Tag Archives: Subscription Numbers

World of Warcraft Reported to be Sitting at 10.1 Million Subscribers

About two months back, when Activision Blizzard announced their Q2 2016 results, I was speculating that they might be anxious to start talking about subscription numbers after vowing to not report on them about a year back.

ActiBlizz450

That was an easy thing to vow when the game had bottomed out after the Draenor exodus, hitting subscriber numbers not seen since 2005.  But with the last quarterly report things were starting to look rosy again with the Legion expansion coming up, Blizzard was beating around the bush, trying to say how wonderful things were going without actually bringing out the number that would prove it.  Sure, the Legion expansion sold well on day one, but how many subscribers were there in the game?

Well, somebody couldn’t hold their tongue… somebody being Tom Chilton.  According to a report over at PvP Live, he said, in an interview with the Polish gaming magazine Pixel… well… the following:

Pixel: You guys reached your peak by capturing 12 million users. By the end of 2015 it was only 5.5 million, and after that Blizzard stopped providing statistics. Can we ask, about how many users currently have a paid subscription?

Chilton: As we speak, it’s about 10.1 million. It’s hard to say what future will bring. We have an internal competition in form of Overwatch, but it’s possible we will reach 12 million once again. The potential is there as there are over 100 million registered accounts.

Pixel is apparently a magazine is of the old school print variety, so no link to the original source in Polish, but translations have been popping up on Reddit and forums like NeoGAF. [Edit: Picture of the Polish text.]

So there it is, out in the open again, a subscriber number.  Another data point in the cycle of life that is MMORPGs.

Did Tom Chilton get advance clearance to talk about that number?  The man has blurted out some unfortunate things in the past that have come back to haunt the company, things like equating garrisons to housing and such.  Ah well.

And what does that number mean.  Blizzard’s partner in China recently changed over from an hourly to a monthly subscription model.  Did that change how the count was done?  Is it more accurate or less?

Finally, if he did get the okay, is this how it will be going forward, with Blizzard?  Are they going to tell us about peaks but go silent when it comes to valleys in the subscriber wave?

Hat tip to Liore for sending this my way.

Addendum: Blizzard denies everything.

“Our policy for almost a year now is that we do not talk about subscriber numbers,” said the Blizzard spokesperson. “And Tom did not do that with this publication.”

I Bet Blizzard Really Wants to Mention Subscription Numbers About Now…

World of Warcraft remains the No. 1 subscription‐based MMORPG in the
world.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2016 Financial Results

It is easy to justify dumping a metric when it isn’t portraying you well.  But once you’ve publicly vowed never to bring that metric up again, and suddenly it might show you in a good light, what do you do?

Apparently you beat around the bush hinting about it.

Yesterday was the Activision Blizzard call for the Q2 2016 financial results.  All the data and slides are over at the investor relations site.

ActiBlizz450

The company had plenty of good news to report.  Revenue was strong, their monthly active user (MAU) metric was up, and they had a hot new title to brag about in Overwatch, which has sales in the $500 million range to date.

They also highlighted Blizzard in general, which had strong growth, and World of Warcraft in particular.  Along with the quote at the top of the post, they say:

…strong pre-expansion momentum for World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft MAUs double digit growth quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year

[Legion] per-purchases tracking in-line with the last expansion.

Strong momentum in China following the Warcraft film…

That all sounds great, but they are just words.  What does “momentum” really mean here?  If you don’t publish per-game MAUs, which are a bullshit metric anyway, is double really that good?  Why aren’t they ten times better?  And if you make the claim that your game is the #1 subscription based MMORPG, I think it is incumbent on you to back that claim up.

Yes, the categories on the balance sheet where WoW fits in are up quite a bit, a sign that something is going on.  And if you’re playing WoW right now, it likely “feels” like the so-called “momentum” is building, that more players are back in the game.  I doubt anybody would seriously argue, with the WoW Legion expansion this close, that numbers are not up.

But you know what would seal the deal?  A nice little statement about how, at the end of Q2 2016, back on June 30th, after a year long content drought, subscriptions were already trending up on anticipation of the expansion with a hard number.  Anything higher that 5.5 million would do, though I think if they could have said 7 million it would have been a massive validation that the game is still strong and still has its own legion of loyal fans.

