World of Warcraft subscribers decrease

12 million pre-Cataclysm, 11.4 million now.

The number of people subscribing to World of Warcraft has decreased, Blizzard has revealed.

Apparently third expansion Cataclysm couldn't hold the community's interest for long.

"We finished the quarter [Jan-March] with more than 11.4 million subscribers worldwide," announced Blizzard CEO Michael Morhaime in a conference call last night (transcript courtesy of Seeking Alpha).

In October the WOW subscriber number was 12 million.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm was released on 7th December.

"So what we have seen so far is that people have been consuming this [Cataclysm] content very quickly and so the subscriber levels have decreased faster than in previous expansions," explained Morhaime, who put this down to WOW players being "much better and much faster at consuming content" these days.

"But that's why we're working on developing more content," Morhaime added.

Last week's release of WOW update 4.1: Rise of the Zandalari has had a "very positive" response from the community, Morhaime said. He also referred to the in-development patch 4.2 which, among other things, introduces the Firelands raid and a new and improved Ragnaros end boss.

In the future, Blizzard will "decrease" the amount of time between expansions, Morhaime said. This tallies with the infamous (and unconfirmed) leak of an internal Blizzard release schedule, which pencilled a WOW expansion for Q2 2012 and another for Q4 2013.

Morhaime went on to stress that World of Warcraft subscriber growth has never been one way. "It's been driven by new content and seasonality throughout the course of World of Warcraft's history," he said.

And Morhaime believes there are "lots" of reasons for "optimism": Cataclysm's launch in China, which will "reinvigorate" the community; "additional new free content" and "additional value-added services". Blizzard will also investigate launching WOW in other countries. Does Morhaime mean Brazil in Q3 2011 as the leaked schedule also revealed?

Nevertheless, a flagging Western appetite for World of Warcraft will cause concern ahead of the presumed 2011 launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic - the largest MMO threat Blizzard has yet faced. Morhaime addressed EA's expensive challenger stoically.

"In terms of additional competition, we knew that this year was going to be a year where we faced new competitors," he said. "It isn't the first time, though, that we have had strong competitors enter the MMO market.

"What we have seen in the past is, we tend to see our players leave for some period of time, perhaps try out the new MMOs, and then good percentage of them historically have returned to World of Warcraft.

"And so far," Morhaime added, "I haven't seen anything to indicate that this will be different."

Activision Blizzard yesterday announced earning record piles of money during the first three months of the year.

World of Warcraft patch 4.2.

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