Don’t call it a decline: World of Warcraft subscriptions are back up a bit

Warlords of Draenor is scheduled for release before the end of the year.

MMO doomsayers like to characterise World of Warcraft’s twilight years the way Telltale describe The Walking Dead – like a man slipping inexorably down a hill, desperately grasping for things to hold onto.

In actuality, Blizzard are playing ongoing WoW development more like Tiny Wings – keeping their heads down to ensure the highest possible peak after each trough. Mists of Pandaria came out at the tail end of 2012, and first annual expansion Warlords of Draenor isn’t due till later this year – but the books have already turned up again.

The MMOiest of the MMOs currently hosts 7.8 million monthly subscribers, Blizzard told investors last night. That figure’s up 200,000 from November, when the developers last talked numbers.

WoW subscriptions peaked in late 2010 at a positively silly 12 million. They’ve declined steadily since – contributing to a 25% decline in Activision’s PC revenues, from $1.071 billion in 2012 to $805 million in 2013.

It’s still far and away the most successful subscription MMO in the business. And while Hearthstone will be funded through in-game pack purchases, Blizzard head Mike Morhaime dismissed the idea of a free-to-play option in WoW as recently as November.

“We’ve always taken the business model on a case by case basis,” said Morhaime at BlizzCon. “In the case of World of Warcraft, the first 20 levels are free. It wasn’t designed as a free-to-play game. I don’t see that type of transition happening in World of Warcraft, although we are always looking for new ways to make the game more accessible.”

Warlords of Draenor will catapult new players to level 90, allowing them immediate access to its great-lookingRTS-ish garrison features. Will that make subscribers of any of you?