In November 2010, Blizzard saw around 12 million subscriptions to its highly-popular MMORPG, World of Warcraft. A year later, the company saw only 10.3 million, a sizable drop. So far Blizzard hasn't released numbers for December 2011 and January 2012, but there's indication that the numbers dropped even more once Star Wars: The Old Republic crashed the PC gaming scene towards the beginning of December. Have many WoW gamers jumped ship and donned a Jedi robe and lightsaber instead?
"Of course people are trying Star Wars - our development team are trying Star Wars! I'm one of the few people who's still playing it actually, but yeah we've seen a dip in subs," reports senior World of Warcraft producer John Lagrave. "It certainly has to at least be attributable to The Old Republic, but it's also attributable to people who want to wait and get Mists of Pandaria, so it's not surprising."
Since the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic, Blizzard has offered an aggressive promotion to get players back into Azeroth. Called the Scroll of Resurrection, current active members can send the virtual scroll to previous subscribers who in turn receive a free upgrade to Cataclysm, seven days of free game time, a boost to level 80 for one character and more.
Earlier this month Blizzard announced that it laid off approximately 600 employees worldwide although the reduction wouldn't have any impact on the development of World of Warcraft. The company determined this was necessary after conducting a review of its business based on current organizational needs. Approximately 90-percent of the affected employees will come from departments not related to game development.
Yet despite the layoffs, Blizzard is still hiring talent. It's also pulling members off the World of Warcraft team to work on the super-secret Titan MMOG. On Monday the Orange Country Register asked Blizzard how it plans to manage two MMOGs now that Blizzard has been reduced by 13-percent worldwide.
"There are people that had worked on the 'World of Warcraft' team that now work on that team [Titan] where we've had like a slow trickle of expertise," said game director Tom Chilton. "Meanwhile, we've also hired people in and trained them up over the last four to five years to take the place of some of the people that have gone to work on the other games."
Chilton added that it's possible the movement of development talent to project Titan could accelerate in the near future. "It's hard to say though," Chilton said. "I do believe there's room for us to have two highly successful MMO games. I don't feel like there's going to be a time where we just say 'OK, everybody on the WoW team, pack it up you're moving over to the Titan MMO.' I don't see that as being a realistic probability. I think we're going to try to staff up both teams and actually end up with two large, strong MMO teams."
Finally, there has been mention that the "trial" version of World of Warcraft could be extended beyond the level 20 limit, the amount of gold the player can carry and so on. Will the game go free-to-play? Probably not... at least, not in the foreseeable future. After all, EverQuest finally caved in after 13 years and went F2P last week, so it's not entirely impossible.
"There's a fair amount that you can experience up to level 20, because you really get most of the core systems in by that point," Lagrave told Eurogamer. "But we can absolutely say, 'Hey, why don't we make it level 40?' 'Why don't we make it level 60?', do we let you at least experience the old world? It's all possible. Right now, no, but that's all absolutely on the table."