Reminder: Big numbers are big

Minecraft has sold over 100 million copies. In 2016, the average rate of new sales was 53,000 per day. That’s… pretty big. Here is part of the infographic Mojang posted:


Holy mobile revolution, Batman!

The above infographic really surprised me though, for several reasons. As I pointed out in January of last year, the Minecraft stats we had circa June 2014 were the following:

  • PC/Mac: 15 Million
  • 360: 12 Million
  • PS3: 3 Million
  • iOS/Android (Pocket Edition): 16.5 Million

But look at the infographic again. Actual PC sales of Minecraft is just a small fraction of total sales, which was the trend we saw already happening in 2014. If you average the PC sales together, you only get about 23% of total. Which, if you math it out, means PC/MAC sales have been ~9,577,735 in the last two years (106,859,714 * 0.23 – 15,000,000). Or roughly 13,120 sales per day on PC.

The reason I bring this up is due to a recent post by SynCaine. His thesis is:

The bigger point here though, as it relates to MMOs, is that this is a very important date point related to the “Everyone who wanted to play WoW already has it” talking point and how it relates to the failures of the game from WotLK and beyond. Minecraft has a much larger user base than WoW, yet it’s still attracting a horde of new players daily, so why do some people think WoW is a special snowflake and had/has tapped out the market?

In other words, “how can market saturation exist if Minecraft is still doing so well?”

Wilhelm deconstructs the argument pretty thoroughly already, but I wanted to spend a moment, again, to remind people about big numbers. Specifically, the extremely likely chance that WoW is selling more copies per day than Minecraft is on PC. Yes, even now, in the nadir of Warlords.

The two questions you need to ask yourself are 1) what is WoW’s current population, and 2) what is its churn rate (i.e. percent of players that cycle out per month). Historically, the churn rate of WoW was 5%. Is it higher now? Probably. So, to throw out two numbers, let’s assume that WoW is holding steady at 5.5 million subs at a 10% churn rate. That means WoW needs to sell 18,333 new subscriptions a day, just to keep pace.

WoW is losing subscribers these days, of course. Since the numbers are no longer being reported, we may never know how many. But let’s do some sanity checks. The last reported sub number was 5.5 million in September 2015. As already noted, maintaining that number would require 18,333 new subs a day. But WoW probably isn’t maintaining anything – it’s losing customers. Rather than be arbitrary, let’s assume it’s “only” getting something like, oh, 13,120/day.

18,333 – 13,120 = 5,213 * 30 * 9 = 1,407,510

Do you believe WoW is currently at ~4.1 million subs or less? If not, hey, it’s still selling more boxes daily than Minecraft on PC.

In the comments to his post, SynCaine pointed out that since WoW is in decline, we can’t actually say that 100% of the churn are new players coming in. Er… okay. That’s not how churn (or reality) works, but let’s roll with that. What is the population at then? The same 4 million-some? Zero new players and 1.4 million vets burning out in the last 9 months? That’s an average of 156,390 per month, which equals a churn rate between 2.8-3.8%. Meaning this dead period of Warlords retains players better than vanilla or TBC ever did.

Granted, the reality is probably somewhere inbetween there. Still, big numbers are big.

Posted on June 6, 2016, in Commentary, WoW and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. It is very strange that you still think, despite the massive changes in how WoW is doing today vs back then, that very old statistics (2007, aka: pre-WotLK times) like 5% churn are still occurring at a similar rate. So yes, its extremely likely that WoW isn’t bringing in totally fresh, never-played-WoW-ever-before players as fast today as it was back when WoW was growing and some analyst (not Blizzard) gave the 5% estimate. And sure, not every single Minecraft sale today is to someone who has never owned it, but one rate is a hell of a lot closer to new than the other.

    Plus was that analyst’s 5% (hopefully educated) estimate gross churn or net churn? Gameasutra added “Churn rate refers to the number of subscribers who leave the service during the month”, which says nothing about who is coming in (returning players or fresh).

    So, ancient and non-applicable guestimation numbers aside, it still doesn’t mean WoW is ‘retaining’ people better than it was pre-WotLK. Far more likely, it just shows that its cycling its massive (30m+, 50m+?) pool of former players along with keeping the ‘I never unsub because I can’t be bothered/forgot I’m subbed” core, plus whatever trickle of actually new players happens to stumble in (it would be awesome to see the number of non-bot free trial players they get monthly right now, as I’d bet its shockingly low).

    Both new incoming players and the cycle rate are slowing down, hence the drop in subs, but Blizzard could do nothing with WoW (oh wait…) for a year or more and thanks to its past success, get a good chunk of people to come back and check it out. That’s neat, but really doesn’t say anything about the current quality of the game in a positive way.


    • I suppose, from an academic standpoint, the distinction between a new and returning player is important. I mean, it’s not technically a new box sale like I mentioned, yes. At the same time, comparing a one-time purchase to a recurring subscription is a bit, well, one-sided to begin with. And arguably, everyone who is subscribed to a game “buys” it again each month. This would be on top of an expansion box purchase when relevant.

      So while things could “just” be 30m-50m people cycling through (there were 100m lifetime accounts circa 2014), that is still worlds more successful than any other MMO ever or since.


      • Agree, but my point with using Minecraft as the example in my post was that the market size isn’t the 12m or so ‘cap’ that some people believe WoW hit. Had WoW continued to improve, it would have hit 13m and beyond, similar to how Minecraft keeps selling boxes today or LoL keeps growing years after release.

        When WoW was good, it was growing. When WoW got worse, it stopped. It’s as simple as that ultimately.


      • I think I’m going to agree with general reality here that market saturation is a thing that exists. How big of a market do you believe there is for a subscription-based fantasy themepark MMO? back in the day showed a peak of 22.5 million subs of all genres around 2011. Most of which was WoW, of course. And, like I have always pointed out, churn exists. 13m at 5% churn is 650,000 new subs a month, just to stay steady.

        I mean, okay, you are free to believe whatever you want. But at a certain point, the numbers just get unwieldy. Netflix gained ~20 million US subscribers between 2012 and 2015, for example. You think they’ll get to 80 million in the US in another 3 years? Or, hell, another 20 million US subscribers in the same timeframe? At some point there are no more easy expansion routes, and you are forced to go to new markets for higher growth.


  2. My takeaway from this infographic is “Blizzard should release WoW on consoles”.


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