WoW: Dragonflight Sold Less Than Shadowlands, But There Is A Silver Lining

Early sales being lower than the previous expansion don't tell the full story.


World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, the latest expansion for Blizzard's longrunning MMORPG, sold less at launch than the game's previous expansion, Shadowlands. But lower initial sales doesn't mean WoW is on the way out. In fact, it's outperforming the previous expansion in a key metric.

As revealed in Activision Blizzard's fourth quarter 2022 financial results, early Dragonflight sales "have not reached the level of the previous expansion." It's hard to know exactly what that means since Blizzard has rarely in recent times revealed specific sales or player subscription numbers. However, Blizzard was quick to trumpet the success of Shadowlands when it sold 3.7 million copies on its first day back in 2020, making it the fastest selling PC game of all-time for a brief period prior to the release of CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077.

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At the very least, it seems clear Dragonflight on launch day failed to reach Shadowlands' day-one numbers. That makes it the first time day-one sales of a new WoW expansion have not surpassed its predecessor since 2012's Mists of Pandaria. That news isn't entirely surprising. Despite strong sales, Shadowlands was a wildly unpopular expansion, and the last few years have seen Blizzard mired in controversy revolving around sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits.

Dragonflight's slower initial sales, however, don't paint a full picture. Activision Blizzard reported that WoW saw significant "year-over-year growth in reach, engagement, and net bookings in the fourth quarter" following the release of both Dragonflight and Wrath of the Lich King Classic. Both games, along with Diablo and Overwatch, contributed to a 90% increase in operating income year-over-year for Blizzard in the fourth quarter, resulting in Blizzard's "highest quarterly net bookings to date."

The fourth quarter financial results go on to state that "post-launch subscriber retention in the West is higher than recent expansions" for Dragonflight. Once again, it's hard to know exactly what that means since Blizzard hasn't released official subscriber numbers for years, but it seems like even if Dragonflight didn't make as big of a splash out of the gate as Shadowlands, it is already proving to have longer legs. That's likely in part due to the expansion's quality, with Activision Blizzard having noted that the expansion's reception has been positive among the game's community. Blizzard is also planning to release more frequent updates as part of its 2023 content roadmap, something that can only help to keep more players subscribed.

Dragonflight's next update, patch 10.0.7, is scheduled to arrive this spring and will introduce new endgame content in the Dracthyr starting zone of The Forbidden Reach, as well as add long-awaited Heritage Armor for orc and human characters. The MMO's latest update added the new battle-pass-like Traveler's Log and Trading Post system, where players purchase new cosmetic rewards, some of which were previously only available as part of the game's premium cash-shop.

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