World of Warcraft shedding subscribers

For the first time since its launch in 2004, online fantasy game World of Warcraft is seeing a drop in its population of elves, orcs and gnomes.

The frighteningly addictive fantasy-based massively multi-player role-playing game (MMORPG), which many believe to be the most successful gaming title of all time in terms of cash extracted from users' bank accounts, reached a peak of 12 million active accounts late last year.

Since then, a new expansion pack called Cataclysm has been added to the online game's already incredibly broad playing area, a move that was intended to not only keep the waning interest of high-level players, but encourage those same players to revisit earlier encounters with low-level alternative characters.

But a recent financial call with the games creators, Blizzard Entertainment, has revealed that all is not well with the denizens of Azeroth, and the game is shedding subscribers at a rate that is alarming, of not exactly fatal.

At time of writing, WoW still boast a pretty impressive army of 11.4 million monthly-paying subscribers, but any decline on a graph which has been in a constant climb since day one has to be a cause of worry for those holding the reigns at Blizzard.

In fact, the five per cent population drop has caused the council of elders at Blizzard to rethink their strategy when it comes to outing upgrades.

King of Kalimdor Michael Morhaime declared during the conference call: "What we have seen so far is that people have been consuming [Cataclysm] content very quickly and so the subscriber levels have decreased faster than in previous expansions."

It's clear that experienced players are currently working their way through new content quicker than Blizzard can create it, which is creating a vaccuum at the higher levels of the adventure, a problem which has characterised WoW's 'end-game' since its launch.

There are obviously very few casual gamers playing WoW at a level close to the current cap, but Blizzard seems to constantly pander to these elite players to the detriment of new adventurers, or even those who have lapsed in the middle orders, frustrated with the investment of time and energy required to rise beyond the ranks with multi-player raids that can take hours on end to complete.

Some might say World of Warcraft has rested on its laurels, but with several alternate MMORPGs snapping at its heels, and the impending launch of the long-awaited Star Wars offering waiting in the wings, Blizzard had better get its house in order.