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Activision Blizzard has reported better-than-expected results for the first quarter of 2013. However, the mostly positive report was marred by a troubling drop in subscription numbers for the MMORPG World of Warcraft.
Between January 1st and March 31st, WoW lost 1.3 million subscribers. Activision says that most of those losses came from the East. The game had about 9.6 million subscribers according to Activision's 4Q 2012 investor call, which would put the current subscriber count at roughly 8.3 million.
WoW is still the largest subscriber-based MMO in the world by a significant margin. However, the player base has been slowly eroding since hitting 12 million in late 2010. The numbers dropped to 9.1 million by last fall. The subscriber total bounced back up to 10 million with the launch of the Mists of Pandaria expansion pack but apparently MoP wasn't able to retain those players.
While some players might blame Blizzard's design choices for the decline, I think this loss in players is somewhat inevitable. The game is over eight years old, regardless of what Blizzard fixes or adds. A lot of players have simply gotten sick of it by now and moved onto newer MMOs. I don't think they'll ever manage to get the game back up to 12 million subscribers; it's really more of a matter of slowing the decline.
In spite of WoW's decline in subscriptions, other big franchises have been performing well. Skylanders Giants was the best-selling game in dollars for the first quarter of 2013 in both Europe and North America. The second best-selling game was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Diablo 3 and StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm were both in the top 10 for PC sales this quarter, with the latter selling 1.1 million copies in its first two days.
Revenue was about $160 million more than expected in the quarter. Still, in spite of that good news, Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick says that late 2013 is full of "risks and uncertainties."
"The shift in release dates of competing products, the disappointing launch of the Wii U, uncertainties regarding next-generation hardware, and subscriber declines in our World of Warcraft business all raise concerns, as do continued challenges in the global economy. For these reasons, we remain cautious."