Posted by Azuriel
It is old news by this point, but I wanted to talk about the 600k subscription drop and what that actually means in the scheme of things. To be honest, my first reaction was “I told you so!” but without an actual breakdown of those 600k accounts no one outside Blizzard really knows what kind of people left – if the unsubs were from people who never zoned into a heroic dungeon let alone a raid, for example, then difficulty obviously would have nothing to do with that. Well… maybe they never zoned in because they were too difficult, but nevermind. In any case, here are some things to keep in mind:
Point 1: The numbers are actually significant.
The reactions among a lot of blogs and forum posters seemed to be almost dismissive of the numbers. “It’s only 5% of 12 million, /yawn.” While technically true, it is pretty inaccurate. Take a look at the following graph, which is a slightly modified graph you can see at MMOData:
The first thing you should notice, of course, is the huge dip that represents when WoW was banned in China for several months. It is worth noting because it indicated there are ~5 million WoW “subs” in China alone – the ~1.75 million subs still on the blue line represents the remainder of WoW East, which includes Korea and maybe Taiwan (the “does Taiwan count as China” deal is tricky business). With that in mind, here is Michael Morhaime:
Looking at the World of Warcraft side of the business, we were pleased to see record sales following the Cataclysm launch in the United States and Europe which helps drives growth and subscribership. During the first quarter of 2011, as players have eagerly consumed the new content, we have seen subscribership return to prelaunch levels in the West. We finished the quarter with more than 11.4 million subscribers worldwide. Moving forward, our objective is to continue delivering new content to players in all regions to further energize our community.
Key words: in the West. As in, that red line in the graph that has been largely stable since the release of Wrath. Now, there is nothing in the call itself that specifically says all 600k subs were solely from the West, but if they were, the drop suddenly goes from 5% to ~12% of anyone you or I could possibly be grouping with. Which leads me to my next point.
Point 2: WoW is not dying, but that is largely irrelevant to your individual experience.
I strongly believe people understand this point on a gut level, but sometimes get caught up in “logical” arguments over the internet. So picture this: did your daily WoW routine change at all when 5 million Chinese players suddenly could not log on? Assuming you are not Chinese, probably not. Ergo, anytime someone talks about 12 million 11.4 million WoW subs, they are really only talking about ~5.15 million WoW West subs that could possibly impact them in some way – using the bigger number just makes you feel better by identifying with a larger group, as opposed to it meaning anything in-game. It should even be broke down further into NA and EU, but that level of data is sadly no longer being kept by the MMOData people. A rough extrapolation from the chart would probably be ~3 million NA subs total.
And so that is the rub. If WoW lost, say, 2000 subs… but they were all from your server, that suddenly is a (personal) disaster. You either have to fork over some cash to transfer to other servers, or probably just quit the game. I do not know how many servers there are across NA and EU, but if we assume 400 total servers and 300k subs down (it’s possible the 600k drop came from post-peak Wrath launch in China), that still equals out to be 750 accounts per server. Drop in the bucket for Mal’Ganis with its 10k+ population, but a bigger deal on Auchindoun with our maybe 4k population.
Bottom line: any drop in your region is significant. WoW does not have to be dying overall for it to die for you.
Point 3: Ignore the vapid “there are always post-expansion peaks and drop-offs” argument.
It is literally true that more people buy the game/re-sub after an expansion is released than will be still playing the game several months later. However, I have seen this argument bandied about as if the exodus between Cataclysm’s release to post-Cataclysm was par for the course. Do I really need to remind people that Blizzard did not get from 0 to 12 million 11.4 million by having a 100% oscillation? At some point over WoW’s lifespan, it retained more players than it lost. Right here we have evidence that Cataclysm failed to retain as many players than it lost in the entire West region, e.g. where Cataclysm was released. Vanilla retained more players than it lost. TBC retained more players than it lost. Even Wrath retained more players than it lost. Cataclysm, thus far, has failed to do so.
That essentially sums up what I think about that.
A transcript of the Activision Blizzard investor call is available on Seeking Alpha for free, and I suggest reading it for yourself. Among other things, it has Michael Morhaime mentioning things we are starting to see now vis-a-vis even more “premium services” for WoW. For the record, I do not care that cross-realm RealID LFD groups can be formed for $3/month or whatever it ends up being. What I will say is that it is dangerously close to crossing into the Uncanny Valley of F2P-esque cash shop design where features that would have been free now suddenly cost extra money.
Calling it now, though: tri-spec and Dance Studio will cost $3/month. On the plus side, maybe that would get them to actually finish the latter. After all, we sure as hell get new $10 companion pets pretty regularly these days.