When Legendary Entertainment in 2006 announced plans to produce a movie based on Blizzard Entertainment’s “Warcraft,” the fantasy videogame franchise had completed a successful platform shift to the massively multiplayer online “World of Warcraft,” introduced in 2004, from its 1994 PC-based origins. “Warcraft” became one of the most popular and profitable role-playing games in history.
A decade later, Blizzard has been watching millions of players turn to other properties, many of them recently to free-to-play titles on mobile devices. At its peak in 2010, “World of Warcraft” had 12 million subscribers paying $15 a month. That’s been falling ever since, to 6.8 million at the end of June. And millions more could leave for so-called fremium mobile games before Legendary’s film — directed by Duncan Jones, and with a cast that includes Ben Foster, Travis Fimmel, Dominic Cooper and Paula Patton — is released by Universal Pictures on March 11, 2016.
Blizzard and its parent, Activision, expected to lose subscribers; a decade is a long time to commit to one game, let alone two. But they believe a film could help attract new gamers to the franchise, which revolves around a human faction known as the Alliance battling the Horde, an army of orcs, in the world of Azeroth.
Until then, however, they’re relying on new expansion packs, like this fall’s “Warlords of Draenor,” the game’s fifth, to stop the hemorrhaging. (Watch the cinematic trailer for “Draenor,” revealed Aug. 14, above).
The first expansion was “The Burning Crusade,” in 2007, followed by “Wrath of the Lich King” (2008), “Cataclysm” (2010), and “Mists of Pandaria” (2012).
For the “Warcraft” movie to succeed, Legendary knows it will have to make the film attractive to more than just the game’s core fans. While the title has become well known over the past decade, raking in more than $10 billion, the characters are still largely unknown to most moviegoers, putting Legendary and Universal in the same position New Line was in when it promoted Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Audiences’ familiarity with those successful films, as well with Jackson’s “The Hobbit” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” could help Legendary in its quest for box office dollars, and perhaps seed the start of a new film franchise.
Legendary has presented footage for the film at two Comic-Cons in San Diego, in an effort to entice “Warcraft’s” loyal fans. With more than a year still to go before the film’s release, Legendary and Universal will have to start doing some heavy lifting to introduce it to a wider base — especially those who never considered themselves hardcore fantasy gamers.
The “Warcraft” franchise is healthy, Blizzard president Mike Morhaime said this month, with the game’s revenue actually increasing over the past year, despite having fewer players. The company said that 1.5 million subscribers have already pre-ordered “Draenor,” a franchise first. The expansion pack becomes available Nov. 13.
At a press event on Aug. 14, Blizzard also debuted a new animated series, “Lords of War,” that delves deeper into the “Warcraft” series and lore. Watch the first episode below.
“The numbers ebb and flow,” said Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who has avoided film adaptations but supports Legendary’s “Warcraft,” on which Blizzard is closely collaborating. “We will continue to see enthusiasm around each new game release.”