Blizzard Entertainment  released a huge patch on Tuesday for its hit game World of Warcraft, as part of an effort to turn around a significant drop in subscribers. As we reported earlier this month, player numbers dropped from 11.1 million to 10.3 million in the third quarter of 2011, and parent company Activision Blizzard must surely now be looking over its shoulder at the upcoming big budget rival Star Wars: The Old Republic.

A fourth expansion to World of Warcraft, entitled Mists of Pandaria, was unveiled at Blizzcon in October, and marked the start of a push to reverse the declining user base of the hit massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). This patch is the latest move in a public relations drive that has also seen a new series of TV ads, starring kung-fu legend Chuck Norris, debuting on prime-time TV. Mike Morhaime, head of Blizzard, said during the last earnings call that Blizzard would make bigger efforts to keep the subscriber base high, and these latest efforts all seem to be part of that promise.

In addition to pressure from within, World of Warcraft could potentially lose more subscribers after Dec. 20 when Electronic Arts’ massively multiplayer online game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, launches. Never one to mince his words, Activision Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick dismissed this thought, casting doubts on whether the publisher EA will even turn a profit on its upcoming game.

“Lucas is going to be the principal beneficiary of the success of Star Wars,” Kotick told Reuters, referring to Star Wars creator George Lucas, who has licensing rights to the game. “We’ve been in business with Lucas for a long time, and the economics will always accrue to the benefit of Lucas, so I don’t really understand how the economics work for Electronic Arts.”

The contents of World of Warcraft patch 4.3, which releases today, and is available to all players, is as follows:

  • Raid Finder – Players can quickly and easily form a raid for a specifically tuned version of the Dragon Soul raid; works much like the Dungeon Finder feature
  • Dragon Soul – The most epic 10- and 25-person raid encounter Blizzard has ever designed
  • Transmogrification – Customize the appearance of your weapons and armor
  • Three new 5-person dungeons – Continue the storyline of Thrall and Deathwing as players embark on all-new adventures in End Time, Well of Eternity, and Hour of Twilight
  • Void Storage – Players of all levels can now open up 80 slots of long-term storage space
  • Fangs of the Father – Legendary rogue quest line
  • The all-new Darkmoon Faire – Darkmoon Faire has been completely redesigned and offers all-new games and rewards for players to experience

You can also check out this video, which gives provides a somewhat more dramatic interpretation of the changes: