I’ve been trying to figure out how many people play WoW in different countries, and today I got an email from davesgonechina, who was asking the same thing.

Generally, people say there are nearly seven million WoW players now. [Add ref] However, as far as I can tell, there are five million Chinese players alone – I think these are in addition to Western players (EU and US).

This blog post explains that Blizzard has licenced WoW China to the company The9, and that as a publicly traded company, The9 has to release quarterly reports on revenue etc. That means we can get lots of data from those quarterly reports.

The report for the second quarter of 2006 states the following:

In the second quarter, Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft attained peak and average concurrent WoW users of approximately 630,000 and 330,000, respectively, in mainland China. As of June 30, 2006, over 5 million paid accounts have been activated*.

The footnote to that reads:

*Activated paid accounts represent the number of CD Keys that we sold to customers and have been activated by the customers to log-on to the World of Warcraft game in China.

So 5 million people play the Chinese version of WoW.

Chart showing increase in WoW players in East and WestT.L. Taylor also sent along this recent presentation that Vivendi (who own Blizzard who develop and run WoW) gave to their investors. It says WoW from Blizzard has over 6.5 million customers (June 2006), but you can also see that all their other games have sold a lot more – the single-player Warcraft games, Diablo, Spyro, etc, though also over many more years.

This chart seems to show WoW players according to “East” or “West”. Presumably that means Asia or Europe/US/Australia? If so, it’s clear that the five million Chinese players (only about 4 million in “East” (i.e. China, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea) in the chart, which shows data from the first quarter of 2006) far outnumber the Western players, and that they’re growing a lot faster than the Western players.

The chart below is also from that same Vivendi presentation to investors, and shows the different regions and languages covered.

chart showing regions covered by WoW data-recalc-dims=

Makes me feel rather humble – sure, we think we know World of Warcraft, but do we really? Can we really, without knowing what it’s like to play the Chinese version. Even the interface is rather different from the European version, as this YouTube video that Lisbeth shared (it’s for her death stories project) shows – look at the size of that text sliding up the screen during combat! What cultural differences might there not be between an Asian server and a Western server? After all, T.L. Taylor has showed that there are large differences even just between a US server and a European server.

Does anyone know of research on these things?

17 thoughts on “global World of Warcraft demographics

  1. Linn

    I’ve been trying to figure out the “Total MMOG Active Subscriptions – Absolute Contribution” chart over at http://www.mmogchart.com. I can’t figure it out! Because in my obviously dyslexic eyes the chart says that there’s 12,5 million WoW subscribers and even more D&D subscribers!!! I’ve lost all faith in my chart reading skill, because this just doesn’t make any sense to me at all!!

  2. Linn

    Ahhhh!!!! Silly silly me!!! The chart is saying that WoW holds 6,5 million of the 12,5 million subscribers of MMOGs wordwide!!! Duh!!!

  3. davesgonechina

    Thanks Jill!

    @Linn: I noticed the total subscribers 120,000+ chart doesn’t include the game Yulgang, a Korean game that is quite popular in China. There’s an estimated 9 million users, more than WoW!

    I’m quite interested in the underground gamers. I’ve been wondering if there are pirate servers that operate independently of The9. Also, there are stories of more than 220,000 Korean gamers reporting virtual identity theft on Lineage. Might this affect numbers? S

    A third question I have is that there appears to be a small contingent of Middle Eastern players… I wonder if anybody has looked at that.

  4. davesgonechina

    oops, sorry about the link mistake

  5. jill/txt » i made a human

    […] I wonder whether players in the many non-Western countries on average choose different-looking avatars to Westerners. Do they have different options when creating a character? Does it bother them that there are so many more shades of snow-white skin than of darker skin-tones? Filed under:World of Warcraft — Jill @ 15:53 [ ] […]

  6. Jill

    T.L. Taylor reported meeting Middle Easter players on the European servers in her recent essay, but that’s only a quick mention and I’ve not seen more about it. Definitely an interesting question. And underground gaming – I hadn’t thought of that. There are illicit servers? That’s awesome! Imagine if they tweaked the game, too – though probably pirate servers would just be copies, right?

  7. Linn

    Oh Korea’s just a bundle of fun to investigate when it comes to gaming! I mean they’ve even got the Korean fair trade commission telling MMORPG producers that they have to compensate gamers for server down time and they have no right to kick them off the first time they do something wrong! It’s all just terribly terribly exciting!! And sorry, Jill…didn’t mean to make this a Korea thread! But underground players?!!! Oh yes please!! I feel my heart pounding with excitement!! That is just too cool!!!

    The identity theft incidents have really been a nasty affair! It’s also so weird and well…dystopic the way nationality seems to be reinforced in MMORPGs!

