It’s been years since the acronym “MMO” meant much of anything.
It originally stood for “massive multiplayer online” — a short-hand for games like “World of Warcraft,” which enable huge groups of people to play games together in a shared online world. But “WoW” launched in November 2004, before the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 launched. It was the last monumental success in the category.
Amazingly, that success continues in 2015, even with two newer, more powerful living room consoles. The company that owns and operates “WoW” — Activision Blizzard — told investors during its quarterly conference call on Thursday that 7.1 million people are still actively playing the game. Over 7 million people!
Many publications rightly looked at that number and balked — Business Insider’s headline was, “World of Warcraft lost three million subscribers in three months.” That’s accurate! A big content expansion launched last year (“Warlords of Draenor”) that revived the game’s player base; it helped spike users to over 10 million. Since then, the number has been dropping.
Here’s a handy chart from Statista showing the game’s player base across the last 10 years:
So here’s the deal: yes, “World of Warcraft” lost millions of subscribers between late 2014 and now, but those subscribers were just there for the new content. When they finished playing that new content, they once again disappeared.
That’s not so much a huge “loss” as it is a return to the average number of people continuing to play “WoW” — a game that launched over 10 years ago. For most video game companies, over 7 million people playing your game 10+ years after launch is an incredible feat.
“World of Warcraft” subscribers will likely continue to decline over time, but we’ll almost certainly see another spike when the next content expansion launches (and then decline once more, thus continuing the cycle). The game — once a monolith in its genre — is on its way out, no doubt about it. But for it to still be this successful this many years out is an incredible achievement.