Eight million hooked on fantasy game

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World of Warcraft, the computer game that became the largest-grossing media product of any type in 2006 with more than $1bn (£511bn) of revenues, has just signed up its eight millionth subscriber.

Blizzard, the US subsidiary of French entertainment giant Vivendi Universal, which makes the title, announced the landmark ahead of Tuesday's launch of a major expansion to the game.

Although many consumers will not be aware of the existence of World of Warcraft (WoW), the game is rapidly becoming a sensation in the media industry. Subscribers typically pay about $15 per month to play it over the internet and interact with others in the Orc and Elf-infested fantasy world of Azeroth. There are over two million regular players of WoW in Europe, with several hundred thousand in the UK.

HMV's store on Oxford Street in central London will open at 11pm tomorrow when developers from Blizzard will sign copies of Burning Crusade, the expansion to the game, for eager fans.

Vivendi cited WoW as a major factor behind the group's rise in profits in 2006. The games division said earnings for the nine months to the end of September rose 187 per cent from €30m (£20m) to €86m.

Vivendi has never disclosed overall revenues from WoW. At its last set of financial results, it described the performance of its games division as "very healthy and dynamic".

WoW's addictive qualities have been blamed for the break-up of relationships and the loss of jobs. Many fans of the game play it for more than 40 hours a week. Blizzard has said it plans to release one major expansion to WoW every year.