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How World of Warcraft Became The World’s Most Popular MMORPG

Updated on October 7, 2014

Purchasable in-game World of Warcraft items

World of Warcraft is still going strong!

World of Warcraft players are gearing up for the new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, which is set to be launched on November 13th, 2014. Warlords of Draenor will be the fifth expansion of this MMORPG and there is an overall feeling of excitement among World of Warcraft players. There have been many MMO and MMORPGs to hit the market – many of which promised to take the place of World of Warcraft as the most popular MMO.

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Cinematic

MMO Subscription Data provided by SuperData Research

Revenues have dipped!

However, none of these games have tarnished the appeal or popularity of World of Warcraft. While it is true that revenues from World of Warcraft have dipped, in 2013 this game brought in over $1 billion in revenue and had 36% of market share. This is significantly larger than their closest competitor, Lineage 1, which generated $253 million in revenue with 9% of market share. To top it off, the release of Warlords of Draenor is likely to boost revenues even more as is typical whenever new expansions are released.

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Breaking it Down: World of Warcraft by the Numbers

World of Warcraft accounts for a large portion of profits from Activision and even though the number of subscriptions has dropped, new expansions like Warlords of Draenor regularly attract millions of players – both new and inactive. Usually the number of active World of Warcraft subscriptions at any one given time is around 7 million. That may sound small compared to League of Legends which boasts 67 million monthly players but it actually shows the value of World of Warcraft subscriptions.

Micro-transactions can work for many MMOs but nothing is better than monthly subscriptions which cost between $10 and $15 per month. World of Warcraft has lasted longer and has seen more success than anyone could have anticipated – including Blizzard and Activision. However, that success is not just due to their larger monthly subscriptions. There are many factors that have made this MMORPG so successful and those factors involve player satisfaction.

Number of World of Warcraft Subscribers from 2005 to 2014 provided by statista

Activision Earnings for World of Warcraft

Subscription in decline since 2010!

The subscription numbers have been declining since 2010 but the overall trend for standard monthly subscriptions experienced by World of Warcraft is almost unheard of. For instance, the MMO game Star Wars: The Old Republic had a fairly disappointing debut with $165 million in revenue in 2013 and had 6% of the market share. The failure of this game to draw a sufficient number of players has caused it to move to a free-to-play mode. There is still a subscription model that has allowed EA to make a profit from this game but it is nothing like the success of World of Warcraft.

Activision’s press release reflects that net revenues for World of Warcraft in 2014 are more than $2 billion which includes subscriptions, product sales, licensing and other revenues generated by World of Warcraft. While subscriptions and game sales are an important part of World of Warcraft’s revenue, they are not the only sources of income. Blizzard has created a wide range of figurines, replica armor and other merchandise that players can purchase. In addition, players can buy in-game pets and mounts. Combined with subscriptions, these revenue streams make World of Warcraft a financial success.

Catering to Players has made World of Warcraft One of the Most Successful MMOs

Games would be nothing if it were not for loyal players purchasing and ultimately enjoying those games and World of Warcraft is no different. Since inception, the creators of World of Warcraft have recognized how important players are and that their needs must be met for the game to have any measure of success. World of Warcraft has undergone many changes since it was first launched but every change was made with the intention of improving game play – sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. However, what has kept many players around or has caused them to return is the fact that these changes keep the game feeling new and fresh between expansions and patches.

Of course many changes have improved classes or improved the overall game play but what drives players is the chance to experience new content and new challenges. In terms of releasing new patches, no one can compete with Blizzard. Another factor that has made World of Warcraft so successful is the fact that Blizzard tries to respond to legitimate player concerns to create a more balanced game. In other words, Blizzard is constantly evaluating PVE, PVP, professions, classes and nearly every other aspect of the game to create and/or maintain balance. In World of Warcraft, the goal is to provide equal footing to all classes and styles of game play so no one is over-powered or over-looked.

Interview with Ion Hazzikostas (Lead Encounter Designer), Brian Holinka (Lead Game Designer) and Kris Zierhut (Lead Class Designer)

The World of Warcraft Model: Player Control and Personalization

Gaming is a very personal experience and it is always a challenge to create a game that offers a high level of personalization while still offering a user-friendly platform. However, World of Warcraft has been fairly successful at balancing these two important aspects of gaming. In order to provide a more personalized experience, players begin by choosing a realm. This realm will be the home of the character created by the player.

World of Warcraft Realm Selection Screen (Cataclysm Expansion)

PVE, PVP, RP and RPPVP?

