Blizzard’s free-to-play collectible card game isn’t blazing as hot as it once was, but the developer’s plans for Hearthstone should help.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, which has players facing each other in one-on-one competition online, is no longer in the top 20 highest-grossing iPad apps. Right now, in the U.S., it is No. 23. That’s not terrible, but it puts it well outside the realm of something like developer King’s Candy Crush Saga puzzler or even its Pet Rescue Saga in terms of money-making power. Hearthstone debuted strongly for iPad in April, but it isn’t maintaining its momentum as well as other top mobile releases. This doesn’t mean Blizzard doesn’t have the cards in its hands to make a comeback.
In a note to investors, Cowen & Company analyst Doug Creutz noted the slipping popularity of Hearthstone, but he explained how it could still end up as one of the bigger mobile games over the next quarter.
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“With a significant ‘Adventure Mode’ content update coming this summer, we expect the game to return to the top 20 before the end of Q3,” Creutz wrote in a note to investors this morning. “We also believe the planned smartphone versions of the game will be successful.”
When Hearthstone launched on iPad in April, it quickly shot to the top of the download charts in 47 countries. That includes important markets like the U.S., U.K., Brazil, South Korea, and Russia. Despite that, out of those, it only reached No. 1 on the top-grossing charts in South Korea. Instead, it hovered near the top 10 for a few weeks before slowly sliding to its present ranking. While every game eventually tails off, the top mobile releases (like the aforementioned Candy Crush Saga) maintain a presence at the top of both the download and grossing charts for months at a time. Hearthstone hasn’t done that, and one of the reasons for that is probably because it is only on iPad as far as mobile platforms go.
Hearthstone originally debuted for PC and Mac. The iPad release followed a few months later, and now Blizzard is working on a version for iPhone as well as Android smartphones and tablets. The company previously promised to deliver those versions before the end of the year. This will obviously make the game available to more people. That should give a boost its download and grossing numbers, but it may also help increase its iPad sales. People who have Hearthstone with them on their phones when they’re on the go might remember to continue their progress on their iPads when they get home. The availability on iPhone and Android will also bring more people into Hearthstone, and that may increase its visibility in social situations.
While the iPhone and Android versions are important, the upcoming expansion Curse of Naxxramas is just as crucial. With it, Hearthstone is not only getting fresh content, but it’s getting its first single-player adventure. That could attract a different kind of player who wants to try Hearthstone but isn’t sure about only playing online multiplayer.
Hearthstone is a very important product for Blizzard. The developer has routinely generated millions in revenue annually thanks to its megapopular, subscription-based game World of Warcraft. That massively multiplayer online hit has been slowly losing players over time. It once had 12 million paying members, but it is now hovering around 7.6 million. While that is still making plenty of money for Blizzard, it is clearly looking for other sources of cash to help ensure its financial future. With that in mind, it debuted Hearthstone as its first free-to-play game as well as its first major mobile release.
The studio is also now already testing its second free-to-play game, Heroes of the Storm, which is its League of Legends-style multiplayer online arena battler.
Analysts expect that Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm could combine to make Blizzard as much as $200 million in 2014.
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