World of Warcraft China: Interesting Facts - Part 3

Posted by Daeity On Tuesday, August 17, 2010

As most of you know, China uses a different WoW subscription model then the rest of the world. They pay by the hour using game cards (that can be recharged) and they only pay for what they play.

In China, WoW can be downloaded for free and WoW gamecards can be bought virtually anywhere - game stores, online, 7 Eleven, corner stores, etc. 30 yuan will buy you 4000 minutes of gametime and 15 yuan will buy you 2000 minutes of gametime. That's $0.06 per hour played.

(If adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) however, that's about equivalent to $0.24 per hour in the US.)

For that same amount (30 yuan), that can also buy you approximately 2000G. So, it's very common for players to sell their gold to purchase WoW hourly subscriptions, but I'll talk more on that later.

Although Korea and Taiwan are in East Asia, they pay monthly based subscriptions just like NA and Europe. Although, Koreans also have an added pay-by-the-day option ($1.65 per day vs $8 per month) for Starcraft 2 or they can play for free if they have a WoW Subscription. =]

NetEase Operating Costs

According to NetEase, they spend approximately $146,000 per day to maintain their servers. That's $4.44M per month on average.

By comparison, Blizzard US spends $4.25 million per month to operate their own servers.

There are approximately 489 realms total in US and EU, 39 in Taiwan, 33 in Korea, and 342 realms in China. At the time of initial testing, however, that China realm count was much lower. Those costs seem pretty high, but because they were done during testing phases, the figures have probably come down a little since then.

Total Number of CWOW Players?

Blizzard has never officially announced the total number of players from each geography, but rather an all encompassing "11.5M" figure.

Because of the low subscription fee (6 cents per hour), you might be thinking that Blizzard can easily pad the numbers. For example, there might be 3 million players that only play 1 hour a week. But the studies mentioned in the earlier post involved tens-to-hundreds of thousands of average players and several million data points. So their average estimates would be pretty close.. but even then, that's why the use of specific words (estimates and averages) are so important. =]

Now according to NetEase, World of Warcraft makes up about one-third of NetEase's total online gaming revenue. NetEase also provides online game services for Fantasy Westward Journey, Westward Journey Online II, Westward Journey Online III, Tianxia II and Datang.

NetEase Total Online Gaming Revenue (in $USD)

Quarter Ending March 31, 2010
Gross Profit: $172.32 million
Total Revenue: $159.0 million
NetEase WoW Revenue: $53 million
Blizzard's Licensing Fees: $29 million

Quarter Ending June 30, 2010
Gross Profit: $175.72 million
Total Revenue: $162.4 million
NetEase WoW Revenue: $54.1 million
Blizzard's Licensing Fees: $30 million

Note: Depending on the terms of the contact, Blizzard's royalties (55%) can either be based on net revenue or gross profits. I'm using the lesser figure in my calculations (to favor Blizzard once again.) Blizzard also collects a $25 million flat licensing fee and minimal annual revenue shares of $180 million from NetEase. They got a pretty sweet deal by going with NetEase instead of The9 - they were only giving Blizzard a 22% royalty.

By going by the most recent revenue numbers, and the fact that the average WoW player puts in 4 hours per day:

28h per week = 121.24 hours per month x 3 months = 363.72 hours per quarter = $21.82 per quarter spent by the average CWOW player (~$7.27 per month)

That's approx. 2.6 million players in March and 2.7 million players in June.

Previous figures put the worldwide WoW population around 6.7 million active subscribers (versus 11.5M), but that was assuming an average of $15 per month. Let's plug these new numbers in to get a more accurate subscriber count.

Blizzard Gross Profits: $301.75 million (incl. royalties)
Blizzard Operating Costs: $12.75 million
Blizzard Net Revenue: $259 million (excluding China)

At a rate of $15 per month, that means that there are 6.0 million players.

However, WoW Europe pays 12.99€ (~$25 USD) per month. And there are much more EU players than NA, so that number is fairly inflated and Blizzard is probably making somewhere closer to $20 per month per subscription on average.

At a rate of $20 per month, that means that there are 4.5 million subscriptions outside of China.

That's a maximum total of 7.2 million players worldwide during the quarter ending June 30. (Note: This figure does not include the banned vs. growth rate figures or the sale of services - hence the reason why it is a maximum figure. I'm just looking at the range between $15-20 per month in subscriptions only, however retail/digital sales and services are a HUGE portion of their revenue but are not included. Because of this, the number of players are much less than approximated above.)