Generating $156 million (£109 million) during the first 5 days of its release in China, the fantasy film Warcraft (2016) is taking China’s box office by storm, heading to become the highest-grossing film since Furious 7. Directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, Warcraft was filmed by Legendary Entertainment—bought in January 2016 by China’s biggest private property developer, Dalian Wanda, for $3.5 billion—and sponsored by brands such as Lenovo, Intel, Jeep, and Tsingtao. Warcraft is based on Activision Blizzard Inc.’s World of Warcraft (WoW): a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) released in 2004 and introduced in China in 2005. The movie was an immediate success with its Chinese audience, many of whom make up half of the WoW’s 5 million players. In the US the film opened with only $24.4 million (£17,24 million using today’s exchange rate), a meagre amount compared to its triumphant release in China. By 2017 it is expected that China’s box office will be the world’s largest. 

The Movie’s Success

With 120,000 screenings on its first day, the movie was released on the public holiday of the Dragon Boat Festival celebrating fealty and filial piety on the 5th of the 5th month of the traditional Chinese calendar. The heavy promotion through trailers, the game’s popularity and the public holiday were a few of the reasons that attracted a massive audience, attesting to the fact that China is increasingly an important force in Hollywood’s entertainment industry. Not only Hollywood blockbusters are extremely popular in China, but also Chinese companies are investing in these films, shaping decisions and determining the films’ location and actors. For example, because China Movie Chanel partly funded Transformers: The Age of Extinction, a portion of the film was set in Hong Kong and included the actress Li Bingbing.

The WoW Game

But despite the heavy promotion of the film, Warcraft of course owes much of its success to the game itself that has gathered millions of fans from around the world. Played by a male majority aged from 18 to 35 years old, the vast universe of Warcraft is populated by hordes of human and nonhuman creatures; orcs, elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins are some of the races of fantastical monsters that have been unleashed into the game world fascinating the gamers’ imagination. Generating billions since its first release, the game has stood the test of time, even if in recent years its subscribers’ numbers have dwindled. Its current 5 million players pale in comparison to the 12 million it once had.

Is The Subscription Model still successful?

Unlike the free-to-play or freemium model that is more widely used today, WoW has been using a subscription model. The monthly model is anachronistic, but MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) like Final Fantasy XIV, Wildstar and Eve Online still use a subscription. WoW requires a monthly subscription fee of $14.99. In 2005, The New York Times reported that “World of Warcraft is on a pace to generate at least 200 million dollars in subscription revenue this year, in addition to more than 50 million dollars in retail sales.” The first day the game was released, 23 November 2004, 240,000 copies of the game were sold in North America, Australia and New Zealand. By February 2005, 700,000 copies were sold in the above markets, while approximately 250,000 people were online at peak hours playing the game. One of the highest-grossing video games ever, WoW had sold by 2012, 10 million copies of the game, making over $10 billion. In 2013, for example, it made $1 billion in revenue. Despite the fact that the subscription-based game is a thing of the past, WoW has managed—even though it lost half of its subscribers since November 2014—to retain a 5-million active player base without dropping its subscription fee.  The game’s epic period of 12 million subscribers in the years 2009-2010 is impossible to resurrect, but the film’s release will definitely infuse it with new life.