WoW Subs Level Off: Chinese Government to Blame?

Blizzard has proudly reported a larger number of subscribers every year since World of Warcraft's release, except last year. Is the mess with Chinese regulatory agencies to blame?

Since its launch in 2004, World of Warcraft has dominated the gaming industry, regarded as the most-successful and popular MMO in history. Throughout the past five years, Blizzard continued pouring its blood, sweat and tears into WoW, ensuring its legacy by retaining a multi-million-player subscriber base. And with each passing year, as Blizzard reported, the MMO's subscribers continued to grow. Players grew from 5 million to 8 million, followed by a staggering 10 million. Around this time last year, Blizzard boasted more than 11.5 million subscribers worldwide after Wrath of the Lich King's release.

For the first time since its inception, WoW's seemingly-boundless momentum might be leveling off, according to Activision-Blizzard's recent end-of-fiscal-year conference call with its investors. As we reported last week, Blizzard president Mike Morhaime confirmed that the company's upcoming expansion, Cataclysm, will launch in 2010. In addition, Morhaime revealed that WoW's current subscriber base is 11.5 million; the same figure announced in November 2008. Has the MMO finally reached the pinnacle of its success, or is there another reason behind the stalled numbers?

According to, during the call Morhaime said that he remains "optimistic about the game's future," especially because of Cataclysm's upcoming release.  Historically, both of World of Warcraft's previous expansions helped fuel an influx of new and returning subscribers, and provided incentive for existing players to remain in-game.

According to the same article Morhaime also mentioned that Blizzard attributes half of its worldwide subscriber base to the Chinese market. That’s almost 6 million players; many of whom had only intermittent access to WoW throughout 2009, when the Chinese government pulled the plug on Wrath of the Lich King before it even hit store shelves. Last October, we published a news-editorial summarizing the plight, after Blizzard ended its contract with longtime Chinese WoW publisher The9.

In April, Blizzard announced a partnership with a new publisher, NetEase, in the hope of getting WoW back online and running. But unfortunately for our fellow Chinese players, this was only an early chapter of long and grueling story that's still unfolding today.

Two agencies of the Chinese government—the Ministry of Culture and the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP)—disputed each others' regulatory claims regarding the MMO, leaving gamers helplessly caught in the middle of a bureaucratic power struggle. The GAPP accused Blizzard of allegedly entering an "illegal business venture" with NetEase in July, ordering an investigation to determine the legality of the partnership. (In October, the GAPP banned foreign companies from investing in China's online gaming industry.)

In November, the GAPP gave Wrath of the Lich King a "non-approval" and ordered NetEase to stop accepting new player subscriptions for WoW. According to an article at Reuters, the GAPP's decision exemplified the ongoing regulatory battle between the two government agencies, in addition to censorship issues. Last year, the PRC stepped up its efforts to crack down on online gaming in a series of "virtual raids," mostly targeting Web-based games.

« Previous 1 2


Post Comment
# Feb 18 2010 at 11:58 PM Rating: Decent
5 posts
I think it's funny...I play retail WoW...let me state that 1st. 7 80's lotsa raid time under my time to give you that horrible text wall..

Blizzard...hahaha...You guys have worse customer service ever...i'm sorry, but there is no defending yourself from that fact. Second, it's amazing how many people you have subscribing....but wait...noone mentions or gives a thought to the more than DOUBLE users who play for free on FREE WoW servers...

Granted, lack of support or current content...and bugs abound...but is it really people who DONT want t pay the cheap monthly fees? Meh....maybe 1/3 I wuld say do it for that reason....the other 2/3rds actually play because they get to do things that A: you have either neglected to incorporate into the game even after YEARS of requests, or the retail content is so repetative they need someone to think outside of the box and make things fun? Ya think??

I attended Blizzcon 3 yrs in a row except this years, but I will, I'm pretty sure the topic came up during this years Q&A they have every year....Player Housing(Guild) More craftable skills, a way to make that level grind a little less "grind"....Instead the lead developer calls them "Stupid" or unnecessary....To a players face in front f a few thousand people...3 years in a row, numerous requests in forums and god-knows where else...

It's all Corporate B.S....How can they get our dollar with the least amount of work....


Why oh why did KotOR get pushed back a year...WHHHYYY??? Well blizz you got my money fr another year...but when KotOR is long, see ya...and I wnt shed a tear when I leave....I wont remenice about my wasted time playing your product, like I do abut Ultima Online...remember that? Awsome game for it's time..and oh yeah...THEY LISTENED T THEIR a concept?!

