"First you get the money, then you get the power."
Yes, I admit it! I play World of Warcraft. I’m a woman named Punkybrewstr (spelling is weird due to character name length restrictions). I throw fireballs at goblins and orcs. I create portals and teleport instantly around the world. I tailor articles of clothing and sell them at the auction house for virtual cash. I enchant items for my friends to make them more powerful. I… am a nerd.
Apparently, I’m not alone in the world though. Over 8 million people play World of Warcraft, and everyone has to pay to do so. This is loose math, since not all pay to play models are the same worldwide, but figure this:
- Average cost of game out of the box (10 days free to play) = $39.99
- Average cost of expansion pack out of the box (which almost everyone has or will purchase) = $39.99
- Average monthly subscription cost = $14.99 ($179.88 per year)
This means that Blizzard, which is owned by Vivendi Universal, has potentially sold:
- $639,840,000 worth of boxed or download copies of the game (counting expansion pack)
- $119,920,000 per month on subscriptions alone ($1,439,040,000… that’s BILLION… per year)
The numbers probably come in somewhere under that, but relatively, I doubt by much. The success of this game boggles the mind, and has propelled the profit potential perceived for video games through the roof. If you figure the cost of a bleeding edge next-generation Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or PC game can cost an average of $20 to $30 million to develop, this means Warcraft can finance the development and marketing for multiple AAA quality titles for Vivendi, all of which could fail miserably at retail, and Vivendi could still safely churn out a profit at the end of each year.
Now, not all things last forever. Obviously people will grow tired of venturing through the world of Azeroth, and move on to fresh Massive Multiplayer experiences. Let’s assume that 3 years from now, World of Warcraft subscriptions really start to slide. Blizzard/Vivendi release another expansion pack (for another $39.99), and most likely update the graphics engine to make the game look even better/stay competitive with newer titles. The game now has at least another 3 years of solid subscriptions because of these two things alone (retaining a higher percentage of older players, attracting back players who left, and even attracting a handful of new people).
What does life look like after World of Warcraft? Blizzard pulls out the often rumored World of Starcraft.. Crazy you say? Get this: Warcraft III, a smash success, came out 2 years and some months before World of Warcraft. Starcraft II was just announced, with a potential release date of sometime in 2008. Blizzard announced a month or two ago it is hiring for an unannounced next-generation MMO development project. It takes about 2 to 4 years to create a MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game to the point where it can be released to the public, which puts the potential release for World of Starcraft around 2010-2011, 2 to 3 years after Starcraft II, and about 7 years after World of Warcraft launched. Around that time the subscription base for World of Warcraft will have begun to drop off in comparison to the huge numbers they are doing now, which is the same year I predict Warcraft will get another expansion and a graphical upgrade in an effort to retain existing subscribers. They are then operating two of the most successful and profitable games in history.
Here are some quick numbers on the Starcraft franchise (which is the sci-fi brother to the fantasy based Warcraft):
- Over 9 million copies of Starcraft and it’s expansion (Brood War) have been sold worldwide, making it the second best selling computer game in history (behind Electronic Art’s “The Sims”). *Note: I’m not sure if it’s still #2 or not.
- 13% of South Korea owns a copy of Starcraft (it’s been rumored that 90% of the South Korean population has actually attempted to play the game at one point or another).
The future is bright for Blizzard and Vivendi if they play their cards right, and I’m going to need a second job to pay for my subscriptions.