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My first prediction for 2013: World of Warcraft will lose 3 million subscribers.

By on December 10, 2012

At the Mobile Gaming Europe conference last week, I predicted that 2013 will be a tipping point for World of Warcraft, in a bad way. I believe that time is running out on the most successful game of all time. It’s been a good run. The game was launched in 2004. It has been a billion dollar franchise for many years. Unfortunately, I think it’s time is coming to an end.

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For many of the players still subscribing to WoW, they stay because of their friends. They pay each month to preserve the possibility that they might go raiding. An expansion like Mists of Pandaria is not about earning $40 from the sale of a box at Gamestop (of which Activision only sees half); it is about persuading a subscriber to keep subscribing for the two years between expansions. That’s over $200 of revenue, most of which does go to Activision.

That’s what is in trouble. Activision has seen users drop to below 10 million users, down from a peak of 12 million. Mists of Pandaria boosted the number of subscribers up again, but not by much. Now, I believe, enough consumers are thinking that they won’t be going back to Warcraft that the subscription is not worth it. Their friends aren’t there enough any more. They are playing Guild Wars 2 or Rift. A few of them are playing The Old Republic. More of them are playing Clash of Clans and World of Tanks and League of Legends and CSR Racing.

It’s not that the core WoW fans aren’t there. It’s that those who are not so committed don’t see the point of paying for the option of playing. They will move in.

Warcraft will lost 3 million subs in 2013, and drop below 7 million.

Do you think I’m right, or crazy? Let me know.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • http://www.facebook.com/krolldk Lars Kroll Kristensen

    I think you’re crazy, if you seriously believe that the audience for World of Warcraft is the same as for CSR racing or clash of clans :-). You might be right about WOW loosing 3 mio subs. It IS an aging game after all, and it hasn’t evolved much. In that way, WOW is kinda like a shark: They also haven’t evolved much in the past 200 mio years, because there wasn’t any reason to do so: They were, and remain, at the top of their own particular food chain.

    If WOW indeed starts hemorrhaging players in a big way in ´13 I think it’ll be because they’ll have difficulty acquiring new customers, due to their business model, not because their audience starts playing Clash of clans.

    You may have a point about WOW loosing players to guild wars 2, Rift or LOL. Maybe even WoT. But CSR Racing ? really ?

    You may also have a point in the view, that of WOWs gazillions of players, a certain percentage prefers free to play to subscription, but I think you’re wrong if you think they ALL do: I believe there is a grouping of players that rightly realize, that subscribing and paying $15 pr month is cheaper for them than playing a free to play game heavily. How big is that grouping ? Good question.

  • James Wallis

    WoW is beginning to look old and long in the tooth, without question. It’s possible that its time has come. On the other hand, what other AAA MMOs are in the pipe right now? If you want to scratch your MMO itch and you’ve still got guildies playing WoW, and there’s one or two expansions of material to catch up on, then you’re as likely to go back there as to see if Guild Wars 2 is any good and if you know anyone there.

  • http://twitter.com/carlodelallana Carlo Delallana

    League of Legends is also suspect it is such a different game from WOW. The game is highly competitive which isn’t 100% compatible with the play-styles exhibited by the average WOW player who is into questing and such.

    The 3 million players that WOW loses will likely be spread across other F2P MMORPGs, I doubt the majority of them are jumping ship to CSR Racing and Clash of Clans.

  • Eric
  • http://twitter.com/VigdisVale Vigdis Vale

    I think they would do better with a play/pay by the day option. I would certainly use it. You would always have the choice to pay for the whole month if you are going to play frequently.

  • Spenglar

    Blizzard has been dumbing down WOW since 1st expansion. Much of the real hardcore gamers left when BC was released, disgusted by the new “free epics for everyone” politic. MMORPGs have always been about “I AM BETTER THAN YOU” and giving away to newbies what hardcore players had to work really really hard to obtain is just a slap in the face not many are willing to accept. Just to name one: in the original game, to obtain a black ram mount you had to reach such an high rank status that you had to play at least 6 hours each day. I know people that did it. Then, one smart day, Blizzard made said black ran mount available to anyone by paying a ridiculous amount of gold!
    Of course, hardcore players are not the majority of the bunch. And, of course, young kids enjoy Pokemon bet battles. So, it’s obvious that the hardcore players, that made the game so popular back in the old days, left in disgust long time ago. This might have been a wise move for Activision, but without a hardcore, loyal base, no game can last forever. Wow could have been an immortal game, but questionable choices have doomed it.

