Tobold's Blog
Monday, September 05, 2011
 
The Ex-Files

MMO-Champion mentions interviews the Blizzard developers gave on patch 4.3, in which they made a side-remark that "There are more people that played World of Warcraft but no longer play World of Warcraft than currently play World of Warcraft". I believe that this has been true for years already, and that the number of ex-players is not just "more", but significantly more than current players. The reason I believe that is that I regularly stumble upon PC games sales charts, and World of Warcraft has been in the top 10 for years, and pops up again frequently whenever there isn't a great number of big new releases. Thus if sales of World of Warcraft are strong over years, but the overall number of players has plateaued and is now declining, it means that as many or more players leave WoW.

I don't know if there are 15 million ex-players, 20 million, or 30 million. But as Blizzard themselves said, it is more than 11 million, and that by itself makes the number of ex-players huge. And that is very important, because most bloggers and commenters tend to forget about these ex-players when discussing size of the market. How often have you heard arguments about some new game like SWTOR "hurting" (if not "killing") WoW, because "the players of the new game have to come from somewhere".

Surprise, surprise, that is simply not true. Even if the analysts are right and SWTOR will get 3 million subscribers, that does NOT mean that WoW or other MMORPGs will lose 3 million subscribers. Because the overall market size is NOT the sum of all subscribers of all MMORPGs, but is in fact a much bigger number. It is likely that for many other games the same statement is true as for WoW, and there are more ex-players than players. And not all ex-players of game A are now playing game B. For example I am not currently subscribed to ANY monthly subscription MMORPG, nor do I actively play any MMORPG in Free2Play mode. Nevertheless I'll certainly pick up SWTOR and Guild Wars 2, so these games can obviously gain subscribers without another game losing any.

It has become pretty much impossible to track all the potential players of MMORPGs. People take breaks from MMORPGs, play single-player games, play social or browser games, or play Free2Play games where they appear as "customers" regardless of whether they are actively playing or not. Even if you only count North America and Europe, there are probably well over 20 million people who at some point in their live played some variation of online role-playing game and are likely to do so again if something sufficiently attractive comes along. A big new game like SWTOR is able to attract players from this ex-players pool, and significantly grow the number of "active" MMORPG players.

That is not to say that new games don't also attract players currently playing other games. And given its market share, a lot of players switching games will come from World of Warcraft. But don't think that whatever number of people SWTOR attracts is directly linked to an equal number of subscribers less for World of Warcraft. A lot of people that will play SWTOR end of this year are not currently subscribed to any MMORPG.


Comments:
I would also say, a significant implication of this is that WoW's very long subscriber curve is due to the ability to attract more players after the launch than at launch, NOT because they haven't hemorrhaged players the same as any other MMORPG.

This flies in the face of the generally accepted strategy of a big launch, followed by a focus on keeping players as long as possible.

This also gives more credence to the possibility that SWTOR could have long term success even without a huge amount of lifetime subscribers.
 
While I agree with your observation, I don't think the ending SW:TOR conclusion stands up.

You have to think... why are those ex-WoW players not playing it anymore ? Why are they taking a break from it all or trying other types of games ? It's mostly because they're tired of WoW's game style: theme parks, raids, automated mathmaking, arenas, BGs etc. Each with his own issue.

In comes SW:TOR, a game completely new and with a very tempting universe, but at its core EXTREMELY similar with WoW. How many ex-WoW players do you think will find it as exactly what they were missing ? Some proabably will, some will think they did for 1,2 months and then go back into their cave to wait but most will probably skip it all together for the above mentioned reasons.

In my opinion, SW:TOR really is a threat to WoW only when it comes to its current active subscription base. For those that got tired of WoW, I really don't think it's more than a curiosity or a passing comet.
 
From my estimate, based on the fact that Blizzard said they only have a 10% retention rate, there are over 90 million former WoW players. If we remove China, than the estimate is about over 60 million former WoW players.
 
There are several important caveats that need mentioning.

The first, and most important, is that people tend to forget WoW doesn't actually have 11 million subs. It has 6.5 million subs, and then the rest is the Chinese market. Do any of us care how Chinese MMOs are doing? Probably not. So when we look at new games like SW:TOR and suggesting 3 million subs, that is actually a HUGE amount of people assuming they are not including the Chinese (etc) markets in their estimation. And given all the voice acting, I doubt SW:TOR is going to be localized that readily.