A lack of growth =/= a decline.
# Feb 17 2010 at 5:00 PM Rating: Decent
1,882 posts
That's one of my biggest problems with corporate America. If you aren't growing faster and faster each month, you fail. There is an upper limit to any success and this kind of thinking doesn't take that into account.
How to Heal: Keep healing until everyone is either dead and blaming you, or the boss is dead.
Or poor security
# Feb 16 2010 at 8:18 PM Rating: Decent
Or maybe Blizzard is losing customers to their poor security measures. Each day, someone gets hacked (me included) and Blizzard doesn't care about them, so why should they be loyal to Blizzard. Of course, maybe it's the Chinese who's hacking them, who knows?
Or poor security
# Feb 17 2010 at 12:47 AM Rating: Good
1,882 posts
By poor security measures you mean your crappy password or visiting sites without proper anti-virus and spyware protection, right?

I've had three or four guildies hacked in the last year and Blizzard completely and totally restored each one in less than a few days. If that's not caring I'm quite pleased with their apathy.

You can't blame Blizzard for your own poor security habits.
Painda - 90 Monk <IXOYE> (Christian guild, Medivh, US)
The Adventures of Captain Blazer - Facebook Sci-fi Story
CorpseCamp.Us - Funny, ironic, or pathetic things that happen in MMOs
"Trade Chat" wrote:
We've had talking cows from day one, and you're throwing a fit about talking panda's? Get over it.

So? Is it that bad?
# Feb 16 2010 at 10:18 AM Rating: Good
90 posts
Oh no... so over 2 Billion dollars a year in steady revenue is something to cry about?

China? Who cares? Our entire economy is collapsing around our heads due to cheap-***** Americans buy China's cheap crap imitations. I'll wager if you grab a random object on your desk, 2 out of 3 will say made in China.

Like all other countries, they Ban American products and don't allow American companies to buy/own land. In America, anyone with a buck can own it.

Only thing Blizzard should worry about is a decrease in the steady numbers they have.
Scubashark - M-Orc Hunter lvl85
Gillestar - M-NE Warrior lvl85
Prizzianna - F-Human Rouge lvl85
Anamaria - F-Human Mage lvl85
Simoney - F-Human Warlock lvl85
Darknights - M-NE Hunter lvl85
Quethala - F-Blood Elf Paladin lvl63
Laconia - F-Worgen Druid lvl85
Aliquem - F-Human Death Knight lvl85
Pocitrocket - F-Goblin Rogue lvl58
Moozeltoff - M-Tauren Shaman lvl40
Allusia - F-Undead Warlock lvl52
Grimlene - F Dwarf Hunter lvl44
I don't feel sorry...
# Feb 16 2010 at 8:19 AM Rating: Good
for the Chinese players. Yea it sucks their government seems to dislike WoW, but you can't win them all.
I will say it would be neat to have the option of seeing bones/torn clothing or what China players (and other parts of the world) see with the forsaken in the NA client.

If TBC is approved, NetEase will presumably re-submit the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Perhaps by then—whenever "then" may be—Chinese WoW players will finally have the chance to set foot on Northrend for the first time. Meanwhile, the rest of the world will probably be leveling up Goblins and Worgen in Cataclysm.

This is just like the flip side of most free MMOs out there. Note that most seem to come out of Korea, but while "that" side of the world has much better/farther content the client on "this" side of the world may be behind by a year or two.
Sandinmyeye | |Tsukaremashi*a |
Thirty Percent
# Feb 15 2010 at 11:01 PM Rating: Decent
3 posts
Grammar's pretty irrelevant to both. Authoritarianism, however, is very big on mandatory and arbitrary rules and conformity, especially in language. :-) Chinese gamers have really had it rough the past few years. My heart goes out to them.

Not what I came here to say anyway... I just wanted to express surprise at this strange aside in the article:

"not to mention Morhaime's disclosure that Blizzard retains only 30 percent of all trial subscribers"

I wonder whether ZAM has ever seen retention statistics on other games; perhaps if they had, they'd strike the "only" from that sentence. Thirty percent is ENORMOUS, especially given how many trial accounts over the years were created with the sole purpose of gold farming and/or spamming.
Thirty Percent
# Feb 17 2010 at 9:12 PM Rating: Excellent
93 posts
I probably should have phrased that differently; I didn't mean for readers to interpret so much emphasis on the "only" part. I actually meant for it to imply more of a "considering that the retention rate of WoW--like many other MMOs--is so low...". But you're right about 30 percent being pretty **** good for an MMO, especially one that's five years old. What I'd be interested to know is the true retention rate, if Blizzard was able to differentiate between "real" trial players and gold sellers who set up a temp account.
...because I'm so hella smoooooth.
Its the Commies
# Feb 15 2010 at 8:46 PM Rating: Decent
7 posts
It is the Commie's fault they hate Capitalism with a venengece as it allows from free taught and ideas.
Its the Commies
# Feb 15 2010 at 10:32 PM Rating: Default
799 posts
Apparently, Capitalism doesn't do much for grammar.
FAQ2.0 wrote:
Most people consider a rouge to be over-powdered.

Guild: "That Kind of Orc" Server: The Scryers
Post Comment

Free account required to post

You must log in or create an account to post messages.