SuperData and Wavering WoW Subscriptions

SuperData Research is out with their January digital sales chart, so it is time to take a look at that.

SuperData Research Top 10 – January 2020

As usual, on the PC end of the chart the top four on the list remained the same.  There was a bit of a shake up as Dungeon Fighter Online and Crossfire swapped spots, but otherwise it is the same four titles.

In fifth position a new title appeared, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, which launched mid-January and jumped onto both the PC and console lists.

CS:GO bounced up into sixth place from its ninth slot position in December.

And in seventh place we find World of Warcraft West.  That is one position higher than December, but we don’t know if that is really meaningful as the rankings do not include any values with them.  However, there was some supplemental information as part of the report from SuperData:

  • The new World of Warcraft update Visions of N’Zoth successfully turned around declining user numbers. Subscriber numbers grew 17% from December to January (not including China). However, they were still down substantially (64%) from August 2019, the month World of Warcraft Classic was released.

This is a turn around from the news we got with the August charts:

  • WoW Classic drives a huge jump in subscribers. World of Warcraft subscription revenue grew an estimated 223% in August compared to July. Despite this, total revenue was still lower than the Battle for Azeroth expansion last August.

This has led to people to interpret what is going on in a lot of way.  The most egregious hot take seems to be that J. Allen Brack was right, nobody wants WoW Classic, and it was a mistake to do it.

Unfortunately, looking in from the outside, it is hard to know what really happened or where the subs went or even what factors have been in play.  A lot of things have happened since WoW Classic launched in August, including the Blitzchung debacle, BlizzCon, and the release of the honor system in WoW Classic, which I am pretty sure killed off a lot of activity on the PvP server.

Like literally every MMO retro server plan executed before it, WoW Classic was always going to drop off after a big surge.  And given how WoW Classic was almost all Blizzard could talk about during the Q4 earnings call earlier this month, it still seems like it was a worthwhile project to somebody.  We won’t ever know what the numbers would have looked like without it.

But will it have been enough, or will the post-launch drop off let the faction within Blizzard who didn’t want WoW Classic shelve any further development down that path.  After all, they also have the Warcraft III Reforged launch as ammo to argue that nostalgia isn’t all that big of a deal.  We shall see. (Though, given the subscription dive, I suspect that WC3R might have been pushed into a premature launch in order recognize revenue on the year-old pre-orders Blizz was sitting on just to make their internal numbers/goals for January.)

It will be interesting to see what Blizzard talks about on the Q1 2020 earnings call come April.

The rest of the PC list saw World of Tanks holding on to its spot, with Roblox and DOTA 2 bringing up the final two spots.

On the Console list FIFA 20 and Call of Duty swapped spots at the top, with Dragon Ball Z: Karkarot jumping up to third there.  The perennial list member Grand Theft Auto V held on to fourth position for another month while Fortnite, which has disappeared from the PC ranks, held on to seventh spot.  But, as we have seen in the SuperData annual reports, the console pie is smaller overall.  It is a smaller pond in which Fortnite remains a big fish.

On the Mobile end of the chart, the Chinese behemoth Honour of Kings returned to the top spot, as Clash of Clans, last months chart topper, fell back to fourth.  Candy Crush Saga grabbed third place, while Pokemon Go dropped off the list completely for January.  We will have to see if the new battle mode and events revive its fortunes on the February chart.

Now is the point when we compare the SuperData chart with the January numbers from NPD.  As always, NPD is US only, combines PC and console sales, and doesn’t always include digital sales.

  1. Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
  2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019
  3. Madden NFL 20
  4. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  5. Grand Theft Auto V
  6. NBA 2K20
  7. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*
  8. Mario Kart 8*
  9. Ring Fit Adventure
  10. Red Dead Redemption II

* Digital sales not included

As I have said before, console titles are much more heavily weighted on this list, as they still depend far more on the retail channel, which SuperData does not include.

