WoW Shadowlands Sales Stacked Up Against Past Releases

This has become a staple post after every WoW expansion release, usually because Blizzard puts out a press release about the first day sales full of superlatives.  And so it goes for Shadowlands.

This time though Blizzard has out done itself with a press release declaring Shadowlands “the fastest-selling PC game of all time industry-wide” having had 3.7 million first day sales.  That is some boast, though the previous champion was, by their accounting, was Diablo III which had 3.5 million first day sales.

They also have a few additional brags.

  • In the months leading up to the expansion’s release and the time since launch, the game reached and has sustained its highest number of players on monthly or longer-term subscriptions compared to the same period ahead of and following any WoW expansion in the past decade, in both the West and the East.
  • Players have spent more time in Azeroth year to date than in the same period of any of the last 10 years.
  • In addition, total player time in game this year to date has nearly doubled compared to the same period last year.

The last bullet point is a solid one, since numbers were up a year ago due to WoW Classic, so topping that says something.  The first point is time bound by expansions that launched in the last decade, which basically means since they pissed a lot of people off with the Cataclysm expansion.  The game’s peak no doubt remains in the Wrath of the Lich King era.

A chart from 2015 back when we used to get subscriber numbers

Still, it is good to see the game doing well, though for the video game industry the pandemic has been a rising tide that has lifted all boats it seems.

Anyway, like I said, there is a press release like this every expansion.  Battle for Azeroth had one two years back which pegged its first day sales at 3.4 million, and Legion had one before that which put it at 3.3 million, and so on down the line.  The totals, so far as I could figure it out some time back, should now look like this:

  • Shadowlands – 3.7 million
  • Battle for Azeroth – 3.4 million
  • WoW Legion – 3.3 million
  • Warlords of Draenor – 3.3 million
  • Mists of Pandaria – 2.7 million (first week)
  • Cataclysm – 3.3 million
  • Wrath of the Lich King – 2.8 million
  • The Burning Crusade – 2.4 million
  • World of Warcraft – 240,000

Those are mostly “first 24 hours” of sales, except where noted.  After Cataclysm Blizzard needed to give Mists of Pandaria a bit more runway to get into the zone I guess.

And, of course, we get into what really counts as day one sales.

With the original World of Warcraft  launch, that was all boxes purchased retail.  I recall the story of Blizzard having to divert the truck filled with employee versions of the collector’s edition to the retail channel because the game was selling out.

Day one of The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King both saw midnight launch parties at retailers.  I recall a pallet of TBC collector’s edition boxes sitting on the floor at Fry’s in Sunnyvale the day it launched.  But I haven’t been down to a retail store to buy a physical box for a WoW expansion since WotLK.  Since then digital sales and pre-orders have been my thing and have no doubt come to dominate the sales numbers.

Because, technically, that 3.7 million number isn’t the first day sales number.  That is the number of units they were able to recognize revenue on due to having shipped the product on November 23rd.  The expansion had been selling via pre-orders for a long time.

I have a post back from November 7, 2019 where I compared four upcoming MMORPG expansions that mentions that the Shadowlands pre-orders were already open and available.  That is more than a year ago, so we are not talking a single day sales record… or probably even “fastest selling” if we were able to get the actual sales data from Blizzard.  I strongly suspect that the most sales in the shortest space of time still belongs to some of the older titles.

I am now also curious about how long pre-order periods have been for WoW expansions over the years.  I am going to guess that Shadowlands, which ran over a year in pre-order mode, would top that list.

Still, that is a lot of sales, and with that big revenue recognition burst I expect we’ll see World of Warcraft pop up a few spots on the SuperData Research November chart when we get that later this month.  Can it dethrone League of Legends?

Of course, as that list I made indicates, nobody is likely to debate whether or not Blizzard can move boxes, virtual or otherwise.  Can they keep the subscribers though?  That has been a problem for several expansions in the last decade.

Other coverage of this announcement:

Addendum: Shadowlands record broken already by Cyberpunk 2077.

4 thoughts on “WoW Shadowlands Sales Stacked Up Against Past Releases

  1. Asmiroth

    As you’ve inferred, this is more reflective that they were able to sustain rather than increase. The pandemic + delays in pre-orders certainly are amplifying this number. How MAU ends up after the holidays… that’s the real question that we’ll never get an answer.

    I do love industry’s definition of first day sales. Using Blizz’s definition PUBG is probably MILES ahead.

    Like

  2. Redbeard

    I suspect that the ability to retain subscriptions will be fairly high, based on the number of people I know on my Classic server who are mainly logging into Classic to raid and are spending the rest of their time in Shadowlands. When they get bored with Shadowlands, they’ll go back to Classic

    The bigger question, and one that Blizz won’t ever give the numbers for, is whether Retail will remain as active several months in. Since to Blizz a sub is a sub, no matter if you play Retail or Classic, we won’t be able to see the breakdown of the percentage of the sub base playing either (or both) games.

    And with the now persistent rumor of Classic Burning Crusade dropping in March, the Classic side of the tree might be propping up the sub base when interest in Shadowlands starts to wane.

    Like

  3. tactrix

    Blizzard only put first day numbers because they know their actual sustained subs are a disaster. You’ll notice in all the other xpacs they were bragging about how many subs to date they had like 1 week after release, here it is 3 weeks later and not one word from them about how many people actually play shadowlands. Because they know even with the pandemic, they released a lackluster, boring game. And in 3 months time their numbers are going to dwindle down to the sad hardcore fan players only where they reside most of that games lifecycle. And if we’re being completely honest WoW classic has much higher numbers than retail WoW. Sorry blizzard, no ones buying what you’re selling anymore. And you only have yourself to blame. This is what happens when you fire and drive all of your original Devs to quit by being a terrible company.

    Like

Voice your opinion... but be nice about it...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s