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World of Warcraft Editorial: Story of the Week: Azeroth Loses People

By William Murphy on November 12, 2011

The Story of the Week is no doubt the recent announcement that Blizzard’s World of Warcraft has lost 1.1 mln subscriptions over the course of this year.  The thread I just linked was a fury of discussion on the topic, and people were doing everything from claiming it was the end of Azeroth to merely a blip on the radar for Morhaime and crew. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.  I have a few thoughts of my own on the story, so bear with me.

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Stocks Fall… for now.

Yeah, Activision Blizzard’s stock did take a dive for now. But it wasn’t exactly a stock market crash of epic proportions, and people are forgetting something that’s just a little important: Diablo III is due out in a few months if they hit their target quarter.  Wedbush’s Michael Pachter is right when he says, ““The magnitude of the decline was surprising. The vast majority of Activision’s revenue and profit comes from World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. And if one of those shows a decline, investor confidence is shaken.”

No doubt Blizzard and Activision will need plans in place for the slow but eventual decline of World of Warcraft as a subscription behemoth.  These people aren’t entirely opaque.  They’ve got plans in place to offset the potential fall of WoW. Heck, there’s even talk of the game having some sort of F2P model one year, and though we all know taking sub to F2P is a hail-pass, it’s likely one that would work wonders for an aging Azeroth.

But let’s go back to Diablo. Yes it’s due out in the early part of 2012, and yes it will likely sell an army of boxes across the globe. This 3.5% stock dip? Not going to hold out against the weight of something like that.  Let’s not also forget that Call of Duty: MW3 is on pace for incredible sales. I may not get the draw of that one, but it’s plain to see that the shooter is a real money-maker and as long as they don’t drive the series into the ground by “Madden-izing” it, they should be set to mine it for the next five to ten years.

The Annual Pass = Buying Time

I’d be curious to know just how many people here opted in for the WoW Annual Pass to get free Diablo III. I’m willing to bet there were a fair number of people who jumped on that train because they’ve never really truly cancelled their WoW account and the thought of free D3 is a little too tempting to pass up.  The way I see that move, is as a way to lock in some revenue stream while the company shifts its sights further onto Titan and other properties.  In the long run, make no bones about it, WoW will be F2P (one day) and subscribers won’t mean nearly as much as how many people buy new pets to fight against each other in Mists of Pandaria’s new system.

That’s just my two copper.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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