Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 12, 2010
The really, really casual players

News of the day is from a Activision Blizzard investor conference, where it was revealed that only 30% of players in World of Warcraft make it beyond level 10. Or, in other words, 70% of players don't get past the free trial. Elder Game points out that losing only 70% of players in the free trial for a 5-year old game is actually amazing, because in most games with downloadable trials those 70% of players don't even get to level 2. Nevertheless, and I guess that was why the number was mentioned in the investors conference, this means that there is some untapped potential for World of Warcraft to attract even more players.

Subscription numbers can be highly deceptive. Look at the following bit of news from the same source: "Current subscription numbers for World of Warcraft are holding steady at 11.5 million." What does that suggest to you? You probably think of stagnation, this being the same number than half a year ago. But actually that number is higly dynamic. The only thing it tells us is that the number of new players starting World of Warcraft is exactly as high as the number of old players leaving WoW. We also know from WoW regularly popping up every week in top 10 PC games sales charts that the number of new players is quite high. More players *started* playing WoW in 2009 than most other MMORPGs have overall subscribers. We just don't know how many exactly.

Now presumably Blizzard wants even more World of Warcraft subscribers. So what could they do? They could either stop the outflow, or increase the inflow. The traditional method is to try to stop the outflow, by adding an expansion with content at the high end of the game, keeping existing players busy. But, as remarks about Cataclysm and the investors conference news above reveal, Blizzard will deviate from that model in the next expansion. They will try to go for BOTH less outflow and more inflow, by not adding content at the top, but also redesigning the new player experience. After all, if you start a level 1 human character in WoW today, your experience of the first 10 levels is still fundamentally the same as it was 5 years ago. All the expansions and patches and changes of the game had only minimal effect on the game below level 10 up to now. But the "cataclysm" could change all those newbie zones. And the streamlining of the stats system could help as well. It is totally possible that Blizzard completely reworks the new player tutorial at the same time.

The potential of making changes to the new player experience, as compared to the current discussion of whether maybe the top guilds killed Arthas too fast and Icecrown is too easy, is staggering. You're not going to gain another million subscribers by fiddling with the difficulty level of Icecrown. But you could well get that million if you manage to capture the 70% of players who never make it past level 10.
The decision to rework the original content of the game is the right one. For the reasons you mention.

Additionally it is a guarantee that I will check it out - as will a hell of a lot of earlier subscribers.

About the 11.5 million .. Do you have information about China here? If Chinese servers are still down I really doubt the 11.5 mio is true.
Oh, yes. And that's why to everyone's (including mine) amazement Blizzard suddenly went all "code red" on streamlining the gameplay of the first 15 levels for patch 3.3. They really, really want to tap into the Farmville-Tourists [(c) by Spinks].
Be interesting to know what proportion of that 70% never intended to level beyond 10 in the first place - e.g. bank alts, gold spammers, name placeholders, faction spies etc etc
I wonder really how they did come up with those numbers. And do those numbers include RTM accounts...
I look forward to the revamp. Leveling a character in new zones looks like a lot of fun.

The old expansion packs kept me busy for half a year. If they manage to add a lot of new content that might be a bit longer :)
I think even now they are well on their way to doing that. I hate building characters, but since I have two at level 80, I can build new characters faster with heirloom items and whatnot. I think down the road they will make it faster for all of us.

More compelling it is to log in and make progress. Getting stuck in a slow grind only makes us not want to be there.
Pardon me for speaking on something which I only perceive, and for which I have no source. It was my understanding that gold sellers used trial accounts frequently to sell and advertise the gold. If they were banned, then it didn't matter. They simply opened up another trial. This may be more rumor than not, but it would explain part of that statistic.

However, I can't blame someone for quitting wow before level 10. If you joined this game because it looked fun and you know no one (as I did 5 years ago) you would be disappointed at the new zones. Before they were full of players, both low and high. I remember coming into the world and coming across other players frequently. It means you stand a chance at having an interaction and making a friend. Also, you would see an occasional player 20 levels higher come through with all sorts of cool looking gear and it really increased my curiosity.

This is now absent from the game. If I were starting today not knowing anyone, I too would likely quit.
"Current subscription numbers for World of Warcraft are holding steady at 11.5 million."