The second caveat is like Mynsc said: WoW absolutely "grew the market" by pulling in non-MMO players, but it is debatable whether or not they remain potential MMO subscribers once they left WoW.

Finally, the numbers are going to get a bit weird since nobody seems to be able to take games like League of Legends into consideration. They apparently have "15 million players" but none of the press that WoW does whenever subscriber numbers gets bandied about. Obviously the revenue streams are different, but if ex-WoW players are getting sucked into those games, it's debatable whether they would ever come back to MMOs.
 
Actually it's 30% retention rate past level 10, not 10% retention rate.
 
@ Mynsc

I hate assumptions like that. On what basis do you say that? I'm a former WoW player and I am not tired of WoW's game style at all, WoW has just ran it's course as a game.

Mind you, I don't claim to have any real insight into why everyone else is not playing it, but why do you assume you do? Why does everyone assume that quitting a game automatically means that there is something wrong with the game and not just that it is a good game that you are no longer in the mood to play? Do you think people simply can't stop playing a game with no resentment?
 
I have to agree with Sine Nomine. As someone who isn't really interested in raiding, I played through all of WoW's non-raiding content and essentially finished the game (a few times over, actually).

Suggesting that being done with WoW makes me also done with the genre would be similar to saying, "I finished Dragon Age, so no need to play Mass Effect."
 
I recall Brad McQuaid commenting at one point (can't find the source, so grain of salt and all that) that when he moved on there were about 3-4 ex EverQuest players for every one still currently playing. That was close to its peak in the pre-WoW days.

When WoW came along, that was a handy base of people who knew the genre but who were done with EQ for one reason or another.

Likewise, WoW has created a mass of people who know the genre but who are done with WoW for whatever reason. So if SWTOR gets the its mix just right, it might not only not have to steal from WoW to survive, but might thrive based on the seeds that WoW sewed in the past.

On the shoulders of giants and all that.
 
@ Sine Nomine

I'm going to have to echo your comments. I'm not tired of the "WoW" type game, I'm just tired of WoW. I've played nearly every MMO under the sun and I've come to realize I like Theme park MMOs. I liked WAR and Rift. The problem is they are missing "something" to keep me playing past the first real lull in fun.

(I've tried Darkfall and Mortal so I can honestly say I've tried other types of MMOs.)
 
Personally I just come back after every expansion for a few months.

But yes, currently not playing WoW and I'll probably pick up the Star Wars game. I might even play it for a few month... until the next WoW expansion.
 
Meh, memory is funny that way... so that's 6.5*2=13 million who never made it past level 10.

What about the people who quit by level 20 or after level cap? Their sales have maintained even after their numbers stopped growing. That means that plenty of 10-85 level players have left the game.

That number is the ethereal quantity that we are interested in. They obviously played for longer than level 10, which means they are more likely to do it again in another game. But, does that mean it would be an MMO?
 
Pure anecdotal... I'm currently in an IT class for the US Military with a total of 10 people, of those 10 only 1 currently plays WoW, 2 never have and the other 7 haven't played for 6 or more months.

I personally know more people who DID play WoW than DO play WoW. It's honestly to the point that I'm more shocked that someone is playing it rather than not.

Most of my friends say they aren't going to play Star Wars, however 1 of my normal gaming group is in beta and if he ends up liking, and picking it up, then I'm sure more of us would.

As of now we are mainly playing LoL... though I just picked up Space Marine (which is pretty cool)
 
Based on what we've seen during the convention season, it seems SWTOR is attracting people that will have their first MMO experience with it. Devs are having to explain basic concepts like what aggro is. SWTOR may continue to grow the market.

Second, this is the first time in my recollection that entire guilds are talking about switching games. This is key because I think ultimately we just want to play with our friends.
 
@Ted

Do they really HAVE to explain Agro or are they just doing it anyways? Just because a game company acts like they are catering to a new MMO crowd doesn't entirely make it so. I think SW:TOR will get some new MMO gamers, but I think the vast majority will be current, or past, MMO gamers.
 
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