Blizzard declared in December 2008 that its fantasy MMORPG reached 11.5 million subscribers following the launch of its second expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King. However, it stalled around then and by February 2010 still only had 11.5 million.
Not all of the twelve million are subscribers in the conventional sense, mind. Blizzard's definition also covers players who've accessed the game from an "Internet Game Room"--an Internet cafe where it's playable subscription-free--within the last thirty days as well as all still playing the free month included with a new copy. Blizzard explains:
World of Warcraft subscribers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as subscribers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Subscribers in licensees' territories are defined along the same rules.
Blizzard gives no indication of how the playerbase breaks down into these categories. The developer also offers no explanation of where the spurt might have come from (as why wouldn't everyone want to play their game?) but does mention that it comes "in the wake of" WoW's long-overdue official mainland Chinese launch on August 31, as well as ahead of the December 7 launch of World of Warcraft's third expansion pack 'Cataclysm.'
"The support and enthusiasm that gamers across the world continue to show for World of Warcraft reaffirms our belief that it offers one of the best entertainment values available today," Blizzard CEO and co-founder Mike Morhaime said in the announcement. "We are as committed as ever to taking the game to new heights, and we look forward to demonstrating that with Cataclysm in December."