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World of Warcraft subscriptions take a tumble

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Azeroth is a lot emptier these days.

World of Warcraft saw more than 1 million people cancel their subscriptions over the past three months, the game's publisher revealed in its quarterly earnings statement. That's one of the most dramatic drops in the game's long history.

That's not to say WoW is exactly hurting for players. With 9.1 million subscribers (as of June 30), it's still one of the biggest out there, but any title that loses 10 percent of its player base in such a short period is going to sound alarms.

WoW has been losing customers for a while now, but has managed to plug those holes for the past six months or so, holding somewhere around the 10.2 million mark. It was just last March, however, that the game boasted 12 million subscribers.

Activision-Blizzard is hoping to reverse the trend later this year with the September release of the Mists of Pandaria expansion. It's the fourth expansion for the game, raising the level cap to 90.

"Mists of Pandaria contains the biggest variety of new content we've ever created for a World of Warcraft expansion, with features that will appeal to new players, veterans, and everyone in between," said Blizzard boss Mike Morhaime.

There's some historical evidence that an expansion pack could goose the numbers. The last Warcraft expansion, 2010's Cataclysm, was a massive hit, selling over 4.7 million copies in its first month of availability. At the time, that made it the fastest-selling PC game ever. (Blizzard's own Diablo III has since broken that record.)

As for Blizzard, they're downplaying the shrinking numbers, noting they've seen this sort of pullback before and don't think the players have actually gone away. They've only been distracted by another of the company's games.

"Historically, we have seen usage decline towards the end of an expansion cycle," says Morhaime. "We saw a similar drop in subscribers in the months before Cataclysm, followed by a substantial number of returning players around the Cataclysm launch. We're also seeing that a number of players took a break from World of Warcraft to play Diablo III."

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