[WoW] In which, surprisingly, subs don’t drop

Actiblizzard announced yesterday that subscriptions for WoW have remained stable over the last quarter (ie. Dec 2011-March 2012).

So despite the current Cataclysm content being widely considered by players to be poor in comparison to previous expansions, and there having been no new content added since last November (patch 4.3), players are hanging in there. That’s not what I would have expected to see. Even allowing for the annual pass tying players in for a year, only a proportion of the player base would have taken that offer up. All you can assume is that Blizzard will feel that whatever they are currently doing with WoW is working, or at least not failing. These long content gaps towards the end of WoW expansions – players clearly are cool with that.

Or not. (I’d disagree that Cataclysm is in its dog days now, I think it has been since shortly after the last patch. But clearly 10.2 mil subscribers disagree Winking smile ). If you play WoW at the moment, are you surprised to see sub numbers stable over the last few months?

Now, pre-orders for Diablo 3 setting some kind of new record for Blizzard doesn’t surprise me, by comparison.

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38 thoughts on “[WoW] In which, surprisingly, subs don’t drop

  1. I am honestly a bit surprised to see it keep stable. Then again, WOW does have a really easy and fun starting zone which I can see drawing in people to play. I re-rolled a warrior on a new server and it was really a blast to play compared to say a Sith Warrior in TOR. That could actually convince more people to subscribe then say a Weekend trial for TOR

  2. If they are dropping in NA and EU while going up in Asia (the counting of which involves a much more forgiving metric), then the overall number would stay at 10,2 million.

    Alternatively 400k WoW tourists have seen all they wanted to of TOR.

    • I don’t doubt people drifting off TOR, but I do doubt 400k of them going back to WoW if they were bored enough to leave and there hasn’t been any new content in the meantime.

      I suppose you have to consider that a lot of WoW tourists will keep their WoW sub active even if they’re not playing.

      • There are probably a lot of general Star Wars gamers, players who enjoyed KOTOR and the other Star Wars single player games, and ex-Galaxies players who tried the game out and decided it wasn’t for them that can be counted in that 400K.

  3. The general theory going around is that the revised Scroll of Resurrection (AKA free 80s for everyone) has been a big success.

    What it suggests to me is that the people who did come back with the promotion liked the game enough to stay for a while – you can blast through the levelling content and dungeons in a fortnight of casual play.

  4. Don’t forget that Blizzard did that pre-order thingy with Diablo 3 that gave a year (that much?) subscription to WoW as a bonus. With D3 being such a drawcard, it wouldn’t surprise me if those numbers are factored in somehow and artifically inflating the sub numbers.

    If D3 is actually inflating WoW numbers, that will become apparent once the bonus subscriptions start running out.

    • Other way around. You signed up for a year of subscribing to WoW and got Diablo 3 as a bonus.

    • One thing to bear in mind is that Blizzard are not going to let people spend their battle.net account money (ie. earnings from the D3 AH if you decide not to cash out) on WoW subscription time. Cos that would really have encouraged D3 players to pad out WoW subscriptions.

    • There’s about a million people with Annual passes, I think it still doesn’t explain the other 9M. I’ve also read they’re not pushing WoW in China too much at the moment (from one of the new bloggers – I’m sorry I forgot who it was), maybe it’s end-of-expansion time there too? (I’m not sure which patch are they on.)

      • China is now all caught up with the rest of the world. They’re on 4.3, and have been since December.

  5. I’m actually quite surprised, because since I’ve been accumulating mats for a chopper, there are days when I think WoW has 2 million subs and 8 million gold farmers.

    I know of people –guild members and others– who have moved on to other things and haven’t logged in ages, but still have an active account. I want to see more details in their numbers: where the subs are located, how active they are, and what times they are active. My gut tells me that the subs are mainly in Asia, and that the subs in the Americas and Europe are heavily underused right now.

  6. It’s worth considering the idea that:

    A)People talking about WoW on the net tend to be more dismissive of it than it’s playerbase would suggest (Whassup, RPS) and perhaps the player sub loss is more a normalisation after the initial boost from a new expansion than The King Has Lost His Crown.

    B)Making a strong initial game and working outwards from there gives your game more sustainability than other approaches.

  7. I surely don’t understand why people aren’t leaving in droves. Or rather, I think they’re not leaving in droves because so many of them are now already burning through MoP beta content in the largest beta of all times.

    Scroll of Resurrection has been a huge hit, though I also can’t understand that particular logic. A free 80 would have been zero temptation for me as I already find leveling so mindlessly trivial and easy.

    I think for most people, WoW is a sense of familiarity. It’s not a game, it’s a hobby, and WoW is the comfort zone. I miss my WoW friends, sometimes I wish I hung out with them again, but it’s not enough to lure me back. Probably different for other people. The WoW twitterati that I follow are either playing the beta or working on achievements and mounts, now that the account-wide stuff has been making the rounds.

