To date, World of Warcraft has weathered the competition. Its subscriber numbers have reached an all-time high (now over 12 million), with its latest Cataclysm expansion selling nearly 5 million copies in the first month alone. The game should remain popular and successful for years to come. Still, even Blizzard admits: It can't stay on top forever.
So what happens when the game starts losing a significant amount of its subscriber base? If what happened to Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online is any clue, World of Warcraft might move to a free-to-play model. Since switching to free-to-play, both of Turbine's games added subscribers and increased revenues.
This past weekend, I sat in on the free-to-play MMO panel held at the PAX East 2011 conference in Boston. Afterward, I caught up with Robert Ferrari, VP of Publishing and Business Development for Sanrio Digital (Hello Kitty Online), to discuss WoW. We discussed the free-to-play industry and whether or not World of Warcraft could eventually find a place in it.
"WoW has to be looking at a free-to-play model currently," Ferrari theorized.