Tobold's Blog
Monday, August 24, 2015
World of Warcraft has 100 million players

I think Blizzard is doing a really bad job of marketing here by reporting accurately the actually relevant number of subscribers (and then still being attacked because subscribers in China don't pay as much as subscribers in America / Europe). Other companies are doing a much better job by *not* telling you how many active players they really have, but instead giving you a much larger number that can easily be confused with a player number. For example EVE Online counts the number of "accounts", which because you can only gain xp on one character per account is pretty much equivalent to the number of characters. Imagine how much better Blizzard's number were to look if they reported the number of characters instead of that of players!

The latest example is Final Fantasy XIV reporting the number of registered accounts. I am pretty sure that World of Warcraft has somewhere around 100 million registered accounts. I mean, that is counting everybody who ever tried the game, even if he never subscribed after the free month! As Syncaine assures us that a registered account is the same as an active player, so if that is true for FFXIV than it must also be true for WoW. Would you have thought that World of Warcraft has 100 million players? Thanks, Syncaine, for that information!

What really is going on is that after all those years World of Warcraft is still by far the market leader, and the real numbers of WoW make all the real numbers of the various competitors look bad. World of Warcraft has more players resubscribing for an expansion and then quitting again a few months later than most other MMORPGs have subscribers. You just need 5% of those 100 million registered accounts deciding to check out the new expansion to get 5 million players coming and going in a short time span. As those numbers are then all over the news, the competitors are reluctant to post how proud they are to have 1 million actual subscribers, because that sounds like small change (which it really isn't).

I think it is an achievement for EVE Online to have 100,000 players, but that number doesn't look good enough in marketing, so they have to multiply it by the number of accounts each player has. I think Final Fantasy XIV is really very successful with 1 million subscribers, but Square Enix inflates that number by reporting registered accounts. As you can't unregister an account, that number can only ever go up, so marketing has never the problem having to report players leaving. And as only Talarian does the math, they aren't afraid to report that each of those registered accounts played over 50 hours a day, what an achievement!

In short, player numbers have gone from being a useful information to being a marketing tool and subject to a series of lies and manipulations. Blizzard should join the club and also use those inflated methods of reporting player numbers to even the playing field!

"because you can only gain xp on one character per account"

That's incorrect.

But even if we pretend that was still true, it doesn't change the fact that accounts is the same as subscribers here. It's not like CCP is giving you the total number of pilots created, as you suggest. That's a Turbine move.

For FFXIV, incorrect again, unless you care to explain how 2m/500k happens if the 2m is indeed every box of FFXIV sold rather than active accounts.
The two of you are, presumably intentionally, conflating and confusing a whole load of factors here. Clearly "characters" does not equate to "accounts" but neither do "subscribers" equate to players.

One player can have 5 accounts and the five accounts can have fifty characters. In a subscription game every account equals a subscription but not a player. If you are trying to use these figures to monitor the health or success of an MMO (and health and success are not interchangeable factors either, for that matter) then you need to be more specific.

You could, for example, reasonably make a case that EVE is as commercially successful for CCP whether it has either 100,000 players with five accounts each or 500,000 players with one account each, sine the income from subscriptions will be identical. As a player, however, you might choose to take a different view over such a large potential difference in in-game population because of the perceivable effect on in-game activity each represents.

As players, all we really need to know is whether the MMO we play feels vibrant, busy and alive and whether it is producing sufficient income for the company running it to wish to continue doing so. If both of those factors is true then the rest of the numbers are of academic interest only. Although even then, as Funcom are currently demonstrating and NCSoft have demonstrated in the past, other actions and decisions by a company can render put even populated and profitable MMOs at risk.
Regarding FFXIV, take a look at this third party census of the official character database:

It is a little old, from before the expansion, but it shows only 1.8M characters above level 21, of which 733k were considered "active".

At any rate, I think it's pretty clear from that there are not 5M active accounts right now. I still don't understand how 500k daily players fit into this though.