With that, Dragon Ball Z: Karkarot tops the list, the hot new property on both PC and consoles.  Compared to the SuperData chart, FIFA 20 doesn’t make the cut, but its market isn’t in the US.  And, as often happens, we see a couple more titles for the Nintendo Switch, which seems to rely more heavily on retail than other consoles.  You cannot buy Ring Fit Adventure on digital in any case, as it includes a controller.

And so it goes for another month.  Below are the additional notes from the SuperData Research report:

  • Growing digital games revenue topped out at $9.4B in January 2020, up 3% year-over-year. Mobile earnings rose 13% compared to 2019 levels, offsetting lower PC and console revenue. Console spending was down a steep 42% in the free-to-play segment (due to lower Fortnite revenue) and down 19% in the premium space. January 2020 was a slow period for new console releases compared to January 2019, which saw the launches of Kingdom Hearts 3 and the Resident Evil 2 remake.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot sold 1.6M digital units, a new record for the franchise. In contrast to recent Dragon Ball titles, which were multiplayer fighting games, the new game is a single-player action role-playing game. The genre pivot helped the franchise attract a wider audience, leading to first-month digital sales that were more than double those of any previous Dragon Ball title.
  • Gardenscapes – New Acres climbed to third place on the mobile charts with record revenue of $111.9M. Earnings for the puzzle title from Russian developer Playrix have been rising rapidly and have more than doubled since September 2019. Gardenscapes and its sister title Homescapes are now the puzzle games to beat and currently have greater combined monthly revenue on mobile than all Candy Crush Saga titles.
  • January was a mixed bag for battle royale titles. Fortnite earnings continued their gradual decline and hit their lowest level since November 2017. Likewise, a January update to Apex Legends increased console monthly active users by 12% month-over-month, but the game generated less revenue than in December, which saw a successful holiday event. In contrast, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds released its Season 6 update on both PC and console in January, and PC players responded particularly well. In-game spending grew 512% month-over-month on PC after a lengthy period of low spending on additional content.

9 thoughts on “SuperData and Wavering WoW Subscriptions

  1. bhagpuss

    And just to put the cat among the pigeons there was a very interesting story on today in which Epic completely trash Superdata’s assessment of Fortnite, saying “SuperData’s reports do not align with reality”.

    Epic also said “SuperData does not and has not ever had access to Epic’s Fortnite revenue data” which calls into question the idea that they are working from private but official figures for anyone else.

    It’s pretty plain that Epic have spoken out because Superdata’s evaluation of Fortnite seriously undervalues it. I’d bet that if there games on the list which Superdata is overvaluing those companies will be keeping quiet.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Nice spot. Let me link it.

    Indeed, as I have said on a few occasions, analysts often depend on the cooperation of the company involved and companies cooperate because they want to look good. But that generally applies to publicly traded companies as reports like that help the stock price. Epic isn’t publicly traded, so likely doesn’t care.

    Of course, the flip side of Epic’s argument is that they could correct SuperData’s reporting by sharing, or just publishing the numbers, but they choose not to. So we don’t really know how far off SuperData is.

    I also like that Epic is not objecting to any specific report from SuperData. So maybe SuperData was wrong when they were talking about Fortnite doing well!

    And, as I have always said, so long as SuperData does its measurements consistently, it doesn’t matter if any particular measurement is off as you can still spot trends. I’d guess that the console stats are pretty accurate, as all the console vendors likely report, but the PC chart is probably off as you can buy the game directly. Again, Epic could correct that if it was wrong, but they choose not to.


  3. SynCaine

    The idea that Classic might not be ‘worth it’ is insane, considering if it was fully shut off today, it would still have made Blizzard far more money than it cost to ‘make’ and run. No, Brack was wrong, and that part of the story is now closed.

    Could Classic ultimately die and leave only Retail remaining? Sure. New Blizzard is New Blizzard for a reason.


  4. fatherofdaughters

    I feel so out of touch when I realise that I don’t play a single game on any of these lists. In fact there are quite a lot of games on those lists I have never even heard of.

    There was a time in the dim and distant past when I made an effort to stay on top of the latest games (PC games anyway). I didn’t play everything of them and I groaned along with everyone else when the Sims topped the list for the umpteenth time but I had at least heard of all the games and had a go at playing most of them. I am not sure if that is possible to do any more. The gaming world has become more diverse and there are just far more games and far more types of games out there. Of course it may also just be that I am getting old and set in my ways.


