World of Warcraft's Alternative Revenue Streams

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In one of my previous posts, I calculated the maximum possible number of WoW players, but those figures did not include alternative revenues collected during the same time frame.

Since the quarterly figures also included such sales as transfers, faction changes, and other paid account services then it would mean that the WoW player counts are even less. But since this transactional information is not public, it's impossible to tell what percentage of their overall Net Revenue is related to subscriptions vs paid services.

Blizzard is under a lot of pressure from their "boss" to introduce new products or add new sources of revenue to combat World of Warcraft's decreasing revenue: "If consumer demand for World of Warcraft games declines and Vivendi Games has not introduced new MMOG or other products that replace World of Warcraft’s potentially decreasing revenue, or added other sources of revenue.."

And it's very interesting to see the strategic deployment (ie, "well timed" delivery) of new account services or virtual products that have been planned for months or possibly years. It's as if the new revenue streams need to be constantly introduced each quarter to combat significantly declining player counts.

(Note: This list does not include major content releases/patches.)

2nd Quarter ending Jun 30 2010 - $289 Million Net Revenue
- Celestial Steed & Lil’ XT Pet introduced at the beginning of the quarter (Apr 15th, 2010)
- The horse was just a reused 3D model so it hardly cost them anything. But it sold at $25 for a minimum of $3.5 million on the first day. Because those sales were part of their Net Revenue, that actually amounts to about 100,000 players. So instead of a maximum of 6.7M players during that quarter, it would be a max of 6.62M.
- Exclusive RAF Flying Mount introduced Apr 30, 2010.
- Remote / Mobile Auction House service ($3 per month) introduced at the end of the quarter (Jun 2010). So many of the profit increases won't be visibile until Q3 2010.

1st Quarter ending Mar 31 2010 - $306 Million Net Revenue
- Celestial Steed leaked to the public to build up interest.

4th Quarter ending Dec 31 2009 - $294 Million Net Revenue
- Race Change service ($25) introduced at the start of the quarter (Oct 09)
- Pet Store introduced in the middle of the quarter (Nov 09). $10 to $25 virtual pets.

Interesting Note: They had a "special" on Pandaren Monk's where they donated 50% of the sales to charity. That special ended on Dec 31, 2009 (coincidentally, the end of quarter). Not only that, but they sold something that cost $0 to make, made quite a bit of profit, while simultaneously receiving tax relief and public relations. Brilliant. =]

3rd Quarter ending Sep 30 2009 - $301 Million Net Revenue
- Faction Change service ($30) introduced at the end of the quarter (Sep 09)

2nd Quarter ending Jun 30 2009 - $324 Million Net Revenue
- Nothing new introduced.

1st Quarter ending Mar 31 2009 - $314 Million Net Revenue
- Nothing new introduced.

4th Quarter ending Dec 31 2008 - $325 Million Net Revenue
- Character Re-customization service ($15) introduced at the end of the quarter (Dec 08)
- Wrath of the Lich King released (Nov 08)

3rd Quarter ending Sep 30 2008 - $271 Million Net Revenue
- PvE to PvP Paid Transfers ($25) introduced at the end of the quarter (Sep 08)
- Recruit a Friend program introduced in the middle of the quarter (Aug 08)

2nd Quarter ending Jun 30 2008 - No Quarterly Report
- Nothing new introduced.

1st Quarter ending Mar 31 2008 - $275 Million Net Revenue
- Character Transfer and Character Name Change cooldown reduced from 3 to 1 month. (Feb 08)

4th Quarter ending Dec 31 2007 - $279 Million Net Revenue
- Name Change service ($10) introduced in middle of the quarter (Oct 07)

3rd Quarter ending Sep 30 2007 - $269 Million Net Revenue
- Scroll of Resurrection introduced at the end of the quarter (Sep 07)

2nd Quarter ending Jun 30 2007 - $324 Million Net Revenue
- PvP to PvE Paid Character Transfers ($25) introduced at the end of the quarter (Jun 06)

(That's just a quick run-through, but if I missed anything I will update it.)

It's very interesting to see that all of the major paid services were all introduced at the end of each quarter. Based on those trends, we might see something new (probably a remote service of some kind) introduced in September 2010. And then next quarter (Q4) is when Cataclysm will be coming out.

Not only that but there's another interesting trend: New paid services (or any kind of alternative revenue stream) are introduced just before quarter end (e.g. 1-2 weeks prior) when the most amount of sales are made! You see, there's a rush because of the new service and everyone wants it as soon as possible. In the end, that rush pads their Quarterly Report profits. And because they can introduce the services any time they want, they only have to release them if they are showing poor performance for that quarter. Of course, follow-up quarters will have significantly less sales, but I'm guessing that there are probably major content releases between each of these activities to keep users interested. =]

Note: Did you notice that major services/changes are released when profits are low for that quarter? But when profits are high, nothing new is introduced.

As you can see, their Net Revenue has remained very close in proximity from 2007 to 2010 as well. If that number is remaining constant (although it's actually trending downwards), but they keep deploying more-and-more paid services over the years, that would indicate that player counts are declining even faster than predicted in the previous post.

The big next step to increase profit is getting WoW players back into China with the WOTLK and the Cataclysm launch. I'm sure we'll see a lot more "alternative revenue streams" (ie, paid services) after the Cataclysm launch, or possibly PR stunts to increase sales of an existing service or virtual item.

Much of this will depend on the success of Cataclysm (mentioned a lot in earlier posts).

What do I think those services could be?

- A lot more mobile services definitely! The Remote/Mobile AH is just a start.
- Checking in-game mailboxes. Inventory, bank, character, and talent management through mobile. (*EDIT: Apparently, the new "Mobile Armory" does some of this already. Guess I was right =] )
- In-game chat with Guild, General Chat, Trade Chat, etc through mobile/remote.
- Integration with to allow chat between accounts (e.g. SC2 and WoW players).
- Mobile application that alerts you when other WoW players are nearby, giving you details on their avatar after you "handshake".
- Further integration with Facebook, linking the virtual world with your profile page.
- "GPS tracker" so your Facebook friends know where you are in Azeroth.
- More virtual pets, mounts, and special character customizations only available for real money (special hair cuts, glowing eyes, imposing skull faces, exclusive dances, flaming horns, jewellery, fashion wear, etc.) I think there would be many people who would pay $5-10 for bright glowing eyes.
- Special virtual pets sold with very limited quantities so that people rush for the one-time-only "elite pet" or charity pets for those with a soft heart.
- Depending on the success or failure of Cataclysm, we might see more non-vanity and game-effecting virtual items being sold.
- Change all vanity pets so that they can engage in special combat with each other (they level and grow) to sell even more vanity pets. This would be very easy to do.
- Reduced price structure of existing Paid Account services to attract more players - "Weekend specials", "Christmas Gift Specials", etc.
- Guild Paid services for entire Guild Transfers or group/individual rates for multiple character transfers, realms transfers, renaming, and faction changes.
- Blizzard has been experimenting with Player and Guild Housing, but they also don't want cities to appear empty. It's therefore hard to say if this will ever be introduced, but if it is, the Blizzard store will have house items for sale (e.g. paintings, rugs, bookshelves, etc.) Personally, I don't think this will ever be introduced.
- More "community" integration between's games, like pets/mounts for playing the other game, and then once you're hooked: paid premium services.

The list can just go on and on. There are a ton of possible alternative revenue streams, but those are just the simple ones off the top of my head.