As a side note, FFXIV tends more towards EVE than WoW in the character/account ratio, since you can do everything on a single character. Accounts per player is a bit more difficult. On the one hand, multiboxing gives almost no gameplay benefit, but on the other hand, I know more than a few players who bought 3 extra accounts (without a subscription) for the recruit-a-friend bonus mount.
Blizzard don't need to join the club, because their un"marketed" numbers are good enough. They are free to look down on the "marketers" and laugh.
It's sort of like how the US doesn't perform any military parades!
As part of "World of Warcraft: Azeroth by the Numbers," Blizzard announced 100 million players on Jan 18, 2014.


The FF14 ploy worked: I saw [insert internet insult here] fansite commenters write things like FF14 subs "poised to pass WoW"


Note also that MMO marketing is more sophisticated/complicated than a decade ago. E.g., Blizzard had a quarter where they said WoW subscriptions declined but revenue went up. E.g. which is better, a game with 100K subs and 1.5M/mo revenue or 90k and 1.6 or zero subs and 2M/mo revenue?


Blizzard mentioned one of the drivers of the sub decline was a very successful Diablo launch in China. So if Blizzard really cared about what the "too hip to like a popular game or band" posers thought, my guess is a promotion where a dollar of WoW time gets you some Diablo benefit could get a million or two increase in the subscriber number.


As always, props to NCSoft that publishes the only important number, revenue, for each of their games.
I've always found Blizzard's method of reporting to be both refreshing and fascinating precisely because it isn't unusually inflated for marketing purposes.
I guess you have a point that there are even more inaccurate ways to account for player numbers. But it would be a fallacy to say, well, Blizz's method is less dishonest than these other methods, and therefore is honest.

They're all crap to varying degrees. Here's the honest numbers: 1) people who have played in the last 30 days 2) people who have spent money to play in the past 30 days. Or something a little along those lines. Since 95 million of those accounts aren't actually able to play WoW, it's more like the McDonalds 10 billion served thing on their signs.
Actually, FFXIV only counts subscribers in that 5 million number. Not ACTIVE subscribers but people who HAVE subscribed in the past.
@bakkahentai2600: That is exactly what I'm saying. I estimate that about 100 million people have subscribed in the past to World of Warcraft, based on the expected turnover per year, the decade is has been going on, and the numbers of current subscribers every year. You cannot compare the number of people CURRENTLY subscribed to WoW with the number of players that HAVE BEEN subscribed to FFXIV. The HAVE BEEN subscribed number can only ever go up. The currently subscribed number has a strong tendency to go down when the 3-month tourists leave after each release or expansion.
Haha, did you even go to that URL he posted?

It says it right there for you; "Over 4m accounts (subscribers only)". Not 'have been subscribed' like you just wrote, or '4m boxes sold' or '4m accounts registered'. 4m+ subscribers. Please, lets here you twist around that since you've got nothing for 2m/500k.

Huh? Even the person posting that link interpreted it as this being HAVE BEEN users, not current users. It's a photo of a line on a Powerpoint slide with absolutely no details, you can basically interpret anything you like into that.

Syncaine, did you actually visit the Square Enix site with their official numbers? They clearly say that this is the number of REGISTERED accounts, not CURRENT accounts. What about the various sources from Reddit and Talarian showing 750k to 1M active subscribers? What about the blatant lie with the 96 billion hours played per year? You are simply ignoring all the facts that you don't like and declare your baseless speculation as the absolute truth.

And as you didn't care to explain your delusions I have absolutely no idea what you are babbling about with your 2m/500k. 2 meters divided by 500,000 is 4 µmeters, if that is what you mean, but I don't understand how that is relevant here.
So in a reply about ignoring 'facts' like Reddit, you then go on to state you don't know what people mean when they bring up 2m/500k when talking about FFXIV. That's pretty rich, especially in a reply already trying to suggest that one can interpret 'subscribers only' in different ways.
Square Enix says they have 5 million registered accounts. They also say that among those 5 million registered accounts they only count people that at one time in their life subscribed, that is "subscribers only", not counting for example me, who had a registered account for the beta. Or free trials. Nowhere does Square Enix say that they have 5 million active subscribers for FFXIV.

If they HAD 5 million active subscribers, why wouldn't they say so? Why would they make a press release saying they had 5 million registered accounts if they meant 5 million subscribers? And why do they claim these 5 million registered accounts played 96 billion hours in one year, or 19,200 hours per player per year, if a year only has 8,760 hours?

