By Matt Peckham
October 15, 2014

World of Warcraft‘s next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, trundles onstage November 13. And so Blizzard’s tireless fantasy MMO, slow-bleeding subscriptions for years, is experiencing a kind of bounce — to the tune of about 600,000 subscriptions. The new worldwide subscriber tally: in the vicinity of 7.4 million.

Blizzard hasn’t announced or confirmed the 600,000 figure; it’s the implicit takeaway subtracting one press release from another.

In early August, Activision Blizzard revealed World of Warcraft‘s subscription base had fallen to 6.8 million, down 800,000 from the prior quarter, when it stood at 7.6 million. The last time the game’s base was that low, the housing bubble hadn’t popped, The Sopranos was still on the air and the Governator was only midway through his California reign.

Yesterday, Blizzard slipped the 7.4 million figure into a press release about a Warlords of Draenor prelaunch patch. That number is current as of September 30, 2014.

At its height, World of Warcraft commanded 12 million subscribers. That was October 2010. Someone’s been plotting all these press release points on a Statista chart if you want to see the broad sweeps. The actual chart probably looks more like one of those chaotically scribbled volume-trading maps, with subscriber activity trending gradually down, marked by periods of noisy, frenetic re-acclimation.

A subscription surge was inevitable. It’s happened every time the company releases an expansion. Warlords of Draenor, which follows Mists of Pandaria‘s release two years ago, is Blizzard’s fifth expansion for the game. Its raises the level cap from 90 to 100, shines up the graphics, plugs in the customary new dungeons and raids, and for its new feature trick, gloms on user-created garrisons whereby players can recruit in-game characters to automate loot-gathering busywork.

World of Warcraft celebrates its 10th anniversary on November 23 (brace for the glut of press paeans). It’s one of the longest-running MMOs of all time, and it’s the most broadly played subscription-based MMO by any measure. Plenty of MMOs have lived longer–I believe Furcadia, which launched in 1996, currently holds the record–but the nearest rivals (like EVE Online, which launched in 2003) have only fractional populations.

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