There’s a hole bigger than the one Tom Cruise put in Oprah’s couch, in the MMORPG playerbase.
Last post, I suggested that World of Warcraft might be able to achieve greater than 20 million subscribers after Cataclysm releases because many former players will resubscribe simply to see the changes to much of the low level content throughout Azeroth. While I still believe that, I find myself wondering where all those old subscribers are hiding.
World of Warcraft has been out for nearly six years now, and WoW will be six years by the time Cataclysm releases. Yet despite the games growth, far more players have left World of Warcraft than have stayed. If you consider that there is a constant churn of players coming and going, then a best guess could put the number of former World of Warcraft players at more than 20 million, and that could be just the Western players.
I have no hard figures here, while Blizzard let us know the peaks of their subscriber numbers, we don’t know the actual churn rate. The actual number of former subscribers could be lower, or much higher.
So where are they?
I used to believe that despite World of Warcrafts perceived flaws, that it was a great gateway game for the MMORPG genre. When a player started to want more than WoW had to offer, then they would go out and find a game more suitable for their needs. I used to think that when a player got sick of WoW, they’d go out and pick up another MMORPG and give that a try.
That does not seem to have happened as much as the numbers suggest it should have. There are a few reasons why this could be the case.
- WoW has less actual subscribers than we are lead to believe.
- The churn rate is much lower than expected. Players that start the game stay with it for years, but not many new players are coming in.
- The World of Warcraft experience is so offputting, players give up on MMORPGs entirely.
- Players are just trying out MMORPGs starting with WoW and aren’t hooked enough to keep going with the genre. If box sales add to the subscriber numbers, then players leaving after the free month might account for this part of the churn.
- Players may have liked WoW, but don’t want to invest the same amount of time in a new MMOG.
To be honest, none of these reasons is a satisfying explanation for the missing MMORPG player conundrum.
We do have sales figures from retail chains showing that box sales of WoW are continuing, hence new players are coming into the game. Coupled with the relatively static subscriber numbers, and Blizzard really doesn’t have much of a reason to lie about these numbers. The conclusion is that the churn rate is also consistent and that Blizzard has a very large number of ex-subscribers.
And WoW is popular, despite it not being everyones cup of tea, it’s been a remarkably successful game for a long time. That kinda indicates that the experience is enjoyable for a lot of players. These players should then be open to a new game, at least a reasonable percentage should be. That also applies to players that are unsure about the time commitment for a new game, many should overcome that and get into other MMOGs. Yet we don’t seem to be seeing that.
The only explanation that hold any weight is that a lot of players are just giving the game a try and don’t get past the first month. Blizzard in the past has said that a lot of players never make it past level 10, and these are probably the trial/free month players. Of course that means that Blizzard has to count a trial download, or a box sale as a subscriber for their figures, and they might do that for shareholder reporting. But is this enough to distort the churn rate enough to hide all ex-subscribers? I’m not sure it does.
So where have all the players gone?
What do you think has happened here?