Closer Look: Blizzard’s Q4 2011
When we last left our intrepid heroes in Q3 2011, WoW had lost 800,000 subscriptions and the following four salient points were made in the earnings call:
- Majority of the sub loss is occurring in the East.
- Implicitly, the difficulty of Cataclysm content was the cause of sub losses.
- Expect some (more) “aggressive” World of Warcraft marketing.
- Patches are more about recapturing the recently churned.
I suppose the holiday box sale and Annual Pass count as aggressive marketing, but let me not get ahead of myself. If you want to read along from home, Seeking Alpha will hook you up.
1. Is Bungie not working on Titan?
Eric Hirshberg from Activision Publishing buried this gem 25 paragraphs into vapid gushing of COD and Skylanders:
Looking further out, we continue to lay the foundation for our new universe from Bungie, one of the world’s best developers. Bungie continues to make incredible progress on what we expect to be a genre-defining new IP that will provide us with tremendous new opportunities and which remains one of our key strategic growth pillars for the future.
This may or may not seem a non sequitur, but I have always entertained the notion that the Bungie acquisition might have had something to do with Blizzard’s Titan development. Why?
Let’s look at the entrails. First, both Joe Staten and Rob Pardo have been playing it coy as recently as 2 years ago about Bungie working with Blizzard. But we also know that Bungie’s secret project “Destiny,” is slated as a sci-fi MMOFPS that is, quote, “WoW in space.” If you have a tinfoil hat handy, things can get even more bizarre when you consider that Ensemble Studios was working on a Halo MMO to directly compete with Blizzard… that was code-named Titan. And when Ensemble Studios was disbanded, several ex-members joined Blizzard. And now Bungie is here with a 10-year contract, making a brand new MMOFPS IP to be a “strategic growth pillar” for Activision Blizzard at the same time Blizzard is making a “casual” new-IP MMO that isn’t supposed to compete with WoW… that is code-named Titan.
Technically a lot of this is old news, and the earnings call did not reveal anything new either way. But in reading that paragraph under the Activision Publisher heading, it occurs to me that it is entirely possible that we could see two new, separate MMO properties out of Activision Blizzard even with WoW still sucking most of the oxygen out of the MMO room. In some respects, that outcome is crazier than Titan turning out to be a Blizzard-Bungie joint MMO.
2. Around 1 million Annual Passes sold… in the West.
Another initiative that has been very successful is the World of Warcraft Annual Pass. This program was announced at BlizzCon this past year. Under its terms, players who commit to being a World of Warcraft subscriber for 1 year will get a free copy of Diablo III, unique digital items in World of Warcraft, and other benefits. To date, we have signed up more than 1 million players in the West for the World of Warcraft Annual Pass.
The more I think about that number, the crazier it ends up being. While the Annual Pass appears to be non-binding (your access to D3 will simply go away), can you otherwise imagine another MMO who can count on 1,000,000 Western subscription accounts being locked in for 12 months? That would make SWTOR automatically profitable for an entire year.
3. Mists of Pandaria information out on March 19.
Some of you may have seen recent news about the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Last week, we began inviting global press to visit our office to get a hands-on look at the game. The press visit will take place next month, and our players will be able to read the latest news on the game on March 19. We’re looking forward to showcasing the game to our community and collecting more feedback as we prepare for the upcoming beta for Mists of Pandaria.
By the way, that means there is an automatic 1 million beta-testers for Mists, yeah?
4. Chuck Norris was super effective!
Neil A. Doshi – Citigroup Inc, Research Division
Mike, I was wondering if you could provide us a little more detail around the subs for World of Warcraft. What was the impact from some of your marketing efforts? And then how many subs did you add from Brazil? And if you have any comments on trend that you could share with us, that would be great.
Okay. So we were very pleased with the results of the marketing initiatives in Q4. The Chuck Norris spot was very effective. We’ve got over 29 million views of the spot on YouTube. And I think, just looking at how well the subscribership held up during our most competitive quarter ever, we’re very happy with that. Engagement of the player base is very strong. We do not break down regional. We do not provide regional breakdown of subs, but we’re off to a good start in Brazil. And I don’t have any detail on churn.
Nothing to add to that.
As reported everywhere, WoW did implicitly lose another 100,000 subs in the quarter. There have been a lot of “See? Not dying!” posts over in the MMO-Champ and WoW Insider comments, but it’s worth pointing out that A) if someone unsubbed for SWTOR, then they won’t count as “missing” until January, e.g. Q1, and B) WoW launched in Brazil this quarter, as noted above. There are several more high-profile MMO launches coming this year, and let’s not forget that everyone is stuck with Dragon Soul until Mists actually launches… which could be six months from now, or more.
In any event, sub numbers really only matter to me in the context of having objective data by which we can interpret future design philosophy, and MMO player desires by extension. If Blizzard’s reaction to losing 1.8 million subs is to make the game easier, then we can assume that they believe a hard game is why people left.
It’s crude, it’s imperfect, but it is all we really have as armchair game designers.