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Players may be falling out of love with World of Warcraft: the world’s most subscribed massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) has lost one million subscribers during the last quarter. Before this recent drop, it lost two million subscribers in one year. While the game is still dominating its main competitor, it is losing ground in a changing field.
World of Warcraft (WoW), the fourth game in Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft franchise, was released in 2004 and has had expansions released every few years since. Subscribers pay $14.95 per month to enter the world of Azeroth and control customized avatars through quests, battles with monsters or users from the other faction. Players can choose their faction, Alliance or Horde, and can join guilds and communicate with other members of the faction.
At its peak in October 2010, WoW has 12 million subscribers. Forbes reports that the game lost two million subscribers during the course of one year, leaving 10.2 million at the end of the first quarter of this year. In the second quarter, which ended June 30th, WoW lost another million subscribers, leaving 9.1 million still playing. Following the release of the numbers, the Los Angeles Times reports that Activision, the parent company of Blizzard Entertainment, saw their shares drop 5.2% to $11.16. The stock ended up closing at $11.77, only five cents below where it had started. WoW isn’t Activision’s only major game; Forbes argues that Activision’s strongest franchise is Call of Duty, so WoW’s subscriber drop may not ruin Activision’s stock.
WoW subscribers are known as a dedicated bunch; you may have seen South Park’s parody of it, showing the boys camping out in Cartman’s basement in order to play for weeks non-stop. Cartman even used a bedpan to avoid leaving his computer. My now-husband spent the majority of his waking hours playing WoWabout six years ago. I even took the game up briefly because it seemed like the only way I’d get to talk to him since he didn’t make time for much else. While he has gotten his WoW use under control, he is playing it as I type this, as he has been for the last few hours. If you join a guild and plan a raid, you can expect to spend a few hours fighting for weapons and gear. If users love the game enough to play for hours at a time, what is making them cancel their subscriptions in droves?
It certainly isn’t other paid MMO games. WoW’s main competitor, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) hasn’t seen levels of success that the Blizzard game has. Forbes says that WoW is “crushing” SWTOR. However, there are free options that may be luring users away. Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, notes that the number of MMO players hasn’t decreased: “There are still 20 to 25 million people who will play these games. It’s just not a growth industry.”
It seems that those millions of people are playing games that don’t require a paid subscription. “The availability of free multiplayer online games is definitely cannibalizing subscription games,” said Pachter. Forbes interviewed Brian Sozzi, Chief Equities Analyst at Nothing But Gold Productions, back in May as users were canceling their subscriptions, unbeknownst to the public. He noted that both WoW and SWTOR had lost their “wow-factor.”
WoW’s age and popularity may be playing against it: “… After a while, they get stale. You know how to navigate the challenges, you know how to game the system. Are you willing to continue to pay to be in that experience? … I think after a while it gets old.” He also notes that our attention spans are getting shorter, so many people don’t want to spend hours in front of a computer to play these MMOs. Facebook games are gaining in popularity since they are quick and can be played on mobile devices.
While numbers are down at the moment, they could recover a few fans in the coming months. Kotaku notes that numbers could go back up once the latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, comes out later this year. Until then, we’ll have to see if WoW can retain the subscribers they currently have, or if there will be another drop.