Realms are available in a wide range of different time zones and they are divided into PVE, PVP, RP and RPPVP. PVE is the standard and most popular realm type, PVP is a player versus player realm where players are always flagged for PVP and can be attacked by the opposite faction at any time. RP stands for role play – these realms cater to players that want to engage in a more immersive experience by role playing with their characters and other players. An RPPVP realm is an RP realm that is also a PVP realm.

Realm type is only one, most basic aspect of personalization in the World of Warcraft universe. Players can then create a personalized character by choosing a faction – Alliance or Horde. These factions have a distinct set of races that players can choose from. In addition, players can choose their gender as well as their class which will determine the abilities they have. When players have created their character, they will enter the World of Warcraft universe where they will level their character by questing, running dungeons (PVE) or battlegrounds (PVP) or through their chosen professions which can also be customized.

As characters increase in level, they will gain additional abilities – some of which players can personalize. The entire experience of World of Warcraft is customized but at the same time it is fairly easy for new players to learn how to play especially with the resources provided by Blizzard and the World of Warcraft community. The success of World of Warcraft would have not been possible if it were not for the overall experience that most players have with the game.

Will World of Warcraft have any Competition?

Many games have come and gone that some people said would be World of Warcraft assassins but World of Warcraft still remains strong. However, are there any upcoming games that could dethrone World of Warcraft? In 2014, a new MMO was released called WildStar which some expected to become more popular than World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, its numbers began to dwindle and WildStar was forced to combine servers to boost the population – this is generally not a good sign for the future success of a MMO.

Playable character races in WildStar

Is the market really saturated with MMOs?

As mentioned, WildStar is not the first game to attempt to overthrow World of Warcraft’s reign but it is now part of a growing number of games that have failed to gain the popularity of World of Warcraft. That is not to say that another game won’t come along to become a serious competitor for World of Warcraft. As it stands now the market is saturated with MMOs and it is much more difficult for newcomers to build a successful game from the ground up. World of Warcraft has the experience and dedicated player base it needs to continue on as the most successful MMO in the world.

Continuing to Capitalize on the Success of World of Warcraft

Blizzard has made a name for itself through World of Warcraft and with that fame it has been able to establish other games like Hearthstone and continue to market its existing games like Starcraft and Diablo. However, Blizzard and World of Warcraft will soon be moving beyond the realm of MMOs and onto the silver screen. The World of Warcraft movie which is simply titled ‘Warcraft’ is set to be released in 2016 and will be based on events that took place before the events in the game.

The incredible amount of lore that fans and Blizzard have created for World of Warcraft will be used as a basis for the movie. While Blizzard was hesitant at first because a poor movie could affect the game’s revenues, they ultimately agreed to sell the rights for a movie. Some speculate that the movie will fail while others predict impressive profits – until its release no one can be certain of the movie’s success.

Cast of Warcraft

The Future for World of Warcraft

It is difficult to predict the long-term future of World of Warcraft but there is no doubt that there is still tremendous appeal for the game. The upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion will likely give World of Warcraft a boost in its subscriptions and future projections show a solid net income of nearly $1 billion for Activision Blizzard.

Income Statement Evolution for Activision Blizzard from 4-Traders

Promising future for World of Warcraft?

All the numbers indicate that the future for World of Warcraft looks bright but it will all depend on the loyalty of the player base. While it is not possible to keep all players happy at all times, Blizzard has learned over the years how to keep most players happy with the game so they will continue to play. World of Warcraft shares many ideas and concepts that are available in other MMOs but the dedication to improving the lives of players and to constantly offer fresh, exciting content is something unique to World of Warcraft and is the key to its success.

Comments

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    • Andrew Medina profile image

      Andrew Medz 

      3 years ago

      Guys, have you seen the Warlords of Draenor cinematic trailer? This expansion will be soooo gonna be awesome! Yeaaaaahhhhhh!

    • Matt Blanks profile image

      Matt Blanks 

      3 years ago

      Wow! I didn't know that there is a WarCraft movie. Is it in production?

    • fengweiwins profile image

      Feng Wei 

      3 years ago

      More than a decade now and WOW is still going strong. Blizzard rules!!!

    • profile image

      sidneymotley 

      3 years ago

      Sharpen your swords and prepare for battle! Man, this game is so limitless. I believe some gamers play almost 40 hours nonstop. There should be a WOW Anonymous group somewhere. lol

    • profile image

      Eric Brauman 

      3 years ago

      Last time I've played is with The Burning Crusade, now that they are releasing a new expansion I can able to use my old character.

      Thanks for the info!

    • profile image

      Jarred Leviathon 

      3 years ago

      I remember it also announce the release of Wrath of the Lich King, I just forgot the year.

    • profile image

      Astor Levinster 

      3 years ago

      We are talking about the legend here, WoW started as stand alone game in 2001.

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