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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

[WoW] What the investor call tells us

Activision-Blizzard's investor call today revealed that World of Warcraft is down to 5.6 million subscribers (including token users). So what does that tell us? Not a great deal...or does it?

An observation I made on Twitter was that the new subscriber number puts World of Warcraft right back on the downward slope that one would expect from most MMO's. Back when Blizzard announced that WoW had jumped up to 10 million after WoD's release people began to use the term "cyclical" and speculate that perhaps WoW would break the traditional trend of MMO's to slowly taper off into free-to-play the sunset, or at least do so much slower than most games. Some suggested that because WoW was so popular/large that it might be the exception to the MMO-decline rule.

Curve should actually be slightly lower on the right side
However if anything, this shows that even the mighty World of Warcraft isn't immune to subscriber attrition. I think Talarian put it best:
After I suppressed my juvenile giggling over the idea of WoW being "longer" than other MMOs, I voiced my agreement. What the data tells me is that WoW, as with many MMOs has both "diehards," fans that are there to stay, and "tourists," players that come for brief spurts of content then disappear. The tourists bump the subscriber count up when an expansion is released, then disappear shortly afterwards. However in this case, though WoD attracted a large number of tourists, it also lost them fast.

That isn't great news for Blizzard, because as you can see above, we're only about halfway through the typical life of an expansion, with no new content for this one on the way (that we know of), and already we're starting the downhill where diehards move on too. At this rate, WoW will hit 2005 levels within the next four years. Drawing back the tourists and keeping the diehards happy is going to be a challenge, especially as WoW hits the point where it's starting to really show its age. Pretty as it can be, it is a ten year old game. EVE for example, one of the few MMOs to have a similar lifetime and popularity, has had to update it's engine numerous times. Perhaps the developers need to re-examine how content is supplied, or even how the game is played.

On another note, I do wonder how much of this decline is due to Heavensward, as Final Fantasy XIV seems to be chugging right along at around 4 million subscribers (depending on whether you believe the press). WoW has had plenty of competitors stall out of their starting gates or experience an initial surge then rapidly descend into F2P, but never has it had a competitor do well, but grow. FFXIV might be the first "real" competitor WoW has ever had.


  1. WoW definitely looks old these days. Did they ever definitively state that FF14 had 4 million subs? I heard 4 million "registered accounts" once.

  2. Yeah, I haven't heard 4 million subs ever for FFXIV. Just "accounts that were ever subbed". Subtle but important distinction.

  3. FFXIV is indeed above 4m subs (unless the expansion caused a decrease in subs, which didn't happen), they just keep using the term 'registered accounts' for some confusing reason. Back when they released they had 2m, they also stated 500k players were logging in daily. You can't have 500k daily logins if the 2m number is total lifetime box sales (what we traditionally would call registered accounts).

    Also the term 'tourists' isn't used correctly in this post. Back when WoW was a juggernaut, it's players would 'go on vacation' to a new MMO (like WAR), with no intention of staying (tourists). They would always return to WoW (home). The reason tourists were harmful back then was because some game devs would actually think they would keep said tourists if only they made change X or Y to their MMO, which in turn often pissed off the current players, while doing nothing to bring back or retain WoW tourists (they never intended to fully leave WoW).