OCT. 7, 2010 • Blizzard Ent. likes releasing World of Warcraft subscribers statistics during the month of October right before a new expansion. Two years ago this month the developer announced the MMO had achieved 11 million subscribers worldwide, and this year they released a new tally of 12 million subscribers.
Impact: What is interesting here is not so much the build up to the Cataclysm expansion launch in early December, but how the pace of player acquisition has slowed. The MMO gained 1 million subscribers between January and October 2008 alone. The jump from 9 million to 10 million took place in the six months after July 2007. Between August 2005 and January 2008 the game had been picking up 1 million customers in six months or less. We doubt the new expansion will return the subscriber acquisition rate to what it had been. So while World of Warcraft remains the MMO gold standard, and years of modest subscriber growth can be expected, its fortunes have clearly peaked.
Nevertheless, the fact that World of Warcraft has managed to hold steady when dozens of other MMOGs have entered the market is a testament to Blizzard’s savvy at keeping the consumer playing and coming back. With the Cataclysm expansion pack coming Dec 7, DFC expects WoW subscriber numbers to at least temporarily surge as no doubt many lapsed subscribers will come back. With previous expansion packs, Blizzard has spent big worldwide dollars on TV advertising featuring celebrity placements targeting not only the faithful, but gamers who have yet to jump in.
Of further interest, Cataclysm will be the first Blizzard product to be available for digital delivery the same day as the retail version goes on sale. Consumers can now pre-order the game from Blizzard.com and start downloading similar to how games are delivered via Steam. The game will unlock the minute the Cataclysm server goes live Dec 7. Given both the likely increased advertising effort and same day digital availability, DFC expects to Cataclysm to break Wrath of the Lich King’s previous 1 day sales record of 2.8 million units even if the reported retail sales portion alone falls short.