Tobold's Blog
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Inflating numbers

I ranted about it before, but Scott Jennings has a nice link to Clay Shirky's analysis of inflated Second Life user numbers and the media's reaction to them.

Second Life reports every character in the game as "resident", and then announces over a million of these "residents". Clay compares it to counting web site visits as "users". So if I used the same method that Second Life uses, I have over 350,000 "users". Which sounds like more than Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, or Everquest 2. But in fact I have zero paying customers, and my peak concurrent users number barely hits the double digits on a good day. Second Life has less than 10,000 peak concurrent users, and less than 30,000 paying customers, which makes it one of the smaller online virtual worlds. But by inflating their numbers, and the media buying those numbers, they manage to look like one of the big ones, and get more media reporting than lets say Everquest 2.

Why dont you juste post a poll to see how often peolpe are visiting your blog?

I personally check the site at least twice a day...

I do not pay, what do you think? Am I a "User"?

Every game uses a flawed method for counting their player base. For example, WoW has over "7 million players". That's wrong, though. In truth they have over 7 million accounts, but how many of those are a second, or even a third account?

I remember a guy on my server in EQ who had 3 accounts, and would always party with three of his characters together. I'm sure people do this in WoW, as well.
About WOW

Once I read anofficial statement from blizzard about how they count their users.

When they say they have 7 million of customers, they are tallied as:

World of Warcraft's Paying Customer Definition
World of Warcraft customers include individuals who have paid a subscription fee or purchased a prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the installation box bundled with one free month access. Internet Game Room players who have accessed the game over the last thirty days are also counted as customers. The above definition excludes all players under free promotional subscriptions, expired or cancelled subscriptions, and expired prepaid cards. Customers in licensees' territories are defined along the same rules.

Obviously this don't take consideration of double accounts but for me this isn't a concern. It's always a paying customer generating income.
What the most relevant number is depends on your business model. For most MMOs that is simply the earnings. As long as the MMO has a monthly subscription model, the number of paying subscribers times the subscription cost gives you the earnings. WoW is a bit more complicated, because only about one third of the customers pay a monthly subscription, the 5 million Chinese customers pay per hour, and thus considerably less.

If your business model is advertising-based (or you write just for the "fame" of it, like me), the number of visitors becomes more important. But again not every visitor is equal, you'd need to multiply the number of visitors with the time spent to get the real "impact". The "peak concurrent user" number isn't bad for measuring this impact.
".... But by inflating their numbers, and the media buying those numbers, they manage to look like one of the big ones, and get more media reporting than lets say Everquest 2."

I agree that Linden Labs blows the SL numbers out of proportion, but I don't think it's true that the numbers are primarily what is garnering them all this press; there was plenty of press coverage about SL before the big numbers became a story (take a look at all the coverage they got in 2005, for example). A key reason they are getting more coverage than, say, EQ2 is because what they provide -- a world built on user-generated content -- is very different from the game-like worlds we experience in MMORPGs, and SL is being used in very different ways.

I'm not trying to come down on MMORPGs here; I play WoW and prefer being there to spending time in SL (which I also inhabit), but I do think there are reasons other than inflated numbers for all the press interest. I also think the press should work harder to put the SL numbers into proper context.
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