Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Number inflation

My blog had 1.5 million visitors. Warhammer Online is close to 750k beta applicants, and is shooting for 1 million. Thus I'm twice as popular as Warhammer Online. NOT. So why am I making this totally invalid comparison? To show up the totally invalid comparison implicitly made by EA Mythic talking about their huge number of beta applicants. There is no correlation whatsoever between number of beta applicants and subscriber numbers once the game comes out.

This is especially true for Warhammer Online, because they have gone to great lengths to inflate their beta application numbers. I don't know any other game where the ability to apply for the beta was so heavily advertised. And beta application is open for a year now, it started in April of last year for guilds, May for individuals. Afterwards the number of applicants was always used as marketing tool, which combined with the tiny number of people that were actually let into the beta only inflated the number even more, by people using their several e-mail addresses to apply several times for a beta spot to increase their chances.

People *applying* for a beta test obviously haven't seen the game yet. The only thing they know about Warhammer Online is what marketing told them. And kudos to EA Mythic: their marketing is top notch. If you make a direct comparison between, lets say, marketing for WAR and marketing for the next World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King, which will presumably be released around the same date, Blizzard can only hang their heads in shame. WAR has monthly newsletters, blogs, video podcasts, and their secret weapon of mass destruction: Paul Barnett. WotLK has a dinky website which manages to actually look less interesting than their April Fool's announcement for Molten Core. Nevertheless Wrath of the Lich King is certain to sell 10+ million copies. Whether Warhammer Online will get 1 million subscribers is still a big unknown. Because sooner or later EA Mythic will have to deliver more than marketing: a working and fun game. WoW pretty much got everyone who tried the beta so convinced that they ended up buying the game. WAR will first have to actually let in more people, and then still needs to do the same sort of convincing. And right now even the most neutral and balanced reporting I could find talks of combat feeling clunky and imprecise. People who actually are in the beta fully support the recently announced delay for another half year.

We all hope and pray that WAR will be so good that it gets a million subscribers. We could really use a strong competitor to WoW to shake the market up a bit, and to show investors that WoW isn't unique in its ability to make a profit. But if Ford would open a website where you could apply for a free car, the number of applicants wouldn't be a good indicator of future Ford sales. And even a million WAR beta applicants aren't a good indicator of future subscription numbers. Only a good game can produce those numbers, and we'll have to wait and see if EA Mythic delivers that.
EA seem willing to keep the purse strings open until WAR is, by reasonable expectations, as good as it can be.

We've seen many examples of how necessary it is for a quality product to launch on Day 1, because MMORPG's don't get a second chance to make waves and start building momentum. EA seem to understand this, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see development extended into 2009.

Also, the concerns expressed about the current state of WAR need to be counterbalanced against the reports that EA Mythic are making giant strides with each new beta build.

We all know that WAR will never touch WoW numbers, simply because it doesn't have as broad an appeal, but if it does manage to launch in the state that EA Mythic are obviously aiming to get it to, I wouldn't be surprised if it's subscriptions (combined US and EU) surpassed the current beta sign up number fairly quickly.
There is a reason EA needs all the PR masters of the world, cause clearly they can not built a superior product only. I did not read any positive beta leak. All of them crushed WAR and some in with very specific detail, suprisingly most of them boiled down to the same flaws.

More than once i wrote on that same blog right here, that we will see anther delay and it came right up. I also guessed the WAR releae for 09. Let's see how that will turn out. Not even EAs PR machine can safe WAR if they truely position the product right next to the Wrath box for christmas.

You do not see Wrath videos, blog entry and sales pitches by Tigole, cause WoW still sells like crazy. They don't need all of the press WAR is fighting for. I mean EA is backing this up, they will not be able to sell 1 million subs as an success, this is another league of PR and numbers now. The more i look at the facts the more i am convinced WAR will slip to 09. EA has another huge PC product positioned for september: Spore. While different it kinda shares the same audiences to some degree. If they want to give both products the best release window, WAR has to slip to 09, wich would also protect it from Wrath and reading many of the beta leaks, the game could need some protection.

By the way, many indicators point to Wrath Beta starting very soon. Let's see how that turns out.
EA has another huge PC product positioned for september: Spore. While different it kinda shares the same audiences to some degree.

In my opinion the degree of overlap will be small. I think Spore will be the ultima casual game, and have a lot more overlap with The Sims than with WAR, which after all is marketed as being more hardcore than WoW.
That post you link to has one negative thing to say (other than being in a BG-like space, which WAR has already announced will be one part of the PvP formula) about the combat, among many positives. I'm not sure if you remember WoW in beta Tobold, but the combat was not what it is today. Between the slow response from servers to all the post combat issues (item DB, animation looping) WoW looked very rough. Same deal then too, people said WoW was not ready for launch when it got delayed. If the biggest issue with WAR is class balance and a slow combat engine, it sounds like it's in good shape.

