Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
What the cool kids play

So I won what the Nosy Gamer calls my sucker bet, World of Warcraft is up 100% in hours played on XFire, and well ahead of Guild Wars 2 which is yet another 20% down. As I said before, I do not consider XFire numbers to be completely accurate, as only a small and not representative sample (what I call the cool kids) even has XFire installed. Otherwise we would have to believe that Guild Wars 2 has already lost 56% of its players in the first month.

I think XFire exaggerates trends, as it is mainly installed by people who switch a lot between games. If you'd only play one game, what need would you have for software which tells you what game you played how long? So I do believe the general trend is shown correctly: Guild Wars 2 has lost players, World of Warcraft has recovered players due to expansion. But I don't even think the relative rating was correct before: I doubt XFire is much in use in China, so a game with a more global audience is likely to get underreported. XFire will completely fail to report the inevitable spike in WoW player numbers caused by the release of Mists of Pandaria in China tomorrow.

Of course there is some hidden racism in the discussion of WoW subscription numbers. You can find lots of people who will make remarks about how a Chinese player somehow counts for less than an American one. I've even come across some idiots saying that most of the players on the Chinese servers were just gold farmers, when in reality obviously the gold farmers are playing on the servers where their customers are, in Europe and America. Or they say that a Chinese player counts for less, because he pays less subscription; which is true, but not really a good argument if you compare them to Guild Wars 2 players, who pay even less subscription than a Chinese WoW player.

The Nosy Gamer suggests we check numbers again on November 4th (no idea why that particular date), and I'm quite willing to do so. But we need to be aware of the inherent limitations of the method and the tool.

As far as I know, in China you pay for WoW by the hour, since most people play it in computer "clubs".

So in terms of revenue, you can make a comparison between Chinese players and EU/US ones.

Of course, this is the only PC comparison you can make :)
The subscriptionless nature of GW2 does make the comparison feel a bit strained. I stopped playing GW2 last week, in favor of MoP for a while... but I have every intention of going back to GW2. If GW2 were a subscription game, my abandoning it would be more meaningful, and I'd have more of a barrier to playing it again.
I live in China and the advertising for MoP has been ubiquitous, emblazoning buses and convenience store windows.

It's worth noting that a lot of players here use VPNs to access the Taiwan or US realms, so pay the same subscription fees as everyone else.
"there is some hidden racism"

there is no racism at all. When people say that Chinese people count for less they are not mean they count for less as human beings but they are referring 100% on the payment model that exist in China. You can also say that the American player count for less than a European player because Blizzard does not convert dollar to euro. A service that cost 20 dollar in America it cost 20 Euro in Europe while should cost for ~15
China customers do count for less, since their ARPU (average revenue per unit) is much lower than western customers (and because Blizzard gets zero upfront revenue from box sales there.)

I do wonder if the design of MoP was intended to boost Chinese ARPU. Grindiness means more hours played, and they pay by the hour.
The reason for checking on 4 November is because 30 days after a release usually shows a drop in play as the first month's subscription ends for those who picked up the game at launch. A big drop in time played means players were not happy. A small drop means satisfied players. Of course, that only works for subscription MMOs and can't be applied to a game like GW2. I'm expecting to see a small drop in the Xfire numbers.

You are right to point out Xfire players demographics are different than players at large. I think it undercounts non-English speaking players, or at least players in Asia and Eastern Europe. But Xfire is a panel of people I can observe whose numbers are not locked behind a firewall, so that's what I go with.

Of course, that only works for subscription MMOs and can't be applied to a game like GW2. I'm expecting to see a small drop.
In China you can buy 66 hours of game time for under $5 US. For the majority of players that is more than enough for a month or two of game time.

Compare this to an American player who has to subscribe for 6 months at a time to pay more than three times as much per month. And of course the American subscriber gets to pay ridiculous amounts for name changes and race changes and all that.

Basically my point when I slight the Chinese subs is that they really aren't in the same category revenue wise and shouldn't be combined with people who actually pay a subscription. When you subscribe to a magazine, for instance, you pay for the magazine even if you don't read it. Whereas the Chinese players have a much better model, where they pay exactly for how much they consume.

If WoW would just say they have 10 million players I would be happy.
I read some game developer blogs and one of them posted a conversation they had with a producer. The producer asked "well how many customer do we want that play for free" his reply was "as many as possible" customer = content and make the world feel populated.

