World of Warcraft Senior Producer John Lagrave admits that the recent dip in subscribers is at least partially attributable to the popularity of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
World of Warcraft is still the top banana in the MMO bunch but it's definitely seen a slide in subscriber numbers over the past year. After peaking at 12 million in late 2010, user numbers were down to 10.3 million at the end of September 2011, still a huge amount but a significant loss nonetheless. Much of that drop, according to Lagrave, has to be attributed to EA's Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO that launched in December.
"We certainly do look at [where WoW players go], and we have a very smart bunch of guys who do our analytics for us," he told Eurogamer. "Of course people are trying Star Wars - our development team are trying Star Wars! I'm one of the few people who's still playing it actually, but yeah we've seen a dip in subs."
He said that some of the loss can be put down to people waiting for the Mists of Pandaria expansion, which doesn't yet have a release date, but acknowledged that many former players are simply finding other games to play. "Are they going elsewhere? Yes they are. We don't have a lock on all the best games in the world - Skyrim was an amazing game," he continued. Skyrim didn't cause a drop in subscription numbers, he added, "but people definitely did that as well as WoW."
And while the idea of extending the free WoW trial period beyond level 20 to attract new players is a possibility, don't expect a full free-to-play changeover anytime soon. "We're comfortable with the subscription system. I won't say never on that, but gosh not now and it's been seven years!" Lagrave said. "You'd think we'd have gotten there before now, so I don't think so."