By the way, even the video game journalist out there say that "but crucially, registered accounts does not mean 'active subscribers'" (see link above). Or Of course, 5 million registered users doesn’t equate to the same number of active subscribers. It is only you who thinks that registered accounts and active subscribers are the same thing.
So your additional 'facts', in addition to Reddit, are now also video game journalists, aka bloggers working for a low wage that have never been wrong or made assumptions based on little/no research to get clicks to earn said wage (ala 'can only train one pilot in EVE' level of accuracy), while for the 3rd or 4th time not addressing 2m/500k. Solid.
Not even a Google search on 2m/500k gave any relevant results except to your blog. So as long as you refuse to explain what that argument is about, I cannot possibly comment. While that might be proof that I haven't read EVERY Reddit comment in the world, I don't think that is much of an argument against my point and all the sources I linked to.

Saying that anything you write is just as true as anything PC Gamer writes just shows your illusions of grandeur.

And to address the one pilot in EVE level of accuracy, that was a shortcut of mine. Which doesn't change the fact that the average EVE player has more than one account. Do you dispute that? As usual you attack unimportant details in order to avoid addressing the facts: The number of EVE accounts is NOT equal to the number of EVE players.
For anybody wondering what Syncaine is on about when saying I am "wrong" saying that you can only train one character per account, here is the full detail. You can train 2 or 3 characters on one account IF AND ONLY IF you pay 2 or 3 times the subscription. Also this option didn't always exist, so many players stuck with the old way of simply having multiple accounts. It would be more correct to say you can only train one character per subscription fee you are paying. That doesn't change the fact that many players have multiple accounts and the number of players is significantly lower than the number of accounts.
2m/500 explained: When SE announced 2m 'registered accounts', they also stated that they had over 500k daily users.

So, if the 2m number back then was total box sales, and not active subscribers, explain how FFXIV back then was seeing 500k+ daily users, knowing what we know about player login averages vs total subscribers? (from multiple sources, but the best being EVE of course, since you can see the number exactly at all times).


"The number of EVE accounts is NOT equal to the number of EVE players"

Is the number of WoW accounts equal to the number of WoW players? Because if not, what is your point with the line above? That the total number of accounts in EVE is not the exact number of people playing it? What breaking news, alert the presses! What other earth-shattering insight to you have about EVE?
Is the number of WoW accounts equal to the number of WoW players?

Within the exactitude with which subscription numbers are reported, yes, the number of WoW accounts is equal to the number of WoW players. The 5.6 million subscribers correspond to between 5.5 and 5.6 million players. A rounding error, basically. With 50 characters per account and multi-boxing being a lot less useful than in EVE, there isn't much reason to pay for multiple accounts in WoW.

EVE is 20k concurrent users, an estimated 330,000 accounts, but that corresponds to only about 100k to 150k of players. There is at least a factor of 2 between accounts and players.

On your 2m/500k thing, thank you for the explanation. But your argument here is that the ratio between registered accounts and daily players today is the same as back then. I dispute that. The younger a MMORPG is, the closer the number of registered accounts is to the number of active subscriptions. On day one obviously the two numbers are identical. I am absolutely certain that the usual MMO tourists left FFXIV after 3 months just like they left every other game after 3 months. People leaving lowers number of active subscribers, but doesn't affect number of registered accounts.
Given that you can now PLEX in WoW, I think you are greatly underestimating alt accounts in WoW, but not the topic here. All MMOs have people who have multiple accounts. EVE has more of them, sure, and we can argue whether that is brilliant design by CCP or whatever, but for this topic it ultimately doesn't matter either.

On to FFXIV, you're logic is back to the MMO curve discussion, and the same flaw. FFXIV right now is like vanilla WoW, or TBC just after release; it's growing rapidly. It's not a fast-burn MMO like WAR or so many others. It would be crazy to predict if FFXIV will follow EVE's 10 years of growth trajectory, to give another counter-example of the 3-month thing, but we can easily say right now FFXIV isn't shrinking and losing more subs than its gaining (not to mention it launching in new regions like South Korea).

Even if the activity ratio did drop (it's likely increased thanks to the recent and very-well received expansion), how do you explain 2m/500k? If you do in fact believe the 2m is total box sales, and not limited to current subscribers, does FFXIV simply have the greatest retention rate ever to keep such a huge portion of all buyers since release to achieve a 500k daily? Because 500k daily doesn't mean 500k subs, especially for a more casual themepark MMO. Hell I play the game once a week right now, and based on guild activity, I'm far from the only one. Even if I played ever other day, and I'm the average, that would mean out of 2m total sales since release, around 50% of all buyers are still subbed? It just doesn't add up. Even 2m subs and 500k daily is a crazy high activity ratio, but at least believable for a growing MMO around 1yr after release.
I would point out that it says "500K daily players." not "500K daily unique players." You could easily count all logins as a "player that logged in today" and thus, count repeat logins by the same person as multiple logins, implying but not saying straight out that more unique people actually logged in.

It's all marketing speak, and you should trust anything they say about as far as you can throw it.

Just look at what Riot says about League of Legends: "Riot reports that 27 million people play the game daily, while concurrent players peak at 7.5M. In total, 67 million players play the game every month." OBVIOUSLY, there are not 67 million active LoL players. They are counting the same players over and over again. You can assume that the "27 million daily players" there is also not counting unique players.
Please explain why is it 'obvious' that LoL doesn't have 67m active users monthly?

CoC back in Feb 2014 had just under 30m DAU, for example.

500k daily players would/should be unique (it's a pretty common metric DAU), but that doesn't mean they're people who log in every day. It just means that every day, you have an average of 500k people logging in. So if LoL says they have 67M MAU, then that means they have 67 million unique players who logged in at least once during that month.

So that being said, Syncaine, your own argument about MMO lifecycle works against you. You could have 500k DAU with only 2 million accounts registered because FFXIV is still in its infancy as far as MMO lifecycle is concerned. The folks who were playing at the time had just purchased the game (because it's brand new) and probably loving it, so playing all the time. Also take into account the number of people who were probably already turned off FFXIV from the 1.0 experience and not coming back, it would likely be the more die hard fans sticking around for the initial 2.0 offering.

If you had 1 million active subscribers, it would only take 250k to log in every day like clockwork, and 500k to log in every other day, and the remainder logging in once in a while to hit 500k DAU. (I say that like "only" when it's really an impressive number :P). And 1 million active subscribers would be a 50% retention ratio. Impressive, but not impossible, or even improbable based on their history.

So I'd argue that it's quite likely they DID have a higher than normal retention number over other MMOs because they're in the unique position of a do-over.
I should also note, they probably gave us the 500k number during a period of high activity. It's nice to be able to say, "Hey, right now we have 500k DAU!". We don't know if that number is sustained, or a snapshot after a major patch.

Also, this argument requires us believing that Square enix would use the 2M "registered accounts" nomenclature on purpose instead of the far better marketing term of subscribers. Why would Squareenix do this? It is impossible that they do not have an fluent English PR team and the only reason I found on your blog is that they are "trolling" other game companies which is not something companies do in general and really a stretch.
Talarian, the 2m/500k was announced around 1yr after FFXIV came out. If we are talking 3-month timeframe, that is LONG past that. If we are saying 1yr is still the infancy of an MMO, them most MMOs die as a fetus...

Also a 50% retention rate a year in would be INSANELY high, especially for a title that has been on Steam sales (and possibly PS sales, don't follow those).

Vince - SE is based out of Japan, perhaps its a culture thing, or because its a PC+console MMO. Argument works both ways though; if the 5m is copies sold, why do they use the term 'registered accounts' and then indicate they don't include trials? If the stat is for boxes sold, stating it in such a way means you no longer need to use the 'trials not counted' bit.

Either way, to me those are all side details that are more noise than anything else, and unless you just believe the part about 500k daily users is an outright lie, the math behind 2m/500k doesn't add up if the 2m is copies sold.

When FF14 2.0 came out they used the term subscribers. They also used the term subscribers early in FF11's life(500k) then moved to "characters" in order to use a larger number & hide declining subs. Playing the "I use the more impressive number because it sounds more impressive" game isn't new for them.

if the 5m is copies sold, why do they use the term 'registered accounts' and then indicate they don't include trials?

You can make a trial account without buying the game.
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