  5. Redbeard

    I’ve noticed the Classic dropoff in the past few months on the PvE server I play, but nothing too terribly bad. I suspect that the black eye that Blizz has gotten recently (WC3 Remastered, Blitzchung, underwhelming response to Shadowlands and the last Retail patch, etc.) has contributed more to the decline in subs than Classic itself.

    Blizz’ biggest problem is, well, Blizz itself. Wanting all the money all the time after years of building up their reputation as being “we’ll release when it’s ready” isn’t exactly helping them with their reputation.

    Finally, I found it interesting that of the Top 10 PC titles, WoW is the sole entrant from the “traditional” AAA game developer shops (such as Bethesda, EA, Activision-Blizzard, etc.) I’m sure that’s not an accident.


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – Massively OP was amplifying that idea recently. The comments unsurprisingly were in favor of the idea, as there was quite a regular anti-Classic group there.

    @fatherofdaughters – The thing about this list is that it is largely “games as a service” titles. Traditional buy and play titles might make the list for a month, but the dozen or so regulars that live on the list or drop in and out are all subscription or cash shop driven games. One of the reasons I started adding in the NPD list a while back was that it lines up with the more traditional sales charts some of us would recognize from 15+ years back.

    @Redbeard – My watermark for activity on my Classic server is the number of auctions in the Alliance auction house on Saturday. [Edit: I meant Pages of Auctions, a calculation that Auctioneer gives you.] That tends to be the peak day, which makes it the best day for buying rather than selling as people will undercut constantly. Back at launch the number according to Auctioneer would go past 500. These days it hits around 300. I am on the RP-PvE server, which might be a bit different from normal PvE servers, and which is probably radically different from some of the PvP servers… like that one with no Alliance players… but it gives me some feeling of how things are going. Things have slowed down, but not so much that Classic isn’t a money maker. Given all the things they didn’t have to do compared to an expansion… like create new content from scratch… Classic has to have been a win and it was clearly something a bunch of people wanted.

    Also, does Valve count as a “traditional” AAA game dev? I know they’ve been swallowed by Steam, but they did make Half-Life and such back in the day… and they have a couple of titles on and off the list. But otherwise, as I said above, “traditional” pops on the list for a month then disappears as the cash shops carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pendan

    Only 300 items in the auction house and was only 500 at peek? That is extremely low. Bloodsail Buccaneers shows as a medium server not low.

    Right now the alliance auction house on PvE Mankrik has 11,657 items (I play with SynCaine on this server). It had 15,740 yesterday late afternoon. Mankrik is the only PvE server with more horde than alliance according the the census sites. This shows up with the auction house numbers too with 16,118 items on the horde auction house right now.

    The Benediction alliance auction house has 16,894 right now and had 19,434 yesterday late afternoon. Benediction is one of the highest alliance player count PvP servers.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Redbeard

    @Wilhelm RE: the Valve designation, I’m not sure. They do have some games from back in the day, but since Steam became dominant they’ve not really developed new games outside of tweaking DOTA2 and updating Steam itself. But given that we’re trying to decide whether Valve qualifies kind of points out that, like you said, the major players will have a game that pops up for a month in PC space and then vanishes. Unlike GTA V on consoles, outside of WoW there isn’t a steady month-in-and-month-out moneymaker.

    I just look at it as the PC market has a lot of subdivided market space, with their own preferences. There’s the one-and-dones who play the latest game from a Dev house and then move on, there’s the repeaters who buy a game and play it for upwards of a decade or more (I’m still playing Civ IV regularly, for instance), there’s the monthly subscribers (WoW), and there’s the cash shop engines (LoL, DOTA 2, etc.). There’s also the gambling mechanics/loot boxes group, but that hasn’t exactly been doing so well in the PC market these days.

    I guess it shows how much the dev houses rely upon the console market these days, given the flash in the pan nature of new releases on the PC market.

    Liked by 1 person

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