World of Warcraft has long been a license to print money for Blizzard, a company without any shortage of profitable franchises. But as it turns out, even the most popular franchise in the most populous market isn’t immune to the ups and downs of fan tastes. Blizzard has revealed that just months after the record-breaking launch of Cataclysm, the number of subscribers has dropped to its lowest point since 2008. Due to the tendency of WoW‘s fans to burn through content, Blizzard is already planning on developing and releasing future expansions at a much faster rate.
It isn’t surprising to hear that the bloated population of over 12 million WoW players who resubscribed to the service in the months leading up to couldn’t last forever, but apparently fans of Cataclysm have gotten their fill much faster than even Blizzard may have expected.
The new statistics came in Activision Blizzard’s first quarter earnings call earlier today, with Blizzard claiming that as of March 2011, WoW‘s playing population had “returned to pre-Cataclysm levels in the West.” Certainly the best way to say that numbers had dropped significantly, but that in itself isn’t anything to get excited over.
What is troubling is that in just five months since the release of its latest expansion, Blizzard has lost over 600,000 subscribers to rest at a player population of 11.4 million. Rather than hitting the panic button and interpreting the drop as a sign that fan interest is waning, Blizzard seems to be realizing that a sizable chunk of past players are just more interested in new content as opposed to leveling multiple characters or grinding out raids.
Even a game world as entertaining as that of Azeroth can lead to bouts of boredom, at least in the case of half a million WoW players. Blizzard is looking to remedy the problem by speeding up their lengthy development cycles, assuring investors that WoW fans simply go through new expansions faster than many others.
President and co-founder of Blizzard Michael Morhaime was quick to explain that faster development wouldn’t result in smaller or less-polished expansions, just faster timelines. When Blizzard gave some details on their next expansion months ago, they made it clear that it would amount to more than just extra quests.
If an entirely new continent arrives sooner rather than later then the lost fans are sure to return, and while Blizzard definitely doesn’t have to worry about losing 5% of its player base, the next few years could prove to be even more damaging to World of Warcraft‘s community.
Even Blizzard is conceding that Diablo III will steal users from the world’s most profitable MMO, and the developer’s next MMO Titan is expected to be even bigger than WoW. New expansions will be required to keep WoW from becoming the less interesting of Blizzard’s properties, so fans can look forward to their subscription dollars being spent on more content.
Have you already seen your fill of Cataclysm, or are you one of the 11 million loyal fans still playing? And do you actually believe that Blizzard is going to be speeding up their less-than-rushed development tendencies?
World of Warcraft is available now for the PC.