Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft has unequivocally dominated the subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game market since its launch in 2004. However, earlier this month, Activision Blizzard revealed that WOW subscriptions had fallen by 10 percent since March, dropping to 10.3 million worldwide.
In an investor note today, Lazard Capital Markets analyst Atul Bagga expressed pessimism over WOW's ability to reverse its negative trend. In the process, Bagga downgraded Activision Blizzard's stock from "buy" to "neutral."
Bagga's move was primarily motivated by a Lazard Capital Markets survey of online players, which was conducted in conjunction with Peanut Labs earlier this month and polled 381 online gamers. The study found that WOW's age, as well as increased competition, could lead to an exodus of 900,000 to 1.6 million players following the launch of EA's Star Wars: The Old Republic in December.
To the point of WOW's age, Lazard Capital Markets' study found that 57 percent of former WOW players said that they had reached end-game content and had become "bored." As for increased competition, the study found that 43 percent of former WOW players had quit due to friends leaving for other MMOGs.
Bagga noted that Star Wars: The Old Republic, in particular, stands to gain from WOW's loosening hold on the market. Of those surveyed who are currently playing WOW, 50 percent said they plan to buy The Old Republic, with an additional 38 percent saying they may buy the game. The survey also found that 87 percent of the 95 players in the study who were participating in The Old Republic beta had already preordered or planned to preorder EA's game.
The analyst didn't completely rule out a resurgence in WOW subscribers. The study indicated that 50 percent of former WOW players would consider coming back to the game if Blizzard were to offer a special promotion. Such promotions would eat in to Activision Blizzard's bottom line, however.
Bagga also said that the game's fourth expansion, Mists of Pandaria, should yield a healthy resurgence in subscriber numbers. Of those surveyed, 33 percent of the former WOW players said they plan to resubscribe to the game upon Mists of Pandaria's launch. A release date for that expansion has not yet been announced.