Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 06, 2015
Am I a subscriber?

Azuriel wrote another sensationalist WoW is dying post but managed to put an actually interesting question at the end: Who is counted at a subscriber for World of Warcraft in Europe / North America? We know that in Asia WoW works with time cards and everybody who spent some money in a given month is counted as subscriber. But what about people who are using WoW tokens to keep their accounts active?

Technically I cancelled my WoW subscription two months ago. The exit interview asks you why you quit, but all the questions assumed that I didn't want to play any more. The option "I still want to play, I just don't want to pay real money for it any more" didn't exist. Yesterday I bought 4 WoW tokens (on the off chance that today's announcement increases interest in WoW and thus the price of WoW tokens), but after that I *still* had over a million gold on my characters. Even in very basic maintenance mode without putting in any effort I easily earn twice or more as much gold per month than it costs to pay for a WoW token.

So does Blizzard count me as a subscriber? Or am I counted as "left World of Warcraft during Warlords of Draenor and never came back"? I haven't received any mails of the "come back to WoW" type yet, but those usually come much later after a cancellation.

The interest in subscription numbers has a dual purpose. On the one hand it is interesting how many people are actively playing the game, because the more people play, the more you meet in game, or interact at least indirectly with them, for example on the Auction House. I can clearly see a decrease in activity on the AH for my server cluster. The other purpose of looking at subscription numbers is that they reflect somehow the revenue of the company making the game: If a game isn't profitable enough any more, it might get shut down.

With the early subscription games the two curves were identical: Every player paid $15 per month, so the curve showing subscription numbers equaled the curve showing revenue. But as soon as the amount of money a single player pays isn't constant any more, the two curves diverge. For example nobody has a curve of the number of players of EVE Online, we only have the number of "accounts" (which reflects revenue). As many players in that game have more than one account, and the number of accounts per player can change (e.g. because this year EVE banned multi-boxing), the number of players and number of accounts is not the same. In a game that becomes Free2Play, like SWTOR, you can't really deduce revenue from the number of players at all. And nobody cancels an account that is free, so what exactly do you count as a player? It is perfectly possible that right now SWTOR is counting me as a player, while WoW is not, although I haven't played SWTOR for ages, and play WoW every day. Hey, and I bought a life-time subscription for LotRO when it released, so they probably count me as subscriber too.

I think for World of Warcraft it would be best to count active non-trial accounts, regardless of whether the monthly fee was paid in gold or real money. After all, *somebody* paid $20 for my WoW token, even if it wasn't me. Counting me as a subscriber would thus reflect both active players and revenue. I just don't have an official confirmation that Blizzard is counting the same way.

The short answer is yes, you are a subscriber if you are using a token to pay for your time. Once the token is redeemed and the clock starts to tick on your 30 days it counts as a subscription. Tokens that are still to be redeemed don't count until they are.
That is certainly how I *would* handle it, as it makes perfect sense. I just can't seem to find a source, an official statement that this is how they *do* handle it.
To be extremely precise, the current definition of what a subscriber is: Subscriber Definition: World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees' territories are defined along the same rules.

That definition leaves room for interpretation regarding WoW tokens. You could say that they are included as having either "paid a subscription fee" (in gold), or being on an "active prepaid card" (considering a WoW token to be some sort of prepaid game time card). But you could also say that a WoW token is neither, and thus isn't counted. The definition is ambiguous.
If the tokens weren't counted as subs, they'd specifically mention it as well as the relevant numbers of token users. They just can't withhold this kind of stuff in the quartely calls. If you've used a token you have essentially 'paid' for a 30-day prepaid card.
Over a million gold?! Any advice to improve my gold farming, seems I'm very below the standard because I'm doing least than 15k / month! :(
My understanding of the word "subscriber is that it simply means that you have a current arrangement in place that allows you to use a service. Payment is not required nor is it a requirement that you actually use the service.

If you accept this definition then you are a subscriber of any game in which you once created an account and could still log into if you wanted. So yes you are a subscriber to WoW. You are also a subscriber to Lotro. You are even a subscriber to Runes of Magic or any other F2P game you made an account on but haven't played for several years. You will remain a subscriber to a F2P game until you deliberately terminate your account or the game closes. On the other hand you are not a subscriber to EVE because presumably you have let your subscription lapse.

