Has WoW Already Peaked, or Will it Keep Growing?

For the first time since it launched, World of Warcraft's 11.5-million subscriber base leveled off in 2009. But Blizzard says the MMO hasn't reached its peak yet.

When Blizzard announced that World of Warcraft's subscriber base reached a whopping 11.5 million people in 2008, it didn't come as a surprise to most players, fan communities and media. It is, after all, the most-successful MMO in video game history. World of Warcraft continued to prove its market dominance by gaining millions of players each year, despite a strained economy and outdated game technology. It wasn't until last year that WoW's record-breaking success finally come to a halt; for the first time since its launch, the MMO's subscriber base leveled off, as we reported in February.

WoW took a substantial hit in 2009 when the Chinese government suspended its license to operate; Blizzard attributes half of its worldwide subscriber base to the Chinese market, according to president Mike Morhaime (reported during an Activision Blizzard full-year financial call, via VG247.com). One month later, in an annual report for investors, Activision recognized WoW's sluggish performance and several "risk factors" the MMO faces this year, which we detailed in our news report, "Activision Worried That WoW May Become Obsolete?" Despite all this, Blizzard executive vice president Frank Pearce recently said WoW's subscriber base hasn't peaked yet, and will continue to grow.

In an interview with VG247.com last week, Pearce said that the launch of Cataclysm this year—coupled with Wrath of the Lich King's eventual release in China—will reinvigorate WoW's subscriber base. According to VG247, when asked if the MMO had already hit its peak in terms of player numbers, Pearce replied: "No, I don’t think that at all." As the majority of the WoW community surmised, last year's problems with China's regulatory agencies was a huge setback for Blizzard, as Pearce explained in the interview:

"I mean, you can look at that number and if you look at some of the details around it… In China, for example, we haven't even launched Wrath of the Lich King yet, and that expansion is already 18-plus months old.

"They're still playing The Burning Crusade there, because we're waiting for approval for Wrath from the appropriate agencies. And once we get that approval and launch Wrath in China then I think we will see growth."

But will Blizzard really be able to exceed its previous record of 11.5 million players, as opposed to merely winning back its former players? As successful as it is, WoW is a six-year-old game, swimming in a sea filled with new and upcoming MMOs (many of which benefit from game technology that didn't exist back in the early 2000's, when WoW was being developed). According to Pearce, Blizzard has a lot of faith that Cataclysm will energize would-be subscribers, based on previous experience:

"Whenever we launch an expansion we usually see some win-back from players who have set WoW aside temporarily," he said.

"Hopefully we will get some people back from Cataclysm as well. I don't think 11.5 million is a peak, necessarily, but there are certain things that we need to do and need to do well in order to see it go further."

What's interesting is that Pearce doesn't fully attribute the possibility that "11.5 million is a peak" to Cataclysm's release and the return of Chinese players. Instead, he seems to insinuate that the key to WoW's future growth goes beyond Cataclysm. And if that's the case, it's fair to assume that Blizzard isn't planning to slow down WoW's continued development any time soon, even with its top secret "next-gen" MMO in-the-works.

Many of ZAM's readers seem to agree, based on reactions to the aforementioned "Activision Worried That WoW May Become Obsolete?" news report. Quick to point out the longevity of MMOs like EverQuest and Ultima Online—which are more than a decade old and still played today—many players believe WoW is "middle-age" or younger. If 10-year-old MMOs are still played (and in some cases, still moderately-supported) today, then doesn't it stand to reason that the biggest-selling MMO of all time will still be alive-and-kicking throughout the next decade?

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Yeah right
# Jun 24 2010 at 7:04 PM Rating: Decent
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I tried other mmo's and they pale to compare to WoW......i've tried Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars, Aion, Age of Conan, Dungeon & Dragons Online and Warhammer Online but they lack in certain areas plus my two computers are 8years old together and my other is using a GeForce 2 graphics so WoW is a game for everyone which was their goal.
They are crazy
# Jun 22 2010 at 1:32 PM Rating: Decent
15 posts
Still cannot understand how blizzard thinks that a 10 years old game can still be played when a lot of new mmo's are going to hit the market.

