Six months after buzz for the Cataclysm expansion drove World of Warcraft numbers to an all-time high, Blizzard reports the lowest subscription figures for the massively multiplayer game since December of 2008.
During the Activision Blizzard first quarter 2011 financial results conference call today, Blizzard president and co-founder Mike Morhaime told us that as of March of this year, World of Warcraft numbers had "returned to pre-Cataclysm levels in the West," which is a rather nice way of saying dropped considerably.
In October 2010, two months before the release of the Cataclysm expansion pack, Blizzard reported that World of Warcraft had exceeded 12 million subscribers. Today Morhaime gave a figure of 11.4 million. That's 600,000 subscribers gone.
Morhaime said that subscriptions had returned to pre-Cataclysm levels. They've nearly dropped to pre-Wrath of the Lich King levels, to be accurate. A month after the second expansion pack's November 2008 release, subscription rates hit 11.5 million. A little over two months' prior they had just hit 11 million.
Of course we've got to mind the gap. It's highly likely that in the nearly two years separating Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm the numbers dropped below 11.5 million and Blizzard simply hadn't reported it.
Still, the numbers are somewhat discouraging. Going strictly by the figures we do have, World of Warcraft lost 600,000 players shortly after the release of a major expansion pack.
I wouldn't dig a grave for World of Warcraft any time soon, however. Considering there are big-name MMO titles out there operating with one one-hundredth of the subscriber base, the world of Azeroth will be in fine shape for years to come.