Active Subscriptions Revisited - Part 2

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, February 16, 2011

WoW Subscriptions Around The World

In January 2007, when Blizzard announced 8 million subscriptions worldwide (Source):

China: 3.5 million
North America: 2.0 million
Europe: 1.5 million
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million

In January 2008, when Blizzard announced 10 million subscriptions worldwide (Source):

China: 4.5 million
North America: 2.5 million
Europe: 2.0 million
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million

Blizzard hasn't made any other official announcements detailing breakdown of subscribers per geography since then, but based on growth trends I think it's pretty safe to assume that their current (12 million) subscribers are approximately:

China: 5.5 million
North America: 3.0 million
Europe: 2.5 million
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million

These figures actually confirm a lot of other estimations out there that put Chinese subscriptions at between 5 and 6 million total. Or basically, "about half" of total worldwide subscriptions.

How many real players are there, though?

In North America and Europe, this information is really difficult to confirm. Blizzard does not release this information to the public so it's up the users to figure out approximate counts.

The Warcraft CensusPlus UI Mod is an addon for WoW where players can poll players online, and all of the information is collected to generate an approximate census of WoW in NA and EU. However, this information is not very accurate, there's a lot of duplication of numbers, and data can be skewed or altered by users.

Right now, for example, total NA and EU players are calculated to be 6,417,374 total users on the census page. However, according to Blizzard, their subscription count in NA and EU is about 5.5 million maximum. =]

In China, however, it's a different story.

NetEase operates WoW in China, not Blizzard, and they're not as restrictive with their policies or information. (Gold/Account trading is perfectly legitimate there by the way.) NetEase publishes raw data across all of their realms, and is available in census format (showing peak logins for both factions and on each realm).

According to Blizzard, total subscribers in China are about 5.5 million. According to their servers, however, total players peaked at about 2.4 million as of this month. That's the most I've ever seen it.

Estimated players in NA/EU

For this, I'll start out by using Blizzard's official announcement from January 2008 when they announced their 10 million subscribers.

China: 4.5 million
North America: 2.5 million
Europe: 2.0 million
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million

During this time, their Net Revenue for World of Warcraft was $275 million. Keep in mind, that this figure also includes WoW sales, Paid Services, Pets, etc.

Since we know how much they pay for WoW subscriptions in each of these geographies, we can get a much more accurate estimation of how many players there are at the most.

China pays ~$7.27 per month
North America pays ~$15 US per month.
Europe pays ~$17.6 (12.99€) per month.
Remaining Territories pay about ~$15 per month.

NetEase, however, has a special contract with Blizzard. NetEase collects subscription payments, and they pay Blizzard a 55% Royalty Fee. So, Blizzard is collecting ~$3.99 per month from each Chinese subscriber.

Using these figures and their subscriber counts, here's what their revenue should have been:

China: 4.5 million x $3.99 x 3 months = $53,865,000
North America: 2.5 million x $15 x 3 months = $112,500,000
Europe: 2.0 million x $17.6 x 3 months = $105,600,000
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million x $15 x 3 months = $45,000,000

That's a total of ~$317 million when it _should_ have been $275 million.

That $275 million figure also includes a ton of other revenue too (game sales, paid services, etc). For example, if subscriptions were to totally match revenue, then there would be 8.6 million players out of 10 million subscribers. However, if there was $50 million worth of game sales and services during that time, then the real players would have been 7 million out of 10 million subscribers.

So, let's try something more recent (e.g. 12 million subscribers) and where we know approximately how many sales there were out of the total revenue to get a better picture.

During the third quarter ending September 30, 2010, total WoW revenue was $289 million. During this period, Blizzard launched WOTLK in China (Aug 31) and they peaked at 12 million subscribers. Since Chinese players did not need to purchase WOTLK, this provides a better revenue figure to work with since it won't include those larger amounts of Game Sales. (Paid Services, Pets, and minor sales will still be included in this total revenue figure however.)

China: 5.5 million x $3.99 x 3 months = ~$65.8 million
North America: 3.0 million x $15 x 3 months = $135 million
Europe: 2.5 million x $17.6 x 3 months = $132 million
Remaining Territories: 1.0 million x $15 x 3 months = $45 million

So, total revenue _should_ have been about $378 million, but it was $289 million instead.

Let's say however, that there are a total of 3 million real players out of 5.5 million Chinese subscribers, and re-adjust those numbers. That's still $342 million though.

Hmm.. okay, let's say China player count is 50% of official Subscriber counts (like what it should be). And, all of the other geographies are 3/4 of their official counts.

That's a total of $267 million, which is much closer to the $289 million total. That also leaves $22 million in potential game sales, pre-paid services, pet sales, etc. If that's the correct number, that would mean that there are 7.6 million real players out of 12 million "Subscribers" worldwide. Does $22 million sound too low or too high for all of those purchases during a 3 month period though?

Let's get an absolute maximum figure: Total real revenue was 76% of what it should have been, so if you apply that number to total subscribers that gives you approx. 9.17 million players. That's the absolute most it could ever be, assuming that there were no game sales, no paid services, no pet sales, absolutely nothing but subscriptions during that 3 month period.

Of course, we know that's not true.. if we knew how much Blizzard sales (outside of subs) are during a 3 month period we could get a much more accurate estimate. For now though, real players are probably about 7.5 to 8 million out of 12 million total.

Previously, it was estimated (taking a different approach) that the maximum possible number of players were about 7.2 million out of 11.5 million total. (That's equivalent to 7.5 million out of 12 million.)

However, there's one important item I've been leaving out. In April 2009, NetEase paid for a 3-year license agreement in the amount of $30 million for the right to operate World of Warcraft. In addition to that flat rate, they also pay recurring license fees, royalties, and consultancy fees to Blizzard. (Several sources estimate "minimum annual revenue shares of $180 million" for example, meaning that they must pay Blizzard at least $15 million per month. Is that minimum subscription, or is that on top of royalty fees?) There could very well be another $30-45 million, for example, included in their revenue figure that has nothing to do with subscriptions. (That would reduce 7.5 to 6.8 million.)

However, for arguments sake I'm using the more inflated figures in Blizzard's favor.

The Magic Number

One thing to remember too is that subscription numbers are always fluctuating from month to month, and there are always different factors at play (seasons, server issues, ban waves, new expansion packs, boring content, etc.) There are always players coming and going from the game (e.g. new players or attrition.) Over one quarter, 100,000 players might leave because of boring content.. but 60,000 new players might join.

Blizzard only announces when they peak at certain numbers (maximum number of simultaneous "Subscriptions"), but if you look at all of the possible real players who have joined, played, and stayed or left the game, it's possible that World of Warcraft has cycled through 20-40 million unique individuals around the world over the years. That's actually really cool. =]

(But it's impossible to know the number for sure unless Blizzard releases all total WoW Classic digital/retail/everything sales since day 1.)

Over the past 3 years, though, the subscription numbers have plateaued (no longer growing at explosive rate seen before) and it seems like the "magic number" they're hovering around for real players is probably between 6.5 and 8.5 million (at any time playing World of Warcraft). That's still a freakin' huge number of players for a 6 year old game.

This gives you a really good idea of Fantasy MMORPG POTENTIAL too. Given that you have an awesome game, great gameplay, an addiction factor, and your game is as popular as it could ever be - your maximum potential number of players will be about 6.5 to 8.5 million players. As a publisher, if you can attain that amount, you've reached the maximum potential possible for that game. I don't think SCI-FI MMORPG can reach the same heights as Fantasy.. but Real Life Simulations (Call of Duty / GTA) could probably exceed it as that genre has a larger market demographic.