  • stf

    dropping 3 millions users, why not, But my prediction is that even with 7m players left they will make money. And again, content wise they are still unbeatable. But I guess they ll drop a bit below 9m. Best run MMO out there is still WoW.

  • stevenshearing

    World of Warcraft is poorly optimized in graphics you can find proof of this with high end(i7 pc’s newest gen ivy) machines struggling to 45fps on its highest settings.
    For example my simple GTX650 can play Crysis 2 on ultra settings above 30fps on 720p, yet world of Warcraft gives me around 40fps for a mist of panda zone on 720p which world of Warcraft has basic lighting and no advance features such as normal maps etc unlike Crysis 2, realistically my fps in wow should be higher 60fps on 720p.

    Fans will tell you its a CPU intense game (the better the CPU the more fps you get) game which is total crap and here is why.
    My PC is a sandy bridge i3-2120 with GTX 650, fps on 1080p in starter panda zone is 34.
    My friend has a ivy bridge i7 with a gtx550ti, fps on 1080p in starter panda zone is about 29, but his PC is far faster then mine in CPU and about the same in GPU and yet he has less frames ?.

    The game has a poor combat system in which you just stand on a spot hitting a button every time its off cool down which is around 3secs for most class’s.

    Other mmorpgs have you blocking and moving around avoiding stuns etc ,you don’t get this in wow unless your in a end game raid how boring.

    The pvp is unbalanced compared to other mmorpgs, I believe the problem is that wow has far to many spells, basic class in has around 24 spells in wow yet in other games with similar pvp say wrath of heroes has only 5 or even games like league of legends has 5.

    There is no talent tree sense mop expansion, instead you get 1 point each 15th level which has to be spent on 1 of 3 spells given, you can not for example buy all teir 1 talents no you can only have 1, Other games give you a talent point for each level which is a far better system. So there is no customizing in wow no your a clone of the guy on your left and right.
    This makes leveling in wow boring as there is no prize for that hours work leveling.

    The game is crap.http://stevenshearingslife.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Noodlesnr

    I think 3 million might be a bit steep. As I understand only a small portion are EU and NA Servers… the rest are based on like some some pay to play system that China has where they don’t actually pay 15 bucks a month, but more on usage. I think you’ll see a drop in the EU servers and NA but since we only make up like maybe 2-3 million of that number, I don’t think the drop will be as high as 3 million. Although it will be a lot. My husband and I personally didn’t even buy mop, we stopped back in july after like 8 years of playing. But even the people who did buy it, a lot played thru maybe December? saw what there was to see and put it on hold again.

  • Doublecross

    I am definitely sure that they will drop. But I think you are wrong to assume that they are leaving because of GW2 or Rift or any other MMORPG. Why after so many years of investment would you want to start all over again in a new universe, trying to find new friends. People are worn out. WoW was unique for its time and had a lot to offer it was something completely new. No new MMORPG has this “WOW” factor anymore. Rinse and repeat. Other then that, even when dropping below 7 Million I still am not sure why you think that means its over. That is a lot of subscribers.

  • Juan

    I agree. World of warcraft should be moved to a Free-To-Play system and then many people would come back

  • Mutilate

    A loss of 3 million subs will still but them at slightly over 7 million. That’s still more than all of the games you mentioned combined, so the subscription model will continue. I think the players that started in Vanilla, BC, or Wrath (pre LFD), are quitting because the game’s make up has changed. It doesn’t feel like “home” anymore. But thee will be plenty of new players to replace them.

