World of Warcraft Waved Goodbye to 1.3 Million Subscribers Last Quarter

Paul Lilly

WoW, where have all the subscribers gone?

World of Warcraft's subscriber-base is on the decline. That's hardly shocking for a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that was launched over 9 years ago. But this isn't just any online game, it's the world's largest subscription-based MMORPG and it lost 1.3 million players in the last three months. Who knows where they went, but more importantly, what can Activision Blizzard do to retain its remaining 8.3 million subscribers?

That's a question the game developer has to figure out. In the meantime, Activision Blizzard is busy celebrating a better-than-expected quarter to kick off 2013. For the quarter ended March 31, 2013, the company reported net revenues of $1.32 billion, up from $1.17 billion in the same quarter a year ago. On a non-GAAP basis, net revenues totaled $804 million, up from $587 last year.

"Our first-quarter performance was driven by continued consumer interest in all of our key franchises. Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm was the No. 1 PC game for the quarter. Additionally, during the quarter, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft remained the No. 1 subscription-based MMORPG in the world with more than eight million subscribers, although the game saw declines of approximately 1.3 million subscribers, mainly from the East, but in the West as well," Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, said in a statement (PDF).

Yes, WoW is still a cash cow, and yes, it's still the world's leading subscription MMORPG, but the recent decline in subscribers did "raise concerns, as do continued challenges in the global economy," Kotick added.

Where things get tricky for Activision Blizzard is that WoW operates on a somewhat dated business model. There are many free-to-play online games these days, and even though some non-subscription MMROPGs boast more players, Activision Blizzard is squeezing more money out of its WoW players than other titles. At some point, however, the WoW ride will come to end, and then what?

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