    • I can see the SoR logic as I have friends who returned due to the lure of free Cataclysm and free level 80 — if they hadn’t resubbed for Cata that’s a very appealing way to get back into the game, I also suspect a lot of second accounts took advantage of the free 80; I don’t really get why you’d need a second account in WoW unless you are obsessed with alting but people clearly do it.

      I miss my WoW friends but will get to chat with them on battle.net when D3 launches. Plus they used to get me to tank raids even when I kept saying I was really a dps, so it was always a friendship-based-on-being-useful.

      I suppose I wonder whether they just have this massive percentage of core players who will always be there or whether it’s about churn and appealing SoR offers attracting enough returners to balance out the people who got bored. I guess the message for Blizzard is don’t sweat to get new content out, it’s not what keeps people playing.

      In some ways it’d be better for them if there wasn’t a huge rush at the start of every expansion and then a dip but instead they could keep the churn constant over the life of the game (well, I imagine they’d prefer growth to churn but whatever).

      • If –and this is a big if– it’s the free goodies that keep people playing WoW, then those free goodies will run out when D3 drops. The Beta is over, and the SoR has probably run its course. D3 is the last lure, and once that drops, people won’t need to stay subbed.

        However, this whole amount of speculation centers on people coming back to WoW. None of this mental exercise is that there are new players to WoW, which is somewhat significant. The cost of admission to WoW to get all the way to Cata is pretty steep –150% of the cost of TOR– and that can be a deterrent to a lot of new players. Did the earnings call trumpet new WoW players at all? I’d assume that Activision/Blizz would be more than happy to announce that if that were the case.

      • Could be, but by then people might have built more social connections.

        I think Blizzard will be willing to give away just about anything EXCEPT for free gametime. It’s the subscriptions they are after, so more offers involving high level character, free transfers, mounts etc might well be on the cards in future. And they haven’t given away SC2 yet, maybe that will be next year’s freebie.

      • True, people will have built connections in the game, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that people will then pay $15 a pop once they got their D3. The modern gamer is more transient than I ever was.

        I’ve been actually on in the evenings lately, which is a rare event for me, and I find that my servers at least are pretty well dead even in prime time raiding times. In fact, I think there are more people active overnight than in the evenings, although that may just be an artifact of my servers.

      • I wonder how they will continue to handle annual pass subscribers once D3 has been issued. You know, they could deny access to play D3 if the annual sub isn’t upheld. That is to be seen, but somehow I don’t think D3 will remain “free”. If the sub lapses, they will probably tell you to buy D3.

    • Or rather, I think they’re not leaving in droves because so many of them are now already burning through MoP beta content in the largest beta of all times.

      I wondered about that, but figured they can’t be letting a significant number of people in. Are they? Looks like all the annuals plus some unknown additional number (http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/4639551/Mists_of_Pandaria%E2%84%A2_Beta_Opt-in_and_FAQ-3_20_2012).

      Nothing has ruined expansions for me more than having thousands who already know exactly where the goodies are. It’s like playing Game 2 of Adventure. For the experienced it’s a speed run, not a real game.

      Does make me wonder who typically drops. Seems casual players would finally be getting close to end game content. Are the hard cores staying b/c of beta, and the casual non-end gamers already moved on?

  8. The long fallow time at the end of an expansion is a great time to level alts. And leveling alts is one thing Cataclysm supports rather well. I suspect there is a lot of this going on now; low level craft leveling mats seem to be selling well.

      • I did, and now I’m leveling even more — even classes I already have, on other servers. I admit this isn’t for everyone.

      • So mind if I ask what’s the appeal? Is the levelling on other servers because of wanting to play with a different group of people?

        I’m just curious because it’s not something I’d imagine doing myself.

      • Playing with friends on other servers is part of it.

        Seeing the new 1-60 content is also nice (since you can only see a fraction of it while you level a single character.)

  9. I have three servers full of characters, mainly because I enjoy playing WoW, but I don’t like end game content. Raiding, Arena, max level Battlegrounds, these are more like work than play. Once one of my characters hits 85, they gear up a bit, but once the content gets too serious I set them aside and pick up another alt to work up through the levels.

    I don’t play other MMOs because I don’t really have a reason to. WoW is my evening hangout; my local bar, pool hall, coffee shop. I like the atmosphere here, so I have no real incentive to go look for something better somewhere else.

  10. Total subscriptions is such a misleadin’ number. It sounds like it tells us sumthin’, but we don’t really know if more subscribers is stickin’ aroun’ than in previous quarters, or if losses is actually increasin’ but is masked by the SoR numbers. We don’t know if Asia be doin’ good or bad (was it last quarter they told us what most of the losses was in Asia, or the one before? I forgets.). We don’t know if folks what leaves is proportionately more long-timers, or more short-timers. We really don’ know butkus.

