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Hearthstone and Diablo make up for World of Warcraft subscriber slide

Blizzard respecs for the future.

The number of people who subscribe to massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft fell to 7.1 million, Blizzard said - but the success of Hearthstone and Diablo is helping make up for it.

The November 2014 release of expansion Warlords of Draenor boosted the long-running MMO's subscriber count to over 10 million after 3.3m copies were sold in 24 hours. Blizzard boss Mike Morhaime said Warlords of Draenor "brought more players back than any previous expansion".

But by the end of March 2015 subscribers had fallen by three million to 7.1m.

Why? Some in the World of Warcraft community suggest the new garrisons feature, added to the game with the expansion, failed to keep players interested.

"The expansion started off great," wrote Reddit user A_Hard_Goodbye.

"My friends and I all came back and were raving about how great it was.

"Then one by one we all just kinda stopped.

"For me it was the garrisons that killed it, I was logging in every day only to do a tour of my garrison, click and collect some stuff and log out, it was essentially a Facebook game."

In a conference call yesterday, Activision said World of Warcraft's slide was consistent with previous post-expansion subscriber falls. And it's important to note World of Warcraft remains the biggest subscriber MMO in the world over 10 years after launch. In short, it's still hugely successful.

Blizzard added money made from World of Warcraft had in fact remained stable, and pointed to the April launch of the WoW Token System. Bertie investigated WoW Tokens and their impact on gold selling for a feature published recently.

But Blizzard, mindful that World of Warcraft subscribers will, naturally, continue to fall as the game gets ever older, pointed to the recent success of its other games as evidence it's making up the money difference.

Card game Hearthstone has seen explosive growth since its launch, and now has a whopping 30 million players. Blizzard recently started beta testing the Chinese version of Diablo 3 and saw three million players sign up. Two weeks ago the open beta launched, with over 1m sales now in the bank.

Morhaime said without any major launches, Battle.net still ended the quarter with the largest Q1 player community in its history, up double digits percentage wise year-on-year.

The upshot is Blizzard's non-World of Warcraft revenue stream has risen from 30 per cent of total revenue in 2013 to 40 per cent of total revenue in 2014. Continued growth of Hearthstone and multiplayer online role-playing game Heroes of the Storm is expected to boost non-World of Warcraft revenue further to more than 50 per cent of the Blizzard business in 2015.

Or, in Blizzard business speak:

"Strong recurring franchise diversification is in process inside the Blizzard portfolio, which sets us up for a bright 2016 and beyond."

Looking to the future, Hearthstone is set for a new expansion, Blackrock Mountain, Heroes of the Storm launches proper in June, StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void will be pushed out to more players, and an Overwatch closed beta looms on the horizon.

Cover image for YouTube videoBuying gold & selling time - Talking WoW Tokens /w Scott Johnson