Let's start we have starwars old republic,we have tera,rift and certainly final fantasy xiv and a lot more.

My question is how these people at blizzard still thinking they could manage to get their people back.This game is totally outdated in graphics to come accross with these next gen mmos.

Dont care what they are going to do but im going to play ffxiv then try tera and finally swtor.May the best mmo win my play time and most of all ***** wow it's been a lot of years... just shut the servers down and come again with a better graphics mmo.

seifer out
even i have been playing wow since it first came out
# Jun 13 2010 at 1:29 PM Rating: Decent
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i've been playing wow since launch now i'm disappointed at blizzard and ****** at them removing pot when some ppl have been reconsidering coming back to wow like some there orginal players
Do realms get old?
# Jun 07 2010 at 7:10 PM Rating: Decent
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I'm not concerned whether WoW is getting old. What worries me is: am I stuck in a realm that has gone stale?

I started playing in early 2008. WCRW issues took me out of Azeroth for about eight months. When I came back (at lvl 50 or so) things seemed different. I just realized why; Everybody's been playing for four or five years, reached 80, and waiting for an expansion to 120 or 300 or 30000 or something. The people in my realm seem to be 75% 80s and unconcerned for anyone under 60. They have been playing for 4-5 years and get no thrill from the myth. XPs mean nothing, likewise quests. Noobs are trash. Even 60s are grist for upgrade, not players.

Is there some way to sign up for a realm where most of the dominant players are not so jaded? I have no problem with thye 80+ers; I just don't want to play with them.
Do realms get old?
# Jun 07 2010 at 7:05 PM Rating: Decent
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I'm not concerned whether WoW is getting old. What worries me is: am I stuck in a realm that has gone stale?

I started playing in early 2008. WCRW issues took me out of Azeroth for about eight months. When I came back (at lvl 50 or so) things seemed different. I just realized why; Everybody's been playing for four or five years, reached 80, and waiting for an expansion to 120 or 300 or 30000 or something. The people in my realm seem to be 75% 80s and unconcerned for anyone under 60. They have been playing for 4-5 years and get no thrill from the myth. XPs mean nothing, likewise quests. Noobs are trash. Even 60s are grist for upgrade, not players.

Is there some way to sign up for a realm where most of the dominant players are not so jaded? I have no problem with thye 80+ers; I just don't want to play with them.
Do realms get old?
# Jun 07 2010 at 8:53 PM Rating: Decent
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I've been playing or years and have several level 80s and I have the same problem. I like playing low level alts for a little variety, but forget about instances or group quests at that level. Unless you're getting a higher level player to run you through (which takes away the fun in my opinion) any groups at that level are generally full of people who are speed levelling and want to rush through it as quickly as possible. When I play lower level alts I'm doing it to enjoy it. Not just to power level yet another 80 to do the same raids over and over.

What you probably need is a free realm transfer. Blizzard often offer free realm transfers to new realms (which won't have a lot of level 80s) or realms with low populions which are probably more likely to have low levels wanting to group up. It seems a lot of the older realms at the moment are full of guilds that have already cleared icecrown and are just marking time or even taking a break until cataclysm comes out.
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graphics outdated :P
# Jun 07 2010 at 5:45 PM Rating: Decent
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the case regarding how wow is graphically outdated is stupid. Wow keeps its graphics level cause it's targeting 'everyone'. most people like papa or grandpa joe don't have super gaming rigs. they have computers probably like from 5-10 years ago which is just enough to run WoW. if WoW became like for example, AoC, then most people won't be able to run it cause they don't have the Nvidias or ATIs that those kind of graphically advanced MMOs need. sure WoW would look awesome but they would loose even more people cause it won't be because of lost interest, it would be of "I can't play anymore cause my computer can't handle it". and not everyone has the finances to buy a new computer.
meh
# Jun 06 2010 at 7:11 PM Rating: Decent
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It will be going for awhile.

