Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
How big is the US market for MMORPGs?

Bigeyez alerted me to a Gamasutra article quoting a NPD study saying: "14 percent of U.S. consumers have a subscription to an online game like World of Warcraft." The US has about 308 million citizens, so if this study counted each of them as a possible "consumer", there would be over 42 million people with "a subscription to an online game like World of Warcraft". I have a hard time believing that.

I really wonder what exactly their definition of consumer is, and what their definiton of a subscription is. The report talks about consumer spending on these subscriptions, so did they count only active subscriptions with a monthly fee? Or did they count anyone with a free account to any Free2Play or "social space" online game too?

If there are between 2 and 3 million World of Warcraft subscribers in the US, then what exactly are the other 40 million subscribed to?
Hmmm...they probably are including people signed up for Xbox Live, the PS3 network, all those casual game networks, online poker, maybe even Facebook games like Mafia Wars, etc.
I wonder if they count things like Xbox Live as online subscriptions...because if so that opens the door to tons of things. Even things like facebook games might count if you pay something for them.
If there are between 2 and 3 million World of Warcraft subscribers in the US, then what exactly are the other 40 million subscribed to?

Your blog?
The study says that "14 percent of households now have a subscription to some form of online game." There were 111 million "households" in 2007 in the USA. So we're looking at 15.5-16MM subs.

From the NPD: "The reports address the competitive and growing market for online subscription-based products in the PC Software, PC Games, and Video Games industries. The quarterly reports offer perspectives on the size and scope of paid online subscription markets, including paid online subscriptions and renewals."

So XBox Live counts. There's most of them right there.
The 40m are playing DarkFall (Agon is a big place), they just don't announce sub numbers.

Being serious, my guess is this count must include all registered accounts, be they free or paid. Maybe what they are saying is that 42m people in the US have tried one form of online anything at one point (and even that number seems kinda high to me, unless we are including console accounts in this)
This is a case of the headline being more accurate than the body text. The headline accurately quotes the original article which can be found at

So 14% of US households have an online game subscription. (Lets assume 3 people per household on average and that brings your estimate down to 14 million, which seems pretty reasonable). The article also never mentions World of Warcraft, only online monthly game subscriptions. I think something like xbox live with its monthly subscription fee would easily qualify by the NPD definition.
Are they counting subscriptions to services like Xbox live as well? That might account for the numbers.
They've got to be including Facebook games, and perhaps all sorts of other things too. No way does 14% of the US public participate in games that could reasonably be compared to WoW, free or paid.
Don't forget that when a company talks about "North American subscription numbers" it also includes Canada's players (and Australia/New Zealand's?) not just players from the US.
How much do you want to bet that they're including services like XBox Live! in this assessment? That would greatly inflate the numbers.
Perhaps things like Xbox live or, dare I say it, even child friendly pay-sites like neopets?
They got it right in the title - 14% of households. Wrong in the body of the article - 14% of consumers. Assuming each household is about 4 people, that's what 10 million or so online subscriptions?
The only way those number could be approached is if things like "Farmville" (or whatever it's called - I keep ignoring requests from 'friends' regarding it) on Facebook. I would love to see the methodology for the study, as well.
Hm, I might believe that if they take into account XBox Live Accounts and the like. Otherwise... seems like a stretch.
I dearly hope its not Hello Kitty Online, that's all I can say.. Maybe its Runescape+ Club Penguin + etc..
Just an example of the weak variety of "reporting" that is common nowadays. I don't think journalism classes teach "who, what, where, when, why, how" anymore. That story needed, at least, a definition of "consumer" in this context (adults only? people who have an Internet connection already?) and a brief discussion of how the numbers were gathered (random survey? self-reported numbers from game companies?). Without those it just boils down to "an 'authority' tells us this, so it must be true." Sad, really....
I'd guess that "consumer" in this case is most likely an "employed person" who ostensibly thus has access to funds to be able to consume.

The number of employed people in the US, last I saw, was about 140 million. 14% of that would still be close to 20 million people, though, which still seems awfully high.

So I guess that "employed person" != "consumer" either.

Two things:

First, I think the key phrase is a subscription like World of Warcraft.

In the context of that article, which is talking about broad markets, that's really a subscription for any online game or service.

Secondly, I imagine that figure includes plenty of double-dipping. For example, if I played WoW, then I resubscribed to WAR briefly, then I quit WAR and bought Aion, then I quit Aion to try EvE -- am I being counted once or four times?

My bet is that it's four times.

Because there really isn't any way to track individual users. So all they can do is total up the amount from each area. So when they divide that amount against the larger population, it's artificially high relative to how many individuals play these games.
I honestly think your estimates for WoW are way too low. I think all cogent estimates put the number for current subscribers at about 5 million.

Having said that, I think the questions you ask in the post are quite legit. 42 million people in American alone seems high to me. I might buy that number as representing the number of people *ever* having subscribed but I find it hard to believe there are 42 million paying subscribers today.
Good question. There's something wrong in their statistics or the definitions used within them.

Perhaps the organisation does consulting in how to penetrate that market and so have a vested interest of some sort?
Ah read the comments after posting my own. Households.
I read that article. It seems to be gaining on print newspaper that's been on the decline for years. If you look at most major newspapers they all have online subscriptions.

That number is going to jump once they successfully intergrate more MMo;s to console's and smartphones.
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