But instead, last November, when things were down, Blizz said they were not going to talk about subscription numbers any more.

I made what I felt was the case for continuing to report them every quarter.  Saying you’re number one is fine, but it isn’t news.  Trotting out a 7 digit subscription number though, that guarantees some headlines, be it up, down, or stable.  That gets your game in the eye of the press and being talked about.

I wonder, if WoW Legion does well, really well, and subscriptions are up into 8 digit figures again, if Blizzard will be content to just claim they are number one still, or will they roll out a special press release for that?

WoW and the Case for Subscription Numbers

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

-Oscar Wilde

Late last week Activision-Blizzard had their quarterly results conference call and presentation.

ActiBlizz450

This has always been a must-attend for WoW watchers because along with the dry financials and vague statements there were those subscription numbers.  That was always the real “health of the game” indicator, a number of substance, some hard data we could track and chart and argue about.

Then, of course, as part of the Q3 2015 results last year, at which point WoW seemed to be stable at 5.5 million subscribers, it was announced that they would no longer be providing subscription numbers.  Instead all we would get were revenue numbers, hand waving, and their completely fatuous “Monthly Average Users” or “MAUs” metric.

So I was curious as to how the earning call would go this time around, whether there would be some WoW news to go with things or not.  Because, if nothing else, Blizzard seemed to feel compelled to give us some news with every dip in the subscriber count.   I am pretty sure, for example, that we got the WoW Legion announcement early in order to counteract the big drop in subscribers announced that same week.

The whole thing was quite dull, at least if you were looking for any news about World of Warcraft.  There was a general statement about people buying lots of the current charity pet, granting the company a nice tax deduction I am sure.  There was some unsubstantiated statement about growth, but it was so vague that some fan sites put the word in apologetic quotes.  And there was some non-news said in a way to make it sound like news about the WoW Legion expansion.  We knew all of this already.

Blizzard Q4 2015 slide

Blizzard Q4 2015 slide

Seriously, telling people that the expansion was going to release this summer, after the Warcraft movie barely even qualified as a rehash of what we already knew.  It couldn’t release before the movie and be during the summer, since the movie releases on June 10th, ten days before the calendar declares the start of summer in North America.  And the data set contained by the parameters “after the movie release” and “Summer 2016” still extends out until September 21, 2016.  They could launch on that last date and still have told the straight up truth.

I even held off on this post through the weekend, just in case there was something else that Blizzard might want to throw out there.  But there was nothing further about WoW.

And so the earnings call was barely a blip on the WoW news front.  Many sites posted the obligatory “something was said” stories, but when you’re given nothing of substance, the story cannot be sustained.  One mention and sites moved on to other things.

However, if Blizz had given us a subscription number, up, down, or stable, I am sure we would have been bouncing that around for a week or more, discussing what it really means and whether or not this unprecedented for Blizzard alpha access to the expansion was helping to hold things together or not.

But maybe that is the way Blizzard wants things.

For the first five years after World of Warcraft launched, Blizzard was the company that made WoW and used to make some other games.  Then for a few years it was the company that made WoW and was remaking those games it used to make.  And then, finally, in the last couple of years, Blizzard has become the company that made WoW and a couple remakes AND a couple of new games.  Yes, World of Warcraft still brings in most of the revenue.  Without WoW I suspect the name of the company would just be “Activision” at this point.

The company clearly wants to talk about Hearthstone and Overwatch, which was reflected in the questions from the investment analysts on the call.  When question time came, nobody asked about WoW or StarCraft II or Diablo III or even Heroes of the Storm… which on could argue is something of a DOTA legacy remake in any case.  No, the questions, when it came to Blizzard products, were all about Hearthstone and Overwatch, the mobile game… and mobile is the current hawtness still, which even Blizzard seems to recognize… and the cartoon copy of Call of Duty… which is no doubt seen as part of the ongoing effort by Activision to cash in on its first person shooter dominance.

