Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Half-time score

There is an ongoing bet on this blog, based on the Nosy Gamer's rankings of top twelve MMORPGs every week. That ranking was used by some people to declare WoW dead when Guild Wars 2 hit the top and pushed WoW back to rank 2 in XFire hours played on a Sunday. I was betting that this was a function of the hype cycle, and that after the release of Mists of Pandaria, WoW would go back to the first spot. Well, MoP is out, but as the rankings are done from Sunday data, we need to wait for the first Sunday after MoP release for the result. The only thing available now is a half-time score: Data for the Sunday *before* Mists of Pandaria release:

Guild Wars 2 is still on top with 51,481 hours played, compared to WoW's 33,794. But the hype cycle is already very apparent: Guild Wars 2 hours played are already down 25.4% compared to the week before, while World of Warcraft is already up 31.7%. It doesn't take a huge stretch of imagination to think that I might win my bet.

Note that my opinion is solely based on the observed behavior of MMORPG players, aka Lemmings. I do believe that *in the long term* subscription numbers correlate with a game's quality. Or in this time and age profits instead of subscription numbers: If you can earn a billion bucks with your game, it can't be all bad. But in the short term, and especially on release, these numbers have little significance. Especially since only a tiny percentage of MMORPG players has XFire installed, and those aren't necessarily a representative sample.

I do think WoW will be beaten again in XFire numbers by future MMORPG releases. But to be beaten by Guild Wars 2 again, GW2 would have to release an expansion. There is this strange need of MMORPG players to be there on release, which beats any consideration of game quality.

The phenomenon of ratings is one which has always bugged me since I was a kid and they talked about TV show ratings.

There was always this discussion about how shows I hated were doing well in ratings, and ones I loved were getting panned. I always wanted to know: who are these morons collecting the ratings? Who did they choose to participate, and how did they choose them? Did they intentionally pick people with poor taste to suit their plans? And are they measuring the impact that their published ratings are having on ratings themselves, due to the fact that people like to tune in to shows that are rating well?

Since then, I did a degree in Business, a few subjects of which related to marketing, and statistics. I am now aware that child me was actually not far off the mark.

So whenever I see people measuring something by, say, xfire statistics, all I hear is white noise.

Literally no-one I know, IRL, or play with online uses xfire. Every blog post or 'MMO news site' post that uses them is always mentally edited to include brackets: "X number of players [who are the kind of people who use xfire - ie: no-one I know or associate with]."

It immediately diminishes the relevance or relatability. It's like the blogger echo chamber of hardcore raiders who only read the works of other hardcore raiders, leading them to falsely assume that their similar opinions are the predominant ones out there.
@Cam: I've always been of the opinion that Xfire is only really useful for observing trends within the playtime of a single game.

It's perhaps marginally useful for comparing games within the same genre, where the playerbases might be expected to have similar rates of Xfire usage.

And it's not at all useful for comparing games across genres, e.g. an MMORPG vs. an FPS.

p.s. I also literally do not know a single person, either IRL or online, who uses Xfire. :-)

I think it's probably of more use to investigate exactly what kind of person uses xfire in the first place.

At the moment the only thing going for it is the fact that it is a viewable stat, and any stat is better than no stat, right? Right?
That depends on your definition of viable. Just think for a moment how many hours YOU think that Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcraft are being played on a typical Sunday. If I see the XFire hours, I believe them to be less than 1% of the total hours played. And I believe that the more casual a player is, the less likely he is to have XFire installed, so the sample isn't even representative.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ooops, I misread that. Damn diagonal reading. ;)
Hey Tobold... I said 'viewable' which I meant as in 'visible', rather than viable. Or was that directed to Carson?

(Edit: I was also totally being sarcastic in expressing the idea that a bad/unrepresentative statistic could possibly be of more value than zero statistics.)
Xfire numbers don't exist in a vacuum. They are useful only in comparing similar games. A boon is all you need are accurate sub's for one game, and with a little math find out the subs for all of the games their pub's wisely choose to keep quiet.

As regards to WoW remaining number one, it's simple. As Tobold's wife will attest to, women play WoW more than any other game. When I go to a pub I'm always going to go back to the one with more honeys. That's WoW's secretsauce...oh, and the stupid low system req'ts.
No to stir the proverbial pot too much, but I think there is merit in the fact that people don't as easily "quit" GW2 because there is no subscription fee...someone could stop playing, go play Pandas for a few weeks, then switch back to GW2 much more easily than they would to a game involving sub-fees.
@Clockwork: Doesn't that argument also work the other way round though? People can quit GW2 more easily because they've paid for it, played it, and got their money's worth, same as a random single player game. Whereas a sub game might motivate people to stick with it or at least "give it another try" while the sub is still running.
I think you are being too dismissive of gamers in calling us lemmings for wanting to experience whatever game is newest and shiniest at the moment.

