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Over 600,000 players left World of Warcraft in last quarter

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(Credit: Blizzard)

The Azeroth exodus continues.

During a call in which Activision-Blizzard announced plans to buy back its independence from parent company Vivendi, the game giant passed along news that World of Warcraft is now down to 7.7 million subscribers, a loss of about 600,000 in the past quarter. That’s a slower pace than the last quarter, which saw over one million players leave the game, but it’s still a significant blow.

The online behemoth hasn’t been under 8 million subscribers since 2007, just prior to the release of its first expansion, The Burning Crusade. At its peak in 2010, the game enjoyed over 12 million subscribers.

Despite a short-lived boost courtesy of last year’s Mists of Pandaria expansion, Activision-Blizzard has watched WoW’s user base shrink over the course of 2013. The company primarily blames the loss on China, where players are bombarded with a wealth of free-to-play alternatives.

Interestingly, that could be the way of the future for Warcraft. With so many users bailing out, Warcraft’s makers are considering other ways to incentivize -- and monetize -- players. Microtransactions are on the way, beginning with Asia but eventually coming to North American servers. That could include everything from harmless vanity items (new hats!) to more controversial features like experience boosters -- and it could pave the way for a move to a full free-to-play model.

“For players who are already interested in the in-game items we offer, such as Pet Store pets and mounts, the benefits of an in-game store are pretty clear,” said Warcraft community manager Bashiok in a forum post earlier this year.

Gamers hoping to play Activision-Blizzard’s long-awaited follow-up online RPG, codenamed “Titan,” will have to look elsewhere for while, as the game has reportedly been pushed back to 2016 (or later) due to changes in its development team.

“We’ve come to a point where we need to make some large design and technology changes to the game,” Blizzard said in a statement. “We’re using this opportunity to shift some of our resources to assist with other projects while the core team adapts our technology and tools to accommodate these new changes.”

First released back in 2004, World of Warcraft is certainly long in the tooth. But while losing 600,000 players is never a good thing, the game remains the leading subscription-based MMO on the market. Most of its Western competitors have either shut down or adopted free-to-play models to stay profitable. Will Warcraft do the same? And would you come back to it – or stick with it – if it made such a move? Sound off in the comments!

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