So the lack of WoW emphasis suits their needs.  It wasn’t quite that moment when john Riccitiello said that SWTOR wasn’t their most interesting property as a dodge when asked during an EA earnings call about subscription numbers, but it was clearly a step away from WoW.  The subscription number metric always overshadowed everything else, in part because WoW pretty much pays all the bills and then some, but also because of the assumed direct correlation between number of subscribers and total revenue for the game. (Though, as we can see, revenue is still pretty stable even with the big subscriber drop, so Blizz clearly has its ways of coping on that front.)

I do wonder though if, when the time comes to actually ship WoW Legion and the company actually wants us to focus on WoW again, if anything short of announcing a big jump in subscribers… which will be tough to do when you’ve banished that metric… will suffice.  Because if they think MEUs are something of substance, they are kidding themselves.

Basically, to get back around to the quote at the top, Blizzard has successfully gotten WoW to not be talked about… or at least talked about less outside of some very narrowly focused media outlets.  I wonder if they will end up regretting that some day.

WoW Subscriptions Stable at 5.5 Million, Activision Buys Candy Crush Saga

The big news today was supposed to be the Activision Blizzard investor call for the third quarter of 2015 at 1:30pm Pacific time.  There we would get the usual earnings information, some insight into the combined companies goals, and the World of Warcraft subscription numbers.

ActiBlizz450

And then yesterday after hours Activision announced that they had purchased Candy Crush Saga maker King for 5.9 billion dollars which, as Keen points out, essentially makes it more valuable than the Star Wars franchise or, if you prefer, more than twice as valuable as Minecraft, which Notch sold to Microsoft a year back for $2.5 billion.

They also published the basic quarterly financial report for the company.  In the latter was the World of Warcraft subscription number.

World of Warcraft® subscriptions remained relatively stable, ending the quarter at 5.5 million subscribersC. Players are excited about the upcoming expansion, Legion, which will feature a new class, customizable Artifact weapons, class order halls, and much more. World of Warcraft remains the No. 1 subscription‐based MMORPG in the world.

So there we go, the WoW subscriber base is holding for now on Taanan Jungle, time walking, and the promise of WoW Legion at some point, down just 100,000 subscribers from the 5.6 million number reported three months back.

There wasn’t much else of real interest about Blizzard in the report, so I still wonder what the big keynote announcement at BlizzCon will be.  Getting to see the Warcraft movie trailer is nice and all, but with the movie seven months away, that really isn’t a sustainable interest right now.

I guess we will find out on Friday.  At least the opening ceremony will be streamed for free, as I am not buying the $40 virtual ticket this year.  There isn’t enough “there” there, so far as I can tell.

So the big new remains the King buyout, which Activision bills as:

The Most Profitable, Successful Standalone Interactive Entertainment Company in the World. During the last twelve months Activision Blizzard had non-GAAP revenues of $4.7 billion and King had adjusted revenues of $2.1 billion, and for the same period, adjusted EBITDA of $1.6 billion and $0.9 billion, respectively. The combined company will have further diversified and recurring revenues, cash flow generation, and long-term growth opportunities to propel future value creation for shareholders. Activision Blizzard believes the Acquisition will be accretive to 2016 estimated non-GAAP revenues and earnings per share by approximately 30% and significantly accretive to 2016 estimated free cash flow per share. Activision Blizzard expects the combined company to maintain a disciplined capital allocation policy and strong balance sheet.

Part of me sees this as the big King cash out, as SynCaine put it.  King, having peaked on pretty much one game, which they stole from somebody else (a key part of the King business model), decided to sell out while they still have value in the market.

Basically, the Zynga story done right… for specific definitions of “right” I suppose.  Zynga thought FarmVille (another stolen idea) meant they were smart rather than lucky.  King appears to have figured out that they were lucky rather than smart and decided to get out while still on top.  That is the cynical, cold world, core gamer gut response view.  It is certainly where my brain went immediately.

On the other side, King did bring in over $2 billion in revenues over the last twelve months, which basically means it earned about twice as much as World of Warcraft made over the same period of time… all with crappy, over-monetized, rip-offs of other games.

Well, not “crappy” actually.