But I think its fair to say that we have hit the plateau. For a game 6 years in that isn't bad at all.
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Not the same
# Jun 06 2010 at 4:00 AM Rating: Decent
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It might not go away but it's not the same. In the past year or 2 most of the people I played WOW with gradually stopped playing. In many cases it was simply that they'd been playing for so long and got tired of it. In many cases it was because they just don't enjoy it enough any more.
I was one of the last. I stopped playing at the beginning of the year. At the time it was only intended to be a break but now I realise I don't miss it. It seems to appeal to a different type of player now.
I was finding towards the end that instances were no longer fun. They were a means to an end for most people (level ASAP or gear up). So most people just reace through them, even heroics. Much the same when it comes to questing. Group quests are pretty much dead. Many of the parts of the game that were so much fun to me just don't seem much of a focus now.
There's just so much focus on getting the majority of players in to raids that the rest of the game seems to be almost an afterthought these days. The raiders used to represent a much smaller proportion of players. As a result, I find the nature of the game has changed a lot. There may be less grinding when questing etc but that seems to have just been replaced with equally tedious and perhaps even more frustrating achievement grinds.
While it doesn't appeal to me as much now I'm sure that there are plenty of new subscribers who it would suit better now than it did before. So I don't know if you can really say whether it's past it's peak since the game itself is evolving. Subscriber numbers alone don't really tell the story.
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hmm
# Jun 03 2010 at 9:41 AM Rating: Good
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IF Everquest 1 is still going and producing expansions I don't think wow players need to worry right now. Worst case if it loses some subscribers they will merge a handful of servers at some point. ID say it will be awhile before WOW is gone or becomes unsupported.
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hmm
# Jun 04 2010 at 12:29 AM Rating: Good
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This. There are games far less successful and older that are still ticking. WoW may be "out dated", but to be honest it works just fine. I think that the style of graphics they opted to go for actually helps maintain a fresh look. They chose to go with a cartoony look rather than realistic. Realistic approaches to game art I think hurt in the long run because in a few yards its obvious the game is dated because you look at new games coming out and are just blown away by how much more realistic they appear.

WoW's age shows in some places, but most people who try it out don't really scream "Wow this is old!" Its a well made game and well maintained. Sure it'll lose its flare and sure it'll eventually trickle out...but I think if its going 6 years strong we have at least another 6 years on it before its "obsolete". That's a long time for a computer game considering most are out of style six months after release.
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# Jun 03 2010 at 8:38 AM Rating: Good
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Eventually WoW will run its course, and by that I mean it will be less popular, but by no means do I see it going away entirely. Only when Activision-Blizzard decides that the games profits no longer warrant spending investment to support it will the game disapear. Back in the day a game could have merely 50k or so subscribers and still be ticking and even be considered successful. Anyhow, its hard to believe the game is already as old as it is though. I'm just really interested to see if any other company can put together something that can even approach the success (even though the claims are that it is a dwindling success) that WoW has achieved as far as a traditional subscription based mmo is concerned.
asdf
# Jun 04 2010 at 6:31 AM Rating: Default
Never
Going
To
Happen

Why? Because every single 'modern' player demands that an MMO launch like "Present Day" WoW (aka perfect launch).

I've been in AoC, WAR, and STO launches and every single game had the chat full of "wtf, dis dun work; <company> sucks"-comments. Seems most of the vetern gamers have retired...and all that's left are the punks who never watched their realm go up and down like a cheap hooker that November day...

Devs, most of the time, never want nor expect their game to be a WoW-Killer. However, the gamers (and investors) demand otherwise and are sorely disappointed when it doesn't....and then drop the title.

