The release of the World of Warcraft expansion Warlords of Draenor last October led to a serious bounce in subscriber numbers, pushing it back over the magic ten million mark for the first time in years. But it didn't last, and in fact the post-Warlords drop-off is shockingly precipitous.
Activision revealed in its first quarter financial results for 2015 that World of Warcraft has slid to 7.1 million subscribers. That's still an awful lot of people throwing money at the game every month, and WoW is in no immediate danger of losing the "biggest subscriber-based MMO in the world" title, but the figure is actually less than it had just prior to the Warlords of Draenor release. Nonetheless (and entirely unsurprisingly), Activision did its best to put a positive spin on the slide, which it described as "expected and consistent with our experience following prior expansions."
"World of Warcraft's revenue performance at constant FX has been more stable, driven by continued strong uptake on value added services, and price increases in select regions, which partially offset subscriber declines, particularly in the East," it wrote. "World of Warcraft remains the No. 1 subscription-based MMORPG in the world."
And that's the bottom-line truth of it: World of Warcraft is still a wildly successful money-printing machine. But the decline to pre-Draenor numbers is unprecedented in suddenness. The Warlords of Draenor rollout didn't go very smoothly, which may have driven returning players away at faster-than-expected pace, and Blizzard said last September that it would release World of Warcraft expansions more quickly in the future in order to combat player fatigue.
Even so, I have to think that somewhere, deep in the bowels of its Irvine offices, brows are furrowed, and plans for a post-WoW world are being considered with heightened urgency. But I wouldn't fret over Blizzard's prospects just yet, what with mobile money pit Hearthstone recently passing 30 million players. The King is dead, as they say; long live the King.