Activision Blizzard stock downgraded to neutral after worrying survey results

Warcraft ‘could lose 1m players to Old Republic’

The global launch the Star Wars MMO could trigger a mass-exodus of World of Warcraft subscribers, according to new analyst data.

Lazard Capital Markets has downgraded Activision Blizzard’s stock from ‘buy’ to ‘neutral’ after a recent survey found that more than half of existing World of Warcraft subscribers have grown tired of the game.

The survey, conducted in conjunction with Peanut Labs, polled 381 online customers and found that 50 per cent plan to buy EA’s The Old Republic. Another 38 per cent declared an interest.

Lazard Capital Markets calculated the data, along with considerations to increased competition, to conclude that World of Warcraft could lose between 900,000 to 1.6 million players following the launch of The Old Republic in December.

World of Warcraft subscriptions have contracted by about 800,000 users the past three months, a loss which has accelerated from the 300,000 player drop-off during the six months prior.

Yet Activision Blizzard has seen off competition from numerous rivals since launching World of Warcraft in 2004.

For more than seven years it has remained the most popular paid-for MMO, despite attempts to dethrone it from the likes of Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, City of Heroes, Champions Online, Warhammer Online and Rift.

Electronic Arts’ new contender, developed by Bioware, is widely considered to represent the game’s biggest challenge yet.

But Blizzard, having shed more than a million subscribers in a single year, is fighting to bring its numbers up. World of Warcraft is now entirely free-to-play until players reach level 20 in overall skill.

Meanwhile, a fourth expansion called Mists of Pandaria is also in development. Traditionally these add-ons have bolstered active users and subscriber numbers.

Lazard Capital’s survey found that 33 per cent would resubscribe to Warcraft upon the release of Mists of Pandaria.

Last week Vivendi shed thirty million of its shares in Activision Blizzard, reducing its stake to 60 per cent.

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