Cataclysm Sales: No Surprises There

Posted by Daeity On Monday, January 10, 2011

Blizzard has just made their official announcement regarding first month sales.

Just as a reminder from my previous post, though, there's a little caveat with their official announcement:

...setting a new record for monthly PC-game sales.*

*Based on internal company records and reports from key distribution partners. Includes digital distribution.
Now.. it's not really a PC game, is it? It's cheaper DLC or an "unlock" code really (since players don't actually need the DVD or even the download since it's just the old 4.0 patch), so you can't really compare it to any other game releases of the year.

The "PC game" also "sold through more than 4.7 million copies as of its first month of release, setting a new record for monthly PC-game sales.* Basically, what that means is that Blizzard's "first month" actually means 3+ months of sales.

Blizzard was supposed to make at least 5-6 million sales in the first (real) month according to expert analysts. So, it looks like their revenue for the quarter will fall short of the anticipated $600 million mark.

Cataclysm sales numbers are definitely no where close to the more successful TBC and WOTLK expansion packs. Although Blizzard has been putting on a strong game face, sources tell me that they were actually disappointed by the sales - much more was anticipated for their revival attempt of WoW.

To help put things into perspective, here's a breakdown of their expansion pack sales:

The Burning Crusade (incl. Pre-Sales)
2.4 million in first 24 hours
3.5 million in first month

Wrath of the Lich King (incl. Pre-Sales)
2.8 million in first 24 hours
4.0 million in first month

Cataclysm (incl. Pre-Sales and Digital Downloads)
3.3 million in first 24 hours
4.7 million in first month

Since Cataclysm is a special case (players able to purchase and install the retail on Nov. 3rd) and if you ignore Blizzard's fine print, sales figures were actually:

Cataclysm (incl. Pre-Sales)
2.2 million in first 24 hours *
3.3 million in first month
4.7 million by second month

* It's probably even less than 2.2, I would estimate maybe 1.5 - 2.0 million based on average sales trends.

Take it for what you will, though.. all I know is that expert analysts were predicting 6 million sales on the first day, Blizzard said it was 3.3 million, and I'm guessing that it was less than 2 million.

WoW had already peaked a couple years ago, plateaued, and now it's slowly meandering downwards. I don't think they'll be able to pull off the same kind of "record shattering" announcement for their next expansion pack since they have already taken advantage of the Digital Download-skewed "24 hour sales" numbers.

(Well.. there are some ways to do it actually. One way is to extend Digital Downloads to more than 1 month before launch and really push promotions. The second way is to reduce the cost of the expansion pack. The third way to to have multiple "opening days" in different geographies - for example, release the game in the largest (subscriber) geography a few days before the smaller ones. That way you can include several days of sales up-to-and-including the "opening day" of the smaller geographies.)

I think Diablo 3 is going to do phenomenally well though, and it probably will shatter PC game sales (it's a much better comparison too, since it's actually a stand alone game and not paid content). And then there's the next gen MMO.. that's going to do really well too - I just hope they don't inflate subscription counts like they did with WoW. I like it when companies listen to their customers and are more honest and transparent with game sales and the development process.