  8. davesgonechina

    I don’t know if there are underground servers, but it’s certainly possible. A guy who works in China’s MMORPG business (his blog is called billsdue, can’t remember the suffix) told me that there are attempts to bribe datacenter guys to allow pirate players in. It’s no big step to imagine bribing him for a copy of the serverware. I don’t know if this has actually happened, but in China’s environment I have difficulty believing it hasn’t been tried. And if the serverware got jacked, then there’s nothing to stop it being sold on the grey market, where you can buy practically any software you want (I’ve seen Oracle serverware, why not WoW?)

    Also, some Chinese press I’ve seen says that there are calls for compensation for server down time in China too. There was a massive Sichuan WoW server shutdown and players were asking for it. China has also had court cases involving stolen virtual property.

  9. FG

    Sky and MTV Italy are airing a TV spot by Blizzard to advertise the new price of WoW (Ä 19.95) where they state something like “…Join the seven million people already connected in the World”.

    Hope it help, Fabio.

  10. Jill

    That’s interesting – especially since we’re NOT already connected. We’re only connected to people on our own server – unless you think of it in a more abstract way, as all the readers of Harry Potter are connected in that they’re familiar with the same fictional world.

    Also, the official European WoW website says:

    World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade will be in stores on January 16th, 2007 in Europe and North America! The news comes as the player base reaches 7.5 million players worldwide.

    So presumably they’re about to hit 7.5 million players – and they’re specific that it’s worldwide, which must mean it includes China.

  11. Sigrid

    Hi Jill

    I dont know if you read Henry Jenkins’ Blog, (from MIT) but he just posted something about “Games as National Culture”
    He says: ‘I have been thinking a lot lately about the degree to which games might be regarded as a reflection of national culture.’ and also mentions Chinese multiplayer games… He also recommends a new book by Chris Kohler ‘ Power-Up’
    Probably woth looking inot, if you have not done it yer.
    If you have not done

    I have enjoyed reading your blog now for a few months, thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  12. Sigrid

    oops- I noticed some typos and one line is repeated unnecessarily

  13. Vincent

    The 5 mil cdkey activitions don’t really transfer to 5 mil players. Power gamers and farmers, for instance buy more than one copy. From the wording of it, it seems the 5mil is an accumulative number “over 5 million paid accounts have been activated”, some of the accounts might be cancled at some time so it doesn’t mean there are currently 5 mil subscriptions either.

    Also, The9 only runs in mainland China, I believe, Taiwan has its own host, and Singapore/Japanese join the US servers along with aussies.

    The chinese interface is pretty much the same to US one. Not to mention it is very common that players customize the interface. That big chinese word popped up in the end is by one of the addons, I believe.

    My friend plays WoW China. From the talk with him it seems the server population is beyond US players’ imagination – very common to see each guild run 3~5 40 man instances at the same time, and they even bring 60 players to 40man instance – don’t ask me how, but it’s power gaming, and it’s cheating to some degree. Which leads to the other, which is the ether of the gameplay. The difference of the gameplay experience is very different because to some players in China botting and exploiting are very normal.

  14. Vincent

    I really need to read my own post before submitting it……

  15. Jill

    Vincent, thanks for the info – I wonder why the server population would be so much bigger? I would imagine there’d be the same technical limitations on server size in China as in the US and Europe, and that they’d limit population as is done here?

    interesting about the addons.

  16. Vincent

    Hmmm because there are alot Chinese who are computer literate and love to play PC games. It’s my experience that more Asian enjoy computer/IT/internet stuff than westerners, whereas more westerners enjoy outdoor activities. A lot Chinese are crazy about Internet games. Indeed, for Chinese and Aisan gamers, players died in front of their computer is not something new.

    Another possible reason (but I’m not 100% sure) is that US host tend to introduce new servers very often to keep each server under certain “healthy” population – which avoid congestion, for example, major city auction house lag.

    The large size font pop up is by ScrollingCombatText, (http://wow.curse-gaming.com/en/files/details/111/scrollingcombattext/).

  17. […] Now, in Garriot’s partial defense, “Operation Immortality” actually includes 40 people; these were just the 10 names I could find. The whole batch might be more diverse than this sample. Also, although this thing got billed as putting “the best of humanity” into space, that was BS; Garriot specifically sought to put the DNA of gamers into space, to promote his latest game (which bombed). In reality the slots got sold to the highest bidder as a publicity stunt. But y’know what? Since this was meant to be promotional, I think some consideration should’ve been given to making the Operation Immortality list at least tacitly resemble the audience that might buy the game. Since black and Latina/o gamers make up a substantial proportion of the US gamer demographic — 50% of console owners according to this 2005 study, probably more since — you’d think there’d be a few more of us in that list. Actually, given that Garriot’s game was an MMORPG, PoC make up an even bigger proportion of those players; 5 million of World of Warcraft’s 7 million players are in China. And that 30% female thing? Should be more like 65%. So I can’t help wondering if a contributing factor to the failure of Garriot’s game was his failure to use this and other promo opportunities to really connect with his audience. […]

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