Is the age of the multiplayer online game over? While once courting near to a billion players, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games or MMORPGs have steadily been on the decline, with even new entrants having a tough time of keeping players interested and logged in.
The recently released EA Star Wars: The Old Republic, which got off to quite a flurry, experienced a slump in users, with the once high of 1.7 million subscribers, falling to below a million.
But, it seems that it’s not really the game title that matters, as MMORPG stalwart, World of Warcraft (WoW) that practically pioneered the field has also been hit by the apparent disinterest, with subscriptions falling to its lowest level in years.
According to figures released by WoW’s publisher, Activision Blizzard, the user slump has not been this low since 2007, with the number of subscribers peaking at near to 12 million and at present being 9 million.
The figures were released along with the firm’s second-quarter results, which also showed a slump, with net income for the quarter falling by 45 percent, compared to the previous year to $185 million, while shares for the company traded at 4 percent lower, even though, according to the company, WoW remained "number one subscription-based MMORPG."
Of course, while it may remain top dog, WoW, according to Activision Blizzard itself, has not seen favorable growth since 2010. According to Blizzard Entertainment president Michael Morhaime, "We ended Q2 at about 9.1 million subscribers worldwide. This figure is down from the 10.2 million we reported at the end of Q1, with the majority of declines at the quarter coming from the East."
According to Mr. Morhaime, Blizzard is hoping to attract gamers from other fantasy MMORPG titles. He said that "there are a surprising number of Diablo players that have never tried World of Warcraft" as well as announced a new expansion pack, The Mists of Pandaria, which will introduce a new lost continent populated by warrior pandas to the WoW universe.
It is hoped that the new expansion pack will boost subscriptions, as according to Mr. Morhaime, there was a similar slump before the release of the Cataclysm expansion pack back in 2010.
In light of the user slump, many MMORPGs, such as Turbine's Dungeons, Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online have opted to shift away from subscriptions, instead offering free play and while WoW did offer something similar in 2011, analysts say they will not be shifting towards this model any time soon.
The director of digital media at Strategy Analytics, Ed Barton, said, "I think the option to move to free to play is still a long way off for World of Warcraft. They are in a relatively privileged position because the game has had such success. The fact it still has over nine million subscribers after such a long period after its launch is a testament to its quality and the fact that Blizzard's update have kept the whole experience compelling for a diverse range of geographical markets."