  • onsholo

    i hope that WoW loses subscribes,Blizzard and Activision need to take that bitch slap in the face and stob stealling our money

  • AdamC

    World of Warcraft was a great game and worth the subscription. The keyword in that sentence is WAS.I for one thought that the BC expansion was the best. Sure, it was a wee bit easier in some areas, though arguably not it’s highest selling points, but it only brought on more subscribers, which is why I stayed on for as long as I did. I was looking forward to taking on the corrupted Arthas (I played the Warcraft game plus the expansion), but nothing actually changed, and it kept on sliding down the slope of more easement for less-capable players. There wasn’t actually anymore prestige, and I didn’t think paying another thirty bucks for the long-awaited Lich King patch was worth my money or time. I came back for about two weeks when Cata came out because people were saying it’s so great now, but it oh so wasn’t. Like I said, two weeks, even after getting in a top guild with my past credentials I found that the game not only still didn’t change, not for the good at least, but was catered even more to people with an almost guarantee that no matter how much effort and hours you put into the most recent/hard raid, you’ll get the gear and whatever you consider it to be you get (bragging rights for example) from having it.

    It was a good game. Mists of Pandaria looks laughable and gives further evidence that this mmo is reaching the end of its lifespan (at least with subscriptions). I know this article is old, but if you’ve seen in ads the new raid they have for patch 5.2, I honestly thought it was an ad for that runes game, whatever it’s called. Blizzard is a great company, a producer of blockbuster games with every release, but they need to let their biggest cash cow go.

  • BlackHartz

    I loved playing WOW but the cost is too much for me as i could only get to play it at the weekends so 10 to 15 hours a week! but if the monthly charge only activated for when your online so your 30 days of play for me would go more than a month! as only 2 weekends of play would be around 24 hours for me! so in one month id only been playing for 2 days! so i wouldn’t mind paying if i got the 30 days of playing id payed for!

  • OverIt

    WoW really isn’t worth playing anymore. Most of my friends left shortly after Cata was released and came back fleetingly in MoP to see if it had improved; they decided they’d made the right decision to leave in the first place. Finally, I saw the light myself and flushed my account.

    You can’t expect people to feel ‘entertained’ repeating the same old grind with different scenery, over and over and over again while making it increasingly hard to achieve anything worthwhile. Eventually, we all wake up and realize you’ve got nothing to give them for their $15 a month.

    Like my dad always said, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you’ll never fool all of the people all of the time”.

  • OverIt

    Personally, I’m hanging out for Black Desert by PearlAbyss, which I think I read somewhere is supposed to come out for the rest of the world early 2014. WoW is so dead, it’s starting to stink.

  • Horsetamer

    You are crazy, how dare you suggest that a game the likes of “Clash of Clans” could take players away from a globally acclaimed AAA company such as Blizzard.

  • http://www.gamesbrief.com Nicholas Lovell

    That’s an ironic comment, right?

  • winter

    The great game that Wow used to be isn’t there anymore. At least from overall standpoint of getting to the thrill of things. I’m done with working (dailies) and crap just so I can raid or PvP. Yes I farmed… expansion after expansion… after expansion.. but I did it on my own time. And no it wasn’t fun but when I felt like it, I stocked up on whatever was needed. Then Blizz thought it would be a great idea to tier and convert content to currency and make it more like farm ville. (Farm today.. then come back tomorrow and get some more and make sure you do enough or you miss your X for the week or whatever). Maybe it was OK for one character but not for alts… definitely not for alts. That’s what did it for me.. That was the end for me.

  • winter

    Oh yea and the lost of 25 man raiding across the board due to raiding “advancements” over the years…. that too.. that was the end of the fun of raiding. Sure 25 mans still exist but they are far fewer in between. Blizz it was fun… but its over.

  • NorthernWhiskey

    After 7 hardcore years, I am done. I can’t do it anymore. Dailies, grinding, rinse and repeat. So much wasted time over the years. I am done. It was great while it lasted.

  • rusrs

    Dude, it’s 9 years old. What sort of graphics are you expecting?

  • stevenshearing

    A 8 year old game which has had many updates sense, they habe had the time to go back over the engine no excuses.
    Even the GPU titan drops down to 28fps on 1080p at times.

  • Kassi

    I feel exactly the same way. I started playing wow in 2007 & i loved it ! I’d play at first alone with no problem. But then found a great guild, and i noticed I only got on during my free time just to raid or talk. I quit the guild, then I found no other purpose in playing. So i quit in 2011 because paying even $15 a month got too much for me as a college student. I’d love to try it again, but I have no way to pay for it every month.
    This sucks, it was such a great game while it lasted. </3

  • Phil

    don’t forget the little guy Defiance an offshoot of the rift team making that one most don’t like the game because of chat or control options but honestly very fun to play on pc