World of Warcraft subscriber numbers have been falling for years. The online game's real high-point was 12 million subscribers as third expansion Cataclysm launched in the autumn of 2010 - five years ago - and since then numbers have steadily fallen.
Subscriber numbers would have kept on falling had fifth expansion Warlords of Draenor not caused such a frenzy last autumn, boosting subscribers from 7.4 million all the way to over 10 million for the first time in years. That spike, however, only made the drop-off that followed more dramatic - as numbers crashed to a nine-year low of 5.6 million in June this year.
That's still a massive number for a subscription MMO, and still represents huge business for Blizzard, but relative to the game's earlier success it prompted concern. How was Blizzard going to stop its subscriber bleed?
There aren't any convincing answers due until 2016. The first, a Warcraft movie by Duncan Jones, comes out in the summer; the second, a sixth WOW expansion - Legion - has only just been revealed, presumably lining up for a late 2016 release (no date has so far been announced). WOW content patches in the interim can only do so much.
It's against that backdrop Blizzard announced a new subscriber number for World of Warcraft this week: 5.5 million as of the end of September 2015.
That's only a fraction less than in June (5.6 million), so perhaps it reflects the game reaching a more stable core. But how that number changes in the future we're unlikely to know, as Blizzard also announced it will no longer share subscriber numbers for WOW.
"Note that this is the last quarter that we plan to provide the subscriber number as there are other metrics that are better indicators of the overall Blizzard business performance," announced Activision's chief financial officer Dennis Durkin during an earnings call yesterday (transcript via Seeking Alpha).
There are a few things to take from that. Maybe Blizzard simply wants to change the quarterly conversation from 'World of Warcraft has lost X hundred thousand subscribers'; maybe Blizzard wants to show it has many more games in operation these days (Blizzard monthly active users were up 50 per cent year on year); or maybe Blizzard feels subscriber numbers (and their implied monthly subscription fees) aren't the best way to measure WOW's success any more, as the game makes money in many other ways - including from a legitimate gold-selling WOW Token business. Maybe WOW makes as much money now as ever.
We'll hear more about World of Warcraft and its new expansion Legion at BlizzCon 2016 this week. We'll also hear more about Overwatch, Hearthstone, StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void, Heroes of the Storm and Diablo 3. Join us for a live report from the opening ceremony on Friday at 7pm UK time (GMT).