Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Non-addictive MMORPG

Recently Second Life hit the 1 million registrations mark. But according to Terra Nova the number of peak concurrent users is just below 10,000. The high number of registrations is due to registration being free. Presumably a lot of people try Second Life once, and never come back. The ratio of "subscribers" to active users during peak time is 100 to 1 for Second Life.

Now I don't have really good data on the peak concurrent users of World of Warcraft. The number is only reported for China, where peak concurrent users for WoW just hit 630,000, out of 5 million "subscribers". As the total number of subscribers of WoW is now 7.5 million, I'd estimate the total peak concurrent user number for WoW to be 1 million. But even if we take a much more conservative estimate of 750,000, the ratio of subscribers to active users during peak time is 10 to 1 for World of Warcraft. When WoW came out in the USA, during the holiday season of 2005, it had 600,000 subscribers and 200,000 peak concurrent users, a ratio of 3 to 1, but of course we can expect the enthusiasm to have gone down since then.

So why is a World of Warcraft subscriber at least 10 times more likely to be found actually playing the game than a Second Life subscriber? Is that proof that WoW is highly addictive, while Second Life is a non-addictive MMORPG?

I think the answer is much simpler, the business model is different. If you pay for a monthly subscription, it doesn't make much sense not to play. If the subscription is free, you only play when you really want to. Second Life has less than 30,000 paying customers, the landowners. The ratio of paying customers to paying peak users is probably much better than 100 to 1.

But whether we call it addiction or we call it by any other name, it is also likely that World of Warcraft is more "attractive" than Second Life. Given both an WoW account and a SL account for free, most gamers would end up playing World of Warcraft and more or less ignore Second Life. While people (including me) love to complain about the shortcomings of World of Warcraft, it isn't as if Second Life wouldn't have its troubles. The BBC reports SL problems with self-replicating worms, server outages, and copybots. And among people frequenting virtual worlds, MMOs like World of Warcraft with a large game component have consistently been more popular than MMOs like Second Life, which offer more of a world to hang out, and less of a game.
Second Life is good for fetish cyber. Hell, you can even hire in game hookers for in game sex. Though considering that is the case, one would almost wonder why it is not more popular than it is.
A better comparision when discussing Second Life would be with Guild Wars, since there is no subscription for either of them. With Guild Wars one still have to buy at least one of the 3 Guild Wars releases, but after that it is free.

I have not seen any concurrent user numbers for normal play there. There has been special weekend events where they have had 500.000 players playing though.

They had 2 million copies sold in June and with Nightfall being released, they will likely increase that number quite a bit.
I actually tried Second Life, and the learning curve for the interface is a lot steeper than that of WoW.

That's one thing that Blizzard excels at. Their games tend to be a lot more intuitive, and they start you off with simple things to help you learn the game.

Second Life doesn't do that. The "newbie" island is even confusing compared to WoW.
I signed up for SL, played for 10 minutes, realized the graphics were more intensive than WoW, and didn't see anything fun to kill. I haven't double-clicked the icon since.

Why? Because it's not costing me a darn penny to have it just sitting there.
One point about Guild Wars that Sente didn't mention is that GW forms takes a dimetrically opposite extreme to Second life in terms of Game vs World balance. With patches and add on chapters Guild wars now has a huge amount of PVE content in addition to its well know PVP gameplay. However the instanced nature of the game and the lack of trade skills means that there is very little World element. People don't log on to hang out like they do in WOW even in the shared towns.

If I, may use such an emotive term I find GW much less addictive than WOW. I think that the pay once subscription model helps but I also think the lack of "World" type content helps - there is no reason to log onto GW unless you are going to do a quest or fight a battle.

I have no doubt that WOW is a more successful game because it offers a much fuller virtual world experience than GW. I do think there is a space for games like GW though especially for casual players (like me) and I hope that NCsoft can make enough money out of this business model to keep it up.
To be honest,I think its a category error to compare WoW and SL on a like for like basis, because, well, SL isn't a game.

As you say, it's a 3d space for social activity - there are no objectives, no quests, no levelling; it just doesn't scratch the gaming itch. Wow allows you to experience the world 'on rails' to some extent - SL leaves you to find your own fun.

Probably better to compare SL with MySpace, really?
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