A dramatic drop in subscriptions after Cataclysm's release has prompted Blizzard to consider faster content releases.
Monday during Activision Blizzard's First Quarter 2011 Financial Results conference call, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime told investors that the company is shooting to launch the Diablo 3 Beta sometime in Q3 2011.
However the good news trailed a gloomier note that-- following the release of Cataclysm-- subscriber levels of World of Warcraft have decreased faster than what was experienced with previous expansion releases. Does that mean PC gamers are finally getting bored with Blizzard's monster MMORPG? Not at all. According to Morhaime, players have actually gotten better at consuming new content.
"As our players have become more experienced playing World of Warcraft over many years, they have become much better and much faster at consuming content," he said. "And so I think with Cataclysm they were able to consume the content faster than with previous expansions, but that's why we're working on developing more content."
He admitted that the team needed to be faster at delivering new content to players. "That's one of the reasons that we're looking to decrease the amount of time in-between expansions," he said, clarifying that the team was looking into ways of speeding up the development process after an investor asked if the decrease meant smaller expansions.
Buzz over the Cataclysm expansion propelled World of Warcraft subscriptions to an all-time high, exceeding 12 million as of October 2010. But now subscription numbers have dropped to the lowest it's been since December 2008, returning to "pre-Cataclysm levels in the West" (but more like Lich King levels) with a mere 11.4 million subscribers. That's a loss of 600,000 subscribers at the least.
So where have all these players gone? Are they flocking to free-to-play MMORPGs that offer a similar setting? Or have players reached a point where the only time they really need to play is when a new expansion has been released? Is it time for Blizzard to open the doors to free-to-play gamers?
Right now Blizzard isn't ready to disclose any additional details about speeding up the development process, or what future expansions will contain. That said, we're betting a new expansion will be announced at Blizzcon 2011.