30 November 2013

WoW subscribers and Blizzard's strategy

I found this graph of WoW subscribers from launch until end of 2013, but could not track any of its sources. So here's my version of the graph, with the sources below.

The most interesting part of the graph is that Mists of Pandaria (MoP) is the first reported expansion to suffer from churn a few months before release. Blizzard's CEO says that have become much better and much faster at consuming content, and so they would leave when they're done. Have players changed, or has the game changed? Probably both.

The game has fundamentally changed, and this is a result of Blizzard's design approach of depth first and accessibility later. But as the game becomes more accessible, new content is consumed faster. Veteran players agree.

Have players changed? Probably. When WoW launched in 2004, mobile and social games did not exist. Blizzard has always targeted PC gamers. That segment was growing in the early 2000s, but has probably started shrinking in the last 3-4 years. Free-to-play PC games have also bloomed since the late 2000s, and lots of PC gamers would rather play for free than for $15 per month. WoW remains subscription-based because, according to Blizzard's CEO, it was not designed as a free to play game and would not transition to F2P. Keeping WoW subscription-based is a very conservative and obstinate stance, but Blizzard probably lost faith in F2P after the Diablo 3 real-money auction house failure.

Blizzard is conservatively milking its existing games. But I don't see the pay-to-play PC-gamer segment increasing. So Blizzard will have to adapt their game design or die.

date millions of subscribers
23-Nov-04 0 (launch)
17-Mar-05 1.5
14-Jun-05 2
21-Jul-05 3.5
9-Nov-05 4.5
19-Dec-05 5
1-Mar-06 6
11-Jan-07 8
24-Jul-07 9
22-Jan-08 10
31-Jul-08 10.9
28-Oct-08 11
23-Dec-08 11.5
11-Feb-09 11.5
7-Jul-09 6
10-Feb-10 11.5
5-Aug-10 11.5
1-Oct-10 12
4-Nov-10 12
31-Mar-11 11.4
1-Sep-11 11.1
8-Nov-11 10.3
9-Feb-12 10.2
31-Mar-12 10.2
4-Oct-12 10
31-Dec-12 9.6
31-Dec-12 9.6
31-Mar-13 8.3
30-Jun-13 7.7
30-Sep-13 7.6