That number really surprised me. It seemed that chinese players were out of the game for good and thus the subscription number should be down at about 5-6 million. What happened there? Are chinese in again or did WoW manage to double the amount of western players?
It's certainly food for thought.

I'm wondering (as someone who enjoyed WoW for years then run out of things to hold me there) whether the emphasis on new players might increase the top level bleed.

With Cataclysm it's mainly a revamp of areas people will power through in a day. STV 2010 might be fun to see for the first or second time but it won't keep people playing for years.
I was really pleased to see you post this nugget. I've been repeating ad nauseam something I read several years ago in an interview with someone from SoE in which they said soemthing along the lines of the most common played time for accounts that did not go on to renew after the free month was less than an hour.

Another interview gem I remember from EQ2 a couple of years back (when the level cap had been 70 for some time) was that the great majority of characters played were in the mid-50s or lower.

However, I was surprised to read only this week that currently a substantial majority of current EQ2 players are at the level cap (I think it was around 70% - as usual I failed to bookmark the quote and now can't remember where I read it).

The upshot of this is that MMO design has some serious structural problems. Many people are interested enough to pay the entry fee to try the game, but relatively few find what they have bought sufficiently appealing to continue using it. On the other hand, those who DO carry on may end up providing the majority of the revenue stream later on when the initial box sales and downloads die off.

How do you make the game sufficiently appealing to keep more of the new entrants while providing enough continuing interest to keep the subscribers? And hardest of all, how do you achieve this without making the two ends of the continuum unrecognizeable as part of the same game?

I've no idea. Not much sign of anyone doing it yet. Most MMOs seem to have settled for what are effectively two games bolted together, where you play a character-based level/skill building RPG to the level cap and then change completely to play either a competetive PvP game or a co-operative organisational game (aka Raiding). Or some hybrid of the two.

Personally, my favorite part of almost MMOs is the levelling-to-initial-level-cap part. If that could be replicated as gameplay for, say, 500 or 1000 levels, that would suit me. It's the levelling *to get to the End Game" part that puts me off.
I'm completely sure that vast majority of that "70%" are not new players to capture. Some of them are bots/goldsellers, most of them are small kids who try out everything for free, but have no money to subscribe.

I mean they did not even reach lvl 20 (free subscribtion let you do that). They did not really wanted to try out the game. They just logged in because they heard about it, saw that there is quest TEXT and left.
I cannot help but wonder, just how many of those 70% of players are goldspammers.
The WoW in China saga remains complicated. Escapist Magazine has some news. Apparently Netease, the local company running WoW, still has problems getting all their licenses together, especially for the expansions. But apparently the game is up and running, although the authorities call that "unauthorized", and Netease had to stop accepting new user applications.
Re-working old content will have both the desired effect of drawing in new players and retaining old players like myself who will level up in what is essentially a new game.
The two times I used a WoW trial account I had no intention of getting the character past level 2. One time it was after having not played the game in over a year and wanting to do all the patching and addon updating and testing on an account I was not paying for time on. The other time I had filled up my characters on a server and wanted to test a new race and class. Having 2 computers I decided the easiest thing to do was use a trial account to transfer equipment from one bank alt to another. It does not matter how much time they spend on the new character experience I would still have 0% of accounts going above level 10 on a trail.
there must be a significant amount of people who quit and come back with new content. What happens if they take a dislike to bliz redesigning significant portions of their familiar game? could backfire.
I'm just wandering if 11.5 million subscriptions provided by Blizzard includes those 70% that didn't reach level 10. If it so does it mean that the number of *real* subscriptions is 30% of that number (around 4 million)?
"The traditional method is to try to stop the outflow, by adding an expansion with content at the high end of the game, keeping existing players busy"

Uh, that will have nothing to do with retaining new players? Nor is the fact that if you log in now it'll be the same low level experience as five years ago - were talking about people who have never logged in before.

Basically I don't think they can grab those people without changing things which will likely alienate their current players.

Because what bores some people and makes them log out at level ten is what seems to hook some people in.
Anecdotally, my brother in law started playing this past week when we were snowed in. I've been playing for 4 years.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool