Can Warlords of Draenor Keep WoW Dominant?
Online gamers went into a frenzy of anticipation when Blizzard announced Warlords of Draenor, the latest expansion for World of Warcraft. This new expansion for the mmorpg industry leader is coming along at a precarious time in the game's history. For almost a decade, WoW has been unassailable as the biggest name on the market and has survived countless other "WoW-killer" games that have tried to supplant it but to no avail. However, the last expansion, Mists of Pandaria, has underwhelmed many players and the subscription base has dwindled from a high of 12 million down to 7.6 million. There's a lot of expectations riding on Warlords of Draenor and everybody will see how successful or not the expansion will be. Can Warlords of Draenor keep WoW dominant?
It is a fact that the shine has come off World of Warcraft as it no longer looks invincible. Yet it is premature to write its obituary as all other mmorpg games would kill to have their subscriber base. Just think that their 7.6 million subscriber base translates to over $110 million dollars a month. We're not talking about chump change. The fact remains though that the subscriber base has dropped off steadily over the last few years. An additional concern is the falloff in sales for the last expansion. Wrath of the Lich King sold 4 million units in the first month while Cataclysm sold 4.7 million. However, Mists of Pandaria sold only 2.7 million, which is a two million unit loss from just two years previous. However, we also have to look at how the expansions impacted the subscriber numbers. WotLK raised subscription numbers from 11.5 million to 12 million. Cataclysm had a negative impact of the game going from the 12 million high to down to 9.1 million. Mists of Pandaria actually raised the subscription numbers for a time, going from the 9.1 million up to over 10 million.
So what does this mean for Warlords of Draenor? First, the expansion will most likely have a positive impact upon the subscription numbers for World of Warcraft. The expansion is set in the franchise's past and uses heroes that the players of the original Warcraft games know and love. There is also the garrison feature that is essentially resource management and city building that harkens back to the franchise's original roots. This should bring back old-school players who may have written the mmo off. Other features such as new dungeons and an open world PvP setting will entice more players to venture again into the game. The economic impact will be a big boon to Blizzard as well just from retail sales of the expansion alone. If the normal pricing of WoW expansions hold, we can expect to see a $39.99 retail price for the basic edition. Demand for the Warlords of Draenor expansion should be higher than the previous Mists of Pandaria as a) this expansion appeals to long time followers of the game and its source material, and b) players won't be put off by the silliness of kung-fu pandas and pokemon battles. The perception is that this expansion will be more grown-up than the previous one, which should result in higher sales.
The quality of Warlords of Draenor will heavily determine the long-range health of WoW. If the game sells in the neighborhood of 4 million copies, it will be a success as this will likely translate into a surge of subscriptions. If the sales total is similar to Mists of Pandaria, then WoW will truly be in trouble. No matter what, this expansion will be a boost to the game. The real story will be if WoW will be able to hold on to those subscribers after they've played through the content. My gut feeling is that Warlords of Draenor will be a success and it'll keep WoW as the alpha dog of mmos for a good year or two. However, perception is everything and everybody will be looking to see if the subscriber numbers fall. Even the tiniest loss will result in headlines proclaiming the death of World of Warcraft. This will be premature as the old warhorse still has some fight left in him.