As for the actual beta numbers, while certainly not 'set in stone' customer numbers, 1 million is still 1 million. Remember that 'games' like SL and Habbo are constantly reporting how many 'accounts' they have, despite those being free. 1 million beta apps shows that WAR has a lot of people interested if nothing more, and pre-release, thats the best you can hope for.

I have personnaly read a lot of positive feedback on war, especially from real beta testers, not from wow fanboys or people who think that a beta is a demo.

Everything cannot be perfect now, there is stil a lot of dev to do, that's the reason of the pushback.
The negative feedback I've heard was that thier PVE game needed work. Been hearing pretty good things about PVP.

It makes me wonder if they've decided to work up the PVE side and actually try to put a big dent in WOW
It's unfortunate how companies like to fudge numbers with spin. With the current US housing bubble, the NAR is probably the worst offender out there that I know of.

On a related note, while doing a little stock research, I found the following article about some Chinese online game company and it's MMO called Giant Online. The article claims that they had over 1 Million simultaneous users, although the article that the author references fails to make that statement.

I'll attach the url in case you want to look at it, and possibly do a blog entry on it.

I've never heard of the game, but I guess it might be limited to China only? It also shows why RMT seems to be such the rage for the software companies.

Another thing WoW had going for it was that lack of stiff competition at the time. Sure CoH was out, very niche, and SWG, but that was getting alot of complaints so WoW offered what was needed. WAR may be as good as WoW, but for the people that don't see a huge improvement between they two, they will stay with their multiple 70s & online friends/guilds. Also, don't forget how long it took WoW to get the numbers it has. It was like an infection, one person in an office mentioning it alot, then more trying it, until many were infected from the one. lol I still remember talking about it and some of the older guys in the shop laughing at us until they finally decided to try it out and now they are all hooked while I don't even play, and they have played for over a year already. Wow, take my hat off to them.

But yea, Paul is the best I've ever seen at marketing a game.
Tobold, you're the only person I've seen try to make a connection between beta applications and subscription numbers. If EA Mythic is saying this, please show that. The only thing I've heard EA Mythic say is that they have more beta applications than WoW did, so interest in the game is very high.

The WoW Beta did NOT sell everyone who played it on the game. I played the WoW beta and was bored out of my mind. I had no intention of picking up the game. I only got it because all my friends did and I wanted to be able to play with them.

Wrath of the Lich King is also NOT certain to sell 10 million + copies. As far as I know Chinese players didn't have to buy the first xpac, so I doubt they'd have to buy the second. WotLK will sell millions of copies, but not 10.

So who's making invalid comparisons here? I respect your writing Tobold, but you seem to be really stretching lately.
It's not a stretch at all.

Tobold is not the only one who finds it odd for a game company to boast about the number of beta applicants.

When EA says "we have xxx,xxx" beta applicants, you have to really ask yourself: what does that mean? Does it mean it's popular? Does it mean beta has been open too long? Does it mean their marketing department is doing a good job at generating interesting in looking at the game?

Here's what it does not mean: the game is good.

It may or may not be good, but we can't learn the answer from the number of beta applicants. That's what Tobold is saying.
Only half those subscribers pay for the expansion, the asian markets get the game for free - so it is likely to be around 5 million.

The point still stands, it will likely be more than WAR.
yes if they both have the same launch date Wow will be more. But the thing to watch is how good and how much broad appeal will War have.
If the appeal is broad and the game is good. It will be interesting to see how many move on to the next thing and how quickly.
My bad, I didn't even know Asia got The Burning Crusade for free. I only knew they got it rather late.
This comment has been removed by the author.
to give you an idea of how much less profitable china is. The9 had 33.1 million registered users for all the games it administered.
Net income for year 2007 was 33 million.
Thats with a net revenue of 175.4 million.
When EA says "we have xxx,xxx" beta applicants, you have to really ask yourself: what does that mean?

It’s been announced that beta players can keep their characters into live. I think that is an important part of WAR’s strategy. Essentially, you give away xxx,xxx TRIAL accounts under the guise of the beta. As the game nears release, it will be relatively stable due to the sheer quantity of testers. If we presume that the game quality is good, then those testers immediately become customers and have a vested interest (the leveled character) to continue to play the game. This virtually ensures that the game will be a) stable at launch and b) has a sizable customer base.

In essence, the beta acts like a “soft-launch” that allows them to iron out the issues that always happen during a launch under the guise of a free beta. Since you aren’t paying for it yet and the game is “not yet ready” then they buy themselves the opportunity to make actual launch a “success”.

MMO competitors have consistently “failed” at the launch stage and later fixed the problems only to have the target audience lump them into the failure/bad game category. I see this as a tidy way to circumvent the issues that usually plague a game launch.

