What a freaking year. The weather outside is frightful for newcomers to the MMO genre, with a Blizzard that's been going on for so long that no one remembers what swimsuit weather is like. WAR broke out. Expansion packs rained down like meteors, but left no craters in the marketplace. And yet, good news abounds if you know how to read the signs. Come along with us as we look over half of 2008
Today's column features data from July through December. GamerDNA being a startup, our data collection in the first half of the year was not consistent enough to use for anything but wild guessing and drinking games.
Listen, a start up tech company can make ANYTHING into a drinking game.
"The growth rate in the number of played hours for WoW was utterly unimpeded by the launch of WAR."
The top 100 chart was remarkably stable for the last six months of 2008. Some big launches made a splash – Spore, Fallout 3 – but overall the big players stayed the same. Four titles were in our top ten "most logged in" the entire time: WoW, Call of Duty 4, Counter-Strike: Source, and Guild Wars. Two other titles were up there four out of six months: Lord of the Rings Online and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne.
December numbers are projections, since December is not yet over. The projections are based on the time played in December up to the point where we pulled the data, and typical player behavior trends during the winter holidays. (Next week, we'll be doing a feature on player behavior over the holiday. What titles were hot gifts? What games were good enough for the day after Christmas, but not good enough to last until the New Year? Be sure to tune in!)
"The launch of WAR, a highly anticipated title, had no lasting negative effect on any title besides one that was already trending downwards, *and* occupying the exact same playstyle niche."
Finally, what today's data is reflecting is the number of playing sessions each game enjoyed with GamerDNA members. It's not a perfect yardstick – if you logged in at all, it counts. That means the guy logging in to check his auctions is counted the same as the freak who raided for 24 straight hours, you know who you are, and dude, that's not healthy. What our data does NOT reflect is subscription rates, number of players, or anything like that. You might say these charts reflect interest and motivation, not financial figures.
On to the charts! First, let's look at trends in log ins. Starting from a baseline set in June, we looked at the percentage changes in log ins from month to month. Raw numbers are important – we'll get to them in a bit – but here we can compare growth a little more fairly. Tabula Rasa adding 200 users is a big deal. WoW adding 200 users is slightly less exciting than watching CSPAN, in that it may be exciting to wonky dorks with calculator watches, but the rest of us have games to play.
All right, that's a little hard to read. I just like seeing all the lines together. Let me break it down a little for you:
So, how did the launch of a triple-A title affect the log-in patterns of other big MMOs?
The launch of WAR had a devastating effect on Age of Conan. Guild Wars is a little inflated with GamerDNA, in that more GamerDNA members play it than would appear in a true random sample. That community was an early partner with us. Arena.net's game and LotRO stagnated during WAR's launch, but both began growing again the following month. A slight dip happened for Tabula Rasa, but that title immediately rebounded. Anarchy Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and EVE grew during WAR's launch. The growth rate in the number of played hours for WoW was utterly unimpeded by the launch of WAR.
In other words, the launch of WAR, a highly anticipated title, had no lasting negative effect on any title besides one that was already trending downwards, *and* occupying the exact same playstyle niche. As we saw in other Market Trends columns this year, the only thing WAR seemed to do was to remind people who had stopped playing MMOs how much fun it was. It didn't eat into other games (besides the one in the same ecological niche), but although players didn't necessarily stick with WAR, the other PVP games in the genre showed improvement in the weeks following the launch of WAR, particularly Guild Wars and EVE.