genre needs change in my opinion.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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They didn't lose any subs first quarter, so it's pretty hard to see that as the issue-Time will tell very shortly, but it seems like an extremely probably combination of end of expansion fatigue falling right around Diablo 3's release. Diablo's insane sales would seem to back this up.

Joe Doe
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Here's to hoping Mike Morhaime doesn't get "Zampellatized."

kP09 HI19
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I bet things you get worse if people realizes how bad Blizzard threats their own fan base by releasing an incomplete game ( D3 ) with a lot of problems with server and bugs (like the invul Wizard/Barb), also nerfing gear that players has purcharsed throught Real Money Auction House, doing everything to not punish scammers (actually you could be banned if you post videos about scammers). There's even a thread pointing 100 problems with D3

Intead of release a D2 sequel, they release an "Auction" RPG... too bad...

And it looks like Blizzard is doing the same with WoW.

Oscar Barda
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I sincerely doubt that people left World of Warcraft for Diablo 3, they are totaly different player bases. If those still playing wow were leavers they would have had a thousand other occasions to do so when hundreds of other games came out. Players still on World of Warcraft are there for a community, friends, their immense staches filled with treasures gathered through years of hunting...
Leaving Wow for Diablo 3 is like leaving Fifa for MW3 it makes little sense. In the mouth of Mr. Morhaime I fear it sounds too much like trying to lessen the blow by saying they are keeping the player base, but Diablo 3 has little online life so it is less likely to have a selling curve similar to an MMO's and will rather decline pretty fast like any AAA does.

If you loose wow subscriptions to any other game, even one of your own, it's always a loss of money anyways in the long run.

Ron Dippold
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I know three separate people who 'left' WoW for Diablo 3.

Of course they didn't really leave, just a hiatus. They'll be back for the Pandas.

Aaron Fowler
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I guess people are getting tired of paying to stand around Stormwind/Ogrimmar. *sarcasm*

No but in all seriousness, I think it is safe to say that this was caused by people trying out Diablo 3, or simply taking a break until the next expansion is released.

And by that I mean, most people see no point in grinding for gear that will become irrelevant in just a few months. So, it's a perfect time to take a break. But they will be back.

Ian Uniacke
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Yep. And there has been no new content in about 6 months so for casual raiders and the like they're probably just bored of the current content.

Denis Nickoleff
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i think the solution is pretty simple. do something different for once.