I think we need to presume the game is good at launch, otherwise xxx,xxx beta testers are going to be “spreading the word” and this whole discussion is a moot point anyway.

@Popcorn: I replied to something you said earlier on my blog.
There is actually some information out there that would suggest having a huge open beta actually causes many people who otherwise would have bought the game to not buy it. People in a beta see horrible bugs and broken gameplay. They tend to assume those problems will last through release.
@sid67: Your logic is flawed. They do not give away that number of trial accounts, since it's only the number of beta "applicants", not that of beta participants.
WAR is probably 8+ months away. A better indicator of it's potential success is how well Age of Conan does, since Age of Conan is going to be released first.

As I predicted weeks ago, I think Age of Conan is going to be a success, though I have no definitive reason for believing this other than a hunch.
"The only thing I've heard EA Mythic say is that they have more beta applications than WoW did, so interest in the game is very high."

Still, this is a stupid statement.

Beta subscription numbers are dependent on the market size.

WoW got X Beta-subscribers out of about 1 - 1.5 million MMO players.

WAR got Y Beta-subscribers out of 12 - 15 million MMO players.

If you want to compare the numbers, you should compare :

X/1.5 Vs. Y/15.

Not sure this will be in the advantage of WAR.

This being said, the odds are quite good that WAR will be an excellent game.

Just dont use numbers abusively.

A game HAS to impress on launch. You can pour as much money as you like into publicity, but if it turns out to be no good, the news will spread like wildfire.

I remember a relaunch of Turok on one platform or another (don't remember which) that had a mass of publicity, but the game was a lemon, and it flopped badly.

They can manipulate the statistics as much as they want, but that won't save it if it's a bad game.

Good game + lots of publicity + good reviews by players = a hit.
Anything else is not going to threaten WoW at the moment.
If you want a real laugh at the number inflation game, take a critical look at how Linden Labs reports their Second Life numbers. It's used to pump up their hype machine and gloss over the fact that they have a crappy product that only a tiny group of people plays. What a joke.
kinolyen's observation is the most key here: EA is talking about the number of applicants. Not only is an applicant different from a tester, there is no money involved - even if the applicant was a tester, it's still free.

Of course there's more interest in Warhammer's beta than WoW's beta! WoW has pushed how many millions of people into the MMO world? Some of the people are getting sick of WoW and are looking at other options. Those people did not exist, as far as EA is concerned, 4 years ago.

It's just an empty number, that's all. I hope War is great, to be honest, because I'm one of those people that didn't exist in the MMO world until recently and I am sick of WoW. So I'm not bagging on EA in the slightest... except maybe the marketing department. ;)
well blachawk it depends. WOW had issues in beta but they were steadily fixing and improving them.

Tabula RASA on the other hand never seemed to get better from week to week. I think that to have a successful beta program like that you have to be able to manage it and make the beta applicants feel that they are actually being listened too. If it keeps getting steadily better it can work. But there is always the risk in a big beta that a critical mass of naysayers will form and kill your PR engine.

But as far as numbers that are artificial even Blizzard does it.

We used to get numbers by region. Then when that fell off in their most profitable regions they went to one big all inclusive number.

The fact is blizzard the way the report subscriptions could grow 3 million and have a 30 percent drop off in revenue. If the subs dropped in US and EU and they picked up the slack in china
@Kinolyen: That’s a great point. I’m presuming that a large number of those applicants will be converted to testers. Right now, WAR is full of hype and they are continuing to work the publicity engine. The challenge for them is going to be converting that hype into a successful Launch. My point was really more an observation that I believe they intend to make that conversion by having the beta act more like a big trial of the game. Perhaps they believe that since it will be “free” and “not released” that they will have an opportunity to conduct a soft launch that irons out most of the major gameplay issues before they take heavy criticism for a bad product. Managed properly (by listening to the community) during this beta/trial phase, they also have the opportunity to build customer relations and establish consumer loyalty. I am NOT saying that they will be successful, just commenting on what appears to be a strategy to rig a “successful launch” of the game.
I only have one comment about numbers inflation...


"Over 4 million characters created..."

Need we say more?
I pre-ordered 3 accounts.
I don't know if anyone metioned this, but don't forget that WoW's numbers are inflated too. Accounts for MMOs are done much differentally in Asia. I know that in Korea you make an account, but instead of a monthly fee, you pay by the hour, so as long as the account it created, there is no way of telling if it is active or not, so Blizzard counts all those accounts as active, this is how almost all Asain countries handle their MMOs(Which is why it is so much less profitable in Asain countries, you have to play MANY hours a month to pay 15$ a month on it.) Everyone inflates their numbers, so I don't see the issue, it's just a part of marketing that any learned consumer knows to ignore.
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