World of Warcraft has been running for 10 years, and in that time has become the most successful MMORPG of all time. It holds the world record in terms of subscribers, and with over 10 billion dollars grossed as of July 2012 it is also the most profitable game of all time. During the decade the servers have been live the game has seen its share of successes, but also some dwindling numbers in subscribers in the later years. It is only natural that some players will lose interest after years of grinding, raiding and repeating battlegrounds. However, with the launch of the newest expansion Warlords of Draenor, the game has enticed millions of players to return to the world of Azeroth.
When the game launched in 2004 not even Blizzard anticipated the overwhelming success the game would have. MMOs were not a mainstream genre of games and usually not created with the ‘casual’ gamer in mind. World of Warcraft was a revolution in the genre, appealing to the hardcore and the casual player alike as well as being easily accessible to players of all ages. The game reached 1 million subscribers only a few months after the initial release, and the numbers kept rising at a steady pace for the next couple of years.
In early 2007, Blizzard released the first expansion pack for World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. At the launch of the expansion, the game had 8 million subscribers. The game reached the 10 million subscribers milestone in January 2008, and the numbers were still climbing. At the release of the Wrath of the Lich King the game had 11.5 million subscribers. The number held steady until October 2010 when Blizzard announced that the total global subscriber count had reached 12 million. This is where the number peaked, however. A few months after the release of Cataclysm in December 2010 the numbers started going down at a steady pace. In July 2012 the game had lost 3 million subscribers, making the new total 9.1 million. A few players came back with the next expansion Mists of Pandaria in September 2012 and the game again hit the 10 million mark. MoP wasn’t the success that Blizzard had hoped for, and subscriber numbers fell dramatically to 6.8 million by June 2014. However, while 6.8 might seem low compared to the incredible 12 million the game had some years before, it’s still a much higher number than any MMO has achieved before it. Even with almost half the subscriber base it once had, WoW was still the most popular MMO in terms of subscribers.
After the announcement of the fifth and latest expansion set, Warlords of Draenor, World of Warcraft finally saw a positive development. Shortly before the WoD release the number of subscribers were up to 7.4 million, suggesting that many players came back to get their characters ready for the new expansion. A short month after the release, WoW is now back to 10 million subscribers, the highest rating since late 2012. This means that at least 3.2 million players rushed back to the game in less than 6 months.
There are a number of reasons why this sudden influx of players decided to come back. The first being the appeal of the setting and story of Warlords of Draenor. While many argue that Cataclysm was probably the weakest of the expansions, there are still many that didn’t find the concepts of Mists of Pandaria very enticing either. WoD is taking a darker approach (especially when compared to the cute Kung-Fu pandas in MoP), while opening new and interesting possibilities by introducing a new timeline and new badass characters. There has also been many players belonging to the Horde faction that has complained for a very long time that all major storylines have been mostly focused on the Alliance. This expansion gives them what they have been wishing for. I know a lot of people who had quit playing WoW who decided to come back as soon at they saw the WoD trailer, so well done to Blizzard for taking feedback to heart and creating an expansion with such a wide appeal.
The second big reason I believe that people are coming back is that Blizzard have implemented ways to make it very easy to get started with WoD, even if you haven’t played the game in years. Personally, I was very interested in WoD but I hadn’t played the game in 4 years. If I was to come back to WoW I would have to buy 3 expansions in addition to renewing my subscription. That was something I simply could not afford, so I put the idea to rest. Imagine my surprise then when I realized that Blizzard had given -all- exisiting WoW accounts that had ever been created (active or not) a free upgrade to the MoP expansion. This meant that I only had to buy the new expansion, renew my subscription and I was in. There was no way I could resist the temptation any longer, and I now count myself as one of the 3.2 million that came back these last few months. Well played, Blizzard. Well played!
Of course, getting the free upgrade might not be enough for some people. Even if you can get right back into WoD, your character might still be a much lower level. The idea of having to level from, say, level 70 to 90 before getting into the new WoD areas could be a deal breaker. But fear not! Blizzard has included one free character boost to level 90 when you buy the expansion. So if you want to get back in the game has not only been upgraded for free, but you also get to instantly level your main character to 90. Its an instant access to WoD for all of us!
Blizzard has been going out of their way to entice new players to come back, and make it easy for brand new players to get to the endgame. It certainly seems to be working when judging by the numbers. Whether all these returning players will stay longer or not remains to be seen, but it certainly looks positive for Blizzard going in to the new year.
How about your own experience with WoW? Did you return for WoD? Did Blizzard play you as easily as they did me? And do you think the numbers will hold up in 6 months time? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.