    Is why I offers no explanations, an’ no predictions. I know I’s havin’ a blast, runnin’ alts through LFR an’ fillin’ out the gaps in me team an’ helpin’ some folks what’s never raided see old content an’ puttin’ tagethers mog outfits, but that’s just me. Extrapolatifyin’ that ta 10 million other buggers would be a waste of time.

    • Maybe not.

      I’ve had arguments with you in the past, Ratshag, but I think your mentioning of transmogrification is putting the dogs on the scent. It’s become wildly popular in a very short period of time, and it essentially makes all past content relevant again; this might significantly cushion the disappointment of the lowest amount of endgame content we’ve ever seen in an expansion.

      The other things mentioned in the thread are perfectly valid and I agree it would be close to blind guesswork trying to figure out how the subscriptions have stabilised, but I think transmogrification is a large contributor to this success.

      • If so, it’s just a temporary fix until people get the gear they need. I wonder how many short term fixes Blizz can keep rolling out before the well runs dry.

  11. Yes. It is all basically down to SoR.

    As a long established Guild who don’t kick retired players, we’ve had 10+ people return with SoR. So yes. It’s not the content. Cataclysm is still bad. Blizzard have pulled a couple of masterstrokes with SoR and Annual Subscription.

    They really need to strike fast with MoP, and get the bad smell of Cata out of the way.

  12. I think it’s the “this town sucks, no jobs and nothing to do, but the thought of moving and uprooting the kids, leaving friends and family, and having to learn a new community sucks worse” syndrome.

    I stopped logging in for almost 8 weeks. Did not unsub for that reason. Missed some friends. Now I’m back happily questing, collecting pets, and hunting rares in Northrend on my über raiding toon while I chat.

    Strangely, it was the confirmation that achievements would be account bound that helped get me interested in playing casually until Mists. The thought that each toon contributes gives me way more options, and feels less like I’m not progressing if I play an alt, and a break from my main.

    Well, that and to finish off school of hard knocks. Big meta achievement and new shiny mount definitely shinies up the game.

    Then I started noticing some other big achievements I was close on and boom, staying up until 2am again.

    I think that type of play rotation is common in long term players. I’ve played for 4 years, and have never unsubbed despite longish breaks. And coming back has always been more fun than any new game I’ve tried.

  13. I’m not surprised that subs have been stable. Dungeon, BG and LFR queues have all been stable and relatively quick over the last few months. Prices on high-end crafting mats have been trending down. All those support the idea that people are still actively playing Cata rather than just paying for a subscription they don’t use.

  14. I feel as though I’m in the minority when I admit that I don’t pay attention to the WoW subscription numbers. I don’t play the game in such a way that really calls for me to care. So long as the server I’m on is up and running, I can’t find anything to worry about.
    Having said that, I can see why some people would stop playing after they’ve finished the content patch. For many people, once they’ve completed the content and finished up the raids in the patch, there’s very little reason to continue. I respect that. For others, once they’ve finished the content, they’ll roll and alt or achievement hunt or farm raw materials until they’re blue in the face (or red, for draenei). I respect that, too.
    People are going to come and go. I suspect that, despite a fall from 12 million to 10.2, WoW isn’t on some crazy death spiral. Like any economy, it will be cyclical. There will be peaks and valleys. The important part for them is to capitalize heavily on the peaks (releasing new pet store pets, for example) and weather the valleys (by focusing more on backend stuff like mechanics and systems)

  15. I know of at least three people, counting myself, who (in retrospect foolishly) bought the year long subscription to WoW. And haven’t played it since. And won’t be back. Unless we’re the only three people who made that mistake, some percent of their stable numbers are misleading.

  16. I would have guess a slight decline instead of stable but not too surprised.

    SOR & AP were great business ideas.

    I really like the vibe from MoP. All of the Cataclysm rhetoric about seeing if they can appease the forum warriors enough to make a million customers unsubscribe. And they could really fail, but if scenarios finesse the Holy Trinity, that could be game changing, at least for DPS.

    So if you know you are going to play MoP, I just don’t see it being worth it to unsubscribe for a couple of months.

  17. I’m one of the players who returned. I got resurrected and hooked once again. Albeit in a very very light mode compared to pre-cata (when I last played).
    I’m just having fun in game, trying out things i’d never have done when I was raiding. Doing holiday achieves, pvp, grinding for archaeology pets. Never thought I’d have fun playing wow without having a raiding purpose.

  18. I admit I’m in the boat that thinks-especially given the amount of low-pop servers in the US/EU, that Asia gained and I remember that the game is out in Portuguese as well, now? I’m sure that put a few more subs on the map. So the subs are stable, and I suppose 10m is 10m where ever they are located, but I also kinda remember subs are handled differently in China. I do think that a good million or so from the US/EU ended up as subs in China/South America. But, well, they’re looking at the fact they’re stable, I imagine, and not where the subs are coming from, but I definitely think that there is stuff not being said here, naturally.

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