Every now and again, I like to listen to the financial calls for the publishers that I enjoy; EA has SWTOR, Activision/Blizzard has WoW. Today (11/3/15) is Blizzard's call.
Blizzard is having their financial call today to go over Q3 (Jul-Sep 2015) results. In rather untypical Blizzard fashion, they've released their sub numbers early ... it's an odd move for a company that's usually pretty tight-lipped about the data.
- World of Warcraft® subscriptions remained relatively stable, ending the quarter at 5.5 million subscribersC. Players are excited about the upcoming expansion, Legion™, which will feature a new class, customizable Artifact weapons, class order halls, and much more. World of Warcraft remains the No. 1 subscription‐based MMORPG in the world.
Wait, does it actually say that? Really? Fuckin' ... no, there's no way. Like, what?
So, Blizzard is *CLAIMING* to have lost only 100K subs. LOL OK PAL. Let's just go with that for a moment. Only losing 100K would be an absolute COUP for our friends in Irvine. Recent trends show that the game should have (and probably did) shed tons of subscribers in the recent content drought. Q3 fails to take in any impact from the latest news about patch 6.2.3; that hasn't even hit the live servers yet (and won't for at least a while). Are they saying that the Tanaan patch held people over?
Like, did ... did they play the Tanaan stuff?
My guess is that the WoW token's pricing had a lot to do with the current subscriber rates. The token's launch at 20K for NA servers was probably a very, very shrewd move on Blizzard's part. For many players (not me, but apparently many), 20K gold for a month of game-time isn't much of an ask. Combine that with garrison dailies and the ability for alts to churn out (reportedly) obscene amounts of gold, even with the 6.2 gold nerf, the WoW token suddenly became a very attractive option for a portion of the playerbase. I've seen first-hand at least three people in my immediate circle who are subscribed through the end of the year (and into the next year for two of them) through tokens alone. And let's not forget the financial impact of that; the token sold for 20K gold (or thereabouts at release ... fluctuated from 20-25K), providing wealthy in-game players an avenue to buy monthly time. In turn, Blizzard charged $20 per token, an increase of 33% on their regular sub price. This extra money, both from the token sale itself (+$20 to Blizzard) and the gold price (+20-25K gold to seller) pumps up both the real life finacials and the in-game economy. That seller now has more gold to play with, meaning he/she could possibly go fund a month of WoW if they really wanted to (but who would do that) or spend that money in-game, thereby increasing engagement. That means another month or two of subscription, just by having a gold reserve built up. It also means that Blizzard stealthily charges an extra $5 for a product that has retailed for $15 since 2006.
It's genius really.
So, I'm thinking that maybe the sub numbers really didn't drop all that much. Maybe that 100K loss is pretty factual? But do all the token buyers stay engaged in the game once tokens are redeemed? How many of them buy six months of time and then don't log in for the final four? Since the token can't be postponed or resold once bought, you're creating a system where you get to have your cake and eat it too; sell the sub at +33%, create an 'active subscription' through token redemption, and maintain the illusion of an actual player. The real questions to ask are these:
- How many tokens are sold since inception
- How many token buyers are actively engaged in the game right now
- What is the engagement rate for token buyers vs sellers
- What is the overall engagement rate
I know we'll never actually get those numbers. It's cool. It's just stuff I like to think about sometimes.
Oh, and with Blizzard's new policy of never reporting sub numbers anymore, we won't have a true barometer of the health of WoW. Well, not until they announce the shutdown in 2025.