In their earnings call this week Activision-Blizzard has reported that some 1.3 million subscribers have bailed on their popular World of Warcraft MMORPG in the last three months. Making up the bulk of the 1.3 million were players from the east while western players made up a noticeable amount of the game’s loses. As it stands, roughly 8.3 million players are still paying for World of Warcraft.
While optimistic about the state of World of Warcraft, Activision’s CEO Bobby Kotick admits that “While we do believe further declines are likely, and we expect to have fewer subscribers in a year than we do today, World of Warcraft remains one of the most successful franchises in the history of entertainment.”
Coming out in 2004, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft was at the top of the hill when it came to online RPGs, taking the crown from fellow pioneer of MMORPG and grandfather of the genre—Sony’s EverQuest. Recent entrants into the MMORPG arena with free-to-play approaches and World of Warcraft—which was sitting at over 12 million in 2010—started to see numbers decline to around 9 million just before the Mists of Pandaria expansion hit in September of last year.
It’s mostly down to the pay-to-play element of World of Warcraft and the rise of free-to-play with optional subscriptions that has seen the number steadily drop for the franchise. Not only this, but when it comes to console gaming, there are more games adding in a multiplayer element. While that particular element might not be as deep and social as WoW’s, they are alternatives. Activision-Blizzard are aware of this and have been working on a free-to-play collectible card game based on World of Warcraft called Hearthstone which should be out in the summer.
With investors starting to bail on Activision-Blizzard, Kotick expressed concern for the company in the second half of 2013. “While we have had a solid start to the year, we now believe that the risks and uncertainties in the back half of 2013 are more challenging than our earlier view.” Things blamed included the uncertainty of release dates and next generation hardware, the “disappointing” release of the Wii U, and subscribers bailing on World of Warcraft—and let’s not forget the global economy.
Kotick didn’t go into detail about “competitor’s release dates”, but it’s obvious he meant the eventual first person shooter duel between their Call of Duty: Ghosts and Electronic Art’s Battlefield 4. Both are poised to be huge money magnets for their respective companies. They are also looking forward to Skylanders’ having a run with Disney Infinity.
Due to these concerns all around, Activision-Blizzard stated that they wouldn’t be exploring any new IPs and focus on existing ones. Essentially, they want to play it safe until everything “stabilizes” and the market seems safer for experimentation with new franchises. This is likely to come in a year or so after all three next-generation HD consoles—Wii U, PS4, the next Xbox—are in place and sales start to pick up.