Hate the business model and the complete lack or originality as much as you like, but King does put a pretty coat of polish on its games.  They are shiny and bright and happy and, at least in the case of Candy Crush Saga, work well and are updated regularly.  They add new levels all the time, the game having gone from 480 (if I recall right) to 1,250 in a recent update, along with other additions to the game.  And it still runs very well on my aging iPad 2.

Yes, I still play, though I have never spent a cent...

Yes, I still play, though I have never spent a cent…

Polished up versions of other people’s ideas that have low system requirements?  Where have I heard that idea before?

Could the King business unit, within Activision Blizzard, and thus having access to a range of IPs and other assets, end up being the engine to for Activision to get a serious presence in mobile?

Over at Ars Technica they have an article up about how each company’s market presence looked individually and then together as a single unit.  And King is still bringing money in despite not having been able to repeat their Candy Crush Saga success with another game.

I don’t know where this merger will end up.  Activision isn’t quite as good at buying and the destroying companies as EA, but they have still screwed a number of people over as the years have passed.  I suppose we will see.

So what is left for the investor call?  Some PowerPoint slides?  I’ll put the Blizzard one up once I find it, if only because that has been a regular part of these posts in the past.

Addendum:

Here is the Blizzard slide from the call, and some weak tea at that, as the big news was something else altogether.

Blizzard Q3 2015 results slide

Blizzard Q3 2015 results slide

WoW Needs Expansion Badly – Subs Fall to 5.6 Million

Well now we know why Blizzard was keen to announce a new expansion the day after tomorrow, as subscription numbers are officially down to what was announced back in December of 2005, or 5.6 million.  That is a drop of 1.5 million subscribers from the 7.1 million number reported at the end of the first quarter, something of a rebuke to the long-term viability of the Warlords of Draenor garrison strategy, which saw subscribers peak at 10 million at launch.

Basically, 44% of WoW subscribers have walked away since the current expansion launched.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Chieftains lack the staying power of Pandas

So we have a day to indulge in “WoW is dying” hysteria before we are all swept off our collective feet and pledge ourselves anew to the promise of a fresh expansion in Azeroth.

The loss in subscribers was, once again, pinned largely on declines in Asia, purportedly driven by the popularity of Diablo III, which recently launched in China.  Diablo III has sold more than 30 million units world wide now, but is it really stealing from WoW? Blizzard refused to get pinned down on specifics despite direct questions on the investor call.

Still, given the actual financial numbers coming out of the Blizzard side of the house, which are at record highs, somebody is clearly spending money on their products.  The page for Blizzard from the presentation slide deck is as follows:

Blizzard Q2 2015 slide

Blizzard Q2 2015 slide

The slide deck and detailed financials can be found at the investor relations site.

The blurb at the top in blue is an attempt to say that monthly active users was up 50% over Q2 last year, which means that more people are playing Blizzard games than last year.

Hearthstone especially was mentioned multiple times during both the whole company overview and then again during the Blizzard specific segment of the call.  Once again though, its numbers are coyly lumped in with those of Destiny and Heroes of the Storm, for a combined lifetime total of $1.2 billion.

Still, even though I want to know how that really breaks out between the those games, it is a sizable amount of revenue for three titles.

Of course the big question now, beyond what the new expansion will contain, is when will it launch?  An expansion a year out, which is a pretty typical gap between announcement and launch for Blizzard, would no doubt see more subscriber losses as there is no new content planned for Warlords of Draenor.

And what do we even want out of the next expansion?  I am not sure I even know anymore.  Is there anything Blizz could do that wouldn’t annoy as many people as it pleased?

MMO Champion has a good subscriber chart embedded in their post if you want to see the subscriber line going up and down over the years.  I have all the numbers in a spreadsheet, but cannot make Excel behave the way they can.

And, finally, this is how the poll I put up last week fared.

174 respondents

174 respondents

I would call those who picked 5.5 million the “winners” I suppose.  The “other” response was 42.

