Yesterday, with the release of its financial earnings report for the third quarter of 2015, Activision Blizzard revealed that World of Warcraft is currently sitting at 5.5 million subscribers. That's down 100,000 subscribers from the company's second quarter, meaning World of Warcraft has seemingly simmered down to its hardcore playerbase. Around 5 million looks to be WoW's new home for the foreseeable future, not counting spikes from expansion releases.
With these numbers, Activision Blizzard also said that it won't be reporting subscriber numbers in future earnings releases.
"Note that this is the last quarter that we plan to provide subscriber numbers," the company said during this morning's investor Q&A, according to GameSpot. "There are other metrics that are better indicators of the overall Blizzard business performance."
Those metrics will be based on "engagement", meaning Blizzard will be able to potentially spin the numbers in a positive direction. Big business and shareholders require that numbers always go up, not down, so Activision is looking obfuscate WoW's performance by switching its metrics up. That's why no other MMO directly reports their subscriber counts either.
The company is shifting the development of World of Warcraft towards more frequent expansions. The upcoming Legion expansion is definitely aimed at bringing lapsed players back into the fold, hammering on characters and concepts fans have been begging for. We can expect to hear more about Legion at the upcoming Blizzcon 2015 event.
Blizzard also acknowledged that most of its core players have aged out of consistent play, which is why you see the subscriber spikes around expansions. More frequent expansions keep those players in the fold.
"That's part of why our numbers are more volatile than they used to be," World of Warcraft lead designer Tom Chilton told GameSpot. "That's part of that changing demographic. And ultimately, what we want is to make sure that we never lose the faith of our players in Blizzard that we'll create great experiences that you'll feel like you've got your money's worth. We do have more expansion packs planned already."
"We recognize that we need to release [expansions] on a faster cadence than we have in the past. So we're investing in the team and our resources to enable us to do that," Blizzard president Mike Morhaime told Polygon.
It's worth noting that while 5.5 million is bad for World of Warcraft, it's great for nearly any other MMO out there. Most of WoW's current competitors - Final Fantasy XIV, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Elder Scrolls Online - are nowhere near those numbers. It's a situation where the only thing Blizzard is really worried about is itself.
It's also telling that Blizzard seems to be done with the classic MMO genre as defined by WoW. They tried to build the next big thing with Project Titan, but it never quite came together and the company forged what was left into Overwatch. Hearthstone proved to be a pivot for the company, proving that smaller projects could be more lucrative than huge pits of money like Titan. That pivot has lead to the expansion of Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. Hearthstone is doing gangbusters, Heroes of the Storm is making money, and 7 million players signed-up to beta test Overwatch. New Blizzard is in full swing.
For reference, here's the official World of Warcraft subscriber numbers from Activision Blizzard over the years:
- November 2004: World of Warcraft Released
- May 2006: 6.5 million
- November 2006: 7.5 million
- January 2007: Burning Crusade Released, 8 million
- March 2007: 8.5 million
- January 2008: 10 million
- May 2008: 10 million
- July 2008: 10.9 million
- September 2008: 10.9 million
- October 2008: 11 million
- November 2008: Wrath of the Lich King Released, 11 million
- December 2008: 11.5 million
- October 2010: 12 million
- December 2010: Cataclysm Released, 12 million
- December 2011: 10.2 million
- June 2012: 9.1 million
- September 2012: Mists of Pandaria Released, 10 million
- October 2012: 10 million
- December 2012: 9.6 million
- March 2013: 8.3 million
- June 2013: 7.7 million
- September 2013: 7.6 million
- December 2013: 7.8 million
- March 2014: 7.6 million
- June 2014: 6.8 million
- September 2014: 7.4 million
- December 2014: Warlords of Draenor Released, 10 million
- March 2015: 7.1 million
- June 2015: 5.6 million
- September 2015 (Final): 5.5 million