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World of Warcraft loses 6 million users

By on July 7, 2009

To lose a million users may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose 6 million looks like carelessness.

World of Warcraft may be in imminent danger of losing its crown as the largest massively-multiplayer online role-playing game in the world, as its user numbers fall by 50%.

WoW’s Chinese servers are down, according to blogger Tobold, and have been for a month. And the Chinese market represents about six million Warcraft players.

Of course, these users are not that profitable for Activision Blizzard. Chinese rules mean that they have to operate in partnership with a local company which takes most of the revenue.

The current issue may be political. Activision Blizzard ended its relationship with former WoW operator The9 due, I believe, to EA’s 15.8% stake in The9. But it is also geopolitical: the Chinese General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) has to approve the release of “an electronic publication belonging to an overseas copyright holder”. Marbridge Consulting reports that:

“At the 2008 Annual Meeting for China Online Gaming, GAPP said that in order to protect the interests of domestic gaming enterprises, it would suspend review of all games belonging to foreign companies in the event of lawsuits or arbitration between foreign companies and Chinese companies.”

So perhaps unsurprisingly, The9 has brought four lawsuits against Blizzard in Shanghai. And the Warcraft servers stay down. I’m sure that competitors are swarming to attract former WoW players to their own MMORPGs even as we speak.

The financial impact for Activision Blizzard is likely to be small. Chinese players do not spend anywhere near as much per head as Western subscribers. But the prestige impact of no longer being the largest MMORPG in the world is likely to grate on Bobby Kotick.

Oh, and the stigma of “failing” in the Chinese market if they don’t resolve this issue quickly.

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: