Will the Warcraft movie boost Legion sales?

Is a big-budget summer blockbuster the recipe to bring back old players, or is Legion just prolonging the inevitable as subscriber numbers fall?

Is a big-budget summer blockbuster the recipe to bring back old players, or is Legion just prolonging the inevitable as subscriber numbers fall?

Wait, there’s a Warcraft movie?

Yes there’s a full-scale, live-action flick set in Azeroth finally arriving. What rock have you been living under?

Produced by Legendary Pictures and directed by Duncan Jones, the Warcraft movie hits theaters on June 10th, and just today it was announced that latest World Of Warcraft expansion Legion will arrive on August 30th.

Within an hour of Legion’s release date being announced, Blizzard’s Facebook post had 6.6 thousand likes and a thousand comments. Unfortunately, about half those comments were negative, as it seems like long-term players are less than pleased with the game’s direction lately.

Shutting down the much-loved vanilla server hasn’t exactly enamored anyone to Blizzard recently, either.

It remains to be seen whether the Demon Hunter class and a new area will be enough to lure back old players who have lapsed, but the big screen Warcraft debut has the potential of bringing in new players with this long-overdue movie adaptation.

The Importance Of Legion

Legion of course is big news for any MMO fanatics – it made our list of most anticipated MMO releases this year – but its also potentially make or break time for the aging genre giant. Will there be any noticeable effect on the sales of Legion with the release of the film?

It’s coming out two full months ahead of the expansion, so when Legion hits stores Warcraft will likely be well out of theaters, but perhaps still in the public consciousness. It’s also worth noting that people who have never considered playing the game will see the movie, which will hit a wider audience.

Although the player base is still huge and Blizzard has got to be making an absurd amount of money each month, WoW membership has steadily declined over the years.

Quarterly reporting of numbers was stopped last year when active subscriptions hit 5.5 million (a nine-year low point). While that was significantly down, WoW still remains the top subscription-based MMORPG in the entire world.

That may not continue to be the case before long, though. It’s an oversaturated MMO market at the moment. There’s a huge (and growing) number to choose from across a ton of genres at this point, and many of them are available free to play. It’s easy to pick up a new one and give it a shot every month until you find one that fits, rather than sticking with the old classic that is very much showing its age.

The Impact Of A Big Budget Movie

The cynic in me wonders if the movie wasn’t explicitly planned and executed to draw back players, rather than because the right script with the right director showed up at the best time for a stellar film.

The quality of course will be a determining factor in whether the movie helps out Legion. I can’t imagine too many people went out and bought Super Mario All Stars right after getting out of the theater and seeing the Super Mario Bros. movie, for instance.

We’re only getting quick cuts in the trailer, and so far the CGI looks passable but not amazing or ground breaking (it definitely could have been worse…), but that’s perhaps a personal preference. I’m generally opposed to CGI in movies in all instances, ever, and would always prefer practical effects.

As long as its not THIS, we should be fine.

Of potential concern is that Duncan Jones has a very short director credit lists – 3 full movies, including Warcraft, and a short film. His last flick was 2011’s sci-fi romp Source Code. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing – Peter Jackson was only known for Dead Alive when he was handed The Fellowship of the Ring – but it also doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Production company Legendary Pictures, on the other hand, is no stranger to movies with CGI monsters. Jurassic World, Krampus, Pacific Rim, the ’14 Godzilla, Sucker Punch, that pointless 300 sequel… the resume goes on and on.

While the quality in terms of both visuals and storytelling will play a role, they aren’t the end of the story. The movie has quite a few things going for it already: summer release schedule, Travis Fimmel’s manly mug (Ragnar Lothbrook from Vikings), and of course the title itself.

Just simply getting the name Warcraft out there will be a boost, even if the movie is un-watchable drivel (call me a Grinch, but I have no reason to think it won’t be). Gamers are going to come out in droves to catch it opening weekend no matter what, there’s no doubt about that.

Examining Previous Movie Tie-Ins

Hard numbers on how movie tie-ins impact the sales of games or other media like graphic novels and comics aren’t always easy to come by (especially since publishers and stores don’t frequently release specific numbers on digital or online-only sales).

The Force Awakens appears to have had quite a positive impact on numbers for the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO, with Google search rankings seriously spiking around the release of the film, but we’re sort of comparing apples and oranges at that point. Episode VII is one of the top three highest grossing films of all time, and it had the huge nostalgia factor going for it.

There’s also going to be a new Star Wars movie released every single year from now until the Earth plunges into the sun (or a truly abysmal entry gets released by Disney and the spell is finally broken), so interest will continually be renewed rather than flatlining after the initial boost.

Based on what I could find hitting forums where comic and game store owners frequently post, in general it would appear movie and television adaptations tend to have a quick positive effect on comic and graphic novel source material sales. That effect has significantly varying degrees though – some markedly improving, some only getting a gentle bump and then fading away.

It seems the same would follow true for video games, especially when dealing with something as anticipated as Warcraft.

My prediction: Legion will experience big sales on launch week and a slight bump in numbers, followed by a continuing drop-off in overall subscribers and a dead expansion within a matter of weeks.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and even a monolithic, enduring MMORPG institution like WoW will eventually fall in the era of free massively multiplayer titles.

Having a summer blockbuster drop a few months earlier will help, but the pessimist in me says WoW has already reached that turning point from which there can be no return, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being one of the final major expansions to the game.

What do you think of how the movie will effect the game, and is the prospect of Legion pulling you back into World Of Warcraft?

About the author

Ty Arthur

Ty splits his time between writing horror fiction and writing about video games. After 25 years of gaming, Ty can firmly say that gaming peaked with Planescape Torment, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a soft spot for games like Baldur's Gate, Fallout: New Vegas, Bioshock Infinite, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. He has previously written for GamerU and MetalUnderground. He also writes for PortalMonkey covering gaming laptops and peripherals.