Blizzard's aging MMO World of Warcraft has been steadily bleeding subscribers over the past couple years. However, the game actually added 200,000 players in the last quarter of 2013.
Activision Blizzard announced during their earnings report for 4Q 2013 that World of Warcraft had 7.8 million subscribers on December 31st. The game had 7.6 million players as of September 30th.
200,000 sounds like a small number compared to 7.6 million or 7.8 million. I'm sure that a lot of sites will characterize this is a "slight bump" for WoW. It's still a huge number, though. To put it in perspective: EVE Online, one of the largest subscriber-only MMOs in the world, has 500,000.
The increase is surprising. Subscriber numbers for WoW tend to spike when a new expansion pack has been released and then sag over time. Mists of Pandaria, the latest expansion pack, is over a year old now. No content has been added to the game since patch 5.4 in September so there's nothing new to hold players' attention. Warlords of Draenor, the next expansion, doesn't have a release date yet.
Furthermore, subscriber numbers having been falling throughout the year. The game lost 1.3 million players in the first quarter of 2013. WoW's subscriber base then dropped another 700,000 over the spring and summer.
There are a few possible reasons that players have come back to the game. Patch 5.4's new raid and questing zones may have drawn them back. Perhaps their interest in the game was reinvigorated by the announcement of Warlords of Draenor in November. Or maybe they're just really happy that Ghostcrawler is gone.
Whatever the reasons for it, this latest bump in subscribers is an impressive display of longevity for WoW. The MMORPG turned nine years old in November. While 7.8 million subscribers is a steep drop from the 12 million who played back in the Wrath of the Lich King days, WoW is still the largest subscriber-based MMO out there by a wide margin.
Though WoW ended 2013 on a high note, Blizzard recognizes that they're going to have to work hard to keep their player base. They've floated the idea of releasing annual expansion packs to maintain player interest. The developers are also trying to make the game more accessible through new features. For example, they're going to give players an instant boost to level 90 if they buy Warlords of Draenor.