The World of Warcraft bleeding continues, but the upcoming expansion should act as a temporary tourniquet.
Publisher Activision Blizzard announced that its long-running, popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game is down to just 6.8 million subscribers. That’s down 800,000 from 7.6 million last quarter. This is the lowest membership for World of Warcraft since 2006. It’s not much of the surprise that the decade-old game is losing players, considering its age and how some online gamers are moving from paid subscriptions to free-to-play games with in-game transactions. Blizzard also intends to launch the MMO’s latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, in the next few months. That should boost subscriber numbers, and 1.5 million people have already prepurchased the add-on. So while the game is still making money, Blizzard’s need to replace World of Warcraft’s revenue is clearer than ever.
World of Warcraft is down from its peak of 12 million paying members in 2010. Players have slowly trickled away from the MMO over recent years, and that has left a small hole in Blizzard’s revenue. While that is something the company is looking to address, it continues to hold on to millions of people who are all dropping $15 a month 10 years after the game first debuted.
That dedicated audience is buying Blizzard plenty of time to figure out what to do next. The developer is experimenting with free-to-play games, including its recently released collectible-card game Hearthstone and the upcoming multiplayer online arena battler Heroes of the Storm. Analysts expect those games to generate around $200 million in revenue this year.
With World of Warcraft generating plenty of cash and some other games starting to grow and make money, Blizzard is still quiet about its next MMO. In May 2013, the publisher dismantled its upcoming game Titan and sent much of the team working on the game to other projects. Titan was Blizzard’s followup to World of Warcraft, but it has rebooted production and now it won’t debut until 2016 at the earliest.