To be honest this is much more typical of human behaviour in respect of other entertainment areas and probably represents a maturing of the genre. Can you think of any other entertainment medium where people will stick with one title for years and years to the exclusion of all others?

Personally I think it is a great trend and I hope game devs get on board with it. The Guild Wars model probably shows the way. It doesn't matter if half the players leave after a couple of months because they have already paid the up front fee. What does matter though is that they enjoyed the game enough during those couple of months that they will come back for the inevitable sequel.
" If you can earn a billion bucks with your game, it can't be all bad. "

This is not happening for wow though in my opinion, at least not wow is it is now. My best friend played wow since vanilla and he loved this game. He was hardcore raider at vanilla and tbc. It was his first MMO, he has lots of memories that sometimes make him sad when he remember it. Result: My friend have not played since WotlK, but he bought all games since then. He did that only for collection and because he loved wow once. In cataclysm he only played 1 month and didn't even went to 85.

wow is a history for him, lots of memories, he feels is part of his life. Even if he don't play now, he always buy 1 copy of every expansion and maybe he will log for a month just for pure nostalgia. He log to see his characters. I am sure there are many people like my friend.

Wow was a quality game or just was the "first" game for many people. But their current sales and subscription does not represent its current quality 100% in my opinion. If Scorpions now make a new album with the worst songs ever, they will sell millions and maybe some people who are fans of Scorpions and "hear" these songs different and convince themselves to like them.

TLDR, wow is not that bad but is far from the greater MMO it was once.
It will be much more interesting to see the numbers 1 month after MoP release, than in the first week. Of course numbers for WoW will be inflated, it's launch for Christ's sake... People that play both games, will trend more towards WoW because it's the newest thing.

Will the trend keep though?

"Can you think of any other entertainment medium where people will stick with one title for years and years to the exclusion of all others?"

Totally. I'm reading Ulysses for the sixteenth time now to grind rep with my book circle. I tell you: Joyce may be celebrated and all, but he had absolutely zero respect for the hardcore fans: no accomodations for the repeat readers, and you have to read the same text again over and over. It's sick! Based on this experience, I predict that the whole "book" genre will die in less than a year.
Very unfair: Finnegans Wake was totally hardcore, and if you look at Joyce's bibliography, he hardly released any novels afterwards! I blame the increased casualisation of literature during the twentieth century.
Gerry, I'd be totally cool with FW if it hadn't been for the pandas.
I think you are being a little unfair to NosyGamer, who is the source of this data. He admits that the methodolgy is not perfect.

But you cant just dismiss it.

The data is very good at letting you know about trends within a game. It is very bad about comparing one game directly to another (because some games might have fewer xfire users etc).

With the above in mind, we can say this week that "GW2 hours played are trending down, while WOW hours played are trending up".
I do not believe anyone can dispute this statement, even if the methodology isnt perfect.

As to what will happen in a couple of months, who knows?
I dont play either personally. So dont really have a horse in this race.
I will leave it to others to get all frothy in the mouth...
If they are lemmings, why follow them so closely?
Tobold, here at Brazil the backlash after the launch of MoP started (

It is simple: MoP launch just showed the virtues of GW2 for who tryed both games.

Nice to see you started to dismiss the numbers of xfire as not important. But I know something about statistics and social sciences: xfire is a good way to collect samples for see how the general gamer population is behaving.
I'll just add that I think you have to look at the Xfire numbers over the course of 3-4 weeks to actually see significant trends. I've seen drops in Xfire numbers for Eve Online from week to week but seen a rise in the actual concurrency numbers posted at and vice-versa.

But if you really want to have fun with the Xfire numbers, make bets on how far SWTOR will drop by the end of October. I don't think it will mean that much, but I think the results will bring the "SWTOR is dead" folks out in force.
Nice to see you started to dismiss the numbers of xfire as not important.

I said "not representative", which is something different. I would assume that XFire numbers exaggerate the movements, because the kind of people who stick to one game tend to not have XFire installed.
I had never even heard of Xfire before reading MMO blogs. I don't think any of my friends use it either. How would the "casual" gamer which represents the majority of the gaming community come to use it or why would they even bother using it?

They don't and they shouldn't. Still, though, changes in the Xfire numbers certainly does men that the Xfire users are moving!