Draenor Tourism Season is Over, WoW Back Down to 7.1 Million Subscribers

Blizzard Entertainment had the largest Q1 online player community in its history, up a double digit percentage year over year despite no major launches in the quarter. As expected and consistent with our experience following prior expansions, we saw a decline in the World of Warcraft subscriber number. Subscribers ended the quarter at 7.1 million. World of Warcraft’s revenue performance at constant FX has been more stable, driven by continued strong uptake on value added services, and price increases in select regions, which partially offset subscriber declines, particularly in the East. World of Warcraft remains the No.1 subscription-based MMORPG in the world.

Activision-Blizzard Earnings Report for Q1 2015

The East is always letting World of Warcraft down.  What is it they want over there?

Well, we knew subscriptions would go up when Warlords of Draenor shipped, though perhaps how early the number went up was a bit of a surprise.  And it lasted through the end of 2014 as expected.  The real question was how long the bad guys in Draenor could hold the 10 million subscriber number.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

How can you leave these guys?

The answer is, apparently, less than six months.

Not that 7.1 million subscribers is anything to balk at.  That is still a player base any four current MMOs could divide amongst themselves and each feel like a huge success.  (And that same subscriber drop would kill any competitor.)  But this is World of Warcraft and forever will that “more than 12 million” number dominate its destiny.

Of course, the money is still coming in hand over fist, though the strong dollar looks like it will be an issue.

Given the weakening of foreign currencies versus the U.S. dollar, the company’s 2015 international revenues and earnings are expected to be translated at lower rates than in 2014. This impacts the company’s 2015 outlook as compared to 2014 actual results given approximately 50% of the company’s revenues, and a higher percentage of profits, are generated outside the U.S.

So you have to have to wonder if the game will continue its “expansion about every two years” trajectory as subscribers bleed off during the between times.  I won’t even say “the dead period” as there still seems to be a lot to do and more is coming up.  But for some people, the leveling game is all she wrote, and those were a quick ten levels.

The report mentioned other irons that Blizzard has in the fire.

Blizzard's slide from the deck

Blizzard’s slide from the deck

There was also a bit in there specifically about the WoW Token being launched.  Though that might keep some gold-rich subscribers in the game longer, it isn’t any sort of revenue machine like the base subscription.

So are we going to see an expansion sooner this time around?  Or will there just be more content released before the next box shows up?

Orc Villains, Best Villains – WoW Passes 10 Million Subscribers Again

IRVINE, Calif.—November 19, 2014—On November 13, millions of Azeroth’s champions enlisted for the war against the Iron Horde with the launch of World of Warcraft®: Warlords of Draenor, the fifth expansion to the world’s #1 subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game.* Blizzard Entertainment today announced that as of the first 24 hours of the expansion’s availability, more than 3.3 million copies had sold-through and the game’s global subscriber base had passed 10 million, with growth across all major regions.

Blizzard Press Release

It looks like orcs might trump pandas (and destroying the old world) when it comes to igniting the WoW player base.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Warlords who get it done

I am not sure what it means when you have more than 10 million subscribers, up 2.6 million in the last month and a half, but are talking about moving 3.3 million units of the expansion in the first 24 hours.  Does that 3.3 million number include all the early sales?  Is that an indication of what the US/EU player population is, as the rest of the world was waiting for the expansion to drop? (It launched in South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau today according to the press release.)

Subscriber numbers (what constitutes a subscriber is mentioned in the press release) had dropped to 6.8 million in the second quarter of 2014, down further from the slight dip to 7.6 million in the first quarter when the first blush excitement for the expansion had passed, and which was likely only that small because Blizzard said they sold through 1.5 million pre-orders of Warlords of Draenor back then to people interested in getting their insta-90s early.  Then in the third quarter subscriptions bounced back, hitting 7.4 million, with the announcement of a date for the expansion.

Now WoW is back above the 10 million mark, something we have not seen since the post-Cataclysm climb down from the 12 million subscriber high water mark before pandas appeared on the scene. (First quarter of 2012 the subscribers were listed as 10.1 million.)

Now, where will the number be in a month and a half, when we close out the fourth quarter of 2014?

Addendum: Visual aids from Twitter on subscriptions.

I am surprised that WotLK held as many subscribers as it did over its two year run.  I mean, I sat there and ground out everything in the Argent Tournament during that second year, I just didn’t think so many other people did as well.