So even though they may create less revenue I think they are just as important to the over all discussion of subs.

Now if you want to discuss which MMO makes the most revenue every year, sure factor in the China pay per hour. However if we are talking about subscribers you can't discount them. It would also open the door to discount any country because they have a different exchange rate.
China customers do count for less, since their ARPU (average revenue per unit) is much lower than western customers

So you are saying that a Guild War 2 player counts for less than a World of Warcraft player, because the ARPU of the GW2 player is lower? Obviously when people crowed how GW2 beat WoW on XFire, they failed to mention that.

Why would a Chinese player count less in a comparison with GW2 when in fact the Chinese WoW player still pays more than the US GW2 player?
Honest question here: Do Chinese WoW players need to pay for the game upfront like US and EU players do, or does the game time work for whatever version of the game is out, regardless? If so, I think you have a basis to treat GW2 players differently than Chinese WoW players, at least from a revenue standpoint.

If the math from the previous poster was accurate (66 hours for $5) then your average Chinese player would need to play WoW for 792 hours to equal a GW2 player. Anything above that skews it towards WoW, obviously. It would be interesting to find out how long the average Chinese player plays each month and how long (month-to-month) they are active.
What I find interesting here is that players in China basically have two payment models to choose from.

1) Pay per hour (casual player or players from computer clubs). 66 hours could give you quite a bit of gameplay - months for sure.

2) Subscription - you use a proxy or PVN to connect to US servers to play 20 hours +. I bet a lot of farmers are in this number but also some hardcore players.
If the math from the previous poster was accurate (66 hours for $5) then your average Chinese player would need to play WoW for 792 hours to equal a GW2 player.

Yes, but that is not "per month". Over the years I personally have played WoW for over 6,000 hours, and I can easily imagine the average Chinese player having played more than 800.
I looked it up, World of Warcraft does in fact cost something to buy. I don't have all prices, but for example the collectors edition of Mists of Pandaria costs 486 CNY ($77).
Huh conversion rates have changed quite a bit I guess. Seems crazy that it costs more in China than anywhere else.
It's the collector's edition. The one that cost $79.99 in the US.
Tobold, I wouldn't crow too loudly about winning your bet—it's a pretty hollow victory so far, see Measuring MMO popularity with Google Trends.
Hollow victory? I'd say it is the other way around: What both XFire and Google Trends are measuring is just insubstantial buzz. What is a victory for Blizzard are dollar signs.

Thus I'm sure that Google Trends would show a spike of interest in City of Heroes, but that is because it is shutting down, which is the ultimate failure. While an 8 year old game that slowly becomes less newsworthy is still making 1 billion dollars of revenue this year. It is the hype that is hollow, and the money that is real.

I believe you have managed to introduce a metric that is by a wide margin even less useful than the Xfire numbers.

Still, there is interesting stuff in trends. If anyone ever needs proof of how bad Cataclysm was, just look at this graph (yes, this is a bastardised version of invoking Godwin's law)!

Your data indicates the number of times a phrase was searched for (and while I trust Google and all that, I actually don't know how their search data is archived – do they store each and every search indefinitely, or is there an algorithm at work?). It says nothing about "popularity". At all.
The google trends is an interesting approach, but you'd have to include all the most popular search terms for a game to make sure you'd collected your data.

Frex, did you search for WoW as well as "world of warcraft" and "guild wars 2" as well as GW2?

I'm sorry, I always get stuck in Google Trends, it's such a fun tool. So I couldn't hold back.

There is an obvious drawback to including "WoW" as a parameter. Nonetheless, searches for that word outstrips searches for the terms Stratagem discussed in his post. And it's a fun curve! Even though the word is a generic term, it saw a drastic increase in 2005, peaking around 2009. Since then, it has fallen back, diminishing at about the same pace as it grew up to that time. Obviously, this doesn't measure popularity as such (see Tobold's comment just above).

Another fun comparison is to look for more "functional" searches. Compare "Lion's Arch" with "Stormwind", for example (a bit unfair perhaps, since SW is not a hub on the same scale as Lion's Arch). Look at the last 60 days: you can see the weekend peaks very clearly, and the developments in these use of these search terms.

Ok... I just added "Orgrimmar" too. Horde and Alliance appear to be more or less neck to neck, although the "evil ones" won the launch day!
Well to be fair during the highest part of WoW's peak you had to get information about quests from some website. Now they just tell you how to do it themselves...
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