Make no mistake about it, World of Warcraft really exploded the appeal of MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). It may have not invented the genre but it has definitely taken it to a whole new other level— we’re talking lush 3D graphics, a massive array of servers, a proven customer service model and a proven subscriber model. In fact, at its hike, World of Warcraft had more than $10M global members. Think about that. $10M global members all paying a monthly subscription fee– talk about a cash cow. That’s how powerful World of Warcraft is.
Well, things have changed. It has been a few years and World of Warcraft’s membership has dipped below $10M and the latest estimate is pinned at around $8M and a lot of industry observers are saying that this trend will continue. World of Warcraft will continue to hemorrhage members and as a result, the end game that they see is that World of Warcraft will become a free to play game. What we can say to all these speculations is that “Hold on a moment.” World of Warcraft is a very different brand compared to games like Rift or even Star Wars: The Old Republic.
World of Warcraft has a solid brand and will always have a core base of hardcore fans that would want to stay on that subscriber model. In fact, what we are arguing is that far from dying, World of Warcraft may have reached a point where even if its membership base hemorrhages to maybe even half, it would still have enough built in momentum in terms of efficiency of scale, built in content and also cost control measures that would ensure that it would still succeed even though it has a smaller base. The saving grace for World of Warcraft is that it’s a highly polished high quality material. When it comes to lore, programming quality, and graphics, few other products come close. That is what it brings to the table.
Arguing that the future World of Warcraft is free to play really misses the point. We’re talking about a completely different product here and a completely different level. World of Warcraft can survive with maybe $5M or even $3M or if it comes to worse, $2M members. It just needs to make some adjustments but it can stay there. The question that begs to be asked is, “Would its parent company be happy with this?” For the longest time, this property has been a cash cow. Would they really be happy that their former cash cow got reduced to a fraction of its former self?