According to Blizzard’s Q1 2021 investor report the company has lost roughly 29% of their playerbase in the last three years, but revenue is up nonetheless.
Thanks to Massively Overpowered’s breakdown of the report, we’ve learned that the company was losing money up until the COVID-19 pandemic went into full effect, which drove an increase in their overall profits in 2020. Thanks to the launch of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands last November they’ve had themselves a rather robust first quarter to kick of 2021. Thing is, the company has dropped from 38 million active users in Q1 2018 to 27 million in Q1 2021.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to some. Overwatch was Blizzard’s last new game, and that came out in 2016. Aside from the lack of any real new titles to drive player engagement, World of Warcraft – still their largest money-maker – was in a lull due to the poorly received Battle for Azeroth expansion. But, once the pandemic went into full swing, they and nearly every other gaming company under the sun began to see an upswing thanks to all the people now sitting at home playing video games.
That said, Blizzard’s handful of highly controversial decisions in the last few years have certainly had a negative impact on player retention, ranging from the meme-worthy Diablo: Immortals reveal, their contentious response to the Hong Kong protests, the disastrous Warcraft III: Reforged launch, and the mass layoffs in recent years. Mix in the loss of key figures like Mike Morhaime and Jeff Kaplan, and it’s easy to see why Blizzard has lost a bit of their previous luster. It’s no surprise some fans have moved on.
Nor does it help that Overwatch, easily their most popular title behind World of Warcraft, hasn’t had a content update in over a year due to the ongoing development of Overwatch 2, and the much anticipated Diablo 4 is still in deep development. Additionally, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is experiencing one of the longest delays between an expansion’s launch and its first patch, which will likely impact next quarter’s results.
Despite all of this, it appears the players that remain are spending enough money to make up for the lost players. It doesn’t hurt that Shadowlands was the largest launch for a World of Warcraft expansion in a decade, so there’s clearly still demand for quality Blizzard products. I recommend giving the article from Massively Overpowered a read if you’d like to know the specific numbers. Suffice to say, it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues for Blizzard, or if the loss of players will ultimately lead to a loss in revenue once the COVID-19 pandemic winds down.