Blizzard Entertainment says that despite its subscriber base being flat since the end of 2008, there's still plenty of opportunity for World of Warcraft to grow, particularly after Cataclysm launches later this year.
After years of non-stop growth, World of Warcraft subscriber numbers hit 11.5 million in December 2008 and stayed there, having seemingly (and finally) hit the wall. It's not the worst problem to have; at 15 bucks a month it means that Blizzard is bringing in just north of $2 billion every year. I can't imagine how that figure could possibly be right but that's what my calculator says and that's good enough for me.
But it's not good enough for Blizzard, apparently. Frank Pearce, the executive vice president of product development, said the company expects the growth to resume this year, thanks in large part to improved access to the Chinese market.
"In China, for example, we haven't even launched Wrath of the Lich King yet, and that expansion is already 18-plus months old," he told VG247. "They're still playing The Burning Crusade there, because we're waiting for approval for Wrath from the appropriate agencies. And once we get that approval and launch Wrath in China then I think we will see growth."
Blizzard anticipates a surge in interest among Western gamers as well once the new expansion is released, presumably later this year. "Whenever we launch an expansion we usually see some win-back from players who have set WoW aside temporarily," he continued. "Hopefully we will get some people back from Cataclysm as well. I don't think 11.5 million is a peak, necessarily, but there are certain things that we need to do and need to do well in order to see it go further."
The Chinese market will no doubt provide a big jump when Lich King becomes available but will Cataclysm be enough to recapture the attention of gamers closer to home? What say you, WoWers?