"World of Warcraft" may be losing some of its popularity. The game, which launched nine years ago, has been steadily losing subscribers. At its peak, the game had 12 million subscribers. Now, it has 7.6 million, a roughly 20 percent drop from just a year ago.
But developer Blizzard Entertainment reenergized the game's biggest fans with some big reveals over the weekend at BlizzCon, one of the largest gaming conventions in the world.
More than 20,000 people were reported to have attended the two-day event. Blizzard fans heard about upgrades and expansions to "World of Warcraft," plus a brand new multiplayer game called "Heroes of the Storm," and even updates about a "Warcraft" film, which is slated for release in 2015.
Fans have known about the movie for some time, but new details were unveiled, including that filming was set to begin in Vancouver early next year, according to the Daily Mirror:
It will focus on Anduin Lothar and Durotan, a human and an Orc, respectively. Director Duncan Jones said that he wanted to make both sides of the human and Orc struggle equally compelling, allowing the audience to empathise with either side.
On Friday, Blizzard had stoked the anticipation by unveiling a new expansion of the game called "Warlords of Draenor," which it hopes will encourage past World of Warcraft players to return.
The expansion, set to launch sometime next year, offers new lands to explore, additional characters and new options - including boosting the experience level of one character. Usually boosting levels would require a great deal of game play. If you were once an avid player, but slacked off over the years, the quick boost could be a big incentive to get back into World of Warcraft.
Rob Pardo, chief creative officer for Blizzard Entertainment, said he sees bringing back former players as a growth opportunity.
"I think we always have a big opportunity for how we reengage them with the game," Pardo said. "Because WOW (World of Warcraft) to a lot of people feels like home. It feels like this place that I used to know really well and maybe Blizzard just hasn't been coming up with enough features."
Pardo spoke with KPCC at BlizzCon, an event held at the Anaheim Convention Center that draws more than 25,000 people from across the globe. Many of them are "World of Warcraft" fans.
"World of Warcraft" makes money by charging subscriptions. After reaching Level 20 in the game, it is no longer free to play. A 30-day subscription costs $15, whether you play it for many hours a week or barely at all. Pardo said for now, the company remains "pretty committed" to the subscription business model.
"World of Warcraft" remains the leader in its genre of games, called massively multi-player online role-playing games or MMOs. Some companies have tried to copy its model and failed. No other MMO ever attracted more than 4 million players and the ones that did come to WOW, stayed there for six months and then started to fade, said Michael Pachter, a managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities.
More developers are veering away from the subscription model and are going into free-to-play games, Pachter said.
Free-to-play games don't cost anything to play, like "Candy Crush". You can play them on your smart phone and if you don't want to spend the time to reach a higher level, they offer an option to pay for a tool or an assist to help you get there. That's how the developer makes a profit.
Pachter said free-to-play games like "League of Legends", "World of Tanks" and "Clash of Clans" have taken market share away from "World of Warcraft". That's because the cost to the occasional player is smaller.
For example, Pachter said, a player might think he could spend $1 here or $1 there, maintaining gameplay in "Clash of Clans", versus playing $15 a month for "World of Warcraft". Or, if a gamer decides to take a month-long break from "Clash of Clans", it doesn't cost anything, because "Clash of Clans" is free, Pachter said. If a gamer takes a break from "World of Warcraft", and forgets to cancel the subscription, it's $15 lost.
"I really think it's just a tough model to sustain and I think people have so many different options that they're starting to migrate away," Pachter said.
But Pardo said he doesn't think the decline in subscribers has to do with the business model -- it's more that other games have taken subscribers away from "World of Warcraft".
"Gamers are going to play a game for sometimes a couple of weeks, a couple of months, sometimes years. At some point, they will want to go to a new gaming community. That really is what it has to do with more than anything," Pardo said.
He pointed out "World of Warcraft" is nine years old.
"We've been shocked more than anything that it has been as strong as it has for as long as it has," Pardo said.
This story has been updated.