Global subscribers to World of Warcraft crossed the 12 million mark, according to an announcement today from Activision Blizzard. After holding at 11.5 million subscribers for more than a year, some had assumed WoW had peaked. Between this announcement and the forthcoming expansion Cataclysm , we'd be willing to bet the venerable online role-playing game, which launched in 2004, will continue to grow.
In light of this announcement, it seems we need to update our calculations fromregarding WoW's likely longevity.
To recap, we're using Sony Online Entertainment's Everquest, one of the first widely successful online role-playing games, as our guide. With its 17th expansion set to come out this month, Everquest has demonstrated remarkable staying power for a game that peaked at 430,000 subscribers.
If 430,000 peak subscribers generates enough long-term loyalty to justify the production of 17 expansions, how many expansions can we expect for a game like the World of Warcraft and its now 12 million-strong membership base?
To answer that question, we refer to what we're now calling the 2010 EQ MMO Expansion Index. This index (academic review pending) generates a number that will let us predict the number of future expansions for any given massively multiplayer online game.
To arrive at that number, we simply take the Everquest peak subscriber base and divide by the number of Everquest expansions. The index will change if Sony releases further EQ add-ons, but for now 430,000/17 expansions says that for any sufficiently popular MMO, we can expect one expansion for every 25,000 subscribers. Before today, the 2010 EQ MMO Expansion Index told us we'd see an eventual total of 460 WoW expansion based on the 11.5 million figure.
At 12 million subscriptions, we now anticipate WoW will see 480 total expansions (counting the three we already know about). At Blizzard's current rate of releasing one expansion every 25 months, we predict that the last World of Warcraft expansion will hit 12,000 months from the date of the game's November 23, 2004, U.S. launch date. That translates to an even millennium of World of Warcraft gaming.
We'd love to see the expansion predictions for other MMOs. All you need is the current peak subscriber base, and then an average of the time between expansion releases. As with most rigorous intellectual pursuits, Wikipedia is a great place to start.