That's 10% of the overall subscriber base, and a larger portion of the Western market. If, to put a completely made-up number next to a real one, half of WoW players are in Asia, the "over 1 million" could be 20+% of the Western playerbase. This fake number happens to be just about the result I saw when I polled my readers to examine how polarizing the Blizzcon announcements were - 32% though Blizzard was jumping the shark, while 21% (including myself) had signed up for the annual pass.
A few implications:
- Us bloggers have referred to 2011 as a bad year for World of Warcraft. The reality is that there is maybe a single MMO in the world right now that has more month-to-month subscribers than Blizzard has ANNUAL subscribers, to say nothing of the other 80%.
- It's easy to be cynical and write that this whole thing was a trap to make sure that people are "paying, even if they weren't playing". Perhaps some of the same people who pay hundred dollar price tags for free to play lottery boxes literally snapped this thing up as an impulse buy for the bonuses. Even so, we're likely looking at hundreds of thousands of players who picked this thing up because they thought they would be in WoW for the long haul. I'd be very curious whether other games have anywhere near 10% of their players signing on to even six-month commitments.
- With the promotion, possibly one million battle.net accounts will never purchase the $60 DIII box. (I say possibly because you can in principle purchase separate annual passes for multiple WoW accounts attached to the same battle.net account.) Blizzard may come out ahead on that deal in the long run, but I'm definitely curious whether it will put a dent in the game's launch sales/revenue.
- With the same caveat as above, possibly one million battle.net accounts will be invited to the Pandaria beta. Thanks to SWTOR, a million beta players isn't entirely unprecedented, and not all may go to the trouble of participating, but I'm curious how the logistics (e.g. number of servers) will work.
The question, then, is how many annual passes there will be this time next year. Will players grow accustomed to this model and stay subscribed? Will Blizzard not be able to find a carrot as enticing as Diablo III to get players to sign up for another year, and then have trouble retaining them on the old, pricey month-to-month basis? Will the proportion of players on long-term plans increase as more casual players and those who disagree with the game's direction wander off and the die-hards remain? Whatever happens, I'm going to be much more interested in the annual number than the monthly number in the year ahead.