Tobold, why do you think that Xfire users are of the "impatient" type? Can't it just as well be the other way round: that they are more invested in their games and hence stay with them a bit longer?
What would you use a tool that measures how much time you spend with different games for if you were the patient kind that stuck with one game?
Honestly, I wouldn't use that sort of tool at all. I have no clue as to the incentives or the reasoning that follows. Like Cam and many others, I simply have no knowledge of the demographic profile of Xfire users.

Really, I didn't ask to question you – I am genuinely interested in knowing if you have more information.
According to XFire themselves, they have a young male demographic. Casual players tend to be older and not so predominantly male.
It is hilarious to see the GW2 fans go from "GW2 will stay on top on Xfire" to (now that it's obvious it won't) "Xfire is totally invalid!"

It was a noble effort, Tobold, but I think it is obvious by now that fans of games will NEVER see past their bias.


Seriously, folks, I cannot think of anything more self-evident than "samples do not include everyone."

There are two important things here that make Xfire a valid measurement for comparison.

First, we are comparing two MMORPGs to each other. You cannot say "MMORPG players don't use Xfire!" because that affects both games equally. If you have some reason why Xfire excludes a substantial portion of GW2 players or WoW players, but NOT the other game, I would love to hear it.

Second, we are comparing the games relative to their historical performance on Xfire. GW2 used to be over 80k hours played at launch, as did WoW earlier this year. You cannot deny the significance of each game's change in hours played within the same sample.

The thing about the representative quality of xfire being important is that xfire users are such a niche that studying their habits is not useful to anyone who isn't an xfire user.

It's kind of like publishing a study saying that Obama is trending upward massively, based on polling that was done via an iphone-only app downloadable by members of the Gay Minority Republican Movement Website.

Sure, it's useful to know about how that demographic feels... I guess? But who the hell would base any strategy whatsoever on those results?

This is the same old tired argument I keep hearing here that essentially boils down to, "all samples are invalid because they aren't everyone."

A more accurate example would be polls that include or exclude cell phones, or polls that look at "likely voters" rather than "registered voters." You can talk about how hugely different the demographics are, but it really only amounts to a difference of 2-3%.

Right now, Xfire is showing 62k hours for WoW and 35k hours for GW2. It is one thing to suggest the numbers might not be 100% accurate, but it is entirely another thing to pretend we can't reasonably conclude players are spending significantly more time on WoW than GW2.
More analogy to make the point a little more relevant:

"Ice-cream Sampler Enthusiast Magazine readers have submitted poll results that the latest flavour of ice-cream is always the most popular!

Pollsters baffled by a lack of similar trending in chocolate and vanilla sales."

Different demographics behave in different ways. In much the same way as someone with the inclination to join an ice-cream sampling magazine club, xfire users take gaming very seriously and want to stay on top of the new hotness. They are trending slowly toward playing the new hotness. Who exactly is surprised, here? How does this relate to normal people?

Yes, a lot of curious folks are going to pick up the new WoW expansion. People like new things. Always have, always will. I'm done with WoW, and there were one or two features that tempted me, up until I saw some game videos and realized that once I'd gone to TSW and GW2's combat, I couldn't go back to WoW's.

It's the first WoW expansion I haven't bought. On a sample size of ONE, that's pretty fucking significant. On a sample size of a dozen friends who are behaving the same way, it's a staggeringly negative result for WoW. I think they'll do OK though.

Just as an xfire user or someone who's deep in the bowels of MoP right now probably intuitively believes that they're part of a trend, I know I intuitively believe that I'm part of a trend of people who have quit WoW and stayed away despite the lure of the new shiny.

And until any one comes up with something more reliable as a statistic than a bunch of e-peen comparing losers or unfortunately OCD-impaired individuals who install a completely unnecessary social application to track their gaming habits, everyone's going to continue grasping at whichever utterly weak source might confirm their bias.
tl;dr: Xfire users think their habits are relevant. I don't.
Xfire stats are mostly irrelevant. The sample is very skewed towards one demographic namely young males who mainly play FPS shooters. They are notorious MMO tourists and quickly jump to other games after a couple of weeks.
Undoubtedly a prelude to a later post, and currently mostly just troll-bait:

Cliff's notes: Boxed copies sold between 600-700,000. Cataclysm was 3.3mil with Digital+Retail combined. Everyone's waiting to hear how digital did for MoP to see if this was a truly disappointing result.

I'll trust those figures over what some xfire users are doing.
I am perfectly willing to accept XFire numbers as being indicative of large trends. So I do believe them that currently World of Warcraft is played a lot more than Guild Wars 2. I just wouldn't read too much into the details.
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