That dictionary definition of subscriber is fairly clear and straightforward to me but it is also not very useful in looking at modern games, their players and their revenue. F2P games have the more useful concepts of ARPU (average revenue per user) and APRU (average revenue per paying user). A user is , I guess, an active player while a paying user is an active player who is contributing money to the game. If we use these concepts then you are still a user of WoW and you are not a user of Lotro, EVE or Runes of Magic.

Are you a paying user of WoW? I would say yes because you have a paid up subscription which you paid for with something of value. The fact that that thing was not your cash doesn't really matter because it clearly has a cash value to Blizzard.

If you started playing Lotro again would you automatically become a paying user because once long ago you bought a life time sub? Some authors seem to suggest that if you ever paid money then you are still a paying user. Turbine themselves even reflect this and would give you a special status and benefits because of your long ago payment. On the other hand I personally think it would be more sensible to only include you as paying user if you have paid money within the current accounting period (probably the last year).
Any advice to improve my gold farming

It is mostly a matter of producing stuff that other players buy on the AH. At the most basic, build a level 3 barn in your garrison. Farm to trap bulls or wolves for leather / fur and savage blood. Either sell those resources, or increase profit further by using leatherworking / tailoring with the crafting building in your garrison to make essences for sale.

Most of my gold comes from relatively passive activities like that, I need just about 2-3 hours per month of farming in a premade group to keep one barn going. But I don't just have one barn, I have four, so your overall income is strongly related to the number of level 100 characters with level 3 garrisons that you have.
"After all, *somebody* paid $20 for my WoW token, even if it wasn't me." Not at all sure. Remember that you can't trade tokens directly with players, you can only trade tokens via the Blizzard special AH, using Blizzard price.

It is possible that Blizzard injects tokens to the game, both for gold sinks and to boost their subscriber numbers towards investors, or to keep "time rich" players in the game in the hope that they provide content for others (for example, letting a guildmaster or raid leader play for free can increase revenues if their activity keep guild/raid members happy and subscribed).
It is possible that Blizzard injects tokens to the game

Not likely. MMORPGs have 99 problems, but lack of people who want to spend real money on virtual currency isn't one of them. There are even still third-party gold-sellers advertising. I'd be more inclined to believe that Blizzard injects gold to the game than that they inject tokens. Injecting tokens cost them $20, injecting gold cost them absolutely nothing.
But by injecting tokens, they can go free-to-play without openly claiming so. This way they could have their cake and eat it: officially they would be subscription game, but with all the benefits of F2P.

You said yourself how easy to farm the gold for the tokens. Don't you think that there would be more competition (= higher prices) if people would compete for the limited amount of tokens injected by the whales?

In EVE an ordinary mission runner/ratter has to farm about 20 hours a month for a token.
In all actuality, since there is no legal gun to their head, they can define "subscribers" any way they want, and they can tell you a different definition of "Subscriber" than they actually use.

I would expect them to include as many people as "subscribers" as they possibly can to pad the number. As such, you are almost certainly considered a "subscriber."

And... What Gevlon said. Since there is no way to know if game time tokens are limited by gold tokens, you can safely assume they are no longer linked. The de-linkage probably occurred when the curve was flattened.
The interesting question isn't whether you count as a subscriber when you redeem a WoW Token, the interesting question is whether you count as a subscriber when you buy a WoW Token from the AH. I'm sitting on 8 WoW Tokens, for example, but my game time expired two months ago. Am I still a subscriber? Am I not a subscriber? Is Blizzard counting the revenue from the Token purchase as a sale for this Quarter, or in the Quarter I may or may not redeem it in the future?

Traditional retailers have grappled with Gift Card accounting for years now, as Gift Cards introduce revenue for merchandise not yet purchased. WoW Tokens should be no different, at least in my limited economic experience. In which case Blizzard's financials could be radically better or worse depending on how and when they count the revenue.
Azuriel-- its' cash in hand. No refunds, and when it's cashed they just let you have access to something they were going to do anyway, so... there's basically no cash that needs to be held back to pay for any of it. I suspect it's cash in hand this quarter as far as the accounting goes.
I certainly think they would count tokens.

OTOH, "Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft," is part of a legal document. You did not pay a sub or have a prepaid card. It's hard to see how they could count you under that published criteria.
Hague, activating the token is paying for your fee, since that is basically a one month prepaid card. Point is someone paid for your month, so I think it would be fair to count them as a subscriber.
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