World of Warcraft Crosses 12 Million Player Threshold

Blizzard announced today that World of Warcraft has finally broken 12 million players worldwide. This recent growth, according to the company, was caused by the long-delayed August release of Wrath of the Lich King in mainland China. "The support and enthusiasm that gamers across the world continue to show for World of Warcraft reaffirms our belief that it offers one of the best entertainment values available today,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We are as committed as ever to taking the game to new heights, and we look forward to demonstrating that with Cataclysm in December.”

It took Blizzard nearly two full years to negotiate the release of Wrath of the Lich King in China; the company was forced to make significant in-game changes to models and artwork. The depiction of skulls, blood, and a whole lot of what Westerners would consider typical undead scenery / underworld attributes is regulated in the Middle Kingdom. A Chinese gaming website has done a model-by-model comparison between the Western and Eastern versions of the game; it's an interesting look at how a game as global as World of Warcraft has been adapted to meet local standards of acceptability.

With a flick of the wand, Sindragosa suddenly looks an awful lot like Azuregos. These changes are typical of the sort made to the Chinese game

The timing of this announcement is also interesting, given how long its been since Blizzard last made statements regarding WoW's player base. In January 2008, roughly a year after the release of The Burning Crusade expansion, Blizzard announced that the game had broken 10 million players. In December of that same year, WoW broke 11.5 million players, following the US release of Wrath of The Lich King.

The fact that WoW's player base has broken 12 million not long after the Chinese launch of WotLK suggests that Blizzard's figures are no longer a direct representation of steady growth. That's not to say that WoW is in any sort of decline, but rather that the player growth above the 10 million mark has been generated primarily by the return of old players who were bored with previous content. If this theory is accurate, WoW's population should temporarily blast well past the 12 million mark when Cataclysm hits in December.

Even if the MMO's growth is now due to temporary surges, WoW remains so dominant in the MMO industry that calling it the 800 lb gorilla doesn't begin to qualify the difference in scale between Blizzard's MMO and everyone else. Given available population figures for other popular MMOs, World of Warcraft could lose more than 90 percent of its players and remain the undisputed leader, with over one million subscribers. Love it or hate it, it's not going anywhere.

World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees’ territories are defined along the same rules.