And gaming companies (not the Devs) seem to think that if you take enough MMO-darts and throw them at the Player-dartboard at least one will be a bull's eye...they fail to grasp the concept of "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."....who here would trust Sony to do another Star Wars MMO? Who here would be willing to give Funcom another chance after all the ******** they pulled?
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Not anytime soon.
# Jun 03 2010 at 7:33 AM Rating: Decent
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I don't see 11.5 million players disappearing anytime soon, nor do I see it in the long run.

World of Warcraft just turned out to be one of those games that appeals to a huge amount of people, and players new to the game can be dragged in bringing their friends along with.

Not anytime soon.
# Jun 06 2010 at 10:43 AM Rating: Default
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BalverineX wrote:
I don't see 11.5 million players disappearing anytime soon, nor do I see it in the long run.


The 11.5 million number is soft since it includes huge numbers of Chinese who 1) are not reliable customers because of their government and 2) are not paying $15 a month.

BalverineX wrote:

World of Warcraft just turned out to be one of those games that appeals to a huge amount of people, and players new to the game can be dragged in bringing their friends along with.


This is true up to a point. Blizzard is very good at creating games that have excellent replay qualities. But at nearly six years old the game is not cutting edge and is considered somewhat old hat.

One other thing; Blizzard is doing a real good job of making people mad at them. A minor example is the DK. For a while there every time we had a minor patch the DK was respecced. That gets old fast and the ijits are getting ready to do it again in Cata. Another Cata-tastrophy is the Fury Warrior. They already pussified it and now they are gutting it. Or perhaps you might consider Armor and Weapon crafting which have pretty much reduced to being of very minor use. A lot of people who love crafting (moi for example) feel abandoned and misled.

Someone else up-thread suggested that Blizzard is orienting more heavily towards raiding at the expense of other PvE elements and I think that that may have validity. If so it is a (imo) mistake for two reasons. Raiding at the present* time; 1) takes more skill than many, if not most, players can muster, and 2) takes time measured in hours as opposed to minutes that many players do not have.

The original question was has the game peaked and I think the answer is yes. Note! peaked does not mean declining. At least as yet. YMMV.

*assuming not over-geared or leveled.
Not anytime soon.
# Jun 12 2010 at 7:54 AM Rating: Decent
JDLKY wrote:
One other thing; Blizzard is doing a real good job of making people mad at them.

Wrong! Blizz is doing a good job making YOU mad at them. You are like the jerks on the o-boards, QQing whenever your class is changed. It doesn't even have to be a nerf - you are a crybaby because you can't adjust the way you play to any new reality.
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Not anytime soon.
# Jun 14 2010 at 3:16 AM Rating: Decent
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ohmikeghod the Venerable wrote:

Wrong! Blizz is doing a good job making YOU mad at them. You are like the jerks on the o-boards, QQing whenever your class is changed. It doesn't even have to be a nerf - you are a crybaby because you can't adjust the way you play to any new reality.


Just because you don't agree with him it doesn't mean other people don't. The post you replied to raised some valid points and this is the best response you can come up with? Using the old 'qq' line and other cliche name calling to dismiss someone else's points doesn't really make your post seem very credible.
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Not anytime soon.
# Jun 13 2010 at 1:31 PM Rating: Decent
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i'm upset at blizzard as well removing pot right when some ppl were coming back to wow cuz of that feature now it is gone i'm thinking about closing my account with them i'm not sure i will i've been playing since WoW first came out
I Laughed...
# Jun 03 2010 at 3:52 AM Rating: Default
Quote:
If 10-year-old MMOs are still played (and in some cases, still moderately-supported) today, then doesn't it stand to reason that the biggest-selling MMO of all time will still be alive-and-kicking throughout the next decade?


Not with Kot[d]ick around. All he has to do is convince the board that Blizzard should be turned over to him and *BAM* WoW will be axed.
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