With every expansion World of Warcraft extends its life just a little bit longer. At its peak, the MMO saw up to 12 million subscribers, but since 2010 subscriptions have steadily decreased at a rate of millions. Its latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, was released last September, which saw a small, short burst of increased activity, but now that the initial rush of new content has waned, things are once again starting to slow down.
Activision Blizzard has reported a loss of 14% of its users between January and March of this year, which amounts to 1.3 million subscribers, predominantly in the East. They told investors last Wednesday that they expected these numbers to continue to drop, signaling shares in the publisher to drop by 5% following the announcement.
World of Warcraft was released nearly ten years ago and in that time a lot has changed. Free-to-play games are almost an industry standard for the genre, with micro-transactions becoming the main source of revenue instead of monthly subscriptions. Chief executive Bobby Kotick agrees and told investors, “It’s important to note that the nature of online games has changed, and with the environment becoming far more competitive.” He added, “To address this, we’re working to release new content more frequently to keep our players engaged longer and make it easier for lapsed players to come back into the game.”
This would help to stimulate some interest, but would it be any different than one large expansion in terms of keeping the playerbase? Kotick doesn’t seem worried and notes the 8.3 million subscribers still playing the game, but to garner more, they will need to continue to evolve their strategies.
The Mists of Pandaria expansion was one such strategy. By developing a large amount of Asian themed content, the expansion was largely geared to the Eastern market while still being consistent with the game’s lore. Initially, it was a success, bringing in over a million new subscriptions in China, but that soon dropped as well.
The shear amount of competition is probably the major factor at play here, with new IPs popping up every day. Titles like WildStar, a game being developed by Carbine Studios which consists of many former Blizzard employees, is expected to steal away some WoW numbers.
Blizzard hasn’t given up on their baby quite yet and is refusing to simply lay down, but to keep up they may have to bite the bullet and assimilate other franchise business models. The next logical step is to go free-to-play, but don’t expect that to happen anytime soon as Blizzard seems vehemently resistant to the idea. Not a huge surprise based on the large amount of income subscriptions provide, but once user numbers take a major hit, this might be the only way to keep people playing.
What about life after World of Warcraft? Project Titan, Blizzard’s super secret MMO in development, is speculated to be groundbreaking and just as big, if not bigger, than World of Warcraft in its heyday, but with little to no information on the title, fans of the studio will just have to make do. We’ll see what Blizzard has in store for its company’s future at this year’s BlizzCon.
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Source: BBC Tech