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Analysts squabble over Mists of Pandaria’s sales

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(Credit: Blizzard)

Blizzard Entertainment was hoping Mists of Pandaria, the latest World of Warcraft expansion pack, would help shore up the game's rapidly declining subscription numbers.

But so far, it's far from clear if the game is finding an audience.

Lazard Capital Markets says week one sales of the expansion came in at well under 1 million copies sold at retail. Previous WoW expansions have historically outsold their predecessors, so that would be a serious stumble if the company's retail checks are accurate.

But analysts at investment bank Brean Murray, Carrett & Co. say there's nothing to worry about. It's expecting Activision-Blizzard to sell roughly 4.5 million copies of the game by the end of the current fiscal quarter.

There's a lot riding on Pandaria's sales -- and a little wiggle room in how the numbers are determined.

First, the numbers. Whether or not retail sales are down sharply, no one will know how well the game sold through digital downloads until Activision reports its earnings — which will likely be sometime in early November. Digital sales of Blizzard titles are typically substantial, as witnessed by the connectivity problems Diablo III players had within minutes of that game unlocking earlier this year.

Also, keep in mind 1.2 million people signed up for a World of Warcraft Annual Pass — and while not all of them will spring for the Pandaria expansion, they're the most likely candidates given their loyalty to the brand.

Expect the final numbers to be closely scrutinized when they do emerge, though. WoW lost more than 1 million subscribers between April and June and has fallen from 12 million players last March to 9.1 million in August.

Pandaria could provide a boost to that subscription count, but the key questions are: How much of one -- and for how long?

Activision-Blizzard relies on WoW for roughly 25 percent of its annual revenues. While a new MMO is in the works from Blizzard that could supplement -- and ultimately replace -- that income stream, it's not expected to launch anytime soon.

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