WoW Back to 10 Million Subs

Christmas came a little early at Irvine, as reported by MMO-Champ:

This afternoon Blizzard released the subscribers count as of November 13, 2014. This is up 2.6 million from the Q3 2014 call that listed WoW at 7.4 million subscribers.

Warlords of Draenor has sold over 3.3 million copies so far, up from 1.5 million pre-ordered in August.

There is an interactive graph on MMO-Champ, but for posterity’s sake here it is again:

That Bell Curve is looking more like an Arby's logo.

That Bell Curve might end up an Arby’s logo.

There is already a lot of prognostication and pontification out there as to what this means for WoW, what Blizzard is doing correct with Warlords (that presumably it did incorrect with Pandaria/Cataclysm), and so on. The only thing I know for sure is that everyone commenting is just firing blindly into the dark – not even Blizzard expected this level of engagement, as the server issues attest.

That being said, I just want to point out a few things that might get lost in the weeks and months ahead.

1) This is the largest expansion jump in the game.

Just look at that graph: 2.6 million people coming back is unprecedented. The next closest was the 900k bump coming into Pandaria. Prior to that, the norm was 500k. Of course, the total population had been the lowest it had ever been since vanilla WoW, but still, this clot of players would be enough to make any other MMO the #2 in the industry.

2) The Warlords endgame doesn’t even exist yet.

The first Warlords raid doesn’t unlock until December 2nd, two weeks from now. I’m pointing this out because all the people talking about a return to “old-school WoW” can only really be talking about story-wise or quest-wise. Or I suppose dungeon-wise, but I strongly doubt that.

3) WoW went 13 months with zero new content.

Siege of Orgrimmar was released September 10th, 2013. The pre-expansion patch 6.0.2 was released October 14th, 2014. You can view historical information in this Reddit thread, but the bottom line is that the next closest content drought was ~9 months at the end of Cataclysm. Technically there was a year inbetween Icecrown and Cataclysm’s release, but an extra raid was released in the middle of that. For similar reasons, I don’t count the gap between Black Temple and Sunwell back in TBC given the release of ZA (etc).

Guys, do you understand how impossibly stupid this is? Any other MMO that up and went dark for an entire year would be declared abandonware. Instead, WoW went from 7.6 million subs in Sept 2013 to 6.8 million at the lowest, then back to 7.4 million in anticipation of patch 6.0.2. And, as you know, it’s sitting at 10 million right now.

There is no clearer evidence demonstrating that WoW is more platform than game than this. Blizzard got a whole year of subscription payments and gave back nothing until now. It boggles the mind.

4) The 10 million figure doesn’t include China.

From the official press release:

The expansion launched today (November 20 local time) in South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. […]

*More than 10 million subscribers as of November 13, 2014.

Given how “subscriptions” work over there, I suppose it’s possible for some “preorder” shenanigans or whatever to have influenced the final count (e.g. they’re already being counted). No doubt that Blizzard will be ready to fire off another press release about 11 million subs if the China/SK bump ends up being significant. I’m just saying it could be significant.


As for why Warlords is bringing everyone back, your guess is as good as mine.

You can’t really ascribe it entirely to the MMO Tourist/Locust phenomenon, simply because there’s too many people. There were 10 million subs at the start of Pandaria, so perhaps this can be expected to be the normal plateau, with ~2.5 million people cycling in and out as new expansions are released. Maybe Warlords has simply came out at an auspicious time, just as the darling MMOs from the last year begin their slow descent into obscurity. Or was it the revamped character models? Or the instant level 90, rescuing lapsed veterans from the horror of Cataclsym leveling? Or perhaps even the server merges connected realms change revitalized the community?

The safe (and lame) answer is most likely “some combination of all the above.”

I myself plan on coming back for the token month or so, starting whenever Blizzard decides to discount the expansion. And why would I do this? Well… the core game never stopped being fun for me – I simply ran out of things I wanted to do. As mentioned before, I have little interest in dedicating more mindspace learning to dance in raids, so there is ever a natural expiration date to my return. But compared to the token efforts I make trying out these other F2P (or soon to be) MMOs? I do miss that sweet, sweet feeling of character progression in a game that feels big enough to matter. And for me, that has always been WoW. And likely only ever will be.

Of course, I am kinda nervous about the culture shock of going back to tab-targeting and lack of Shift-running and/or double-jumping.

Posted on November 20, 2014, in WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. All this buzz is really tempting me to come back. I think I’ll follow your lead though and wait for a discount on Warlords.


  2. I also don’t think that there is a single element making this expansion “special”.
    Even counting the addition of the garrison (which is very well done), the new areas (good graphics), the questing (overall better than MoP, less linear) and the dungeons (old-school), it’s probably more a matter of good timing and expectations.

    All the “new and revolutionary” MMOs of the year more or less crashed quite hard (starting from Wildstar), so it could simply be that an old and established game does more to meet the player expectations. It would match what you read around: people expect “more of the same” from WoW, and Blizzard delivers on this point with incremental improvements on an established model. When talking about new MMOs nobody has a clear idea of what he wants, people ask for ultra-niche and are then shocked when the game turns out to be…. ultra-niche.
    Whatever the case I’m having fun in WoD even when wiping in heroic dungeons :), and this is all that matters to me.


    • How do the dungeons compare to, say, Cataclysm (in terms of difficulty)? I haven’t really followed that side to things.


      • It’s hard to answer. When you jump in an heroic with the entire group 15 ilvl below the recommended minimum, it’s obvious that it’ll not be steamroll mode. A premade group also has the “handicap” of not having the random party buff (+5% to anything for each random party member, capped at +15%). I got my ass kicked pretty hard a few times while gearing up, and even if now I’m sitting 10 ilvls above the recommended, some trash packs are still much safer with a good dose of CC. Our warlock leader systematically soulstones me (the tank), as I tend to die on bosses, sometimes out of stupidity (sit in the fire) sometimes for pure damage intake.
        I’m not sure I like the level design: when I say old-school, I not only refer to the boss/trash balance (which was way off on some of the newest instances), but also to the cramped corridors which mess up your camera positioning. Half of my wipes in Grimrail Depot were due to camera messups which ended up with me completely unable to see what was going on.
        Of course all this is temporary, to give you an idea, the requested ilvl for queuing in heroics is 610, I went in the first time at 597 (and exactly 0 tank pieces), now I’m at 620 with 5/6 tank pieces and life is much better (and longer). Since this is gearing up mode, all my stuff is unenchanted. After the first raid tier we’ll be sitting at ilvl 660 with better optimized gear, so I expect the heroics to become more or less zerg.
        Of course if you’re looking for a challenge you can go for challenge modes, those “self-nerf” very little over the expansion as the gear is rescaled to 630. Our only test there saw two wipes on the second pack of trash and stopping after it was clear that we would not pass the first boss, since we (mostly me) were taking way too much damage too fast. Again, optimized gear will help, but not even remotely as much as in heroics.


  3. What brought me back was the reduction in spells. Classes feel more streamlined now, macros and addons are not as mandatory anymore.


  4. I bounced off cataclysm, and the marketing for MOP did not do much to make me interested so I skipped it. GW2 was also releasing around the same time and seemed to offer up a lot of stuff that WoW was failing at.


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